Like many Cape Codders this summer, I had extra people at my house. Family who usually come for two weeks came for two months. Some days there were three adults working, from bedroom to basement. One 8-year-old in Zoom camp or school in the kitchen. And one 4-year-old doing whatever he could wherever he was.
Their usual two-week summer trips move to a steady beat of tide, weather and ice cream. But this summer was all improvisational jazz, a day-to-day dance determined by work schedules, crowds, COVID-19 levels and -- hey, has anyone seen my favorite mask?
For a while we bemoaned the things we couldn’t do -- join the crowd at the popular beach, linger over dinner in our favorite restaurant, go to the water park. But then we settled into the pace and timing of what we could do, like going to the playground at 7 p.m. or 7 a.m. (Pro tip: If you go for the early shift, take doughnuts. )
Instead of playing minigolf on a warm summer night, we opted for 10 a.m. and, one morning, were first in line. If you’re first, you don’t have to social distance waiting for the group ahead of you.
It was all a counterpoint between comfort and risk, but we learned to relax into the small moments: discovering a wooly bear on the trail at Fort Hill; listening to the seals barking at Marconi; marveling at the slap of flounder as the offloading elevator dumped a boat’s catch into boxes at the Chatham Fish Pier.
We dodged poison ivy on the Murkwood Trail in Sandwich and discovered herons roosting in the trees at the edge of the Great Marsh. We stood at the peak of the Eddy Bay Trail in Brewster, where the view stretches from Provincetown to Plymouth, and imagined the Mayflower striking for safe harbor across Cape Cod Bay. We picked blackberries in Eastham and wild grapes in Yarmouth.
And because everyone was here longer, we were more attuned to summer’s natural rhythm: The young ospreys fledged from the nest near Route 6A. The cucumbers grew huge behind the nasturtiums. Flashlight tag began earlier and earlier. And as September rolled in, we marveled at swollen milkweed pods and found the first fall leaves.
There was one thing that followed a dependable schedule: the Cape Flyer. The train that runs between Boston and Hyannis passes not far from the house. And so, at 6:40 p.m. on Sunday nights, the 4-year-old and I would run down the street to wave at the crew leaning out the cab. If we were lucky, we got a couple of long blasts on the horn. One Sunday night, we ventured to the platform at Hyannis while passengers embarked. We sneaked on and checked out a coach. We saluted the engineer and chatted with the fireman. We stood waving enviously as the train pulled out of the station and imagined ourselves on it.
This was a summer that we can only hope will never come again. Yet, we know we are so incredibly lucky. Lucky to have our health, our jobs, our family, and to be in this beautiful place. I wonder if someday we will be nostalgic about this summer and the way we were a little less impatient with each other, our joy in a simple dinner on the deck, and our delicious anticipation of next summer -- when we’ll be riding the Flyer.