Retired now, with all the free time one could want, I found joy in the simple gift of my family visiting my partner and me this summer in our small cottage on Casco Bay’s Long Island. My two sons and their loved ones arrived for their first visit at the same time since before the pandemic. We were eight gathered together, including my two grandchildren, tucked into the cozy cottage. We played on the sandy beaches, searched for crabs at high tide and hunted for colorful sea glass at low tide.

Fowler Beach on Long Island in the spring of 2021. This summer on Long Island, Candice Dale and her partner opened up their small cottage to her family. It was the first simultaneous visit by her sons with their loved ones since before the pandemic. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

My 11-year-old grandson never stopped moving and sharing ideas for our next activity. I loved watching my 14-year-old granddaughter bake in the kitchen and dedicate herself to a daily front lawn workout in preparation for a track and field competition later in the month. My two grown sons, now 36 and 42, seared ahi tuna, grilled barbecued chicken and mixed fancy cocktails for evenings on the front porch. We sat at the end of each day out on this holy space to watch the waters of Hussey Sound, listen to the bell buoys, and wait for the mama deer and her spotted fawn to leap out from the woods across the long afternoon shadows.

We played lawn games – croquet, ladder toss, chippo golf. I found a box of water balloons in a bottom drawer, and my daughter-in-law grabbed an unopened bag of plastic water guns at the island dump; a family lawn water battle ensued. The kids jumped off the ferry dock down front one particularly steamy afternoon before the ferry arrived. They gradually gained confidence to jump into the wake of the departing ferry, as island children do. We painted unusual rocks we found on the beach and sand dollars I had collected from Little Chebeague Island. We played celebrity charades almost every evening, the girls teaming up against the boys. At the end of one dinner, my boys read aloud a few favorite childhood books from the upstairs shelves: “Miss Rumphius” and “Slugs.” (How did I not know that the slug book had terrified my boys when they were little?) We filled the small cottage with laughter, old stories, love and even a few tears at times as we acknowledged the changes in all of our lives.

My younger son and his fiancée had returned to the island for the first time since a car accident in Spain just a year ago, which had left her paralyzed from the chest down. We were all nervous about how best to support the two of them, from the first Casco Bay Lines ferry ride to the short golf cart trips around the island to the new cottage accommodations. We had added a downstairs bathroom to the small house over the past year as well as a ramp off the back deck.

The space worked beautifully, and we found ways to transfer the wheelchair up and down the rutted, gravel driveway. My son walked with her in the wheelchair a few times down the hill to the Bake House for pizza and treats. We spent hot afternoons cooling off on the sandy beaches, where new access mats had recently been installed to ease accessibility for all visitors. The town has also secured a grant for a beach wheelchair, which will arrive later this summer. My future daughter-in-law enjoyed slipping into a low beach chair to stretch out her legs and feet, even though she could not feel the grains of sand.

Gathering my whole family on this friendly island once again was a much-needed reconnection for each of us after a difficult year. We quickly realized we could play once again on the rocks of Fowler Beach, make yummy meals together in the kitchen and tell stories late into the night. Laughing in the sun by Casco Bay soothed us all. I felt proud to see my two grown sons supporting one another, loving their chosen partners and raising two wonderful youngsters. We have learned as a family from both the joyful and the challenging moments life can offer. And I am filled with gratitude for the simple gift of unstructured summer time together under one roof on a small island off the coast of Maine.

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