it is possible,
i mean definite,
that there is nothing
better for the heart
than a beach walk.
en cuerpo y alma...
it is possible,
i mean definite,
that there is nothing
better for the heart
than a beach walk.
en cuerpo y alma...
To celebrate spring, I’m sharing a sneak peek at the first few pages of my new novel, The Silver Boat. Since it comes out on April 5, it seems only fitting. Happy spring, everyone!Read More
Are you free for lunch?
I've donated "Lunch with the Author," a signed copy of The Silver Boat, and the chance to have a character named for you in my next novel, to the most wonderful event: Bid to Save the Earth: Christie's Green and Runway to Green Auction. Just click on the link to place your bid...
The auction benefits four environmental charities, including NRDC--Natural Resources Defense Council--the amazing organization that does so much to protect our planet... I'm a member of NRDC and feel so proud of the work they do.
or Ivy at the Shore (shown at the top, the terrace cascading with bougainvillea.) Bring a friend if you'd like; we can talk about books, writing, life, inspiration, wildlife, the sea, the earth, ways we can help...
Please check out the details, as well as the auction itself and other incredible items (go flying with Harrison Ford, meet Lady Gaga in Miami, sit courtside at a Knicks game with Jay-Z, attend opening night at the Metropolitan Opera in a box for eight, or take a tennis lesson with John McEnroe, among many other tempting .)
And I really hope we can have lunch!
I'm spending a little time in California. There's a place I love to stay, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I write to the sound of the waves; fall asleep to them, too. When I think back on all my novels, so many (including my forthcoming The Silver Boat) have long sections written in this hotel--in fact, in this very room. It makes me happy to be here.
Writing as a moveable feast. Do the ideas come differently in far-away places? I think so, a little. I like to write in different rooms. There's no place like home, but I love to dig in here, without everything around me being quite so familiar. I show up in the lobby every morning, and write as I watch the world go by. Friends visit for tea, or to write together.
(with Audrey Loggia and Saffron Burrows.)
By day, it's right for writing; at night, it's quite a different scene... Exciting, filled with music and conversation. Very cozy, all through the seasons, to sit by one of the two fireplaces and dream.
It feels like my home away from home. (It's possible to have more than one of those...) Every day I see dolphins swimming past. The beach is wide; I walk along the tide line every day. Yesterday I found a sand dollar. I could watch the shorebirds for hours.
Sometimes I do.
P.S. My home away from home is Shutters on the Beach...
I love winter. It’s partly the drawing in, staying warm, keeping together with family and friends. But just as much, it’s bundling up, walking in the snow, feeling icy weather, watching changes in nature. Leaves are down; more light and sky are visible through the branches. On clear nights, the stars seem to catch on the boughs, swinging so close to earth you feel you can almost touch them.
There’s nothing better than the winter beach. Storms push the tides higher, and equally tug them out so far the tidal flats seem to go on forever. Rolling waves, high wind blowing foam of the white crests, while rafts of water birds—buffleheads, surf scoters, brants, red-breasted mergansers among other winter residents—take shelter in coves.
Two years ago I experienced the Winter of Magical Birding. A nature photographer friend and I saw everything. One brilliant freezing day we went down to Barneget Light. We stood on the long stone jetty observing Harlequin Ducks, their brilliant masks and notable white dots visible as they fed in the seaweed just below our feet on the jetty’s leeward side.
Another excursion into the Catskills brought sightings of fifty, a hundred, White-winged Crossbills and Red Crossbills. It was an irruption year, and the small passerines had flown down from the boreal forest in search of a fine cone crop. The day was cold and snowing, and we were surrounded by forest. The crossbills thronged in a stand of blue spruce, attacking the cones, and I’ll never forget the bright sight and the sounds of seeds being cracked, their hulls clicking as they fell to the ice-encrusted snow.
The third and greatest sighting occurred on Jones Beach, where a young male Snowy Owl had decided to spend a few days. We arrived just past dawn, watched the rising sun’s light turn the owl’s white feathers golden. More than any other bird I love the exquisite and mystical Snowy Owl.
