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Coming Home after Hurricane Irene

Sep 21 2011
The place where our family played, worked, and fell in love for nearly 100 years was destroyed. So it's not "just a house."

For New York City, Hurricane Irene was largely a non-event, an unnecessary nuisance with unprecedented action. For me and my extended family, Hurricane Irene was a life-changing storm. Sure, there were power outages and phone lines down and flooding and roads closed. But the impact I'm writing about was to two old summer cottages that have been in our family for nearly 100 years.

My great-grandfather bought Shohola, a rambling cottage on the point of a small beach at the end of a dirt road in Madison, Connecticut, in 1922. He had four children, three of whom are still living, and one of whom is my maternal grandmother, Frances. We call her Nana. Nana was 1 when she first spent her summer in Shohola.

Soon enough, my great-grandfather decided to build a smaller cottage on the property for his wife's sister and her family to use. And then a family bought the house next door, and the kids spent their summers together—swimming out to a raft and burning in the sunlight and scraping their knees on the rocks and playing cards on rainy days. As it turns out, that family in the house next door was the home of my paternal grandmother. My great-grandparents on both sides of the family were friends with each other, neighbors. My grandmothers grew up together. And so my parents met one summer and fell in love.

By the time I was born, my great-aunt who never married stayed in Shohola all summer long. The other families divvied it up into three parts. My parents usually brought me and my three sisters for two weeks. Two weeks of learning how to sail on a Sunfish made from a kit by my grandfather. Two weeks of walking to the Red House and getting stuck in the muck of the marsh out back and putting meat tenderizer on the jellyfish stings and competing in Sandbar Olympics and eating corn on the cob and vegetable casserole and hot dogs. Two weeks of learning how to make baskets with my aunt and playing kick-the-can with our cousins and reading book after book after book because we didn't have a television.

There was nothing fancy about the cottages. The floors were painted wood. The white wicker furniture inside had been purchased along with the house. The large wooden table in the dining room, the chairs, the sideboard, all had been fabricated by prisoners many years ago. The door to the bathroom was so swollen with humidity that it never closed all the way. The kitchen drawer held a hodgepodge of silver utensils banged and beaten with age. With no insulation, you could hear everything everyone else was doing. It was my favorite place in all the world.

Related Topics:Family; Natural Disasters

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