Craig McQueen breathed deeply. It was a mid-morning in July and the air was warm but fresh, not humid or close. He had been walking Ogunquit Beach for over an hour, back and forth, stopping to pick up stones and bits of sea glass that caught his attention (only green; he had never found blue), stopping to watch seagulls whirling over the gentle waves. He loved seagulls. He liked their audacity. The tide was going out, leaving seashells on the damp sand --- snails’ shells, some occupied, some abandoned; broken razor clam shells; and the shells of surf clams, some as long as eight inches, the clams locals collected for chowder.
The beach was busy and would continue to teem with people --- families, young people, leathery skinned sun addicts, day-trippers, and those on weeklong vacations --- until around five o’clock, when cool showers and fruity cocktails and dinner and ice cream beckoned. Craig didn’t mind the crowds. No one in particular owned Nature. And he wasn’t a possessive person in any sense.
Craig’s eyes scanned the gentle curve of the beach. The Abenaki Native Americans had it right when they named this place Ogunquit, or “beautiful place by the sea.” Supposedly they had summered here in pre-colonial times. Now, hundreds of years later, Ogunquit Beach was considered one of the top ten most beautiful beaches in the United States. Some things never changed, and in this case, Craig thought, it was a good thing.
In the ten years that Craig had lived in Ogunquit year round certain things had, of course, changed --- gift and trinket shops had come and gone, as had several restaurants --- but, like the beach, other institutions such as Barnacle Billy’s remained, their lush, perfectly tended gardens one of the main attractions in Perkins Cove. Reliably, Lex Romane and Joe Riillo were still playing jazz and blues in restaurants and at birthdays and weddings. And down in York Beach, kids were still enjoying the Wild Kingdom Zoo and Amusement Park and the carousel and arcade. Ogunquit’s annual Patriots’ Day celebration was still alive and well, as was Christmas by the Sea, the mid-December event that marked the official start of the holiday season for residents.
Weeks, months, years. Ten of them. It was hard to believe it had been that long since his family had gathered at Larch- mere for the memorial of Charlotte McQueen’s death. Charlotte --- matriarch, wife of Bill and mother to Adam, Tilda, Hannah, and Craig. What a strange time that had been! Within two weeks a full-scale drama --- could it be called a melodrama?—had unfolded. It was complete with arch villain --- that would be his older brother, Adam --- and damsel in distress, who would be his sister Tilda, or maybe, thinking more about it, his sister Hannah, Craig supposed.
The thing that had started it all was the stunning news of his father’s new romance. Then had followed the panic over the future of Larchmere, the beloved family beach house. Added to this were the private conflicts that, by the weeks’ end, had resolved for better or worse, depending on whose opinion you asked.
If you asked Craig, he would say that things had worked out just fine. At least they had for him. He knew he had never been in serious contention for ownership of the family house, for Larchmere, and that had in some way made him a spectator to the main events, though he had had his own existential crisis to handle. Existential crisis --- was that what it had been? Yes, he thought that it had. He had confronted his place in the world and had grappled with the question of how to live his life meaningfully. It was a big question deserving, but rarely getting, a lot of thought.
A childish scream of glee erupted to his right and Craig sidestepped a toddler tumbling toward the water, his harried mother right behind him. Craig smiled. He looked at his watch, the one his father had left him when he died the year before, the one Bill had received from his own father so many years ago. The face was round and the band, replaced many times over the years, was brown leather. It was the first watch Craig had ever worn. He liked the way it felt on his wrist. He liked that it once had belonged to his father and grandfather. It made him feel connected to something good, something stable and continuous.
The watch told him that it was eleven o’clock, almost time for lunch. Craig, realizing that he was starved, turned back toward Larchmere, toward home, where Nigel and the other beloved members of his family would be waiting.
Excerpted from The Family Beach House © Copyright 2012 by Holly Chamberlin. Reprinted with permission by Kensington. All rights reserved.
The Family Beach House
- paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Kensington
- ISBN-10: 0758235062
- ISBN-13: 9780758235060