Snowies live on the tundra, and when lemmings, their preferred food, are scarce, they fly south and search out flatlands that remind them of home. Beaches are perfect, and they have the requisite food source: mice and voles.
That day my feet and hands froze, but it was worth it. I walked down the beach, watched the waves crash, saw a surfcaster catch a late-in-the-year Striped Bass, watched seagulls breaking quahog shells and eat the clams inside, and saw an enormous flock of Snowy Plovers fly in from the east. Even better, I spent long hours with the Snowy Owl.
Late afternoon when the sun went down, the light glowed rose pink, illuminating the owl’s feathers. He stared straight at us, all the hunger and mystery in his yellow eyes, and suddenly took flight. Wide wings spread, he flapped once, and went into a silent glide over the thicket of dried beach grass. Darkness came fast, and he was lost to view.
That might be my favorite metaphor for winter. The nights are long, and it might seem light will never return. The dark brings contemplation, inspiration, a feeling of things vast and unknowable. But I’m filled with anticipation, the way I felt as a child with a glittery Advent calendar and a fresh window to open every day, a new candle to light each week, knowing Christmas would come.
Winter lasts long, but it’s beautiful, and then there is spring.
There is so much to love and find beautiful right now, while memories tug into the past, thoughts of Christmases gone by. I find this time of year bittersweet. I think of my mother, father, and Mim, old friends, a sister who's said goodbye. I remember the house we grew up in, on Lincoln Street in New Britain, Connecticut.
We'd decorate the tree, wrap a lauren garland around the banister, place another over the mantle, and drape one over the front door. Mim would decorate the wreath, hang it on the door. We'd bake Christmas cookies. One year we made clay angels, and our favorite was the one that looked like Uncle Fester from the Addams Family.
Even then, at a young age, there was longing for more connection, especially with my father. If you've read my novel Firefly Beach, you know the story of my pregnant mother, three-year old sister, and my five year old self being held hostage one night, by the man with a gun. It happened at Christmas, and had to do with my complicated father, so that experience is in my holiday memory bank as well.
Isn't it strange the way we sometimes miss sad or painful things? Maybe it's the desire to go back and make them turn out right. My father would be magically happier, the man with the gun wouldn't have come, the cold and dark would stay outside while in our little cape cod house our family would be cozy, drawn together, safe and sound. That's the visions-of-sugarplums version.
In reality there were many visions-of-sugarplum moments. My mother would read to us from The Cricket on the Hearth and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens; The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden; A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas.
One summer we found an enormous starfish, and began to use it as the star atop our tree. When my father was home he'd place the star; I'd always have a lump in my throat when he did that. On Christmas Eve my mother would tell us to listen for the angels singing, it was the one time in the year that we could hear them, and we always would, just before drifting off to sleep.
Later, after my father died, we moved to the beach year-round. We kept the old traditions but found new ones. We heated with a coal stove, so there was an old-fashioned ritual to stoking the fire. We'd tie red ribbons around all the candlestick holders, and light the night by candlelight.
On Christmas morning, nearly every year, we'd look out at Long Island Sound and see sea smoke: a low mysterious cloud just over the water's surface, like smoke above a cauldron, a phenomenon caused when arctic air moves over warmer salt water.
Sometimes we'd see ships passing down the sound, some with lighted Christmas trees tied to their masts--magical to look far out and see that, tiny bright spots sailing along the horizon--and we'd wonder where they were going, how the crew felt to be away from their families.
At night we'd go outside. Maybe it would be snowing, or the stars would be blazing, and one year a comet streaked through the sky--celestial wonder. The moment brought us close to heaven, and I'd think of my father, I think we all did, and sent him love while also wondering why he couldn't have been happier here on earth, and Mim would stand in the kitchen door calling us back inside, weren't we freezing, it was making her cold just to look at us. We'd laugh and go in.
So many gone, but strong love still here. My little sister and I have each other. Her husband and daughter, and our niece and her husband, and two friends so dear they're nothing less than family to us. We've been creating our own traditions over the last years. We've invited to the table our ghosts and lost loves, so they can be at the celebration too. We carry them with us.
