April is the cruellest month.
– T.S. Eliot
I woke up in an unbearably dark, gray birthday mood a week ago contemplating the first line in T.S. Eliot’s seminal poem, The Waste Land. Since then, I learned Eliot and his wife caught the Spanish Flu in December of 1918, and he wrote much of The Waste Land while recovering from the deadly pandemic following World War I.
After sheltering in place for the past six weeks with no end in sight, and incessantly watching the news that has grown more abysmal by the day, I was practically climbing the walls on the brilliant spring morning of my recent April birthday.
A Ray of Hope
As I buried my head – neglected silver roots and all – under a faded blue coverlet, a ray of hope glinted across my mind. Still wearing the pale pink dog and cat pajamas Marshall gave me for Christmas, I crossed my fingers and eagerly dialed a beloved and iconic West Marin coastal retreat, and hoped they were serving lunch?
In 1921, a Yugoslavian immigrant named Nick Kojich bought land bordering Tomales Bay shortly after the Spanish Flu pandemic ended. Only a few rustic fishing cabins dotted the Bay’s edge until Nick built a restaurant in 1930, added a post-Prohibition bar in 1933, and erected several guest cottages for visitors from San Francisco.
“Nick’s Cove is serving takeout,” I exclaimed joyfully to Marshall as I quickly dressed in layers for the coast. We jumped in the car with Toby and drove the hour and fifteen minutes west through the redwoods, then north along the Pacific Coast Highway to the remote hideaway in West Marin County.
As I scoured both sides of Highway 1 from the passenger seat, I saw no suitable place for our celebratory picnic. Beaches were closed and even parking lots were roped off.
When we arrived at Nick’s, I asked Alison at the front desk if any cottages were available. “Uncle Andy’s across the street is sparkling clean and vacant,” Alison said with a smile as she handed me the key.
Funky Yet Luxurious
I was captivated the moment I opened the door to Uncle Andy’s cottage. Walls were covered with cream-colored beadboard and studded with old-fashioned windows letting in brilliant seaside light. Old, orange-colored fir floors sparkled with care beneath a collection of worn but still vibrant vintage rugs.
A shiny black potbellied stove sat on top of big fat grout lines wedged between crusty oversized gray bricks. Projecting from the unpretentious focal point was a comically crooked stove pipe that angled unexpectedly to the ceiling, whimsically separating the cabin’s sleeping and sitting areas.
Relics from the Past
Tucked in a corner across from the king-size bed was a funky, but deliciously authentic, antique cupboard embellished with two chunky doorknobs, round bun feet, and an old-fashioned birdcage. Decades-old fishing rods leaned against the sturdy honey-colored cabinet that had proudly stood the test of time.
A trio of framed brilliant blue boat building plans dating back to the 1930s hung over the plush sofa in the sitting area. A scruffy old pine chest served as a coffee table next to a primitive armoire that housed a flat-screen television and music components. Two vintage floor lamps glowed with soft golden light.
The Back Door Surprise
But the most provocative room was the bountiful bathroom with its elegantly tiled and heated floor below an elaborate old-world marble wall-mounted sink. A door from the bathroom opened to a petite but idyllic deck, where the view and the lighting were pitch perfect for a springtime birthday lunch. I was enchanted.
Once we checked in, room service arrived with a generous serving of shrimp ceviche and two margaritas. We savored the treats from our diminutive deck while gazing over a sublime green meadow that smelled like spring. Taking in the season’s freshness filled me with joy and immense gratitude to be alive.
That afternoon, Toby and I walked around the property admiring brilliantly painted cottages and boats that had undoubtedly prevailed for generations.
I thought about what life was like by Tomales Bay a hundred years ago. Five years of devastation had come and gone with World War I and the deadly Spanish Flu. Yet life had flourished, and the world survived.
T.S. Eliot thought April was the cruelest month because it held spring, which re-awakened painful memories for him. I cannot imagine the suffering he endured during those five wretched years of war, death, and illness from the pandemic.
Fortunately, for me the spring splendor and renewal of life April brings still inspires hope to defeat despair in this arduous time on earth.
The Yugoslavian Fisherman
Before we left, I spotted a relic I had overlooked in Uncle Andy’s cabin. It was an archaic black and white framed photograph sitting on a shelf. A man in a plaid shirt leaned forward, hands on bent knees, between two enormous fish hanging by their tails above him.
I later pulled up a YouTube video about the history of Nick’s Cove and there, to my astonishment, was that photograph with a simple one-word caption – Nick. My eyes clouded with tears.
Today, Nick’s Cove is the longest running restaurant, oyster bar and inn on the West Marin Coast. Nick survived World War I, the Spanish Flu and immigrating from Yugoslavia to America. What he created has not only survived, it has thrived for almost a century.
And that my dear friends should give Americans – hope.
For the love of April, America and hope,