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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Grandma's Footprint

The Cottage

Grandma's Footprint
Elsie was my grandmother.  Her closest friend in the late 1920’s remained part of her life until she died at age 92.  This friend, Mary, was the mother of Audrey.  Audrey and my mother, Sally, became friends -- even double-dating in high school.  On one such date, my father, Ken, was Audrey’s companion.  The way he tells it, through out the date, he had his heart set on Sally.    After Sally and Ken married, my mother’s very junior sister, Chicki, came to live with them.  After enduring much upheaval in her life, including a broken engagement, my parents urged Chicki to accompany Elsie on a visit to Martha’s Vineyard where Mary owned several homes.  Chicki and Elsie rented a summer place from Mary, then decided to “winter over.”  Elsie worked as a bookkeeper, and my aunt was secretary to the president of one of the two lsland banks.  It was only a matter of time that my mother and her older sister, Jean, came to visit Chicki and Elsie.  With families in tow, my mother and Jean laid out the big money to rent cottages from Mary for two weeks in August, 1963. We visited my aunt and grandmother, went to the beach and began a lifetime love affair with the Vineyard.  My aunt and grandmother returned to New Jersey after their Island adventure, but all of us had left a piece of our hearts there.  The next summer, we returned, we rented the house next to Mary’s on the Martha’s Vineyard Methodist Campground Meeting Association’s property. We did so every summer for the ensuing eight or nine years.  By that time, I had become best-friends with Audrey’s daughter, Elizabeth.  Elizabeth’s family lived about twenty houses away from mine.  There was a dirt road that connected all those homes.  It was well-worn by our barefeet and our bicycles as we shuttled between our homes day after day.  Many nights we closed that distance by having sleep-overs.  We alternated by staying at The Cottage, at Elizabeth’s house or at “Grandma’s” (Mary’s) house.
My parents finally bought The Cottage from Mary in the early 70’s. It is the habit of campground families to name their houses.  Clever names and meaningful homages are usual; i.e. Slice of Heaven.  Our house had been called The Cottage for as far back as any one could remember.  The name stuck.  As cottages went, our’s was the runt of the litter.  On the M.V. Methodist Campgrounds, the houses are typically painted in vibrant pastels with elaborate, hand-scrolled trim-work. Most often two stories, the houses are a patchwork of additions, renovations and accommodations -- all meant to serve ensuing generations of residents. It was no wonder our naming ceremony was short and brief.  It would not have been appropriate to have a colorful epithet for this squat, rather homely, one-story brown dwelling. Built in the early 1920’s, it is devoid of the charm and quaintness for which the Campgrounds are renowned. However, it was home to me.  To make the finances work, The Cottage was rented the six weeks each year.  That was the maximum that was contractually permitted by the strict terms of our lease agreement with the Meeting Association. August was preserved mostly for family stays. During most of our lives, Elizabeth and I could count on seeing each other every August, regardless what the rest of the year may have brought.  We both treasured the time to talk and laugh and dream together.
The time came that first, Elizabeth, then I, were married.  When she became a mother, and not long after, I had a child, too, we shared our joys and frustrations.  No matter what the hustle and bustle of life and our growing families would demand, we found solace on the Vineyard.  It was there that we reconnected.  Our children played on the beach together.  They grew up to share housing when they worked summer jobs during college.  Both Elizabeth and I felt somehow relieved that something so special and so fragile as a friendship forged by Mary and Elsie has been preserved and still finds expression today.
But Time is fleet.  Elsie and Mary are gone. Three of our four parents are deceased.  Our children are nearly grown.  Elizabeth bought, and purchased her grandmother’s house from her estate.  Shortly thereafter began a top to bottom renovation. For all intents and purposes, Elizabeth's house appears rebuilt on the site of Grandma's house.  It looms grand and beautiful next to my father’s house. Though it is structurally sound, The Cottage looks more rustic than ever, by comparison.  My father recently moved in order to live in a place where he can receive better care and services.  As sentimentally attached as I am to The Cottage it doesn’t suit my needs at this point in life.  
With heavy heart, I opened the property description of the For Sale listing of The Cottage online this morning.  Regardless of the complex feelings of loss I was feeling, I had one satisfying consolation.  I was stretched out on Elizabeth’s sofa in what had once been Grandma’s house.  Elizabeth was in the armchair directly across from me.  We were two close friends,  comfortable with where we were in life and secure in the knowledge that we found ourselvesl in Grandma’s footprint.  

1 comment:

  1. It makes me want to visit Martha's Vineyard. You two are lucky to be such good friends!