Maybe the lesson, if there has to be a lesson, is that nothing is ever all one way. The holidays seem to promise universal goodness, happiness, togetherness. That isn't always the way, and because of our heightened hopes, the disappointment can be all the greater.
There's beauty in every life, every single day. Sometimes it takes effort and focus to find it. To find that starfish, taking that beach walk we had to look down. Even when your heart is aching for who's not here, you look around and find who is. There's someone who loves you. There's a cat who wants to sit on your lap. There are bright stars in the cold, dark sky. Position the starfish at the top of the tree. All will be well.
[Image at top of page: The Meteor of 1860 by Frederic Church.]
Luanne Rice, author of 29 novels, shares some of the methods that have made her such a successful writer.
September is the most beautiful, still so full of summer, warm sands, salt water holding onto August heat. The humidity drops, the sky is clear. Bright blue, high clouds or no clouds. Achingly gorgeous sunsets, topaz, violet, and maroon. Sometimes hurricanes come in September. We'd ride them out at the beach, leaning into the wind. Waves would rise to cliff-height and crash down, seething white over the sand, across the boardwalk, into the boat basin. And then the weather would clear, and we'd clean up the branches and leaves and broken windows. My house was built in 1938, survived the famous hurricane that devastated our area, and all storms since.
Early September brought conflict, i.e. school. It required a complete alteration of mind and mood, a radical revision of self, to go from the beach's freedom to school's schedules. We learned a lot in both places. But to this day I know I was one person at the beach and another once school began.
Yesterday a friend and I walked through the city. We headed downtown from 23rd St. The day was hot. Tenth Avenue reflected the heat. We were on our way to a meeting. Business, like school, starts up after Labor Day. I wore loafers and real pants, not jeans. My teeshirt wasn't torn or gigantic or from Surfrider. It looked vaguely legit. I sat around a big table with bright, creative people who talked about exciting things. I had a coffee. My friend brought amazing cookies. We all partook as we discussed. I particularly enjoyed the carrot cake cookie. It felt good to be part of a whole--the way I always wanted school to feel. My desk, the cats notwithstanding, can feel lonely.
Have I mentioned I was a September baby? I, and other September children with whom I've spoken, always feel renewed this time of year. One dearest friend and I have birthdays separated by just a few days and for many years have managed to celebrate them together. She lives in LA and I live in New York but that never seems to matter.
On September will go. Soon I'll be heading east on the way to my niece's wedding. By dusk I'll be swimming in the Sound. I'll have a massively festive reunion with whomever we're lucky enough to see. The cottage is inhabited by ghosts, no joke, and we'll be glad for their company. One early morning I hope to walk the beach, through the marsh, up the hidden path.
The air will be warm but not as warm. I'll smell the leaves changing. The air will be spicy with rose hips and young grapes. The bay will flash silver with bait. I'll swim as often as there's time. My thoughts are already deeply with my niece, for whose wedding we'll be gathering. It's the main thing. Sometimes, with such a big, important event on the horizon, this one in particular because it's so dear, so incredibly tender, it's hard to imagine bothering with all the minutia of the days leading up.
But life being life, there's a lot to do before getting to that moment. It's a moving meditation, the way of September. Ineffable beauty. Deep dreams and memories. Things to do. Including swimming. Attempting to fathom the unfathomable. Attending a wedding. Celebrating Molly and Alex. And to quote my sister Maureen who was quoting someone else, "love, love, love."
Try to remember. Thank you, Jerry Orbach.
New York Times bestselling author, Luanne Rice, tells of her chance encounter with a Shark.
Whenever Old Lyme threw a literary gathering, the writers would usually be the locals: Dominick Dunne, David Handler, and me. What a thrill I felt to be included with them. And I was always as entertained as the audience: they were as smart and funny as storytellers come. All three of us set novels in town; Dominick's fictional Old Lyme was Prud'homme, David's is Dorset, and mine is Black Hall, with the beach area of Hubbard's Point.
Earlier this summer when David and I discovered each other on Facebook, we had a happy online moment. It turned bittersweet as we spoke of Dominick and how we miss him.
