categories: Cocktail Hour
Monday was my first day alone on Cape Cod and my plan was to go on a quest for the Snowy Owl. But then life intruded and another quest was necessary first. I learned—through Facebook no less—of the death of David Sears. I decided the owl could wait, and instead went for a walk to a place that I’ve known all my life as the Sears Beach. Oddly, I had spent the morning working on a Cape Cod novel I’ve been writing for over thirty years, and had revised a scene starring a fictional version of the 40th birthday party that David and my father threw for my mother. The fictional David was fully in his element during that party, driving his and my father’s boat from the harbor, anchoring it off the shore of his beach, swimming in to oversee the building of fires and cooking of lobsters and, of course, the grilling of meat. Back then grilling was a relatively minor activity, not the magnificent obsession it would become later when multiple grills would blossom in various corners of the deck. David, of course, was in the center of it all, obvious master of the house, but he was also a kind of inspired servant for the rest of us, making sure we had just what we needed, be it meat or fish or booze.
Even when someone you know dies it is hard to break out of the narcissistic hamster wheel of your own thoughts. But as I walked closer to David’s beach and house, dipping through the wind break of the dunes and following deer tracks in the conservation land that I used to call, in my fiction, “the land-in-between,” I turned my mind toward David. I remembered one game of craps in his house that went until two in the morning, with David and my father staying, and playing intensely, until the very end. Over the years I lost more than I won as a craps player, but that night I would end up partly funding a trip to Europe. David was a great sport and while he might curse when he lost, he did so comically, with no meanness. He and my father had a unique relationship. They seemed to communicate in a special language that didn’t involve much actual talking. Drinking was a bond, of course, but it was more than that. They just seemed comfortable with each other in that way some men have with their friends, a way that did not require a lot of verbalizing. They owned a boat together, too, The Sea-Ges, and went on adventures through the canal and to the Vineyard, adventures that scared their spouses half to death but delighted them. It occurs to me now that the Gess in the boat’s name died twenty years ago this year, and now the Sea has followed.
I talked to David sometimes when I was a teenager, more than most of the other kids did, I think. He would look at you–or at me at least–with a gleam in his eye that said, “I know you, and I know what you’re up to.” And I think he did know us and what we were up to, whether it was playing quarters out in his shed or sneaking liquor from his cabinet or illegally jumping on the trampolines on 28 late at night. He loved wildness, and, to some degree, spectacle. In his own way, he could be shy, but not always and never at his home on Cape Cod. There he was the world’s greatest thrower of parties and his care for his house and that yard was legendary. I remember once going for a dawn walk from my house to his along the same route I walked on Monday, and popping up over the dune to his house to find him mowing his lawn in the nude. Really.
I cut through the dunes and reached Oliver lane, named after his favorite dog. Houses now line that street but back in the old days the road was lined with a copse of locusts with no other houses on it. At the end of the road the trees opened up and revealed, up on a hill, a great sloping lawn and a tall barn-like house which Wyeth’s Christina could have crawled up to. A deck jutted from the back of the house, looking out over grassy dunes that dropped down to a wide expanse of beach. Most of us never knew what David’s job was during the year; to us his real job seemed to be taking care of that house and land, a kind of Lord Grantham of Cape Cod. But if he was a Lord, he was always a welcoming one. In my family we were instructed to call him “Uncle David,” as did most of the extended Sears family, though to us he was no relation
There is a gate across the entrance to the house now. As I skirted along a path along the edge of the property, I could barely bring myself to look at the crazy modern trapezoid two-part house that had been built when the old house was torn down. But I did since I wanted to remember. I stared at the place where David’s deck once was, a deck where I have eaten dozens of great meals and seen just as many sunsets, from there watching the red ball sizzling down into the Bay.
When I got to the beach, I stared back up the dunes, dunes where we would sometimes set up speakers. I remember taking the greatest nap of my life on that beach during the intermission between the day and night segments of my mother’s birthday party. I fell asleep on the sand and woke when two things happened simultaneously: the tide began to lap my toes and the speakers up on the hill boomed. Great guitar chords descended from the heavens, or so it seemed. Dee-dee-dee-dee, dee-dee-dee-dee. Doom, doom, doom. Doom, Doom, Doom.. The song was unknown to me at the time, but the voice as familiar as an old friend. “Hey, Hey, My, My,” it sang. Groggily, I wandered back to the beach below the house. David was already setting up for the night’s festivities while everyone else was resting.
On the beach this Monday I tried to conjure up some more memories, but as I looked back to where the house had been all I could see were the “No Trespassing” signs that dotted the dunes every thirty feet or so. Like the gate that blocks the driveway and the alarm system and surveillance cameras, they send a clear message: “Go away.” I can’t remember if there were any “No Trespassing” signs in the old days, but even if they were no one paid attention. Because we knew that the spirit of David was the opposite of “Go away.” It was instead “Come and join us.”
On Monday I walked away from the house for a while, toward the two bluffs that led me home. Then, with more perspective as I reached the first bluff, I turned back to look at the houses. With distance the new house did not look quite so ugly and I could easily imagine the old house in its place.
For many of us David represents that long gone time. His generosity allowed his beach to be our beach. It was a private beach then, too, of course, but it always felt very public. It was his home, that much was clear, but part of his genius was that when you were there you felt like it was your home too.
“You can use the driveway any time,” he told me more than once. And I did use it sometimes.
I always felt welcome.