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Monday, July 25, 2011

Flashback: Age 19, Summer of 1980

Mom and I are at the Cape for three weeks! Dad stayed one week but had to get back to work at Inland Chemical Company in New Jersey, so we're here for two more. Before we came, I worked five weeks at a marketing research job in Bergenfield, to make tuition money. Went in nights in a smoky basement. The calls made me nervous, the people hanging up, the stern moms grabbing the receivers from their sons who responded to the ring and slamming them down in the cradle. But the pay was good. I pay half my tuition and room and board every year [my part is $1,800 and my parents pay the other half].

I love it here. A brand-new second home! Almost every day, I ride my burnt-orange 10-speed over the rolling black-top road, until Nauset Light Beach emerges on the other side of the crest. I love to read the sign at the beach about Henry David Thoreau and the little white Three Sisters Lighthouses, a watchful row of three beacons that alerted sailors to dangerous coast. That and the sign about Marconi, and the early telegraph, a cable that ran along the ocean floor. I like to look at the tall red and white lighthouse, and wonder about the woman who lives in the keeper's house [private property, keep out] next to it.

Sometimes I don't bike, but ride the free shuttle schoolbus that runs from the Nauset Regional High School parking lot. Mom and I walk to the lot and then catch a ride to the beach. 

I feel so lucky to be here. I have my own room. It's painted light blue, with a bed and white nubby bedspread from our old friends Rite and Bob, a rocking chair and the freshly painted small white desk and chair from Sis's and my room in Dumont. We even have a fireplace, and a sliding door. And a pretty bathroom with silver and blue wallpaper.

We have an electric stove, and a dishwasher, not like at home. We hang our clothes out to dry on a line in the back. There's a lamp post out front. We have an outdoor shower. Today, I heard voices and looked up and saw at least one of the brothers next door watching from up high in a towering, leafy tree. Embarrassing.

I spend a lot of time wondering....will I ever fall in love? There's a lifeguard at the beach who noticed me, commented on my dark tan. I look better tan. My eyes look bluer and my hair gets blonder. He said something about it must be a saltwater tan. Swimming in pools is bad for your tan, he said. Chlorine dries out your skin and makes it peel. He wears red lifeguard shorts. There's one cute guy I've seen. Blonde, older, tall, tan and brings his typewriter onto the beach. He must be a writer. Intriguing. Harvard, maybe. I said hello to him one day and asked him about his typewriter, asked if he was a writer. I could tell from his reaction that he thought I was too young, and that he is attached. I walked away.

I like to ride back from the beach. When I turn right on Aquinnah Road, the road after Queen Anne Drive, I take my hands off the bars and sit up straight and pedal in my swimsuit and flip-flops. I feel so free. I love that road. It's paved nice and smooth. It used to be farmland, but now it's lined with pretty beach cottages.

Mom and I don't have a car here. We sleep late. We read. I read a scary paperback that gave me nightmares. [I borrowed it from Michael Komlo, my next-door neighbor back home in Dumont.] We walk to the post office, or over to Rite and Bob's on Quail Cover Lane for dinner, or they come to our house. Mom gave her friends the General Delivery address at the North Eastham Post Office, and likes to check for mail. She got a couple of letters, and that made her happy. Rite and Bob drive us to Stop & Shop in Orleans once a week for groceries. Sometimes the three of them play bridge at night at the little round table, and try to teach me. But I'm really not interested in learning.

Today, it was hot, and Mom asked at the beach to use some of my suntan lotion. But I only had a little squeeze left and didn't want to share it. Then I changed my mind. No, never mind, she said. I felt selfish, and bad. Why didn't I just say yes?

Sometimes when I get back from the beach, she's lying on the bed in the spare bedroom, in her green flowered house dress, with her legs up on the wall. She has varicose veins, and they bother her. Her belly looks big and she's not sure why. She says she isn't eating a lot, that maybe it's tomatoes or something, the acid in them, causing the bloating.

I hope she is okay. 

This is our rest cure, she jokes. We read, go to bed early, and sleep till nine.

I hope we can do this every year. And, I hope I can meet a boyfriend.

Postscript: That September, I headed back to New Brunswick for sophomore year at Rutgers, and Dad went to Fort Wayne, Indiana for a week or two for work. My brothers JJ and Will had gone to California for a while. I think Sis was at graduate school in NYC. We learned later that Mom had quietly scheduled a hysterectomy while Dad was away. That bloating in her belly was not from eating tomatoes. She had cancer. But she was Irish and stoic. By Christmastime, she had a wig. By the following May 20, she was gone. We never had more time together at the Cape, Mom and me, not a single day, though Dad did take her there a bit more. But I did fall in love that year, with a nice guy at college, a horticulture major with dark hair and glasses. He lived pretty close to the beaches in Margate, Ventnor and Atlantic City. Bittersweet comfort in the face of losing one's mom--in the face of the ground shifting under your feet, going from terra firma to changeable sand.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. (I posted a comment and quickly removed it because I noticed a typo. Sorry if I messed up you comment section :)

    Alice. I am so glad that you chose to share this memory. While it’s sad, it’s nice, too – the last precious days that you had your mom all to yourself, at a place that you love. It must have been emotional to write this. Reading it has brought tears to my eyes.

    You have previously referenced the exchange about the sunscreen; it must still bother you. Please know that we all have things in our lives, small and large, that we wish we would have done or said something different. And you were only 19.

    Thank you for a glimpse of my aunt in a place that I’ve never been. We talked about this before, but I am glad that I did get to visit her late that October, before I moved to Alaska. That’s my last memory of her, a brave woman sitting in the chair by the front door in your living room, graciously hosting guests and smiling when she probably felt like crap.

  3. That's "your" comment section... oops! Another typo.

  4. Dear Alice,what abeautiful post.So wonderful you spent that precious private time with your Mom.
    You brought some tears to my eyes as you remembered your dear Mother.The Irish sure have a way with words.The other half the Italian is the artist.
    We to love the Cape and I get much pleasure in reading about places we know and miss up there.
    Stay well and relax.
    Love Aunt Ann

  5. so sweet, honey. made me cry this morning remembering sweet memories of my dad. xoxo

  6. Alice! The attraction to the typewriter guy! Sound familiar!

  7. Alice, this is amazing and haunting all at once. Even though it must be painful to read, how wonderful to have such a detailed record of ordinary days with your mom.

    On a lighter note, you were really developing your "voice" at this time. It sounds like you. :)

  8. Lin, Aunt Ann, Nicole--thank you for the sweet notes. Lin, I clearly remember you visiting! That was sweet. Aunt Ann, my mom sure had Irish humor and language. Kim, I know! I can't believe I was attracted to a guy with a typewriter and then much later, along came H. with his. Eileen, thank you...I wrote it now....but tried to make it sound as though I was writing it then. I have Nikki, 9, with me in the car right now, and we are going to the National Seashore Visitor Center, then bike path to beach with Nik's mom/my friend, Anne. love, alice