Reedville, Virginia calls our name in the summer. Home to generations of Jetts since Peter first stepped off of the boat near Leedstown with his wife, Mary, and their two sons and two daughters in 1663, we head there like migrating monarchs year after year.
In the late fifties my grandfather, using free cinder blocks my uncle Dick got from a job, builds us a cottage on the Chesapeake Bay between Reedville and Fleeton, Tibitha to be exact. Other Dad’s (my name for him that stuck) original plan is to buy Bayview at the end of the tiny finger of land the Jett’s call home the family homestead Sunnyside being just around the corner on Taskmaker’s Creek. A cousin who promises my grandfather first refusal instead sells it out of the family. Decades later a rich buyer razes (my aunt begs him not to do it to the point of laying down in front of the bulldozer) the original home saved from certain destruction during the Civil War by the Sutton sisters, and which was in pristine condition, to build a more modern style. Then he decides the mosquitoes are too horrible and sells. To this day Bayview is still the perfect setting with a yard that slopes to the bay unlike our spot with a steep hill to clamor up and down as well as being a constant erosion challenge. It sits next to the family cemetery where many of Other Dad’s young siblings are buried. The results of two first cousins marrying we are told. Three children survive to adulthood, my grandfather one. He is so sickly his mother promises his life to the church if he is spared an early death. He becomes a beloved minister on the Methodist circuit. He takes his family to Tibitha every chance he can get. The heritage of life on the bay runs deep within his veins. And he wants his grandchildren to know those same joys so he buys three lots nearby, selling two off to pay down the mortgage on one.
Our cottage is a one level affair, a basic rectangle, with a bedroom in three corners, kitchen in the fourth, a bathroom and one more bedroom between the kitchen and corner bedroom along the back wall. A T shaped open space for dining, viewing the bay through the trees and card playing by the rarely used fireplace make for socializing and overflow sleeping. Rope and pulley stairs to the open attic where we store inner tubes for swimming and snakes seek shelter for sleeping in the off season round out the deal.
We have no TV, no radio, no fans, no air conditioning. We use wooden orange boxes from the grocery for clothes organizing and are happy to have real beds to sleep on. Screens only for the big windows. If a bad storm blows in we close the heavy wooden shutters.
We have mosquitoes. We are fair game night and day. We have chiggers. A trip into their territory becomes necessary when the septic system surrenders from overuse by so many people. My uncle rescues us from being total pioneers with a once a day trip to the local gas station.
We measure the success of a night by how strong the wind is blowing the smell of the fish factory away from us. When the ships come in, always at night, we rush in all cars available to see them unload. Such is entertainment. The smell cannot be masked even by perfume held under a nose. There just is no smell like a menhaden fish boat unloading.
We spend the entire day on the beach accessible by steps we carve in the sloping sandy drop to the beach dotted with eroding pine trees. Someone goes to the cottage, a short walk through the waving pine trees, to fix lunch for everyone else.
Mom and my aunts, Keese and I.G., make creative shade shelters for nap time. Many years into our summer adventures they haul water washed pine poles from down the beach back to our spot for my dad and uncles to build a dock. We play with black inner tubes that must be constantly turned over to keep from practically scorching a layer of skin off. We never use sunscreen. Sun burns are a rite of passage. Peeling each other’s burnt skin layers a labor of love.
We have sea nettles to thwart our best attempts at playing in the water. We have a wonderful tide that bestows awesome sandbars for wading in the already shallow water. We have tricky blue clay on much of our private beach that will humbles us in an instant with a gooey slippery spill. We have endless shards of sharp broken glass that my aunt Keese collects by the bucket full to make our beach more user friendly.
To get to this slice of heaven we, more times than not, hop in the car at our parents command as we spontaneously race to catch the last ferry of the night. We are crossing the Rappahannock River where a bridge now ages. But we only know the ferry. We sit on the dock waiting for it to return from across the river. We spy huge red sea nettles and crabs swimmings. The air is filled with night sounds of crickets and cicadas.
I find a stash of Nancy Drew books one summer and read my way through these originals. I find Ian Fleming another and meet 007. We invent games for our days spent on the beach. Fallen pines are ships and homes. Our inner tubes are boats.
Drift wood of amazing proportions is everywhere. Mom loses her bathing suit top trying to hoist a big chunk up the sandy cliff. My uncle pushing from the bottom laughs at his unexpected delightful view. Neither are willing to forgo the goal. They win. Topped with round glass it makes a handsome coffee table.
We thrive on fresh foods. We pick crabs. We savor salt roe herring fried crisp and set aside for the warm roe tucked inside mashed with butter and spread on a hot biscuit. We shell butterbeans. We snap beans. We pop sugar peas. We peel peaches. We slice warm tomatoes. We shuck oysters and corn.
We catch lightning bugs and fill our mason jars with their wonder. We explore along the lane picking Queen Anne’s lace and yarrow blooms. Even when it rains the days are as hot as expected. We know nothing else and life is good.