shifting sandsAfter ten summers this may be the last at my beach house rental. I’ve already scaled back from four weeks to three, and now two, and each year I see less and less of my grandsons. The world has widened for the two little kids with their buckets and shovels, but I’m still here.

My daughter discovered the cottage: a small unaltered beach house, steps from the ocean and thirty minutes from her home, it soon became the family destination for early evening dips in the ocean, weekend barbeques, and Rummikub around the kitchen table. When the boys stayed overnight and I was their sole caregiver I dreamed of building a lasting relationship with them despite the distance between New York and Boston that kept us apart most of the year.

After long days at the beach and the compulsory trip to Baskin Robbins, we cooked hot dogs or hamburgers over the grill and watched three Summer Olympics, Shark Weeks and Red Sox games. Jumping contests were conducted across two sets of bunk beds in the back bedroom, Harry Potter books were devoured as soon as they came out, and poker was secretly watched on TV while I slept. Airborne objects of all sizes and shapes whizzed back and forth, reminding me how different life would have been if I’d had sons or brothers.

“Come quick!” the boys called one night from the backyard where they were playing with a simple telescope. With the pock-marked full moon in his sites the younger boy whispered, “This is a life-changing moment, Grandma.” At eight years old it seemed a big order, filled with mystery and promise.

Today, at 16 and 18, the boys are still a joy. Informed and articulate, they put me to shame discussing politics or world affairs. Both are talented musicians with a love of jazz. Not to mention, polite, thoughtful and humane. But what will they retain of their summers at the beach?

When I first rented this cottage I considered the absence of a phone one of its charms. You had to drive out to the CVS parking lot to use the pay phone or to scavenge enough bars for cellphone contact. The fewer connections, the better, I thought then. But in ten years, despite remaining technologically incompetent, I developed a dependency on electronic tools. Last week I arrived here at the cottage with a malfunctioning iBook, as well as a new cellphone, useless without translatable instructions.

Who better than two millennials to help me out? No, they assured me, I didn’t need to come get them. Had I forgotten they drive?

The boys knocked before entering, then advanced like First Responders. At the dormant computer—“If you only need email and Word,  Grandma, I’ll get you back in business.” As for my cellphone—“Just ignore the manual, Grandma. Trust me, trial and error works much better.”

In an hour my laptop was up and running and I’d succumbed to cellphone overload. Realizing this might be their last house call, I invited the boys to hang around, have some lunch, go down to the beach. But they were already pummeling a plastic ball back and forth, itching to get on with their day.

“I’ll only be here two weeks this year, so you don’t have a lot of time to come for a swim.” I gave them each a hug. “I love you guys.”

“We’ll be down, Grandma. Maybe we can have a cookout and play Rummikub, for old time’s sake.”

“Great! But don’t leave without taking a fudge bar.”

“Sure, Grandma. For old time’s sake.”

I knew then our bonds were permanent. It was a life-changing moment and I could let go of the cottage.


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