Monday, December 9, 2013
My visit had all the hallmarks of a homecoming.
On a recent weekend, I returned to a cottage on Cape Cod where I lived for several years a long time ago. It had always been an easy place to memorize, limited in size and long on sentiment, with just one bedroom, a living room, bath and galley kitchen. A small addition that looks from the outside like a mudroom was used to house a microwave and a refrigerator -- since the actual kitchen couldn't hold an appliance that large. A narrow closet held the customary cleaning supplies -- broom, mop, a handful of terrycloth rags and an iron -- and a single built-in cabinet accommodated canned goods and other occasional extras, like vases, Tupperware and a thermos.
Everything was exactly as it had been -- or close enough to create an air of the familiar in the place. Same bedroom furniture, new mattress. Identical bookcase and knick-knacks along a nautical theme. Even the needlepoint, "Of course I'm right, I'm German," hung in the bathroom, making it more or less inevitable that every literate visitor would be compelled to read it.
The big change was a new layer of carpet that spread through the cottage. Additional throw rugs dotted the berber surface -- all the better to preserve the clean, fresh look that replaced carpet or repainted walls can achieve.
But other than that contemporary element, it was still 1965 in the cottage. The living room windows, most of which still have to be propped open with wooden stays, let in the humidity and a breeze off the bay. The view of the wetlands and tidal marsh beyond that I recall is mostly obscured now by 10-foot-tall phragmites which used to tower a ways off in the bog. But the passage of time and their aggressive growth has created a wall of undulating green at the edge of the yard.
There's something about a little cottage by the sea -- even if not right on its edge -- that communicates a feeling of stepping out of time altogether. That's probably part of the appeal, escaping from ordinary routine to really get away.
In a summer cottage gone to year-round use, life is stripped down to essentials: second-hand silverware, mismatched coffee cups and plates, a menagerie of mixing bowls, pots and pans -- all necessities of life but none so singular that it demands perfect dishwashing or special display.
I wandered around the cottage and the neighborhood for the couple of days I had to devote to being at home away from home. I took in the local wildlife, about 17 Eastern cottontails -- an usually large population, I thought, given marauding coyotes that in years past had come close to wiping the rabbits out.
I performed the obligatory chores: washed throw rugs, packed up pillows and blankets I didn't need, swept cobwebs out of corners and cleaned up the kitchen counter after a flood of caffeine overflowed the coffeemaker.
Some things never change.
The door to the basement still stays wide open on its own, because its base is a tad uneven. A portion of the wallpaper under one window in the bedroom remains missing, exposing a three-by-three-foot square of bare wall that used to be hidden by an old steam radiator. The oven is a synchronicity of gambling and faith: Maybe it's heating to 350 degrees, maybe 225.
But who cares? Precision is not the goal here; private time is.
I could have gone the weekend without seeing a soul, except for grocery clerks. I avoided a business interaction by using my debit card at the gas station and probably would have gone without extraneous purchases, except the discount book store is open till the end of the month. Couldn't pass up a sale that announced: "All books $3."
For about 24 hours, I felt like the literally millions of people who swarm through New England each summer, trying to find the home of the Kennedys in Hyannisport or where the sharks were sighted along the outer shore of the Cape. These and a hundred other spots used to be my haunts, but this time, I felt like an outsider.
After all, I'm from Maine.
Staff Writer North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: