Like many people living year-round on Martha’s Vineyard, my family and I spend a portion of our summer doing the “island shuffle.” Every year, we rent out our Oak Bluffs home for at least a few weeks. Unlike many people on the island, we're lucky enough to have two incarnations of home to spend that time.
We usually start these weeks away by staying at my childhood summer home. The Crystal Palace is a charming Victorian in the center of Oak Bluffs where my parents and aunt still spend every summer. As a child, summer meant cousins. My brothers and I longed for the days of July and August when we and our cousins spent endless days eating peanut butter sandwiches on the beach and evenings eating soupy ice cream on the back deck. As we grew older, summer meant nights spent checking out boys at the Game Room and driving up and down Lambert’s Cove Road looking for beach parties. From the enviable sun-dappled cantilevered front porch to the storybook tower, every nook, cranny, and corner of the house holds a piece of our families’ shared history, and continues to be a gathering place for us six cousins and our growing families.
Next stop on our shuffle is Ireland to visit my husband’s family. We spend the weeks in the bustling coastal town of Kinsale in County Cork, living in the small stone cottage where my husband’s grandmother spent most of her life. Much like I spent my childhood summers on Martha’s Vineyard, my husband spent his summers with his grandmother in Kinsale. From the overgrown garden where his grandmother and great aunt used to pick raspberries to make into jam, to the outhouse the men were expected to use (despite the working toilet inside), to the giant kitchen fireplace where the women used to cook, the house is a trove of memories and history. We spend the month visiting family and reconnecting with old friends, walking along the harbor front, eating Irish potato chips (crisps) and French fries (chips), and sampling the local pubs. As the Irish would say, the town and house are “lovely” but by the end of the month, I am longing for our light-filled Cape on a quiet dirt road.
Finally, it's time to move back home. For much of the year, we take the house for granted or think about the various improvements that could be made. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a deck? When will we ever be able to finish the basement? The hallway could use a fresh coat of paint and the medicine cabinets are falling apart. But upon returning after a stretch away, the house is newly discovered. My eight-year old daughter rushes from room to room, exclaiming over items she’s forgotten but now realizes she missed. “My bed,” she cries, lying down on the mattress that knows the shape of her small body. “My tree,” she yells, climbing the Japanese maple that grows in our front yard. I know the way she feels. I want to do the same. “My kitchen!” I cry, running my hands along the vast expanse of counter-space, massive when compared to the tiny Irish kitchen I’ve cooked in for much of the summer. “My couch,” I sigh, sinking into the soft worn sofa that has known many strangers over the summer months but still seems to welcome me back. Much like my children, I want to chant “Mine, mine, mine,” sprinting from room to room and pointing at everyday overlooked items throughout the house that take on a new significance after the long separation.
Though the island shuffle inevitably brings headaches, I know that we are blessed in that it also brings us a rare gift: the chance to return to the homes that shaped our childhoods and a chance to return to the home we have created as adults.