I am sitting at the desk in the living room of a cottage by the sea. A cottage which I first came to as an infant, with my parents, as they came to visit my mother's parents, who had purchased it just the year before I was born.
My maternal grandfather went to this particular beach on the Outer Banks when he was a young man, visiting his relatives in Elizabeth City. He came here before there was a bridge, when a ferry deposited people on the Sound side of the island. When this house, one of the original 13 in Nags Head, came up for sale, he snapped it up, to no small consternation among the locals, no doubt, as he was a "Yankee." But he made it their, and our own, and I am incredibly blessed to have been able to share this house with my extended family over the years.
I figure, since I am now 55, I have been here roughly 50 or so times in my life, give or take. There were some summers I missed a trip here, for one reason or another. But as I sat on the front porch the other night, about to have my picture taken with my daughters, it struck me with great force that time falls in layers, and I could feel them settle on me as I sat.
I can remember when there was only one stoplight on the island. No MacDonalds, no "French Fry Alley" as we call it, no big grocery stores, just the little mom and pop store down the road where Mr. Harris ground his own beef, twice! When the dunes across the road weren't covered with timeshares, and you could walk all the way across to the sound and dig clams to bring home to eat. Can't do that now, oh no.
As I walked upstairs this morning, I thought about how many times my feet had trod those wooden stairs, how many times I had looked out the windows at the sea, how unchanging it all is, despite all the change that has gone on around it. When I drive down here, I am sometimes overwhelmed by the development I see, and it makes me feel a little sick inside. But when I make it to the house, and put my feet up on the railing as I sit in one of the wooden rockers on the front porch, all that slips away, and I am back where I need to be.
This place, more than any other, has the sense of "home" for me. It has lasted longer than any other place I have lived, and in the later years of her life, I spent more time with my mother here than any other place. I feel her presence around me everywhere; in the shells I pick up on the beach, in the simple task of hanging laundry on the line (Mom was famous for her Herculean devotion to doing laundry here), in the country store she loved to visit when she was here. She's all around me here, and I hope, one day when I pass, my spirit will, in a small way, linger here as well. For this place, more than any other, is truly Home.