What makes Cape Cod special?

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Countries, geographic areas, cities, towns, even neighborhoods have a special local character.  Writers may reference local color.  Mention lobster; think Maine.  Blue crabs; Chesapeake Bay.  Philadelphia is known for its steak sandwiches; Georgia for peaches.  Trancendentalism, must be Concord, MA.  Rip Van Winkle, the Hudson Valley, NY.  Whales: Nantucket or maybe Bedford, MA;  alligators, the Florida Everglades.

Since I’m spending time on Cape Cod, I’ve been thinking, “what makes Cape Cod special?”  What places, objects, words characterize, symbolize Cape Cod?

 

Cape Cod is definately nautical.  Salty.  Breezy.  Ocean waves (I recently read,  “my memories come in waves”). The Cape is sandy beaches, marshes along the bay, high– very high — sand dunes and “kettle ponds” left behind by retreating glaciers.    Sail boats, kayaks, Boston Whalers.  Lighthouses (20 of them), the first on the Cape was Highland (1850s),  now part of the National Seashore (1960s).

There are scallops, clams, and, yes, lobster — its delicious in a traditional roll.  Cod once schooled off shore but have moved North, but striped bass, flounder, mackeral, and tuna are still caught locally. Wellfleet oysters are well known.  Corn, tomatoes and cranberries can be local.

There is the typical Cape Cod house architecture.  Gray cedar shakes, white trim, a long sloped roof.  Flowers in the garden, hydrangea especially.   Years ago we took an architectural walk on Nantucket.  The guide joked that building codes had created a “Disney” effect to local architecture.  I read in “Country Living,”

“Though it was originally developed by colonists from England, today the Cape is perhaps the most quintessentially American of all architectural styles. It conjures up feelings of warmth, coziness and nostalgia, and for good reason—the style has been most popular during the times in which we, as a country, were desperately seeking a sense of “home. The earliest capes in America were built in small New England towns during the time of American colonization, when the country was first developing an identity. Throughout the 1940s and ’50s, the Cape experienced a resurgence in popularity that quickly spread throughout suburbs nationwide—and thus the style is associated with the serenity, regularity and strong family values that defined the post-war years.”

The last sentence about resurgence reminds me:  My parents came to the Cape for their honeymoon in 1946.  Father bought Bayberry candles to resell in his Bristol, Pa store.  No one bought them.  He would joke, “Bristol wasn’t ready.” I don’t know if they still sell Bayberry candles on the Cape. I think Yankee Candles in Hayannis.

Images of the Cape landscape are dominated by the immense sand dunes in the National Seashore, Eastham to Provincetown.  We can thank President Jack Kennedy for preserving that section of the Cape.   Think Cape, think beaches, they are on the Bay side and Ocean side. First Encounter on the Bay is where the Pilgrims first encountered natives.  And there are marshes, Nauset Marsh is special.  There are also the kettle ponds, created by melting ice blocks during the ice age.  Great swimming holes.  The glaciers were also responsible for the dunes.  Although the shoreline dominates there are forested areas — mature pine and oak are common.

The Cape is a mix of villages/towns.  Each has a unique character.  The names flow, Sandwich, Mashpee, Falmouth, Yarmouth, Dennis, Harwich, Barnstable, Brewster, Chatham.  Hyannis is probably the most famous, the Kennedy compound, the ferry to Nantucket.  Orleans is midway at the elbow.  Then Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro, and finally Provincetown.  About ten towns host a summer baseball league (since the late 1800s).  College players spend the summer, coach young kids, and are scouted.  Many towns sponsor farmer’s markets and outdoor band concerts.

Various authors are associated with and symbolize the Cape Cod.  Eugene O Neil wrote and produced in Providencetown.  Henry David Thoreau visited and wrote a memoir, “Cape Cod.” And of course, Henry Beston immortalized the Cape in his Beach journal, “The Outermost House.”  I must include “House at Nauset Beach” by Wyman Richardson and Robert Finch and John Hay’s “The Great Beach.”

Jack Kennedy on Cape Cod: “No two summers on Cape Cod are quite the same.”  Maybe that makes it special.

Some photographs from internet; some I shot.

 

 

 

 

 

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Getting Away

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Frequently books can be a passport to escape from our daily routine. They can transport us to new shores, new adventures.  We meet people that don’t live next door or around the corner.  I’m drawn to books that describe “escapes” made by their authors.  Journeys, travel logs, memoirs.  Brought “On Whale Island : notes from a place I never meant to leave,” by Daniel Hays to Cape Cod this week. Finished reading it this rainy, overcast day.

Hays and his father built a twenty-five sail boat and sailed it around Cape Horn. That’s the bottom of South America; not an easy sail if I recall correctly.  He shared their sail in “My Old Man and the Sea (1995).  Hays grew up in New York CIty, went to a Vermont boarding school, with money inherited from a grandmother he bought a 50 acre island off the coast of Nova Scotia, you guessed, Whale Island.    A place to escape in the summer; he and his father built a small house there.  After the Cape Horn sail and book, he returns to graduate school and an internship in Idaho as a guide to troubled kids. There he meets Wendy, and her son Stephan (about 10).  Marriage.

