The Gathering Place

I sit on the porch of our family shore house listening to the morning symphony of foam flip flops shuffling along slate sidewalks to the boardwalk, the gentle rumbling of car engines in slow pursuit of good parking spaces, and the sweet-tuned gossip amongst the birds singing the breaking news of summer from the trees lining the street.

The breeze is cool and a cocktail of salty humidity clings to the furniture as the sun spotlights the modernized facelifts of our street’s once Victorian-style dollhouse homes.

I can usually see the ocean from this spot on the cozy wicker sofa, but the hedges around the porch have grown a little too accustomed to a casually untidy appearance which we can all pretty much relate to from living through a worldwide pandemic. I could use a trim as well but that can wait a while longer. These are those lazy, hazy, crazy days of… well you know, after all.

(The birds’ news reel plays on a loop).

I was too lazy to prepare the coffee this morning and didn’t want to wake anyone sleeping on the first floor with the bubbling gasps of the coffee pot. So instead, I gathered my laptop and headed out to the porch to sit in the breeze and be inspired by summer. Not too long after, I am joined by my cousin and her young son and demands for bubble time take priority. Wobbly iridescence floats heavily on the air and splash lands on the floorboards while the writing takes a rest.

Welcome distractions abound in this family-filled old house. These walls tell stories of use and love – of our own contained family history in this little shore town. The rooms are filled with laughter and conflicting TV volume preferences – with movie decision fatigue and lazy mornings sipping coffee. The scent memory of freshly baked Italian rolls and cinnamon sugar crumb cake permeate the dining room and waft up the stairs like a buttery apparition encouraging everyone to wake up in slow procession.

The memories of past experiences and loved ones long gone remain alive in this magical place, preserved like old time postcards in a frame. This house tells us stories and helps us write new ones. It makes us laugh till our bellies and our cheeks ache or even sometimes, till we pee “our” pants (IYKYK). It is where we have gathered for my whole life- where I got to know my family as a whole and I am so grateful for all that it gives us. We try our best to do right by it and keep the experiences going, even when it gets hard or we don’t have a clue what we are doing.

But now it is time to put away the laptop and enjoy the first day of summer – to bask in the salty breeze of the shore, with the only current task at hand of pondering when to head to the beach.

We Keep Meeting

I met someone new today. Her name is Ella Brady. She lives in Dublin and frequents a restaurant called Quentins. We were unknowingly introduced by my Nana, back when I was fourteen and spending the summer with her and my Aunt Arlene down the shore, via her suggestion that I might enjoy the works of Maeve Binchy, an Irish author with a great descriptive talent for storytelling. Having tried a couple of pages of one of Ms. Binchy’s books back at fourteen, the title of which evades me now, I decided to occupy my reading time with other titles and authors instead. I slid the works of Maeve Binchy onto a bookshelf in the library in my head to be revisited another time.

Maeve Binchy and I met again in the ladies room at The Bank on College Green in Dublin when I was twenty-three and she was three years passed, a portrait of her hanging on the wall along with portraits of other female, Irish artists. Seeing the portrait tugged the ball chain pull to the light bulb over the bookshelf in my head and to my Nana’s suggestion from nine years earlier. On vacation and out to dinner celebrating the special occasion of Mike and my sixth anniversary of dating, the light bulb extinguished and I continued on with the evening, Maeve Binchy, an all but forgotten apparition haunting the library in my head.

We met again most recently on Friday morning when Mike and I spent an evening visiting with my parents at our extended family’s shore house a bit further down the New Jersey coast from where Mike and I now live. Having helped to manage the house’s fully-stacked, weekly rental schedule during this other-worldy summer, it was rewarding to get to enjoy the house for a night and to relax in the familiar space rather than feel stressed and pressed for time as we often do during five-hour rental “turnovers”.

We stayed in the room that was my Nana’s when she lived in the house, the room that she’d chosen to make her own space for years before she moved to an apartment in Pennsylvania. I’d not slept in the room since before she moved to New Jersey back in 2000, back when it was the original “Cousins’ Room” with two twin beds topped with crocheted, white coverlets – the floor blanketed in dusty rose carpeting.

Even after Nana moved from the house and slept in the “cozy room” downstairs during her visits, her room upstairs was designated for the parents and the West Coast family when they visited, and then for my cousins expecting children. On Thursday, after a summer of muscle, decision making, cleaning schedule communications, logging expenses, ordering and purchasing supplies, and initiating process improvements, I felt we deserved to sleep in Nana’s old room, the nicest room in the house. When Mike asked me on the second floor landing on Thursday night, “Cousins’ room?” I just replied, “Nana’s room.”

It is a strange thing to feel like you’ve grown up so significantly to the point of noticing it over the course of a summer, but I feel that is what has happened during this very strange summer. This is how I came to be comfortable and to feel deserving of sleeping in the best room in the house on Thursday. This is how I came to be reacquainted with Maeve Binchy when I woke up Friday and saw the dusty spine of Quentins resting on the bookshelf table under the center window in Nana’s room that morning.

I spoke with my Nana on Friday and let her know that I had found one of her Maeve Binchy books and let her know that I was going to read it. I told her it was called Quentins. She said, “You read it first and then I’ll read it.” Eager to have something to share with her, I took the book home and began to read it this morning. I met someone new today. Her name is Ella Brady. She lives in Dublin and frequents a restaurant called Quentins. Once I am acquainted with Ella’s story completely, I will send the book to my Nana, and she will meet her again too, and Ella will soon be a mutual friend or foe of ours; and to find out which, I’ll go back to reading the story.