08/23/2011 01:25 pm ET Updated Oct 24, 2011

LA Memories of Cape Cod Summers

It was a little slice of life in Los Angeles: as I waited to board my flight to Boston earlier this summer, there stood actor Steve Carell, waiting patiently with everyone else to board. He wore black-rimmed glasses and had a computer bag at his feet, looking like any other L.A. civilian. I briefly fantasized about inviting him to Cape Cod and having cocktails and lobster with me and my 83-year-old mother, whom I was visiting for the weekend.

After 20 years, I've mostly adapted from my Cape Cod roots to Southern California. But summer isn't really summer until I get back to the Cape, with gin and tonics at sunset, the glow of a sunburn at the end of the day, lobster dinner and white wine as dusk sets in, Boston accents and the early arc of my life still close and familiar. It's where my cousins, my sister and I were dragged every summer morning to Red Cross swimming lessons in the frigid Nantucket Sound. It was a good place to be a teenager: first jobs and spending money, first beers, first kisses. My friend Mike and I used to go fishing off the beach for striped bass. It was at the house's big trestle dining table that my parents got to know my future wife, and later delighted over their grandchildren.

Years ago, my late father inherited a tiny piece of scrubby jungle land on a pond near the Cape's Bass River. We used to camp there, four of us sharing a dank green canvas tent with our dog, Ginger, who would occasionally run into a skunk, requiring a bath in the pond. My father would wash her with a mixture of soap and tomato juice, which was supposed to cut through the stench. Poison ivy was the bane of my existence, and I spent one miserable summer covered head to toe in unbearably itchy and uncomfortable poison ivy blisters.

Over the years, my dad strategically cleared the land, cutting away vines and scrub and leaving the best trees to frame the house that he and my mom eventually built -- a small pre-fabricated, modern house with an all-glass front facing the pond. From the house's deck, at dusk and with the wind dying down across the pond, you can hear the comforting distant sounds of laughter and dogs barking as everyone settles in for an evening of games, talk, catching up.

During my most recent visit, I took an evening walk down to the beach and dropped by the bar at an old traditional Cape hotel called the Lighthouse Inn. The bartender was in his 70s with a strong Boston accent, and the two of us had an easy conversation, sharing thumbnails of our pasts. He was from Charlestown and had worked for Polaroid in Cambridge for many years before being laid off. When it came time to pay for my beer, he said, "It's on the house." His simple gesture meant a lot.

As I walked home, I called my mother on my cell phone to tell her that I would be home at 10:30, a little later than I had thought when I left the house. I felt like a teenager again, walking home from the beach after hanging out with friends, a little past my curfew. A line from the Men at Work song "Overkill" went through my mind: "Ghosts appear and fade away." And I thought of another line, and reconfirmed that you can, in fact, go home -- and that it can be a good thing.