Sunday, August 16, 2015

Summer, Slugs, and Cell Phones

I’m not one of those lucky people who grew up in one place with familiar faces all around them. If that was your experience, I truly envy you. My family moved many times, and I continued that pattern as an adult – with one exception. When my parents were young and nearly penniless, they joined with two other families to purchase a tiny summer cabin on an island in Maine. My family still gathers there almost every summer, and that’s how I get to appreciate what time does to a familiar place.

When I was little, the entire island had exactly one telephone. It's still there, right next to the Community Hall, down near the public wharf. 
As a teenager, I spent hours on that phone with my college boyfriend, fending off mosquitoes and pesky interlopers who wanted their turn on the phone. These days, everyone has landlines and cell phones, but some things don’t change. Cell service comes and goes out there, and communication with the outside world is still blessedly sketchy.

When I was little, the woods at the north end of the island were thick and daunting. The paths were hard to find and if I ever had to walk through them at night—say, after a cookout on the beach--I would cling to an adult’s hand the entire time. I will never forget the terror I felt stepping into the world of those dark, looming evergreens. These days, there’s a sign post for the path. A sign post!

And if I need some light, I use the flashlight app on my iPhone.

What else? In our little cottage, the only toilet was in the basement where the slugs and spiders lived. When you had to pee at night, you had a choice between the dreaded trek downstairs and a chamber pot. Every night I held a long, agonized internal debate about which was better, or at least less horrid. We had no shower, so we ran around all day long with ocean salt drying on our skin. Occasionally my mother would heat water on the stove and stick us in a washtub. The only means we had of cleaning our clothes involved an old tin washboard and lots of scrubbing. These days? Over the protests of the younger generation, the elders put in an actual bathroom with tub, shower, and laundry. I’ve never seen a single slug in there. Peeing has become a drama-free experience.

It’s amazing how things change even in timeless places like Cliff Island, and how some things don’t.
We have Internet access now. The island has a Facebook page and a website for renting cottages. Washing machines are common, but we still hang our clothes out to dry in the sun. The kids of today are offered organized activities—soccer games and sandcastle contests—while we had nothing but bikes, swimsuits and lots of free time. But some things never change.
On a sunny day, if the tide is right, kids still spend all day at “the cove,” then skip down to the wharf for an ice cream cone.

I wouldn’t trade my tech-challenged, slug-infested memories for anything. On the other hand, you won’t catch me complaining about WiFi and hot showers. And those flashlight apps – they’re fantastic.

Is there a place you return to every year, or maybe where you've been living since childhood? I'd love to hear about it!