The first time I visited the Provincetown area of Cape Cod, also known as the Outer Cape, was in 1990. I was 19 years old. It was the summer after my freshman year of college, June, before the tourist season was in full swing. The nighttime air still carried a chill.
I was with my boyfriend at the time, Jason, who is today one of my best friends. He wanted to show me where he had vacationed with his family every year while growing up: a row of identical cottages in North Truro set along the shore of a rocky beach on Cape Cod Bay.
That first outing eventually led to a new summer tradition, one of dozens of trips Jason and I would make to those North Truro cottages, first with our friends and then with our spouses and children.
Over the years, the sand and tides and starry evening sky have become containers holding the memories of marriage proposals, longed-for pregnancies, children digging in the sand, intense late-night conversations, bad coffee from the store across the street, countless games of cards, paperback novels, terrible jokes, and many times, especially when we were younger, far too much beer, the purchase of which always seeming to trigger an endless quest for ice.
The first time my husband, Rob, and I brought our daughter, Madelaine, to the beach in North Truro she was 9 months old. We have photographs of her there as a toddler wearing a purple bathing suit, her face and arms covered in melted ice cream and sand. There are shots of her as a moody middle schooler hiding beneath a beach umbrella, and as a teenager paddling Jason’s sea kayak around the bay.
Madelaine, who will turn 21 this year, has grown up thinking of Jason, his wife, Annette, and their son, Connor, as family. The Outer Cape is one of the most special places in the world to her, so much so that last summer she got a tattoo in Provincetown as a way to carry the place with her always.
From cottage windows overlooking Cape Cod Bay we have seen spectacular electrical storms, watched humpback whales at play, and spotted scores of harbor seals, their adorable round faces popping up among the waves when you least expect to see them. I once found the sun-bleached rib bone of a whale wedged among the rocks on the beach. A couple of years ago, on a rainy day, we took a drive and discovered an enormous patch of rare eastern prickly pear cactus. I still have photographs of it on my phone.
While we were busy having fun, that rock-strewn North Truro beach and its neat row of cottages, a place we more or less took for granted when we were young, has become part of who we are, forever woven into the fabric of our lives.
By inviting my family to stay with them in North Truro every summer, Jason and Annette have made it possible for me, a Gen X latchkey kid who grew up with divorced parents and without many family traditions, to enjoy and appreciate a beautiful place over a period of decades and provide my own child with experiences that have given her lifelong memories and a sense of tradition that I hope she can someday pass on to her own children.
The first time I visited the Outer Cape, I was a college student who had no idea what path my life would take. When I visit now, a professional writer who has been happily married for 23 years, it’s hard not to feel a bit awed by the way a place can always seem to stay the same while you relentlessly age and develop and change. Perhaps it’s the constancy of the beach that makes it so special: You don’t have to look far to unearth the person you were at 20 or 32 or 43. It helps you appreciate how far you’ve come.
There’s less beer in the cottage these days, and we seem to get to bed much earlier. It’s also become easier to recognize the few days Jason’s family and mine get to spend together at the beach each summer for what they are: a gift.