All it took was a little more wind and a little less sunshine for us to fully appreciate what we once had.
For more than 20 years, my parents have rented a house on the Cape for one week every summer, usually in late August. We don't have a lot of traditions in our family; we're not big gift givers, birthdays get forgotten, anniversaries are important only in the big round-number years, and holidays are mostly ignored. But for as long as I can remember, there has always been one week when we all got together to read on the beautiful beaches of the Cape, grill fresh fish on a porch, drive into Wellfleet for ice cream at Emack & Bolio's, and laugh with the leggy men in drag on Commercial Street in Provincetown while fresh fudge melted in our mouths.
For a long time it was a small ranch in Eastham and just my parents, my older brother, and me, though occasionally friends joined us. My parents would come from Rhode Island, my brother from New York, and I from wherever I was living.
The Eastham house was old and musty, with an almost unusable kitchen, but I remember making homemade pasta on the picnic table with my father, painting straw beach hats with my mother, and sleeping in the cabin next to the house. Eastham will always hold a special place for us because of the pond that came with the house, where we'd swim in peace at sunrise and dive in for a dip at sunset. But there came a time when the owners wanted more time there, and we had to look for a new place.
But where? Farther out on the Cape made the most sense. It was closer to P-town and better restaurants; there were better beaches; and it seemed a little more remote.
We settled on a tan shingled Cape just off Route 6 in Truro that came to be known as "The Lincoln House" because of the owner. And for a decade, we had a love-hate relationship with it.
The perks were undeniable. We could bike to three beaches - two on the ocean side, one on the bay - the outdoor shower beneath the deck had super water pressure, the sandy fire trail was perfect for a quiet stroll or jog, the three bedrooms were roomy, and the deck offered gorgeous sunsets, a gas grill, and became our nightly dining table.
But we could never quite love The Lincoln House. A nearby dump would bring an odor that was less than appetizing, the kitchen utensils felt like they hadn't been updated since the Nixon days, the television got two grainy channels on a good day, and the only nearby grocery store was a tiny shop named Jam's, where the coffee was good, the fresh muffins better, and 10 bucks would get you one of each.
By then, our family of four had grown. My brother and I had married and the grandchildren started coming soon after. Suddenly, we were six, then seven, then eight, then nine, and we had officially outgrown The Lincoln House. Time to move on.
This search was trickier. We needed a house for six adults and three children that was close to the beaches, not far from P-town, off the main streets so the kids could walk and bike and play catch, and had an outdoor shower and a big, sunny deck, features we'd come to appreciate as essentials.
The search took us across Route 6, to the bay side. The house was plenty big, with bedrooms on both floors, and an easy walk to the beach. But our week there was forgettable - rainy and chilly - and when the crummy weather finally broke we discovered the deck got too little sunshine and too much wind.
So after only one year, my parents were back on the Web, browsing homes that could fit nine and meet our increasingly picky needs. They found a gem, even closer to the beach, with great space, a huge outdoor shower, and a deck that wrapped halfway around the house and provided incredible, unimpeded sunsets.
Photos snapped that week of the three cousins watching the sun set now sit in all our homes. It was agreed this would be our Cape home for the foreseeable future.
But, of course, something that perfect never lasts, and when the owners changed their minds about when the house was available, and did it so late that most good houses were taken for this summer, we were heartbroken.
As e-mails flew back and forth among us, amid the news that a fourth grandchild was on the way, you could almost hear the groans through cyberspace with everyone yearning for the easy days of The Lincoln House. The outdoor shower was memorable, the deck was fine, the kitchen utensils adequate, the proximity to the beaches ideal, and the owner a nice guy who reliably booked us for the same week every year and let us just show up, unpack, crack our books, unfurl our legs under the sun, and enjoy the one tradition we've managed to keep alive through so much change.
Doug Most can be reached at email@example.com.