We were a fortunate family, six children of a postal worker, living full time at the shore, nearby my grandparent’s beach season restaurant that served mainly affordable spaghetti dinners.
We opened our beach house in late spring when the water was turned on again, then left on Labor Day weekend to return to our Park Street apartment in Hartford just before the start of the school year.
Looking back, closing up the ‘cottage’ seemed always a time of shadows, the days were getting shorter with sunset earlier, and there was an absence in the air, no early morning bird song and other nearby cottages quieter because our neighbors were leaving or had left.
The beach had less activity, no circle of families spending long afternoons exchanging gossip - back in a time when women of our circumstance had the freedom to remain at home full time, or at least the women of our shoreline community.
The air seemed to leave the cottage as one by one the rooms were emptied and windows were locked, and the gray tiled floor became grayer in the pulled down shaded rooms. Then, the door was closed for another season, leaving a time filled with memories of life stage changes to reflect on years later.
My “last” time at our beach was before the annual Labor Day cottage closing ritual, when I left for the novitiate of the Sisters of Mercy in late August, just miles down the road in Madison CT. I left with happiness of finally fulfilling a several year desire for a life as a religious. I left before the shadows took over our cottage at the end of the beach season. I left before my last experience of my mother’s annual preparation of packing up and leaving.
When I returned some many months later it was to a new home my family moved into my last summer at the cottage, in the South End of Hartford. I never returned to the seasonal summers at the shore of my youth.
Closing the cottage for the season continued for over twenty more years until my mother and father retired to the beach into a renovated year round ’ home.’
It is now late August again and the shadows fill each room of the house on the last late afternoon before Labor Day weekend, as voices of children come through the open windows and the aroma of weekend barbecues filter through backyards. There is no morning or late afternoon bird song. There is only the quiet feeling of anticipation of leaving behind again.
The cottage will be closed again for the season soon. My mother will not orchestrate the closing ritual this year. She is gone.
Her lifetime of life in rooms in the cottage that has been her home for twenty-five years is completed. Her seasons at the shore are over forever.
I will have memories, as will my brothers and sisters, of this August, to reflect on for whatever time is left to us - they seem to me shrouded in shadows as I try to have precise recollection.
The gray is taking over the full season of sunlight coming to a close.