(This is a part of A Summer of Flying.)
My favorite trips in the plane are those that I would never otherwise make. There was a time when my parents were up at the Lake in Canada and I was working in the City. I wanted to go up for just a few days and it was a major adventure to do so. Train out to Newark airport, an Air Canada jet to Toronto, another to North Bay airport after a couple hours in Pearson Airport, and a float plane to the Lake. When I got there I felt like I had run some sort of gauntlet.
In July had dropped Dexter off at his summer program in Cambridge, MA and had returned to New York City. After some consideration of the calendar I decided it was a good time to spend three or four nights up at the Lake. Pog and Alex were already there and settled in. There were some items at my sister’s house in Providence that Pog needed, so I’d stop there for a night on the way up. As long as I was there with the plane, it would be fun to go on a little flight with Brett and two of her three kids (only four seats…). As it turned out, Jasper was at camp and Willa was busy with friends. So after a night in their palatial guest suite on the top floor, Brett and I headed to the airport with her youngest, Hazel. It was Hazel’s first time in a small plane.
Brett is only two and a half hours by car from Marthas Vineyard. That’s not too bad, although forty-five minutes of it is on a ferry and I bet there’s a little bit of wait to get into line for the ferry and getting the ferry loaded. We took off from North Central State (where JFK Jr. learned to fly!) and steered nearly due east for 1B2, the Katama airport on the eastern beach of Marthas Vineyard. I had been here once before as sort of consolation prize for not getting to land at Fishers Island. This summer I was managing both.
(I know realize that it was my second, and last for a while, landing on a grass strip. The Twinstar is not designed for anything other than tarmac or concrete, so if I return to Marthas Vineyard it will be to the main airport.)
I admit that it is a little anxiety-producing when I line up on the runway and it is nothing but mowed grass. I got as slow as I possibly could on the approach and plopped the wheels down right after the threshold. That was an unnecessary precaution because the friction on the turf is a lot higher than with harder stuff. We were off at the first taxiway without much braking at all.
Some of the planes seem to like to park out by the beach itself. I like being by the restaurant. It means that I don’t walk far to get my burger and I can pay for my parking really easily. I am not sure that the people parked out by the beach are walking all the way inland to pay their parking. Maybe they are running a tab for the summer.
For me, it is the perfect length walk from the airport to the sand. I have just enough time to digest my lunch a little bit and to get hot in the sun, to look forward to being in the water, even if it is a little cold. It wasn’t, although it wasn’t quite the bathtub temperature Dexter got when he was there for his first swim in the ocean. Hazel didn’t really want to be in the ocean, she just liked playing in the waves. Brett and I swam out a bit and bobbed in the waves as they curled and broke just past us. It was a real summer scene with lots of swimmers, body surfers and sun bathers. I wondered what the average distance traveled was for people to get to that sand. We know a few people in LA who spend part of each summer on the Vineyard. That used to seem strange, to travel from one beach to another, but this is really the archetypal summer beach.
After Brett and I were thoroughly chilled and Hazel was doused by enough waves, we walked back to the plane.
As we were walking back to the plane I said that if we wanted we could drop into Chatham on the way home. That’s where our father’s family has a summer house and where we spent a few days each summer up until I was about eight. Brett said that sounded like fun. We had no idea who would be there, or if any family members at all were there (there weren’t one of the times I dropped in, I got to say hello to their renters), but it was an adventure.
Takeoff from Katama produces less anxiety than landing, but I was happy to have a bit of a wind running down the runway. We were up and turning over the beach in moments after starting the roll. The controllers at the big airport handed us off to approach controllers for the Cape and we glided across the bit of water to the Chatham airport. Years before, touching down here would then produce a scramble of phone book searching or perusal of the bulletin board at the airport, hoping for a local taxi service that would be able to come to the tiny airport without too much of a delay. Now we just Uber. There was just enough time before it arrived for Hazel to try out the entertainment facilities at the little municipal airport.
The Uber was there in five minutes and for five dollars deposited us right in the driveway of the Summers Point House. I bounded up the steps, poked my head in the screen door and halloo’ed to a quiet house. Moments later we were saying hello and getting hugs from two of my father’s sisters, Betty and Dolly, and cousins Anne and Charlie. There was a grand nephew, too, but I am terrible with names.
We sat on the porch and talked while I ate Ritz crackers. Hazel swung on the mattress-on-a-swing that I had swung on four and a half decades before. They talked about how they were considering taking the swing down. I said I was against that, since nothing was stronger in my memories that the strange bed-that-was-a-swing. But maybe kids now just want the password to the WiFi and are curious if Dominos delivers “way out here.”
This was the house where my father came in on his sixteenth birthday to find that his siblings and Charlie’s dad Steve had pitched in and bought him an outboard motor. It was on a stand in the kitchen. This is the house where once when I was five there was a storm warning (our friend Craig directed a movie about the sort of storm the Cape sees on occasion), and the wind started roaring around the house. I went upstairs to the bedroom Adam and I were staying in and opened the windows to the front of the house to see what the wind would be like in the room. It was like the end of the world. I couldn’t get the windows closed again. After hours (it seemed) of trying to push the windows closed and latch them, I gave up and went down to my Aunt Dolly in tears to say that the storm was going to come into our bedroom. She went up and closed the windows.
There was a photograph on the wall of my father when he was a very young man. He looks so much like my nephew Abel that it was startling, so I sent that snap off to Adam. Dudley only lived to thirty-two and the Cape was where he came to relax, so I thought about him sitting on that same porch knowing, as he did from age fourteen, that he wouldn’t see forty, and trying to enjoy every moment along the way nonetheless. I had called Nell from Marthas Vineyard to say that it was wrong that she was stuck in Los Angeles working and the plane and I were flitting about the east coast living the life that she should be living with us. I said we would need to correct that next summer (which is now, actually). Seize the day.
After talk of the flights we have been on, what the boys were up to, a discussion on Charlie’s house renovations, his son’s various adventures, Betty and I discussed free range parenting about how I thought more risk and adventure was better than “safer” childhood summers,
and then it was time to head back to the airport. Charlie said he would drive us. It would be the last time I got to see my aunt Betty, who was there for so much of my early childhood and made the most delicious chocolate sauce for vanilla ice cream that it was worth forcing ourselves to eat one pea for each year of our age (I felt sorry for Adam, envious of Brett).
Before climbing into the plane, Brett took a photo of me with Charlie, the cool cousin who had his own Boston Whaler, go-kart, moped and dog. To a five year old his life seemed to stretch from horizon to horizon. It is hard to describe how reassuring it is that he has his father’s smile, and some of his hairline. I hope to drop into the little Chatham airport with the new plane this summer.
One small hiccup for the evening: I thought that the fuel at the field was self-serve and that when we returned we would be able to top off the tanks for our flight back to Providence. No such luck. So we had to stop at Barnstable (KHYA). We just taxied over to the less expensive FBO, waited in the plane while they fueled it, and then took off for North Central State. It was a smooth landing in twilight fifteen minutes later.
All in all, a great summer day of flying and family.