Old Lyme's light is dreamy, reflecting off Long Island Sound, the Connecticut River, and all the tributaries, ponds, salt meadows, and marshes. Lyme Street runs through the village, lined with charming saltboxes, stately white colonial houses, stone walls, and gardens, one more seductive than the next.
There's an unquestionable reserve about our town, mystery behind the picket fences. Such a delicious place to set novels. No wonder David's are mysteries.
David has a brand new blog; I read the post while away from Old Lyme, and it made me homesick for everything about the town. I hope we're asked to speak together again before too long. I really want to hear him tell the Sid and Nancy, well more Nancy, story again. Also, and I bet David doesn't know this, the reason I got a Fender Stratocaster is directly linked to why his character Mitch Berger first acquired his.
Dominick was wickedly witty and kind and direct and famous. He knew everybody and traveled all over, and I think he really considered Old Lyme to be his sanctuary. I loved his writing and consider his Vanity Fair article, Justice, about the murder of his daughter Dominique, to be one of the most riveting, honest, unforgettable pieces I've ever read.
What a time, what a town. I want to stop by the Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library and get lost in some research, and I definitely need to play my Strat more often.
Morning walk along the beach. Sandpipers, plovers, egrets, and surfers are the only ones here. I set my towel by the lifeguard shack and walk into the water.Taking my swim, I watch the surfers paddle and wait, then rise up and become part of the wave. The sun ripples across the ocean. Even with salt in my eyes, I can see Catalina. As I start to climb out, I see a Snowy Egret standing in the hard sand, eyeing the scene. She is a small white heron, with gleaming white feathers, long neck, black bill and legs, bright yellow feet. Stalking prey she ruffles the sand with one foot; her bill darts and she moves on.
I step from the water and dry off, and the egret and I go our separate ways.
I swim in the Pacific. The tide is out, and the waves roll long and frothily into shore. I ride them in again and again. Then I lie on my back and float staring up at the clear blue sky. Getting here... I'd left New York early, in the rain. Took off through gray clouds. We rose through mist and strata. Thicker round shaped dark clouds ranging from oyster to deep gray. Ground still visible, then the Atlantic. We banked, glimpsed the Verrazano Narrows and bridge, Manhattan invisible. I'll be flying sea-to-sea.
We climbed through stages. Into cloud then out, a momentarily bright and clear middle-zone with a dark ceiling above us and a thick gray-white layer below. Gaining altitude into the blue. Sharp true-blue endless blue. Rigpa. The cloud valley below mostly silver-white but with sharky patches of long pointed brown shadows.
Mid-country the clouds are gone. We fly over plains and crop circles and patchwork farms. Now we are over rocky terrain--garnet red rocks, deeply scored canyons and ridges, mountains with roads snaking up to the top in diminishing circles.
Hours go by. I reread Peter Matthiessen's Blue Meridian. Beginning our descent. White lacy cobwebby cloud above, high desert below. Landscape looks bleached into tones of white, cream, pale peach, pale green. Then the coast mountains begin. Dark, bone, mystery peaks, several long sapphire lakes.
I love these long flights across the country. I literally rise into blue. My heart and mind are at ease. Things of the earth matter less in the sky. We begin our descent and I already know I will swim this afternoon.
There are the tall buildings of downtown Los Angeles. The Hollywood sign just a little above and behind them. The Getty Center, white and sprawling in the hills above Sunset. I used the sign and the Getty as landmarks; my friends live there, and there.
We land. I get a ride to Santa Monica. I enter my home away from home and am so glad to see everyone. We hug and catch up; I haven't been away so long this time, but still every one has news. It's wonderful to have more than one place to live. Some real, on earth, others in your imagination. This, for me, falls directly in between. They carry my bags to the Luanne Rice room. How funny and how lucky I feel.
I hurry down to the beach. The sand is hot. Happy voices drift over from the Pier, shrieks from the roller coaster and Ferris wheel. Shorebirds skitter along the tide line. There's a sign: surf to the left, swim to the right. I set down my towel, and before even sitting down, go down to the water's edge on the swim side. The waves are the same. They tug my ankles. I let them draw me in.
