Is It in You? A Letter to My Daughters About Cape Cod

I wrote this on Monday, August 14, three summers ago, and posted it on my blog. I’ve updated it here with photos and details.

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My parents’ friend and Dad’s co-worker, Marguerite (Rite) Bremner, who first rented the little cottage on Windmill Lane to our family of six.

Dear Figgy (on the cusp of 22) and Skipper (age 10),

ell me, is it in you? The love of Cape Cod?

I have gone, on and off — but lately, most definitely on — since I was about four. My parents took their maiden voyage in 1951, a honeymoon road trip from New York City to Maine, New Hampshire and Cape Cod.

About 14 years later, our family rented a cottage in North Eastham, on Windmill Lane near Great Pond. I remember my Dad backing the white Ford Falcon out of the driveway in the Saturday morning dark; that’s how eager he and Mom were to return to that sandy hook. My mother packed most of our things in one big gray suitcase. How magical it was to see her zip it up in our Dumont house and know it contained our vacation.

But you two — you have been going forever. Figgy, I was almost seven months pregnant when I carried you (my constant companion at work and in life) to the Cape with your Dad at the end of May 1995. We swam and floated in the sea at Nauset Light Beach, down on the right, where the coast curves. The water was warm. My belly was big; my maternity swimsuit was navy with white polka dots. You were due August 14.

Skippy, if I remember correctly, you were about three and a half months old on your first trip, in June 2007. (Our fates were sealed, our prayers answered, that March when you were delivered to us, your foster family.) Aunt Moey and Laura held you there, while the birds chirped in the backyard. You went early on to the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. I pushed you in a stroller, Figgy at my side. We pointed out the turtles.

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A photo of you two on the Cape Cod fridge with a bird magnet my parents had.

kay, so is it in you? That stirring deep in your soul when you see hot pink salt spray roses spilling over a split wood fence? When you stand in the parking lot by Nauset Light and look down at the rolling, frothy sea — or up at the clear stars in an inky night sky?

Do you study the dunes, eroding more and more with every winter storm, and think about the parking lots and houses that once were? Do you know that both Nauset Light and Highland Light (in Truro), those two historic lighthouses, were carefully and lovingly moved back from the vanishing cliffs in my lifetime?

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Skipper, I found this Junior Ranger suit for you (age 7) at the gift shop in the Cape Cod National Seashore Salt Pond Visitor Center.

hen I was a teenager, I dreamt of living in the privately owned keeper’s house next to Nauset Light, of being so close to all that I loved.

Does seeing a lighthouse stir something in your heart and mind? Is biking on the Cape Cod Rail Trail a simple miracle when you spot a baby bunny, Queen Anne’s Lace or a serene kettle pond blanketed with lily pads?

Do you like the old-fashioned feeling of it all — the windmills, the names like Minister’s Pond and Quail Cover Lane, the old cemeteries, the fudge in the square metal pans, the donuts and the clams? The closely edited collections of what vacationers need at the Eastham Superette and the Village Green General Store — things like marshmallows, Neosporin and postcards?

oes the gentle breeze transport you? Do the constellations move you? Do you notice the birdsong and the sandy soil? Do you want a clothesline so your beach towel can sway in the sun?

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Sunset at Mac’s Seafood on the Pier in Wellfleet.

Do you sleep with the windows open to feel that clean air? Do you notice wild berries on the shrubs when you walk a child in a stroller or a dog on a leash? Do you still fear coyotes at night?

Have you wanted to escape your busy life and be at a place with a simple outdoor shower, lathering your hair under the open sky? Is it hard to pick where to swim — ocean, bay or pond?

Do you think of the Pilgrims? The Native Americans? The whaling captains? The people who walked those well-worn trails before you?

ill you count your blessings? Do you feel very rich because you may not have a lot of money but you have been given the gift of this sweeping beauty, this historical perspective, this fleeting place?

Do you remember how it felt to wear a cute, comfy terrycloth beach dress? Figgy’s was turquoise, from the Gap across from the Good Housekeeping offices where I worked. Skippy, yours is soft and white with lavender pompom fringe at the hemline; I got it at exclusive Over the Moon in Montclair. (You are a bit rambunctious. I have to use Spray ‘n Wash to keep it clean after chocolate ice cream and fruit punch mishaps.)

I had a terrycloth beach cover-up too as a small girl. Mine was white and it buttoned. When I remember wearing it, I see my mother in my mind’s eye.

Do you recall your Dad/Dan having binoculars, to better see birds and galaxies? Do you remember that he wore an ocarina on a cord around his neck? He showed you both how to play it. Can you still feel the weight of a mini golf club in your hand at the Red Barn? Daddy/Danny loved playing that with you and tried to drag me along, too, sometimes successfully and sometimes not.

Can you still see our campfires at Coast Guard and Marconi beaches with the Mernins? One year we brought sandwiches, pickles and Cape Cod Potato Chips, packed in the kitchen of the house on Wonderstrand Way.

I hope you can close your eyes and feel my hand cupping your shoulder to apply tropical- or baby-scented sunscreen. That you can picture the seaweed and the sleek seals. The towering white lifeguard chairs. The park rangers who give tours at the Cape Cod National Seashore, wearing their khaki uniforms and wide-brimmed hats.

What about greenhead flies that love to bite salty skin after a swim? How about those signs about avoiding tick bites?

Do you love the marsh grass? The panoramic view from Fort Hill? The old apple trees behind the Penniman House?

sn’t it true that your hearts sink a little when you cross the Sagamore Bridge to head home, leaving the Cape behind? Do they lift when you arrive at the rotary and Route 6 East, heading toward the ocean, passing cranberry bogs along the way?

I want to know, is it in you?

I hope and pray it is. A love so sturdy and still for something much bigger than you will stand you in good stead, keep you on course. It will provide perspective and healing, poetry and prose, art and music. You will have it to tap into. You have held the clam and scallop shells, the tumbled stones, the sea glass — the treasures, and perhaps even the secrets, of life.

You will know that the universe is endless and glorious. You will be able to lift a sunken heart that has nearly drowned in worries or sadness when life presents hard times…a death, a loss, a broken heart.

Now and always, that is what I wish for you, Figgy and Skip: Knowledge of your own beauty, strength and clarity, your steadfastness, the kind only rugged and ravishing Cape Cod can instill.

I love you.

Love always,

Mom/Alice

Alice Garbarini Hurley lives in Montclair, New Jersey with her family. She has blogged daily for 10 years at Truth and Beauty. Figgy and Skipper/Skip/Skippy are code names for her girls. She apologizes in advance for using the word “daughters” in the title because technically, even though they truly act and feel like Skip’s parents, Alice and Dan are her legal guardians, and Skippy is very sensitive about the wording.

Magazine maven, craft coffee lover, legal guardian. Passionate about fashion and lipstick — though it may not look that way when I dash to the supermarket.

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