When I went to Maine, to a small town on the coast, every summer.
I havent been there in years. My grandmother died there in 2007, and the following summer I was there for a day or two, to scatter her ashes with everyone else.
When I was a child, though, I loved it there. It’s true, they are not entirely my people–lots of money, lots of Republicans, lots of pink and lime at the same time. Lots of golf and tennis. Cocktail parties. McMansions. The tennis court featured–I swear–a sign that sad “Whites Only.” Later it was changed to “Whites Preferred.”
They were mostly referring to tennis clothes.
What I did love, what I still would love, probably, is the beach. Beautiful. Miles long, incredible sand, water crisp and cold and lovely, waves high and tumbling. I would spend hours at the beach, swimming and reading. Once I was so still, reading for so long, that a neighbor called my grandmother to ask if I was okay. I read and read and swam and swam. Sometimes I walked on the cliff walk, where Winslow Homer used to stroll, and look at the same seascapes that he saw.
Since my grandmother died it’s been different. The house looks utterly changed, at least it did when I was there in 08. Gone were most of the pictures of the extended family, the casual parts of the house, the random beach stones, the old romance novels of my grandmothers. It has turned into a more “traditional” beach house, for that part of the world, and I can no longer see my grandmother every time I turn a corner. Can no longer see her sitting at the kitchen table, reading a book, eating coleslaw. She ate so much coleslaw, my grandmother, and not much else.
We had some great times. The two summers before she died I came up, took the train to stay with her for a week or ten days. We walked on the beach. She said “oops!” every time she had t0 navigate past a tidepool stretched across the beach. We rode bikes to a beach that had a boardwalk she could walk out on, waving her cane to indicate to the children they should get out of the way, so she could swim. She’d pile on her bathing caps, three or four or five, and she swam. We swam. Out to the boats, the buoys. It was cold and one summer I went with her to a surf shop to get her a wetsuit. She looked like a chicken. I had to ride an old bike, with no brakes, and one memorable day I failed to stop in the sand and instead kept going straight into the water, going in two or three feet before the bike finally stopped. My grandmother laughed and laughed.
I think of this now because I have recently become facebook friends with a number of people, a few mothers but mostly kids that I used to babysit for. One of the girls, who is now–what? A freshman in high school, I think, looking like all the other girls from that area, leggy and lovely, lying on the beach and having fun. When I was 13 I was her nanny. She was perhaps 3.5 and her brother about 15 months. Every morning I woke up, had breakfast with the family, took the girl to camp down the beach (we walked down the beach, to the beach club–there is, of course, a beach club, a yacht club, a country club….)and broke the boy back, put him down for a nap. In the afternoon I picked her up, fed them both lunch, took them to the beach. I was there for a week. My mom was down the street, and I went home to nap sometimes. I babysat for other kids on the lane, too, kids I’ve just friended on facebook. Once who had a major poop explosion. Another whose mother threatened to spank her and it scared me. Another who I took the library, the youngest of four, funny and tough. It’s so odd, to not have seen them for so many years and then to suddenly see pictures of them, looking so grown up. I’m surprised at how well I remember them. I can see them on fb, can see how they are following the paths that my cousins did, that much of my mothers side did: exclusive schools, boarding schools, sometimes with uniforms, special trips, time abroad. Lives that look absolutely perfect on the surface.
And the dogs. The dogs on the beach, only of course at certain times, but the dogs, beautiful dogs, mostly Labs, in and out of the surf.
A place is a strange thing to lose. I was in love with this town. I cried leaving, some years, tears streaming down my face. I wanted to stay there. I didn’t see beneath the veneer, and when I started to I was very bitter. They are still not my people, exactly, but I remember now how kind some of them were. Still are, probably.
Anyway. I miss it. I wish that part of growing up had not been losing it.
I watched my grandmother die. It’s hard to believe. I still count that among the most incredible experiences of my life, watching her die.