I dive in the and come up for air and I am looking up into the blue sky from which I'd just emerged, and I am in the Pacific.
Family vacation, sisters on the beach, Misty of Chincoteague, obsession with jodhpurs, my secret childhood wish: all will be revealed. P.S. I still want a pony.
(Photo: Misty with her foal Stormy.)
A great beach friend from childhood and, in some ways, even before--our parents had been friends when they were young, and our grandparents before that--posted on my facebook page today. We were reminiscing about Helen Hubbard--a neighbor who lived on the Point, and for whom my fictional beach town "Hubbard's Point" is named. Betty reminded me of how we used to crouch under Helen's window to listen to her practice. Helen was an opera singer and voice teacher, and when she sang it was beach music--as much a natural sound as seagulls and wind blowing through the pine needles. Once or twice a summer she would give recitals and invite grownups from the Point. That didn't stop us kids from sitting outside and enjoying the performance.
Betty and her sisters and brother and my sisters and I were across-the-road neighbors, and pretty much inseparable from Memorial Day through Labor Day. We loved summer and each other. The beach was OURS. As I wrote back to her, we swam and laughed all day. Mim, my grandmother, and her great-aunt Florence would hang out together too, tell old stories, go for swims in their skirted bathing suits and white bathing caps.
When Betty's family visited Ireland--often--they would come home with Irish linens, wall-hangings, and tea towels. My cottage is still filled with the many gifts they brought us.
Her family had a party every Labor Day. Such a bittersweet gathering! The weather would still be summery, but fall and school and--especially-leaving the beach--were in the air. We'd walk down the steep steps from their cottage to glacial rock ledge sloping into Long Island Sound. Black-eyed Susans, bright pink sweet peas, and lavender flowered spearmint grew at the top of the rocks. A picnic table would be set with plates of sandwiches, platters of sliced honeydew and musk-melon, and--the piece de resistance--Aunt Florence's soda bread and blueberry buckle.
We'd make that party last as long as possible, because as soon as it was over it was time to pack the station wagon and head up to New Britain for the school year.
As Betty says, our memories are a treasure in themselves. She is so right. Just connecting with her today makes me remember everything, and smile, and feel so happy. I wish I had a picture of us all as children--if I did, no doubt our hair would be wet, someone would be adorned with seaweed, there'd be sunglasses, flip-flops, and a few Good Humors in the picture. And we'd be doing our best and not succeeding to keep from laughing.
Hidden paths don't reveal themselves often. They're best when you stumble upon one far from home, away from the familiar. Taking a walk you might catch sight of of a shadowy opening, calling you to duck through a canopy of interlocked branches, or through an up-island gorse-covered dune Do you accept the invitation, follow the path? I've done that many times. They've led to buried treasure. Not pirate's gold, but beautiful sights I wouldn't otherwise have seen.
On Swan's Island, Maine, through the thickest pine forest, the almost invisible narrow path paved with soft, golden needles, leading to a private crescent beach.
In Normandy, uphill through an apple orchard, to the crest with a view of wildflower fields, once painted by Boudin and Monet, sloping down to the English Channel. Other byways through gardens, Impressionist landscapes filled with light and flowers.
In Ireland, in Youghal, following a path within sight of the River Blackwater, coming upon a medieval church dating back to St. Declan and the year 450.
Another day in East Cork, the Ballycotton Cliff Walk, a steep climb from the road, leads along the coast, high above the sea, with views of small islands grazed by sheep and goats, sea birds including terns and fulmars riding the air currents, white gannets plunging down into the rough blue sea, and the Old Head of Kinsale shimmering in the distance. That walk, and a day spent in Kinsale, provided much inspiration for The Silver Boat.
Our own Cliff Walk in Newport, Rhode Island, a mystical experience every time I take it, whether on a brilliant September day, or a snowy December dusk, or the hottest August morning. Cliff Walk has figured in at least three novels of mine (Angels All Over Town, What Matters Most, The Geometry of Sisters) and probably more... It hugs the coast for ten miles, past mansions of the gilded age on one side, the wild Atlantic on the other, through tunnels, past Marble House's Chinese Tea House.
