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, a small green privy stood beside the cottage on a hill. Narrow paths went everywhere that Decades of fallen pine needles had turned into soft Madder-rose carpets which we would walk barefooted. a bucket of white lime and a big metal spoon kept the dank privy from smelling of anything but pine trees and salt air. on a shelf above the lime bucket, wax from many candles dripped over the edge - like stalactites - in all colors of the rainbow. by the cottage door, a small shed housed a propane refrigerator that warbled with a constant blue flame. just beyond, was the kitchen and a deep metal sink with a large, red hand- pump mounted on the side which required the strength of an adult to use. after vigorous effort with the pump-handle, water could be heard making its way up the pipe with deep, sonorous bass notes and a rhythmic splashing as the well water burst into the sink. above, hanging on a rusty nail, was a small mirror, brown with tarnish spots. In quiet early mornings I liked to stand by my father and watch as he shaved. when he bent his head to look into the small mirror, he made funny faces. I watched as he moved his 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. Imitating the funny faces he made, I would scrape off the shaving cream with my own toy razor,

     Without electricity, at night rooms were lit by candles and kerosene lamps which enveloped the cottage with 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 cozy beds, damp with salt air. As I feel 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.