What are springs and waterfalls? Here is the spring of springs, the waterfall of waterfalls. A storm in the fall or winter is the time to visit it; a lighthouse or a fisherman's hut the true hotel. A man may stand there and put all America behind him.
-Henry David Thoreau, Cape Cod
THREE: THE TRUE HOTEL AND ALL OF AMERICA
My mother cried a lot right after she and my father separated. Usually in the car on our way to do something like get manicures or have drinks at a café. I got sick of it one time when we were in the parking lot of a grocery store. I wanted her to tell me to zip up my coat or to clean my room. I got out of the car and slammed the door behind me. We walked into the supermarket separately with tears in our eyes. I walked roughly by a display of strawberries and knocked a container over with my hip. It spilled all over the floor. When I bent down to pick them up, the manager said it was fine. He would get someone else to do it.
The thanksgiving my grandfather made racist remarks at the dinner table and I spoke up to stop him, my aunt told me that everyone was entitled to their opinion and I should be quiet. I spent an hour crying in the huge modular bathtub upstairs. Usually after big family dinners I always make the coffee, but this time my uncle did. My aunt came up and asked me through the door if I wanted to go for a walk. I said no. When I went back down to the table my eyes were burning and no one looked at me.
The women in my family are all round, with breasts like mounds of dough and thighs that rub softly against each other. Imagine me, an Athena woman. Born of my father’s thigh, not my mother’s belly. Towering breezily above the sea of low-bowing, morning-heavy shrubs. The one you would not pluck first, but would seek shade beneath.
There was a man always lounging at Corporation Beach. His chest was a cedar bowl, burned with ages leavening in the sun. We walked past him lying there on the first day my grandparents ever took me to the beach. We walked past him later with the urn of my grandmother Nee nee’s ashes to spread. I walked past him later with my arm around a tall boy. He never recognized us. This is why I came to think of him as a part of the gnarled peninsula—a living landmark, like a tree trunk growing around a bicycle chain left on it too long. A sign that nature perseveres longer than human life. When the cedar man dies, I imagine a carpenter building a canoe out of his limbs, and one day I will come upon him and say, “Oh. How humans are destroying nature for our own luxury.”
My love for the calves comes from when I used to help mix their formula in the cold barn. It was a sweet powder and it got on my jacket as I poured it out in a big puff into the trough. The smell was sweeter than bread and if you took a deep enough breath the powder would stick to your tongue. After we mixed it with hot water I would pour it and take it to the three-day-old calves. They would suck on your thumb which made my brothers and me laugh.
I have spent every Fourth of July except one on Cape Cod. The shores are crowded and you can smell burning firecrackers and lobster rolls, the flesh of them ripe in the salt-air. Yellow jackets hum over the trashcans where ice cream drips from the rims. My brothers and I stick our hands out the windows while we listen to the Cape jazz station, counting the Boston Red Sox stickers on the bumpers. It is always hopeless-looking when we have to park on the side of the road. The shore pops with beer cans and firecrackers and opening potato chip bags. But we find space—bringing blankets and sweatshirts. My face is red, my brothers’ faces are red, and the late sun matches our cheeks. We are looking out at the bay,at the hook of the Cape arm stretched out before us as if it is showing off its muscles. Kids trample our blankets in happiness when the fireworks start. The blue and red explosions are patriotic pearls from smashed oyster shells all around the sandy ridge at the end of our sight lines. We watch over twenty displays at once around the curve of the arm—none of them meant for us. They sizzle distantly and then I hear a shout and one goes off twenty feet away. The dust settles in my eyes and my mother complains. I’m sitting on a beach blanket that has not been washed since 1998 eating ten-cent Smarties from the Brewster Store. The fireworks all around me are a horizontal necklace of fire—a halo around our peninsula. They explode over the washed-away footprints of my great grandfather Victor Zoeller, all of my family before and after him. The seat Henry David Thoreau took on a boulder while he wrote about the plains of Nauset. The secret beach we go to that I cannot tell you about. The ashes we spread. The fishing boat my great uncle took out at four in the morning.
And somewhere, there are cows lumbering in a pasture being spooked by my cousins running through the tall grass with firecrackers. I know that as far as my arm extends or as limited as the tips of my fingers are, I belong there too.
My dad and his brothers own the Cape house split three ways. My dad used to make the payments but my uncle Matt offered to buy his share when money became an obstacle. It needs a new roof now and he just hung a photograph of my grandmother on her wedding day. In the attic, he found the manuscript of a book my great-grandfather wrote. The characters are all named after his children.
- Beston, Henry. The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod. New York: H. Holt, 1992. Print.
- "Coastal Erosion on Cape Cod: Some Questions and Answers.” United States Geographical Survey. N.p., n.d. Web.
- David Thoreau, Henry. Cape Cod. N.p.: CreateSpace, 2014. Print.