Eclectic, quirky, and sometimes edgy…this is how things look from my front porch.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Black Point

Black Point. Just the sound of that name brings to mind the mingled summer smell of honeysuckle and brine in the air, with Long Island sound’s gentle waves touching the shore. When I think of it, I get an ache in my throat and the tears come for what had been and is no more. Osprey Street and a knotty-pine paneled beach cottage where ribbons won swimming were tacked to the walls and the ticka ticka sound of Taffy padding across the kitchen floor looking for a Milk Bone hand out echoed from the kitchen.

I was the first grandchild in the family, so I had not only loving grandparents, but doting great aunts and uncles who loved me like a grandchild, too. My beloved great aunt Kit was one of those surrogate grandparents. She and her husband, my godfather Lenny, were so very kind to me when I was little. Kit was slim and elegant and Lenny had a shaved head before it was cool. He’d get mahogany brown by mid-summer and hang out on the small beach with his friends.

I was a precocious child. I talked early and haven’t stopped since. Lenny liked to show off all the cute things I could do when I was two and three. One day, I’d had enough and remained mute while he coached me. “Annie, tell them how old you are.” “Annie, tell them your address.” I picked up my plastic bucket and headed toward the water shaking my head saying, “Poor Lenny.”

I dearly loved Kit and Lenny’s three daughters; Joan, Peg, and Claire. They were attractive girls who were in high school and college when I was little. Joan was the smart, acerbic one with a quit wit. Claire was the sweet one with a quirky smile. And Peg was the beautiful one.

To a pre-schooler, Joan, Peg, and Claire were the ultimate in cool and glamour. They had pretty hair and pretty clothes. They used Noxzema to wash their faces. I still use Noxzema just for that reason. I think of them every time I wear a hair band. I was the flower girl in Claire’s wedding when I was six. I still remember dancing with my father to Blood, Sweat and Tears’ “Spinning Wheel” at the reception.

Joan, my father’s cousin, met my mother’s brother, Jim, during my parent’s wedding. They married, making their children both my first cousins and also my second cousins. I would often stay with them when I was small. I’m sure I must have been annoying parading around in Joan’s shoes while singing “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round” 9,431 time, but they never let on.

I read “Hide and Seek Fog,” my favorite childhood book, at Black Point. I won a costume contest at the Black Point Beach Club once in a cool muumuu my mother made me. Black Point was blueberry muffins, stopping at farm stands for tomatoes and swimming out to the floating dock. It was putting my bathing suit through the old wringer washer, hanging it on the line and rinsing sand off my feet. Everyone in that place meant the world to me.

My parents divorced. I moved away from Connecticut. The girls all married and moved away. I’d see Joan from time to time and received news about the girls from my grandmother. I moved even further away to Hawaii. My grandmother died and even the news stopped. Due to a series of sad events outside my control, I lost touch with “the girls.”

I’ve been traveling lately with Farmer Boy and his work takes him to Groton, CT, about twenty minutes from Black Point. I finally summoned the courage to return there with him. I was unsure if the cottage on Osprey was still in my family at all or how I’d be received if it was. My longing to see it all again was too great, so I drove back.

I looked at the cottage from my car. It had been improved, but was still the cottage of my childhood. The character of Black Point has remained the same. Although there are a few newly-constructed, vinyl-sided summer rental monstrosities, the multi-generational family cottages with cedar-shake shingles and geranium-filled window boxes still predominate. Black Point has not become homogenized.

While drivng down to the beach for one quick look, I was amazed to see my cousin Peg. I was surprised at how young she looked. I felt tentative at first, but I was very warmly welcomed. She quickly invited me back to the cottage for drinks on the deck. It took Peg just a minute to recognize me, but her husband, Joe, recognized me immediately, even after 30 years.

I learned the sad news that my Aunt (and second cousin) Joan of those “wheels on the bus going round and round days” died last year. She had a hard life. Joan lost one son to crib death, one to suicide and my Uncle Jim when she was a little younger than I am now. She was a breast cancer survivor, but lost a long-term battle with smoking and emphysema when she died of MRSA last year. I know she is at peace now. I’m thankful for that, as well as her many kindnesses to me when was a child.

It is difficult to convey the rush of emotion that suffused me as I walked up those familiar steps. The living room was exactly as I had remembered, right down to the knotty-pine paneling and the red and blue swimming ribbons tacked up high near the ceiling. As I left that night, Peg said to me, “Come back anytime.” I’m not sure if she realized how much it meant to me to recapture a small bit of my childhood, but I wept all the way to dinner.

Peg always was the beautiful one. But can I tell you that I never saw her look as beautiful as she did when she was carefully tending to her disabled son in a wheel chair and welcoming back a wayfarer from a long time ago?
“Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned.” Proverbs 31:30.

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