Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

Posts Tagged ‘sister’

Ghosts in the Attic: Lives Remembered

An attic is in many ways similar to the vast storage facilities that lie hidden beneath and above every museum you’ve ever visited. The exhibits you walk through are like the life you see being lived right in front of you. If you are an experienced museum goer the existence of that treasure trove of unseen artwork is something you know is there somewhere. For the archivist, all of that art is there for the asking.

A life remembered lives in the attic or the basement or the back of a closet in the remotest room in the house. Beth spent 3 long days and nights pulling together the totems of her parents lives from the nooks, crannies and crevasses of what is literally the Hurst family ancestral home. No fewer than 4 generations lived significant parts of their lives in what was once a tiny one-room schoolhouse surrounded by Amish and Mennonite farms. What an incredibly daunting task, that.

Hearing her tell of her task (we were “together” on speakerphone) was what it must have been like if you could have been an open ear at the excavation of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Rome. The attic had an attic; each closet had a closet. Every step further into each space unearthed another layer of the family’s history. Here a deed to the original schoolhouse, there the wedding certificate for her great great grandparents. Was her Dad a good student? Well, he had a pretty solid 3rd grade judging by his report card.

And the pictures! Oh my, yes, there were pictures. Beth and her sisters fell straight down the Schaeffer family tree. Who knew how much they looked like their Mom when they were all younger women? I got to see pictures of the stunning beauty I fell in love with some 35 years ago, a literal restoration of the portrait in my mind’s eye of our days of courtship. Treasures unearthed in the attic.

Stories, journals, histories, legends…they all came out of the attic’s attic and emerged from the closet’s closets. Beth’s “legs” fairly buckled under the responsibility of curation. What to keep? What should go? They are the last of their line, these Hurst sisters. Whatever was consigned to go would be forever gone. There are no more attics; there will be nothing to curate. She felt the presence of not only her parents but of their parents, and theirs, and theirs as well.

Is this nothing more than a melancholy musing on memory and loss? Maybe. There was a lesson in there, though, one that Mrs. bingo and I stumbled upon as we “walked” through those archives together. It didn’t have to happen like that. As it turns out each attic corner, each tiny closet contained notes and stories that lead, like so many tiny treasure maps, to the next discovery. Why had my in-laws not taken us all in hand and walked us together along those pathways? For sure there were stories that should have been buried elsewhere, art not meant to be seen by generations hence (note to self: remember this lesson when it is time), but still, we thought of the joy we could have shared had we just known these treasures were there to share. That’s the lesson my friends, one that Beth would agree afterward was worth the lonely emotional lifting she did as she curated a life remembered, archived like so many art treasures in the attics and closets filled over generations and hidden from view.

Someone may be alive today who’s been filling those attics. Find them. There is joy in the attic. Like so much that is joyful, to share your discoveries with those who created them is just too wonderful to let it pass now that you know that you don’t have to. Ask your parents or grandparents to take a walk with you in the attic. Together.

 

Cape Week: In Memorium

The beach was chilly, the water a boiling mass of foam, yet the sand was smooth and calm.  Unaffected. Doubtless, it had seen this before. My eyes began to leak. It must have been the wind. Yes, that’s it. The wind. I stood there in silence, struggling to fix the image in my mind. I knelt down to kiss the sand of my beloved beach. With a shirtsleeve to stem the flow from my eyes I walked away from 25 years of family history and toward the beginning of a new story.

What does it take to bring together an entire family for 7 days under one roof, every year, for 25 consecutive years? Why even start in the first place? Once upon a time families were born, grew, and died in a single town or small group of neighboring towns. Getting together was a given. Holidays presented a challenge born of access: who would host whom for what occasion at what time and for how long? Your Mom or your spouse’s Mom for Thanksgiving or Christmas or whenever. A cousin’s graduation might be a life-or-death obligation, attendance mandatory. Proximity rendered this moot, but we moved away.

First borns both, Beth and I married first and had the first grandchildren. We hit every adulting stage before any of our siblings. This meant encountering in-law issues first as well. Where would we go and when? Sticky wicket, that. The solution, at least for the White family was the creation of a separate holiday totally removed from any established American tradition. We would all go to the beach together, just like we did as kids. Thus began “Cape Week”.

How do you get 4 young couples, all of which had multiple children to return time and again to the same place at the same time to do pretty much the same stuff each year for 25 years? It could be having a parent everyone was afraid of, or another no one wanted to disappoint. For sure having BOTH was a key component. Through every milestone each little family plowed through and found a way to make it to Cape Cod each year to spend every waking moment together in our little compound. Only serious illness kept anyone away.

Over the years change did eventually come in the way of summer jobs for the grandchildren, which led as such things do to real, live adult jobs with little vacation time. That and of course, another generation of in-laws for our children to now contend with. Whispers of change were on the winds these last couple of years, but still, almost everyone was there for almost the whole week each summer.

I know what you’re thinking. Somehow it must have been easy for us. There must have been some sort of massive bribe, or something. Nope. What it took was a ton of commitment and hard work by four (now not so) young couples to make Cape Week happen. One family came from California for several years, another from the Midwest. There were summer camps that were never attended, All-Star teams made but All-Star Games missed. The classic teen rebellions against family were quashed, all 10 cousins showing up many more years than not. Invitations to vacation alternatives were graciously turned down, and every “how come always your family” discussion always ended with some version of “we can do that, too, just some other week.”

Cape week itself took hard work and commitment. Four families, 10 kids, and two grandparents together for meals, beach games, TV at night, and forays en masse to the ice cream shop. It could be a little bit cramped, even with the addition of a second cottage in year 4. Those 10 cousins from homes scattered all over America have grown up to be friends who know an amazing amount about each other despite their age differences and lack of proximity. For instance, 10+ summers of having the “college talk” with their aunts and uncles is uniformly one of their WORST memories. Yet there they were as well, every summer in which there was no unavoidable conflict.

Until this year.

Why now? Why this, our 25th year, are we now closing the book on the last chapter of Cape Week? The easy answer is the loss of one of those grandparents, my Dad. It really doesn’t matter whether he was the one we were afraid of or the one we didn’t want to disappoint, I think it’s more a matter of needing both to make something like Cape Week a forgone conclusion. That one singular loss seems to have opened the door for each family to consider the value of Cape Week to their individual families.  To think the heretofore unthinkable: something is more important to our family unit than the annual assembly of the extended family.

Is that it then? Is it over, 25 years and out? It’s been an extraordinary run. Not a one of us knows a soul who’s even heard of a family that pulled off something like this. What is clearly over is Cape Week written in stone, and while that has always been inevitable if any of us ever really gave it any thought, it is quite sad nonetheless. We will continue to rent the main house, installing Gram for a week in the same chair at dinner, on the same spot on the beach. A calendar will say that it’s number 26, but it will be different. A new Cape Week, year number 1, invitations soon. Who will come?

If I close my eyes I can still see my beach. See it, as it has been these 25 years. With my eyes closed I see my Mom and Dad, young and vibrant, surrounded by babies and toddlers covered in sand and seaweed. There’s my brother and his wife, my sisters and their husbands, my darling Beth. We’re all together. My eyes have begun to leak again and it’s all a blur. There’s a breeze in my house; there must be a window open. Yes, that must be it, an open window has let in the wind.

The winds of change have finally come for Cape Week.