My grandparents had a little cottage they built themselves on a lake on the Massachusetts/Connecticut border where I spent many happy summer weeks until I was in my early 20s. It was a magical place for a kid because 1) I didn’t have to worry about what food to bring or taking care of the camp and 2) my grandmother, Memere we called her, could make anything out of nothing and had a fondness for snacking second only to hungry kids who played in the water for hours a day.
She and my grandfather, Pepere, would pick us up on a Friday morning, stop at the Bess Eaton donuts for a dozen and then head to the camp. That was always our first breakfast. That evening Memere would stand at the back door which faced the dirt road to our camp and narrate who was coming and going. On Friday nights most of our neighbors would be coming in for the weekend. The road to our camp was a steep decline and we were at the bottom of the hill, with just one more camp after ours. That road was so steep, I used to have nightmares that we were on it and the car would lose contact with the road and topple forward. However, that nightmare-inducing pitch also made it perfect for watching the cars slowly crawl down, turning into their camps at various points.
We kids would be sprawled on the old daybed that served as a couch or at the table watching Pepere cheat at solitaire, and Memere would take up her post at back door, curtain pulled back, and call out who was pulling in as if she were an annoucer at a fancy ball.
“Turner coming in!” They had the red house in the middle of the hill and a cool set of stairs that led down to the water. “There are 2 cars, they must have company this weekend.”
Then a bit later, “Hardy coming in!” They had the camp next to ours, and we often heard my grandparents complain how all he did was drink beer all weekend and never mowed his lawn.
And if we were lucky, she’d say at last. “Landman coming in!” They were the very last cottage on the little point on the lake. Really it looked more like a house than our cute humble little camp. We idolized them–their kids were a little older than us, so they seemed so much more advanced. Tall, good looking teens, who all seemed to water ski effortlessly behind their beautiful gleaming wood motorboat or go out for a sail. They also had an anchored raft where they would make perfect dives. I’m pretty sure they were nice, but we kids were too shy and intimidated to try to connect with them. We just enjoyed watching their beautiful lives from our little patch of sand and water.
My grandparents sold the camp when I was in my 20s, but the memories of it are burned in my DNA. Which is why I chuckled during my FaceTime with my mom the other day. She has Alzheimer’s and has lost some of her personality, but there still is enough of her there to connect to. She was telling me that from her chair in her assisted living apartment, she can see people coming and going through the little window next to her door. If someone is coming to see her, they make a little wave in the window before coming in, and it seemed to please her.
And I immediately thought of Memere standing sentinel: Turner coming in! Hardy coming in! Landman coming in! And it made me chuckle.
And then I thought about how I have spent most of the summer sitting on my back deck doing the same things to my next door neighbors. The three refurbished condos in the multifamily house were finished in the spring and people moved into them around the same time. I have a perfect view of the their tiny parking area in the back of the house, so I can see them coming and going. And when I’m not typing away on my laptop or watching the humming bird sip from the feeder, I find myself watching them. Only I don’t know their names yet. I call them “Straight family with the baby,” “Gay male couple,” and “Straight couple too young to be able to afford this place.” Yes, I’m adding my own judgmental twist to it. And to serve me right, for all I know they look up at me and call me “Creepy middle-aged nosy lady.” It’s all part of the charm of city living.
As my mother’s condition continues to advance and it gets harder for me to see her lose pieces of herself, I hope this one piece, the watching of who’s coming and going stays for a bit longer. It helps me to know that we are not alone, but part of a comforting line of nosy women who know who is coming and going, even if we’re not sure exactly sure where we are going.
Photo caption: My friend Ruthy and I are standing on our dock next to Pepere’s boat. You can make out a bit of Landman’s dock and boat higher up in the photo on the left.