Note: My essay (below) was originally published in Victoria Magazine in June of 2017; Father’s Day seems like a wonderful time to share it again.
As a little girl, nothing seems quite as large as the ocean, and no hero quite as large as Daddy. For me, no joy seemed greater than summers shared with my father on Cape Cod.
The Cape is part of the canvas of memories that I have been subconsciously painting since childhood. In her later years, my mother revealed that I was conceived there one summer, and that has always felt particularly right to me, a validation of my attachment to this long-ago place.
To this day, whenever I hear its name, I can’t help but recall those childhood summers – the feel of the salty air on my sunburned skin, the grey-pink of seashells found on the edge of the ocean, and the warmth of my father’s hand as we walked the shoreline, my taking two running steps to keep up with each of his single ones.
Summers on Cape Cod were where my father taught me about what was important in life, although to me it felt more like play than life lessons. Only later did I realize that what I had thought were hours spent merely learning to build sandcastles (my dad had wanted to be an architect at one point in his youth and his were the best sandcastles on the beach) were actually hours spent learning to build the foundation of a good life. A life of integrity and fairness, generosity and principles. A life of love.
A city boy all his life, my father loved the quiet rurality of the Cape and the time it gave him to relax and dream about the future. There were his children’s big life moments to look forward to. The plans of how he and my mother would have all the time in the world to travel once he retired. The uninterrupted hours he would have to paint. And the dream of making our Cape Cod rental cottage their own.
Every summer that we returned to that cottage, it felt as if we had never left. The scent of cedar, the feel of cozy rugs under my bare feet, the worn but comfortable rocker in front of the fire – it all welcomed us back. It was almost as if we had just gone out for a walk into town for homemade frozen custard instead of having been gone for an entire year.
My favorite times were the hours my family spent on the beach – and it wouldn’t take long for me to lure my dad away from his newspaper so that we could build one of his famous sandcastles, race down the shoreline with a kite, or venture into the ocean.
The funny thing was that although I was terribly afraid of the ocean, my fear disappeared when I was with my dad. For those few minutes when he would lift me high above the waves and then splash me back down, I knew complete trust, faith, and love. Nothing could hurt me as long as he was there – he was the hero of my heart.
But just as those beautifully etched summers on the Cape went by too quickly, my father’s life ended suddenly and much, much too soon – and my life was out of focus. The hero I had thought was invincible clearly was not. There would be no shared college graduation moment; not enough time for him to meet my future husband; no golden years with my mom, his forever bride.
But my father’s lessons, his love, and his legacy live on. I think of him – and his hopes for me – each time I glance at the jar of seashells that has been sitting on my desk all these years.
And although B. and I live on the “other coast,” the lure of Cape Cod is always strong in the summer. One year perhaps we’ll make the journey back. There are sandcastles yet to be built.
©2016 and 2021 Claudia Grossman