Every August my family (the extended one that includes cousins, aunts, uncles - the people who Christmas cards are grouped together on the mantle) returns to Woods Hole, a town at the base of Cape Cod known for oceanography and ferry rides to Martha's Vineyard. For my first 23 years I would always make the trek whether it be a long weekend from Dartmouth's summer session to an entire month break right before the back to school deals started appearing and hastily read book reports needed to be completed. But for the last six years I haven't been able to make it. My summers have been causalities to grad school, weddings, and the perpetual hobgoblins of work. Last weekend I returned.
It seemed … well uh … smaller. The driveway whose cracks we used as starting points for our "big wheel" races wasn't the steep terror of doom. The paths through the bushes around the tennis court weren't the complex labyrinths for "Kick the Can" or "Capture the Flag". The porch that clings to the side of the house wasn't the endless boardwalk of my memories. Raiding the cookie cabinet did not require getting a chair and having two brothers posted for look out duty.
Not to say that the place was small. The Lower House (there are two) was built in three sections and is covered in Cape Cod gray shingles. It was originally an inn for mariners, but the many years of New England salt air have warped the hallways that link the small rooms. The place creeks and moans when foot steps scamper through its halls back from the journey across two sections to the lone shower for the "boys" (male cousins out number female 8 to 3). It sits atop a grassy hill that cascades to the sea. Hurricanes have eaten into the coast and devoured the rocky pier, but there is still plenty of space for my cousins to hit golf balls into a hula-hoop.
There is always competition. Tennis games of my youth were not settled by score, but by who would fling their racket at their partner first. There were intense matches of card games from "Down the tubes", and "Oh Hell", to the back breaking "Hearts". This year a couple of cousins decided that we would have an Olympics by dividing us into three teams and having us compete in running, swimming, basketball free throws, shooting at coke cans, golf using a tennis ball, round the world version of tennis, and a concluding water balloon toss which disintegrated into an all out war. Although my team, the Lobsters, did not fare as well as the others I was sure that Ginny was well armed with balloons to go after her fiancé, my brother.
Sunday was the Falmouth Foot race, which goes past our driveway and continues seven miles along the coast and winds up near a Dairy Cream (which undoes whatever calories the race burned of). Each of the cousins wore a bright yellow team Gunny jersey (perhaps some sort of Tour de France thing) and sneaked in the race after the Kenyan blur had passed, but before too many people wearing "I love Budweiser" shirts had stumbled through. I finished towards the end but ahead of my two 6'4'' teenage cousins who have not yet figured out how to run at that height.
I have been running more recently. I am now up to doing 7.7 miles four times a week. Granted these are nine and half-minute miles, which is like being a Zen master of second gear. But I have gotten to the point past being out of breath where I can arrive to work in a sea of endorphins.
It is a long way from my seven-minute miles that I could run forever in high school. I feel that I have become the guy on the side of the road who the younger me briefly glances at before he strides on by. I know that I run not only in part to catch him (another part is that I got a little too successful at stealing cookies), but to keep an honest pace. Because further back the road there is an older me trying to catch up.