As the fifth of five sons, I grew up seeing many pictures and home movies of my brothers. One of the places I saw them going to most often was a little cabin in Essex, Massachusetts. I had no idea what that place was, but the movies and pictures made it look wonderful.
I asked my dad about it, He explained that before we had a cottage on Martha’s Vineyard, we had a place in Essex. I was curious. After all, I had only ever known about the island, and I wondered what Essex was like.
One day, my dad drove me up to the town. It was a quiet little place northeast of Boston sitting on Ipswich Bay. The cabin my parents had owned was way out in the woods.
In fact, the cabin sat on a small high surrounded by water during the mean high tide, making it an island! I thought that cool. Yet, we really couldn’t go see the cottage.
Now, the cabin sat on land owned by someone else; that person or persons owned great deal of land. My dad drove down the narrow dirt road until we came to a makeshift roadblock. A tree trunk placed across the road.
As we walked, my dad would occasionally point out some of the other old cabins in the area. They were where the other people I’d seen in the home movies had lived. The cabins weren’t for winter stays; the cabins were just summer places like the cottages in the island.
I asked about visiting them. I so wanted to meet these people from my family’s past. No, we couldn’t go see them, as they no longer lived there, even for the summer.
Finally, we reached the low hill and made the climb to our old place. It was nothing like I’d seen in the movies and pictures. It was just a hole in the ground. As it turned out, the cabin had burned to the ground a few years after my parents sold it. We walked around the yard, my dad telling me still more stories of the summers they’d spent there. A path led down to the dock and beach where my brothers had gone swimming and learned to sail. We went to see it, but it was just a silent and forgotten spot. Without a family, without children to provide fun and life, it was just a part of nature. While a living thing, it lacked something.
We then walked around the perimeter of the bluff and saw the other cabins. Like ours, they sat abandoned and nature was starting to take them back. It seemed the new owners of the land had no interest in maintaining them. I couldn’t help but feel a pang of regret. I asked why it was that we’d sold the place. While I loved summers on Martha’s Vineyard with all my friends, I couldn’t help wondering about the “path not taken.”
Dad explained that, as my brothers got older, teenagers, they chaffed at being out in the wilderness. They wanted summer jobs to earn some money for trolling for chicks! At that time, our grandparents, my dad’s parents, had a small cottage on Martha’s Vineyard. Thus, my brothers had been there, knew its potential offerings in terms of work and pleasure. The cabin sold and we bought a place on the island.
It was that day that I learned an important lesson. There’s no going back, as Thomas Wolf wrote; you can’t re-capture a past joy. The fear that I will not return to Martha’s Vineyard now haunts me daily. I had many fun times on the island, and I hope one day to enjoy even more.
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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