Each summer, photographer Dominic Casserly’s large, extended family finds its way to a house by a beach, where the pace of life changes, yet everything important stays the same.
By Dominic Casserly
Jun 01 2016
Dominic’s friend Elizabeth Yon is tying a crab lure for the first time. “We used raw chicken as bait,” Dom says, “and dropped the lines from a bridge in this secret spot (secret because
we couldn’t find it again if
we tried!). We caught none, but we had a blast.”
I remember the first Cape Cod vacation house we were in and how special that first summer was. It was an old farmhouse, down a dirt road, and it had very low ceilings, tilted pineboard floors, and horsehair plaster walls. It was like being on an old ship. That old house was dim, yet inviting and comfortable with its pale palette and exposed wood everywhere; the trees were bright green and the bugs sang you to sleep at night.
I keep seeing that first summer vacation, joined by my brothers and sister, my aunt and uncle, my mom and my cousins, as flashes of memory: beach days, ice cream, watching the nighttime bats catching bugs, wiffle ball, seafood dinners, the discovery of new places, swimming in the ocean and in the Cape’s clear lakes and kettle ponds, riding your bike with grownups (a new one for me) … It was the humble beginning of what would become our blessed summer-vacation tradition, the first I’d known of a dedicated yearly vacation and the discovery of the magic of summertime on Cape Cod.
And our family vacation just keeps going. Each year we pick up where we left off, as if time on the Cape is a vacation time warp, where nothing changes. We do the same things each summer. We swim at Coast Guard Beach, Nauset Light, or Nauset Beach; our favorite ice cream is at Emack & Bolio’s; we play mini-golf and grill out for our dinners in the backyard; we make beach sandwiches and lug them in the cooler to the ocean, along with the same snacks I’ve come to expect; we bike the Rail Trail and have our traditional annual beach bonfire at Coast Guard or Race Point Beach, complete with s’mores; and we always spend an afternoon in P-town, seeing the same things, doing the same things, as last year and the year before. We even use the very same boogie boards and kayaks that my Uncle Joe bought more than 15 years ago.
Aunt Laurie spends the whole year adding to the Cape Cod “Book Bag,” an overflowing tote of books to read at the beach. And we do read. As a family, we often all sit around and silently read our books—on the beach, on the porch, before breakfast, late into the night. It amazes me: What is this transformation? We don’t do this at home or in our regular lives! We don’t sit and enjoy the sunset every night at home. We don’t take hours out of a day to go to the beach, and we certainly don’t sit around reading in the evenings.
Maybe that’s why I treasure our time on the Cape: It’s a special time with special rules. I’ve never brought friends along on this trip (aside from significant others); we keep this trip for family. My big, confusing Italian family started when my grandpa and his brother married my grandma and her sister. Two brothers marrying two sisters has created a massive Italian family in which I call everyone older than me an aunt or uncle and everyone my age or younger a cousin. And that’s how the vacation started—with these two families renting a house in Orleans or Eastham as we were growing up. It’s been the longest tradition that I can remember in my life—something to look forward to every year. No matter life’s circumstances, no matter where I go in the world, I know where I’ll be in late July and early August—and I know there’ll always be a place for me.
Summer on Cape Cod | Photographs By Dominic Casserly