Beach Week

People say that there’s never a vacation with kids, just a change of scenery.

Last Thursday evening we were poised to migrate from farm to beach, and we hadn’t packed a thing. Not one bag. At 10 pm, after work and softball, I guided the car up the dark drive. I deposited my softball glove on the kitchen table and sized up Martin. He looked weary. Like he’d been beaten by little children.

“So,” I sighed. “How do you want to do this? Do you want to start packing or do you want to clean the barn?”

Twenty hours later Martin handed over the ferry ticket. We’d made it — prepped the farm, packed the car by 3:30 am; driven 509 miles; skirted New York traffic, slogged through Connecticut crawl; survived screaming kids and DVD skirmishes; and nearly ran out of gas (“I’m never listening to you ever again when you say ‘just one more exit,'” Martin said when we fueled up)

But we made the miss-it-and-you’ll-be-sorry ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. With 45 minutes to spare.

“Wow, we could have slept nearly an hour more,” I said.

Across Vineyard Sound the rental house awaited. It reportedly came with an ocean view, but because we booked so late and this was one of the only houses left, we assumed it would be a dump.

But it’s availability was due to its location. It’s at the furthest tip of the island, a healthy drive from the most basic general store. And it’s an old home — about 90 years old — furnished with worn couches and thin rugs.

But it’s big and bright and impossibly charming, with an open living room marked by white columns and an old kitchen with a porcelain sink. It sits on a bluff with acres of land and the porch and the windows offer sweeping views of the ocean. Narrow thicket trails laden with beach plumbs lead to the sand. I don’t know if this beach has a name but Cayden named it Cambria Beach.

Like any old house, this one has aches. A quick glance and I can rattle off a dozen repairs. But this house comes with something that we lack at home: a handyman on-call.

We met Charlie as we unpacked the car. He was running through the kitchen after fixing the toilet. The screen door slammed behind him. “My dinner’s waiting,” he grumbled as he climbed into his truck.

Since then we’ve seen Charlie almost every day. When the toilet broke again. When Martin splintered a step on the shared stairs to the beach. (The longtime residents next door were appalled. “It wasn’t this way yesterday!” they said, staring hard at me. Martin had disappeared. “I have no idea what happened,” I said solemnly.)

A tree branch fell across the driveway. A skunk burrowed beneath the critter-proof trash receptacle. I’ve tried to coax Charlie out of his gruff silence, peppering him with questions, but he ignores me. I asked about the house and the pristine, secret tennis court nested in overgrowth. I ask him about his family, if he likes to fish. I even tried to bribe him with a beer. The only nugget he offered up is that he’s new to the island.

“Moved here in ’92.”

“Charlie, that’s nearly 20 years.”

“Yup.”

Fortunately, I’ve got a few more chances to take a crack at Charlie. The kitchen sink is jerry-rigged with rubber bands to staunch a leak.