14 Commonwealth Avenue, that was its address. It was (is) one of many gingerbread cottages in the Campgrounds of Oak Bluffs; and like (nearly) every cottage there, it had a name. My friend Dailis lived in "Cool Corner", and Jimmy and Eddy lived in the "Hermitage". I used to know the kids who lived in "Tall Timbers" - the tallest cottage around, but they moved away. Then there was old Mrs. McCarthy; she'd been 102 for as long as I could remember - and was very hard of hearing. She lived in "HateToQuitIt," and had her phone ringer set as loud as possible - not that it ever did any good. Craig lived in "AzULikIt," and good old "Uncle" Burt and "Aunt" May, they lived in "Happy Days qua Daze." They could never decide which version they liked best - "Days" or "Daze"; so they alternated between the two.
Our place, it was "The Cricket"; I think my mom came up with the name. As cottages went, it was pretty big - four bedrooms. Most places were a living room with a dining area and kitchen behind that, and maybe a bathroom; then a narrow flight of stairs up to one or two small bedrooms. The front bedroom usually had a tiny porch with double doors; they were how most of the furniture was gotten into the upstairs. Our place was also unique in that it had a large backyard, and a snug little side/front yard - where the clothes' lines were. Mom and dad could actually park their cars in the backyard; an incredible rarity for a cottage!
My dimmest, earliest memory of the place was sleeping in the first bedroom, the one closest to the upstairs bathroom and my parents' room. The place had (has) no attic; I'd lie in bed and just look up at the peak of the roof. On rainy nights, it was quite nice being lulled to sleep by the sounds of the raindrops making their pitter-patter on the roof. Beyond my room were the middle and back bedrooms. Often empty, but always available for friends and family to stay in when they'd visit.
But, the best room of all, the one I and my friends enjoyed, was the playroom; yet another room unique to our cottage. It was just off the kitchen, a square little room with big windows, long benches, and plenty of toys and games. And, it had one of those sectional doors - a door cut in half, just above the doorknob. My mother could close the lower half - to keep me safely inside, yet be able to keep an eye on me! Why she needed to do that, I'll never know. After all, I was a complete angel.
The cottages, being quite old, had to be "retrofitted" with certain modern conveniences, shall we say? Air conditioning was non-existent - after all, the Island was off the coast of Massachusetts. But, flush toilets, electricity, and hot water heaters were things that just had to be accommodated in some manner. This often meant that pipes ran in the oddest of arrangements and configurations - usually right above our heads, and some wires were downright ancient! In our cottage, we had but one shower, and as a very young child, I didn't use it. No, my mother would fill one of the dual sinks in the back laundry room, and I would simply sit in it and wash. Hard to believe I was ever small enough to fit in such a contraption, but then I also remembered the doorframe.
In the doorway that separated the living room from the dining room, we kept track of everyone's height. Year in, year out; every summer my mother would stand me and my brother there and mark our heights with a pencil. By the time I was ten, I was six feet tall. Yeah, my days in the laundry sink were long gone! Eventually, I topped out at about six-three - at the very top of the list. Strange that the youngest should be the biggest, but such is the "genetic lottery". It was then that I stepped back and studied the long list of lines on that doorframe; and had to laugh to see that I was not only the one at the top, but the one at the bottom. A lifetime of growth encompassed in a doorway.
While the cottage had - as I said - a playroom, that was not the only place we played. Oh no, the whole house was our playground. The upstairs bathroom and the middle bedroom had windows that opened out onto the roof of the playroom. Once again, it was unique among the roofs of the cottage - it was flat. Well, no self-respecting child could let such a nice, flat open space go unused. No, this became the deck of our aircraft carrier, the bridge of our ship - both ocean-going and space, and the "sniper's nest" for our war games. One day, I chance to look up from that roof, and realized that I could shimmy up the slanted roofs of the cottage. Well, that was it; from then on, the entire cottage truly did become our play place. Quite the amazing thing about that - not one of us ever got hurt. Yeah, I know, we were just lucky.
And finally, there was the front porch. Once again, ours was fairly large, so it became our chief play area. We would take the rocking chairs and lean them forward so that their backs lay on the railing, and thus they became our cannons and machine guns for when we played war. Or, they were our harpoon guns for when we went whaling - or played some other politically incorrect game. How on earth any of us managed to grow up to be normal, I'll never know!
My Dad was not known for his thoroughness. No, he was "King of the Procrastinators". As it happened, this worked in our favor regarding one little item - the porch of the cottage. In the back corner, around from the front door, there were several boards that he had never nailed down. This was all we needed. That became our engine. We pulled back the boards and put an old pot in there, some tin cans, a few soda bottles, bits of wire, and a couple spoons. On the shingles next to those boards, we used a pencil to write numbers; the different speeds that our "engine" could reach. We even drew some lines through the last few. Yes, these were the danger speeds; to reach this meant we were close to blowing up! Quite the excitement for a gang of young boys. That porch, like so many places on the Island, became so much more - space ship, battleship, underwater research lab, and so forth and so on.
On my last visit, I chanced to walk by "The Cricket", and saw that those boards had finally been nailed down. Pausing there, I had to wonder, was our old "engine" still under there? Would some future archaeologist unearth them, and wonder what primitive culture had placed them there? I could see it now - a scientist delivering a lecture to a classroom of future students about the ancient funeral practices of a long lost civilization. Would the fact that we used four soda bottles and not three be considered significant?
Click here for more by AJ Robinson.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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