In the interest of full disclosure, Cathy and I aren’t really cousins. At least not in the blood-relative sense. But we’ve been close ever since we were born in Washington, D.C. just 17 months apart, and we’ve remained so even though we’ve lived most of our lives on opposite sides of the country.
(Since our mothers were sorority sisters in college, we felt justified as kids in calling ourselves sorority cousins; somewhere along the way we just dropped the “sorority.”)
Cathy and I always manage to pick up where we left off no matter how many months (or years) have gone by since we’ve seen each other. As kids, we read books, lemon-oiled our hair, listened to music and sunbathed together. We dreamed of bicycling across Europe to see the world and marrying forest rangers so we could perch in towers with great views.
As adults, we’ve shared life’s triumphs and tribulations. Cathy’s always been my Caroline Kennedy, strong and smart, and like Caroline, she lost her younger brother and only sibling way too soon, and more recently, both her parents. I love it when she sometimes calls my mother, her Aunt Ev, “Mom.”
Which is why it was such a pleasure to spend nearly a week recently with Cathy and her husband, John, in their tiny town on the coast of Connecticut.
We toured lighthouses, cooked up a storm, checked out Amelia Earhart’s wedding house, solved a longstanding wine-flask mystery – and got in some quality time with Cathy’s daughter, Sarah, and her husband, Kurtis, too.
The best part? My 90-year-old Mom flew in from Dallas to join the fun!
Another full disclosure: We’d not been with Mom since she was with us for the first 11 days of our yearlong perimeter trip in March. Regular FaceTime conversations are great, but you can’t hug an iPad image.
We tried to get her to visit us in St. Augustine, Florida in April and in Charleston, South Carolina in May. But Mom so hates to fly that she decided she’d wait until we got to Cathy’s in June and then join us there.
Translated: G and I aren’t a big enough draw. But Cathy and John are.
C’est la vie.
That’s a photo of the five of us on a two-hour lighthouse tour in the Long Island Sound. The SeaJet tour boat did nice little pirouettes around each of the lighthouses so everybody on the boat got equal photo opportunities.
Our sights included:
• New London Harbor Light – The oldest lighthouse in Connecticut, it helped guide privateers who sought shelter up the Thames River during the Revolution. (They pronounce the river “thaimes” here; possibly in another rebuke of the Brits, which prefer theirs to be pronounced “tehms.”
• New London Ledge Lighthouse – This one is reportedly haunted by the ghost of an early keeper.
• North Dumpling Light – During Prohibition the keeper of this lighthouse was accused of signaling liquor smugglers; a generation later a friend of former President George H.W. Bush purchased the island, named himself Lord Dumpling and established an “independent country” of dumplonians. Seriously.
• Race Rock Light – This one is built on a ledge.
• Little Gull Light – It was taken by the British in 1812 and destroyed by a hurricane in 1815.
• Great Gull Island – This island is home to the largest common- and roseate-tern nesting site in the Northeast.
• The Ruins – A small island in Block Island Sound called Gardiners Point Island, it was at one point home to the Gardiners Island Lighthouse and Fort Tyler.
• Long Beach Bar (Bug) Lighthouse – It was set ablaze by arsonists in 1963, then restored by East End Seaport Museum in 1990.
• Orient Point Lighthouse – This is on the tip of New York’s Long Island, which G and explored earlier in the week. It’s also known as the Coffee-Pot Lighthouse.
• Plum Island Lighthouse – The U.S. government has done decades of disease research on this island, which gives it a mysterious feel. No wonder you can’t dock on this island without special permit.
• Avery Point Lighthouse – It was built in 1943 but not lighted for a more than a year because of concerns about a possible Nazi attack during WWII.
We also had great views of General Dynamic’s huge Electric Boat Division. And we saw two subs going out during our tour. Only the tail fin and the “sail” (aka conning tower) break the surface water, giving the subs a certain lurking-alligator feel from afar.
One afternoon we went to the fabulous Sea Well Fish Market nearby and bought skate (aka sting ray), scallops and shrimp. G worked his usual magic. Here’s a short video of the service.
Dessert was fresh strawberries from Long Island – and frozen Milky Ways. (Frozen bite-size Milky Ways, with hot tea, have been a tradition for Cathy and me since we were kids.)
Note the cleaned plates in this photo.
Another evening, Sarah and Kurtis joined us for dinner. She’s a special ed teacher who works miracles with students who face soul-wrenching challenges every day; he’s a talented engineer at Electric Boat.
Dessert was an all-around fave, bananas flambé, captured on this short video.
We had lots of delightful down time. One day, G spent hours puttering around the trailer – cleaning, fixing, readjusting, tightening, polishing. Cathy took Mom and me on a driving tour of the area, which is nestled along the Pawcatuck River on the Rhode Island border not far from Mystic.
We tried to snap a decent selfie with a view of the Block Island Sound behind us. Not sure we ever achieved decent, but we did get a selfie.
We walked the Noank neighborhood where Cathy rented a house decades ago with a roommate and worked in a museum.
We found the home where Amelia Earhart was married to George P. Putnam in 1931. Mom once told me that as a little girl she wanted to grow up to be like her and personally paint the skies.
The current owner reportedly didn’t want the plaque noting the building’s historic significance on his house (which appears to be undergoing some needed repair). We’re not sure why. Too many crowds? There wasn’t a soul there when we were walking the area. Whatever. The plaque was moved to a small museum nearby, which is where it resides today.
If you look closely, you’ll see the word “here” is whited out – an effort to protect the plaque’s literal accuracy.
Later, we enjoyed a walk across the bridge and along the shops in Mystic.
Back at the house, Mom, ever the golfer, regaled us with color commentary about the 118th U.S. Open, which was being played at the Shinnecock Hills Country Club just across the Long Island Sound where G and I had been earlier in the week. It was an unusually tough course, not in tip-top condition, and even the best pros had a hard time making par. We were all bummed when Jordan Spieth of Dallas failed to make the cut.
Before we left, we snagged this photo of three generations of women in our family.
And we solved The Great Wine Flask Mystery, which has hovered ominously over our travels since we departed from Dallas some four months ago and which I wrote about in this blog post in April.
Turns out it was Cathy and John who bestowed upon us this most excellent gift! They gave it to us years ago and we only recently discovered its wonderful and magical properties…. It wasn’t a retirement gift as we’d supposed, which is why I could find no record of it when writing my thank-you notes earlier this year.
Whew! That circle has been squared. Relief. (Embarrassment.)
Eventually, it was time for us to leave. We said tearful good-byes from under the maple tree in the front yard, and G and I took Mom to Providence for her flight home to Dallas.
But it’s good to know we’ll see her again next month when we’re cruising across the top of Ohio and she flies to Cleveland for a visit – not so much with us, perhaps, but for the opportunity to enjoy time with another set of cousins…. 😉
It’s good to have cousins!