When Bill was 10 years old (I was either about to be born or a brand new infant) Bill’s parents bought a house on a dune overlooking Cape Cod bay in Truro, Massachusetts. It cost the un-Godly sum of $19,000, an amount that kept Bill’s father awake at night for several years. So extravagant! It was built in 1900 as a vacation house for a family who took the train that ran on tracks not too far away and schlepped all their trunks and such to their summer idyll by cart. It has a deck facing west with a terrific view of Provincetown and is a front row seat for amazing sunsets. There is a long stretch of tranquil beach at the bottom of a very long steep flight of stairs (longer if you are carrying a kayak) and far enough from the public beach to have the whole place to oneself. Being the bay the water is warm and usually tranquil with wonderful low tides that allow walking and wading far out off the beach.
During World War II the house was used for a K-9 division of the Coast Guard, who patrolled the dunes day and night on foot looking for enemy submarines. (Legend has it that a German sub did make it into the bay once, but didn’t get very far.) I have read books about the type of patrols made during that time, imagine, alone on foot on the top of a dune with no lantern, maybe a dog, in an area where at the time there were no lights of cities and towns off in the distance, just you, your dog, the surf and wild animals skittering around in the grass and bushes. Creepy.
It was just revealed to me at a Ryder Beach cocktail party (so you know it’s true) that the house was “acquired” for use by the Coast Guard due to it being confiscated by the authorities during Prohibition for rum running. Apparently boats full of liquor would come and go from the house to distribute contraband hooch and the operation got busted and the house taken for more patriotic use.
The house is a shack, plain and simple. It came fully furnished from the time it was first built and when it was the Coast Guard station. (The liquor, unsurprisingly vanished but the house, true to its former use is always well stocked.) There is no heat. There is no dishwasher. Wiring and plumbing are pretty tenuous. The dining room is yellow and the furniture in it orange. It is furnished with junque. Naturally it has wifi, a fax machine, printer, washer and dryer, we aren’t philistines you know. It is a place frozen in time on a dune at the end of a sparsely populated street where most residents knew each other since they were little. Bill’s parents have both passed and now the house is shared by their 5 children and their 5 spouses, “the 5 nieces” (Tom and John’s daughters) and their husbands and their children (8 in total so far.) A great feature of this house is we all get to share and overlap with if we please or not.
It is a wonderful place. It is a bubble frozen in time. It is the unofficial Charles and May Westheimer memorial museum, filled with many of their things. Each of us has our own very special and individual connection to the house. In our own way we are all very passionate about it. What’s great about it to me is that we all share it and its contents: there are tons of flip flops, hats, beach toys, chairs, old bikes, kayaks, flags, a cornucopia of outdated cook books, kitchen appliances, gadgets and tools. It feels as if all the Westheimers are there in residence, including Charles and May, they’re just off doing fun Cape Cod things, be back soon. It also is so rustic and so unpretentious that if something breaks who cares and repairs can be done along the lines of what you would find on Gilligan’s Island.
There are a couple sacrosanct rules: never dare change the color of a room or throw out one of the living room chairs even though sitting down makes one’s butt hit the floor and a crane is needed to exit. And never ever even think inside your head that there should be a dishwasher in the kitchen. That would probably lead to a haunting. May believed that having crowds of people in the kitchen cleaning up at the end of a meal was a great social experiment as important as sharing the bathrooms and not looking out the window when someone is using the outside shower. And please, put the flags back in the correct order in their sleeves on the porch.
Bill and I are allergic to crowds and flexible with our schedule so we go to the Cape at the beginning of June and just after Labor Day, in other words, off season. There are great joys in that strategy. We can get there without getting tangled in seasonal traffic, get into our favorite restaurants, not get too sun burned and sometimes (although I think they figured this out recently) the prices of goods are cheaper off season, and take the dog to the beach anytime. There is a downside: opening the house usually reveals many surprises, like a family of raccoons in residence in the crawl space under the bath tub, nuts and berries literally squirrelled away under bedroom pillows and once, when opening a drawer, I had the misfortune of disturbing a momma mouse and her 5 babies asleep in the kleenex box. Momma leapt out of the box to be caught on the fly in the jaws of Petey our beagle who did not understand why I should run around screaming and waving my arms the way I did after such a fine catch. He also carried the thing around in his mouth with the tail sticking out until Bill came on the scene. Both I and now mouse-less dog were told to go for a long walk while he took care of the orphans. OMG.
Since many fond memories are created at 7W’s and the rest of the Cape sit back and enjoy tales both tall and small of our times in residence there.