My grandparents owned a beach front guest house in Bass River on Cape Cod. From the time I was nine years old until I was thirteen, I would spend my summers at this most interesting of places. There was a cartoon painted on a panel beneath the bar in the kitchen. It showed a man leaping into the air with his pants down. The devil was prodding his nethermost regions with a pitchfork and laughing. The banner at the top said Hagberg's Happy Holiday Hole. That pretty much describes my summers.
My grandmother was in charge. Oh boy, was she in charge. She had regular guests that would come back every summer and many of them stayed for most of if not the entire summer. I remember so many of them very clearly even today. Two of my favorites were Irwin and Charlotte from New York City. Irwin was an elderly Jewish man who wore suspenders and bow ties. Whenever he saw me, he would reach into the pockets of his enormous pants and pull out a Tootsie Roll and give it to me. Trust me, I looked for him as often as I could. His wife, Charlotte, was a wonderful woman who wore tons of make up and bright red lipstick. Whenever I got trapped by her, she would grab my head, give me a big slobbery kiss and say, “Ah, Butch, you are just too cute”!
I should explain the name, Butch. My grandfather, my father and I all had the same name: Cliff. To differentiate between us, my grandmother started calling me Butch so I would know when she was yelling for me. My grandfather was Clifford Ludwig Hagberg, my father was Clifford L. Hagberg and I was just plain Clifford Hagberg. I will be forever grateful to my parents for not giving me the name Ludwig.
I don't remember my grandfather ever doing much of anything. He only had one job that I can recall: the night front desk person at the Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge in Hyannis. This was very convenient for me because it was right next to the Baptist Church on Main Street where I had my Boy Scout meeting every Wednesday night. Before the meeting, I would stop by to say hello to Grampie and he would give me a quarter which I used to by an ice cream cone at the Howard Johnson's Restaurant. I loved Wednesdays!
My grandfather's main responsibility was to walk the dogs and vacuum the house. I'm pretty sure that was all he ever did. My grandmother did everything else. My grandfather also spoke for my grandmother. Coming back from college one year, I had a full beard and long hair with a ponytail down the middle of my back. My grandmother hated it but she never said a word to me. She did have plenty to say about it to my grandfather and she would get him all riled up. “Butch!”, he would yell at me. “When are you going to get your goddamn hair cut, you look like a goddamn girl”. I knew it was my grandmother speaking but she would immediately jump in and defend me. “Don't you yell at him like that you useless old man. I think he looks just fine”. My grandfather would get pissed, grab his cocktail and disappear into their bedroom and my grandmother would give me a hug and tell me how wonderful I was. The next day, I would overhear her complaining to him about my ponytail and demanding that he speak to me about it. Gotta love my grandmother. Nothing was ever her fault.
My daily routine usually went like this. Out of bed around 7:30 a.m. There was always someone wanting to go for a walk and we would head out to the beach. To the east, we could see the entrance to Bass River and the lighthouse at the end of the jetty. A mile out and a mile back made for a great way to start the day. On the way back, we would pass the Smuggler's Beach Motor Lodge and I would sneak in and jump into their pool for a quick refresher. The motel was owned by M. Belmont Verstandig and inevitably he would appear in his double breasted blue blazer and captain's hat and throw me out. I got my revenge years later when I bought the hotel from his wife. Now it was my turn to throw the local kids out of my pool!
When we got back from our walk, it was time for breakfast which always included my grandmother making me eat a banana. That's how she got the name Nana Banana. After breakfast, it was out to the beach to play until lunchtime. Every day, after lunch, I would sneak onto the porch where there were two enormous freezers and, hidden in one or the other, were ice cream sandwiches – my favorite. Done with my ice cream, it was back to the beach until cocktail hour which usually started around 9:00 a.m. With Bloody Marys! Yup, a lot of drinking going on at the Beach House. Not for me though.
The afternoons were usually spent in one of two ways. I would either sit in the living room overlooking the ocean and listening to the Red Sox game on the radio with all of the old men. Every day they had a pool which cost a quarter to enter. Someone would always spot me the quarter and I would get to choose my position in the pool. The Red Sox's runs across the top and the other team's runs down the side. You had to pick the intersecting box that would match the final score. If you won, you could pull down as much as two or three dollars. That was the fortune I would use to buy my comic books.
The other way to spend an afternoon was in the parking area playing wiffle ball. My cousins, John and Kim and the kid across the street whose name was Marty would gather almost everyday to play wiffle ball to the death. Marty was great because he had one brown eye and one blue eye. For some reason that was just the coolest thing ever.
Time for dinner which was usually a cookout. The adults would continue on with their drinking and I would get my ginger ale. John, Kim, Marty and I would play cowboys and indians until it was time for bed. Off we'd go and the next day, we'd get up and do it all over again.
How can you beat a childhood like that?