One of Grandma Marshmallow‘s favorite places on the planet was her family cottage on the cape. She brought her children there as a young mom, and this is where my husband learned to swim from his grandfather, Grandma Lisa’s brilliant and reportedly eccentric father.
The cottage is teeny — barely 750 square feet split between two levels. And it’s, uh, “quaint,” if that word implies run down and without amenities. If one of us remembered to call the town early in the season to turn on the power, we had power. Usually we had plumbing. The cottage has a second floor that has been stuck at the tear-out stages of a remodel since I joined the family, and the whole place has an unlived-in, musty smell, it’s heyday, when a houseful of cousins would gather here for the entire summer, long gone.
Still, Lisa’s eyes lit up when she uttered the town’s name, which became shorthand for the house.
Practically, we used it as a place to change our suits and to shower after swimming in the ocean.
To get to the ocean, we’d have to walk through an old and small cemetery. The etchings on the thin, slate or granite headstones had eroded to almost nothing, but I’m told some go as far back as the 1600s. It was eery-spooky to walk through. I amused myself by imagining the ghosts and the stories they would tell.
A year ago, the last time Grandma Lisa visited her cottage on the cape, Tessa and Reed were done swimming, done changing, and were waiting for Daddy and Grandpa to load the lawn mower onto the truck for the ride home. They busied themselves by playing with two Scottish Terriers across the lane.
There was a path to that house that was framed by railroad ties. Reed began bouncing on the railroad ties, as boys will do, not realizing that there was a wasp nest underneath.
The wasps were not happy about being jostled by this boy, and their fury was unleashed. Before any of us knew what was happening, two children were shrieking at the top of their lungs, racing for the front door of Grandma Lisa’s cottage. We adults, at the time, knew nothing of the wasp nest — we simply thought the children were playing a very intense game of some sort.
But the gravity of the situation emerged as we saw the swarm of raging wasps swirling around Reed. Tessa screamed, “BEES! DADDY SAVE ME FROM THE BEES!” She made it, insect-free, into the cottage and slammed the door behind her, locking it as protection from the “bees,” which in her mind had opposable thumbs that could turn a doorknob.
Meanwhile, Reed was at the doorstep and we were plucking angry hornets from his scalp (newly shorn in a Kojak-cut), his hands, his shoulder, his chest, his legs. The majority of the swarm returned to its railroad tie, and we worked at stamping out the offending hornets and calming down an understandably shaken Reed.
As he realized his time on earth was not over, he remembered his sister. His first words, after “GET THEM OFF ME! I’M GETTING KILLED!” were, “Is Tessa all right? Make sure my sister is OK.”
Yeah, Buddy, she’s fine. She’s safe in the cottage. Which she locked you out of.
Soon the cottage will be for sale. It’s the end of a summer ritual that has played out each summer of my husband’s entire life. The wasp story is a fitting end to the sting of the loss of Lisa.