21 August 2007

The East Coast and all that that implies

This year for the first time I didn't feel like I was at home out east. It felt like a vacation place alone, and not a return to a refuge. (Although I did let myself indulge in a couple of moments of fantasy of grabbing up one of those $145 e-fares to Boston and holing up alone in a cottage somewhere to finish a few chapters or work out a knotty plot problem.)

Part of the difference came from staying in a different cottage. Through no fault of the perfectly lovely cottage we rented this year, this time we had no family connection to the place where we lived for three weeks. Every time we came and went we saw a heap of people and their bikes and towels in "our" cottage, the one my dad thinks of as "the Baringer cottage" although a Baringer hasn't owned it in the last ten years. Later, hearing my dad be able to joke about that name for that cottage with his aunt and uncle turned out to be a bright memory of the trip for me.

Talk, sunsets, those white, round shells I mistook for coins under the water, watching the tide come up the beaches, hearing new songs on the radio ("Ah, Mary" on WMVY), and knowing my way around made for wholesome and restorative vacation time. So did being with our friends who came out for the week. We went and heard a charming and proficient local band called Funk Salad at Nauset Beach and had a blast. The two martinis later put a nice cap and a dizzying spin on a very fun evening. (And I haven't felt any interest in repeating that experience since -- I always feel a little bruised the next day, you know, whether they are shaken or stirred.)

Being with my dad while he was learning about himself and his past was painful and a test of loyalties and keeping up appearances. It was a good thing, although I felt quite helpless to be of any aid except by just existing. I tried to remind him of an upside or two, like that he was trying to survive and that everyone in his family did survive -- which to him I realized later wasn't even close to true because his dad died two years ago, which he still doesn't feel is fair.

The thing that nags at me is that I'm seeing a trend in people of a certain age/health status losing the ability to look after themselves. They need more help. I'm seeing how on our own we are as we age. Perhaps even one person they can hand themselves over to on some crucial level and allow to look after them would make all the difference. But how do you help people find that? Especially people who are that cut off from others, like the fellow I rescued from his car? How do I help him from a thousand miles away?

But I love it here in these wide-open spaces. The little spot we've settled is precious to me; I love these trees and the fact that it's in the neighborhood where one of my best friends grew up yet I'd never in a million years have imagined I'd one day buy a house in that neighborhood. This year on Cape Cod I felt like if I'd grown up there I would be one of those people who couldn't wait to go west. I felt how much I love the wild enthusiasms of the west as opposed to the il n'est pas fait judgments, the old-guard reserve and wiles of the Europeans. I am so much more a child of the west, having spent my formative years in the thick of the forging of one of the last frontiers: the hippie movement.

Staying in Boston before I could feel my ancestors' feet on those bricks. This time, I felt my dad's family's presence but we saw a different view of the city and I didn't feel that homey feeling one bit. The apartments all looked to me like they'd be hot and cramped in the summer and dreadful in the winter, in a city of little warrens and caves and dens. If you're an underground sort I suppose it might appeal, but not so much to this sun-lovin' Coloradoan accustomed to her 300 days of sunshine each year (read that but hold the weeping over there on the East Coast -- there's enough rainfall on your coast already). All the crowds and the dreary winter weather seemed oppressive, not stimulating in the way of the Pacific Northwest's cafe culture.

By the end of our visit I couldn't wait to come home to my own yard, get away from that feeling like people were always wondering what my position was in the village, always testing to find me coming up short. Early on, I considered what it would take to become one of those people about whom they say, "I just couldn't imagine being there this summer without her!" and decided it would take an unnatural effort for me and dropped that idea. I wanted a vacation too, after all.

Yet somehow the talks and the hours in the sun in the gentle lapping waves of the bay, the little drives around when you connect more of the dots, the great books and movies and even TV shows, the comparisons of fried clams at multiple outlets of varying charms, the endless variations on the vacation house: all added up to a fine trip. This year, I didn't experience a feeling of returning to my roots nor even of upholding a grand tradition (although I do like that part, I admit). I just took a vacation.

And now... I'm baaaaack!

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