Perhaps most dear to me, and not at all far from home: the secret path in all my Hubbard's Point novels, leading to a hidden beach where people fall in love and pick beach plums to make tea and jelly and see shooting stars and take midnight swims under the full moon's silver light.
(Painting by Claude Monet, Garden Path at Giverny.)
I am thinking of someone lost to me. The stories we told each other, the ghosts we summoned. We thought it would last forever. I don't even know what "it" is: our home, our closeness, our lives together. As she would say, "Nobody knows how I feel."
To love a place so much it hurts. When I go there I am haunted by someone ten miles down the road. Our mother used to say, "You'll have many friends, but only two sisters." Hey--Willoughby Moon. Going to keep this up forever? This seems an appropriate day to ask. M's summer birthday.
A favorite poem, and I know you get it. The beach is the valley our fathers called their home. Lost love...
Under Saturn by William Butler Yeats
Do not because this day I have grown saturnine Imagine that lost love, inseparable from my thought Because I have no other youth, can make me pine; For how should I forget the wisdom that you brought, The comfort that you made? Although my wits have gone On a fantastic ride, my horse's flanks are spurred By childish memories of an old cross Pollexfen, And of a Middleton, whose name you never heard, And of a red-haired Yeats whose looks, although he died Before my time, seem like a vivid memory. You heard that labouring man who had served my people. He said Upon the open road, near to the Sligo quay - No, no, not said, but cried it out - 'You have come again, And surely after twenty years it was time to come.' I am thinking of a child's vow sworn in vain Never to leave that valley his fathers called their home.
The lives of one broken-hearted woman and her family are changed forever when one of her daughters brings back the man who left so many years ago to the family he’s always loved. Some things, like sandcastles, don’t survive the changing tides. But love, family, and friendship–just as fragile–have a way of standing against anything.Read More
Butterfly on the Tide Line by Luanne Rice
Walking the tide line, I came upon an Eastern Comma Butterfly in the wet sand. The front edge of a wave pushed it higher on the beach. I thought the butterfly was dead, but then I saw one of its legs move. I picked it up. I carried it to the top of the beach thinking I would lower it into the tall grass where it could die, but it held my finger with a sharp grip. It began to walk up the back of my hand.
I sat in the sand holding it. We stayed there for a long time. The sun felt warm. Ants crawled around the sand. The butterfly was still, its wings glued together, sticking straight up. It looked as if a bite had been taken from its wings, but it was so symmetrical I believe that was just their shape.
Brown spots on dark orange wings, like a monarch but with no white markings. Raggedy wings, big eyes. She had only one antenna visible. I thought the other had been torn off, but it was trapped between her wings. She worked to free it and did. Now two antennae waved. Four legs walking. Up my hand onto the sleeve of my sweatshirt. Over my shoulder, onto my back. She positioned herself in full sunlight. We stayed there a long time. She was drying her wings.
She moved her wings apart. A little, then back together. Stillness. Her big eyes. No more walking, then many more steps onto my shoulder. She tilted. Her wings opened. Now she closed them again. Wide wings, grains of sand stuck to them. A small patch of sand where the wing joined her thorax. As her wings dried, the sand fell off grain by grain.
I slid off my sweatshirt and placed it on my towel with her on the shoulder of the sweatshirt in the sun. I went to swim. I just ducked in, stayed a few minutes, came out. She was still there in the sunlight. The wind ruffled her wings. They were open now and stayed open. The sun was setting; I was getting cold. I waited, wishing she would fly. I felt my hopes getting up, but checked them. Maybe she would try to fly and not be able to. I thought of my youngest sister. She had once watched a Monarch butterfly emerge from its chrysalis. It had crawled onto her finger and taken flight from there. She’d described to me the feeling of tiny claws on her skin. I had known that with my butterfly. I wanted her to fly, but she didn’t. The sun was going down.
I didn’t want to leave her on the beach. I picked up my sweatshirt with her still clinging to the shoulder, wings open. Carrying her across the sand, I spotted a young gull, dark markings, standing on one foot. On the body, right where the second leg should have been, was a scrap of red. Blood, from where the leg had been—recently, from the blood and ruffled feathers—torn off.
