Pine Trees and Salt Air

   It was the Fourth of July and we were invited to a picnic on the lake. We rode the five miles on our bicycles to enjoy a breezy downhill ride from our farmhouse. That night, meandering home from the party, we turned our bicycles onto Vineyard Road, a route new to us. As we walked up the steep hill we passed a small, derelict house on our left.  It vaguely reminded me of my childhood home in Schenectady with clapboard siding and windows on each side of a central door. The old house had a slight hint of Greek-Revival flourish in simple returns along gable ends. Surrounded by tall weeds and brush, an old cherry tree, fat with falling limbs, held court in the dooryard. An outhouse stood out back with weathered siding the color of forest-floor.  

   Odd as it may seem, this old house in the weeds was my dream. Every summer as a child, my family spent the last two weeks of August on Cape Cod living in a small, rustic cottage that had no plumbing or electricity. lost in a thicket of blueberry bushes and scrub pine, Narrow paths lead everywhere which decades of fallen pine needles had transformed into a maze of soft, madder-rose carpets for us to follow on our many barefooted adventures. a small shed stood above the cottage on a hill with a peaked roof and wooden door, bearing a carved crescent moon. this was the privy. a bucket of white lime and a big metal spoon kept the privy from smelling of anything but pine trees and salt air. on a shelf above the bucket, wax from many candles dripped over the edge like stalactites in all colors of the rainbow. at the cottage by the door, a small propane refrigerator warbled to itself with a constant blue flame and just beyond, was the kitchen and deep metal sink. instead of faucets, the sink had a large red hand-pump mounted on the side for water which required the strength of an adult to use. after vigorously pumping the handle for several minutes, water slowly made its way up the pipe. deep, sonorous bass notes could be heard followed by rhythmic splashing as water burst into the metal sink. echoing loudly. on a rusty nail above the sink, hung a small mirror, brown with tarnish spots. In quiet early mornings I liked to stand by my father and watch as he shaved. he would bend his knees and lean forward in an effort to see himself in this small mirror, I laughed as he made funny faces with his mouth, moving the razor from side to side, leaving swathes of clean skin across his lathered chin. Sometimes, my father would lather shaving cream on my own soft chin. i scraped it off with a toy razor, moving my hand from side to side, imitating the funny faces i had just watched him make.

     Without electricity, rooms at night were lit by candles and kerosene lamps that enveloped the cottage with a mellow, flickering darkness. My parents and their friends played cards and laughed until late at night. We would listen, separated from the adults by a cloth-draped doorway, from our cozy beds, damp with salt air. As I fell asleep, their laughter would meld with the sound of surf washing on shore where I had played all day.

     To live in a small house with kerosene lamps, a hand-pump in the kitchen, and an outhouse out back was a good thing, not a bad thing to me.