This summer, our extended family will gather on Chappaquiddick for a long-overdue reunion. We’re flying in to reconnect with each other, and to introduce my four grandchildren to the island. They’re finally going to see why this tiny spot takes up such a big space in our hearts.

I fell in love with Chappy as a summer kid in the 1950s, when our family would spend July on the island.

I can still hear the thump-thump of the wooden gangplank as our 1949 Ford would back off the Chappy Ferry at our arrival each year. In those days, the little ferry only had a propeller at the stern, so the cars would drive forward to go aboard, and then back off.

“Straight back,” the ferryman would shout. “Straight back, now.” If the tide was low, backing the car up that gangplank was a challenge. My father would gun the engine and ride the clutch, and up we’d go.

We were on Chappy! A mile down the blacktop road was the turnoff to North Neck, and a sandy road into another world. There was no electricity at the two old houses we rented — one for us, and one for the parade of aunts and uncles and cousins and friends who would join us for one-week stays.

“They help us pay the rent,” my mother would explain whenever my brother or sister or I complained about “too much togetherness.” And in fact, our visitors were part of the magic that made Chappy such a different world.

Supper was not a quiet affair. There were often 15 of us at the table. And it didn’t end with, “Now you kids go do your homework.” Sometimes, it didn’t seem to end at all.

It was often a moveable feast, as Hemingway said, beginning at the house with the big front porch for cocktails, migrating to the house with the big dining room for supper, moving into the kitchen to light the kerosene lamps and wash the dishes, and ending up with a nightcap on the porch again, watching the last of the sunset.

The grownups were different at Chappy. And it wasn’t just the alcohol.

On the island, the men had a chance to work through some of the trauma they had just experienced in World War II. This did not involve modern psychology. They worked on it with rusty putty knives, scraping and caulking two old rowboats and a Frostbite sailing dingy that needed to be refurbished each year.

Hanging in the air, with their cigarette smoke, was the unspoken memory of the man who had not come home from the war.

“You kids go catch some scup,” the men would say when the rowboats were ready. Smiling, they watched us row away with our favorite adult, the young widow of the missing man. Her name was Eleanor, and she loved to spend time with us kids. My Mom always invited her to stay for two weeks, instead of one. She said it was because Eleanor was so much fun, but we knew there were other, grownup reasons.

The men didn’t talk much as they worked, but the women sure did. They chatted as they peeled potatoes; they laughed as they took us kids skinny-dipping before breakfast; they sang as they herded us into the kitchen to help wash the supper dishes.

My mother, especially, was transformed by being on Chappy. She had discovered the island during the war. My dad was fighting in the Pacific, and my mom’s sister invited her to come to Chappy with her little boy, my older brother. The island became her safe place in a frightening world.

This, too, was unspoken during our summers in the 1950s, but we could always see a change come over her when the car turned down the sandy road toward Cape Pogue Pond, and peace.

As our family reunion draws near, I realize that I’ve been hoping it will carry my grandchildren “straight back,” as the ferryman said, to the Chappy I loved as a boy. But no: We’re going to drive off the ferry straight ahead this time, into a changed world. My grandchildren are going off on their own adventure, to discover their own Chappy.

I just hope it includes scup for breakfast, and skinny-dipping.

Tom Harmon is a writer who lives in New Mexico.