Every day is a heartbreak. You can’t save everything. Maybe you can’t save anything. I carried the butterfly on my sweatshirt. The sea breeze picks up just before sunset, and I was afraid she’d blow off my sweatshirt when we crossed the footbridge, but I shielded her with my body and she hung on.
We climbed the steep stone steps up the wooded hillside. When we got to the yard, I left her on my sweatshirt on the ground by the back door. Her wings were open, then she closed them. I went to take a shower, an outside shower under the sky, with vines climbing the latticework. The water felt hot and good. When I came back around the house, she was gone.
Another perspective on Hubbard’s Point… There's No Place Like Home
By Luanne Rice
In the spirit of full disclosure, I should tell you that several years ago I bought the beach cottage where my family spent every summer; this proverb is that dear to my heart. A small grey-shingled house perched on a rocky ledge overlooking Long Island Sound, it is shaded by oaks and pines, smelling of salt and beach roses. After a long winter in New York City, I walk through the kitchen door, and a lifetime of memories floods over me.
My maternal grandparents built the house in 1938, just in time to withstand the brutal hurricane roaring up New England’s coast. My father’s family owned a cottage just up the road; he met my mother the summer after he returned from World War II. It was a rainy day, and he and his mother were sitting on the screen porch. As the family story goes, my mother went striding by (I love that they use that word—“striding”—I can just see her) in a yellow rain slicker, and my future grandmother urged her son to go after her in the car, and offer her a ride.
He did, and they got married, and my sisters and I were born. We lived inland during the winter, but every June we’d pack up the station wagon and head for the beach. My grandmother let us plant the window boxes; my mother gave us each a section of the herb garden to plant; my father taught us how to fish. My cousins would be a two-minute walk away at my grandfather’s cottage, and we’d all go swimming and crabbing together. We looked forward all year till the August meteor showers, when we’d lie on the beach and wish on shooting stars.
My Aunt Jan has a party every year, on the date of her father’s birthday. Pop died long ago, but the last weekend in August, his house and yard are alive with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“Home” can encompass more than a dwelling—it can be a gathering, an activity, a state of mind—a moment that tells you who you are, where you come from. During last year’s party, I took my cousins’ children—twelve of them—for the time-honored Rice family tradition of blue crabbing in the swamp, at the far end of the beach. Armed with nets and drop lines, buckets and bait, we waited till the tide was right, and then trudged through the tall grass to the creek.
We lined the banks. Sun beat down on our heads. I remembered my father telling me to be still, that my shadow would scare the crabs away. I could almost feel my sisters beside me, our bare feet silver with silty mud, thrilled by the sight of blue shells skulking through the shallows.
Last summer, it all came back. Nothing can conjure childhood memories like hanging out by a tidal creek with twelve young cousins. I felt so happy to show them what I knew, to watch them catch and release more crabs than we could count. We took time out to watch egrets in the pond, to follow an osprey as it circled overhead. Two of the older kids went exploring, and found the Indian Grave that my sisters and I had often visited so many summers earlier.
Many of the people I loved so much are gone. My grandparents, my mother and father, some of my aunts and uncles and cousins. As often as memory makes me smile, it makes me sad for those I’ll never see again. I think that that is one of the secrets of life: to know that it all goes by so fast, that sometimes we have to let go of people we love before we are ready.
Ergo: the ruby slippers. Thank goodness we all have a pair. Your mother’s brownie recipe, your grandmother’s quilt, the picture of you and your sister at the State Fair. Click your heels three times…
My cottage has withstood many hurricanes since 1938. So have I, so has my family. I’ve lived in big cities and small towns, made more mistakes than I can count, roamed far and wide, lived a complicated life. One thing I can always count on is the feeling of peace that overtakes me when I climb the steps, up the hill to my cottage.
I see the 1938 penny my grandfather pressed into the step’s mortar; I smell the rosemary, thyme, and mint from my mother’s herb garden; I feel the salt breeze that has so often blown my troubles away, that has inspired me with countless stories…and I feel in my heart what I know to be true: there’s no place like home.