A nostalgic visit to our family’s old summer home brought comfort after a chance encounter with the new owner–and his dog.
A golden retriever made my aunt cry last week. He made my whole family cry. He lives in a house in Bradley Beach, New Jersey, a place that means a lot to the Hunter family. That was where my dad and his sister spent their summers growing up, Memorial Day to Labor Day. Where they’d still spend their summers, if things could have stayed the same forever.
The first beach house the Hunter family owned was on 4th Avenue, on a corner just across the street from the boardwalk. By the time my sister and I were born, decades later, the family had moved from the 4th Avenue house to a trio of bungalows a few blocks north. A nor’easter sometime in the mid-90s hit those bungalows hard, and my grandparents, Morey and Rita Hunter, sold the property shortly after. Our family’s foothold on the Jersey shore was gone. My dad and my aunt didn’t spend much time in Bradley after that.
Before we moved out of the beach houses I knew and loved, I carved my initials into one of the weathered, paint-chipped posts of the front porch, maybe hoping that some mark of our family would survive there. A few years later, the bungalows were torn down, replaced by luxury condos. Can’t tell you how much that stung.
My aunt is even more nostalgic than I am, and I think she kept away from Bradley Beach because it no longer felt like it was “our place”—and was no longer filled with the loved ones who made it so special. But this summer, she decided to go back and relive some of her memories. Maybe drive by those wretched condos, and that old house on 4th Avenue, which still stood despite years of storms and threats of development.
She was walking by that house when the door opened. A golden retriever came bounding outside, her luscious, blonde coat glimmering in the sun. The owner followed closely behind. My aunt just had to speak to him. Let him know what the house had meant to her and the family.
The man told her he’d lived there for many years. His family had made their own happy memories there, so he understood my aunt’s attachment. He invited her inside to look around. So much had changed, yet walking through the rooms, my aunt could still picture it as it was. Flashes of her parents, and the rest of the Hunter family, seemed to appear around every corner.
Of course, being a dog lover, my aunt made sure to give the golden a nice scratch behind the ears before she left. “She’s beautiful,” she said to the owner.
“Thank you,” the owner said. He turned to the dog. “Come along, Hunter, let’s go for that walk.”
My aunt couldn’t say a word. A Hunter still lived in that house. She couldn’t help but feel someone had arranged it that way.
What places have you left behind? What keeps you connected to them, even after all these years? Share your stories with us.