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 ...

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