Hays yearned to “get away,” “pack it up,” “escape civilization,” “get off the grid.”  He dreamed of following in the footsteps of Henry David Thoreau.  With the book royalties in hand, he convinced Wendy and Stephan, to move to Whale Island. It’s remote, cold, isolated, basic, primitive.  They last one year.

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“On Whale Island” is the story of that year.  It’s written as a diary, Day 1, Day 25, Day 200; most entries are in Daniel’s voice but Wendy and Stephan contribute some.  It’s not an easy life; cutting wood for heat and cooking (how much is needed); fixing or enduring house leaks (some won’t go away); creating, repairing, a water and sewage system (can be disgusting).  They seem to buy most of their food, with a boat trip into town.  Daniel has a gun (part of being a man in the culture and for him) shoots a few ducks; helps Lobster men and gets a few of the catch.  But no mention of gardening.

Wendy longs for a more civilized life.  While Dan is satisfied with a whalebone sink, plywood and foam rubber bed, Wendy wants a house that doesn’t leak and store bought furniture.  She ocassionally gets a package from mail order.  Daniel records their frequent outbursts, arguments, blow ups; usually followed with some humor and promises.  I found this very real, how couples can manage or work through different perspectives, dreams?

Daniel worries about a lot of things.  Survival,  being an accepted man with the local boys, his relationship with Wendy, and relationship with Stephan.  He writes frequently about his ability to be a good father.  He also admits to medications he takes for depression, mood control.  And he likes his rum.

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The environmental “escape” part of the story are the glimpses into life in Nova Scotia, on a remote island; the weather; daily chores; contacts with locals (some interesting characters).  Chapters are introduced by quotes, many from “Walden.”  “I should not talk so much about myself if there was anybody else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience.”

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Hays’ own writing contains quite a few quotable lines. I liked, “I want to stay forever. I want to become a professional scrounger, find a way to make seaweed taste good, trade labor for outboard-engine gas — better yet, trade the boat in for an old sailboat . . . Grow potatoes, set out fish traps, hunt, grow a beard, forget my social security number.”  No TV or internet on Whale Island.

For the past few days, I traveled with Daniel to the wilderness, to an island in Nova Scotia.  In fact, we both escaped.  But after a year Daniel and family returned to Idaho and I’m back in Cape Cod, in ten days, Yardley.  I’ll read another book; take another trip. Explore, experience, enjoy.  There are different ways of “getting away.”  I need to keep searching.

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Many Thanks Until Tomorrow

IMG_2911Most mornings during my wake up wash and other early morning rituals, I give thanks.  Maybe it’s praying for me.  I’m certainly not religious, practicing a specific faith, but I do believe in the spiritual.  I believe we need to express our thanks for our lives, accepting the trials and troubles; celebrating the joys and successes.

This morning after 71 passages around the sun, a memorable birthday, many messages from friends, a day with family, I was extremely thankful.  Native Americans probably have a ceremony.  So for me on this Wednesday, 25th, in July, 2018, I give thanks.

First I am thankful for another day.  The sun has risen.  I’m awake, thinking, moving, tasting life yet again.  I’m thankful for Diane, it was 50 years in 2017.  The past several years have been difficult for her, as she deals with her personal aging, and the caring I need.

I’m thankful for my immediate family, daughter, Jenny and husband, Rob.  And in a very special way, their children, my grand children, Eli and Viv.  I am oh so thankful for Eli’s recovery from neuroblastoma; and for Viv’s childhood honesty, humor and smile. She even gave me a birthday kiss.  I’m thankful for my four sisters (Cissy, Vicky, Marylee, Liz), their spouses (Louis, Ted, Norval) and their children, and their children.  Then there are the many cousins, their spouses and children.  Most mornings I mention many of their names but there are so many, I’ll spare you. But cousin Ellen and cousin Bill, come immediately to mind.   You get the idea.

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I am thankful for ancestors that have passed.  Those I knew and those I never met.  The Italians and the Irish.  The believers and non-believers.  Particularly my parents who led full lives, mother’s tragically cut short by a hit and run driver.

I am thankful for friendship and all those who have been part of my life these many years. Some sent me greetings yesterday.  It’s interesting there are several groups besides relatives; Bristol and Yardley people; school friends; and students and colleagues, particularly HGP.  Names float by, Paglione, Taylor, Sears, Gallagher Corley, Alonzo, Honan, Posey, DiGiesi, Figliola, O’Connor, Buscaglia, Bonnema, Buettler, Carmine, Cavanaugh, Dye, Ditchkofsky, McCullough, Horch, Ramirez, Rosenthal, Kriven, Thomas. . . . .

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I am thankful to live in a country with a democratic government and free press.  I am thankful for my talents (whatever) and interests.  The opportunity for a formal education and what is learned from being in the world — Peace Corps, travel, and local explores.  I appreciate and give thanks for years of teaching, hoping I opened the eyes and hearts and minds of a few students.  There have been so many at St. Michael’s, Holy Ghost Prep, LaSalle and Holy Family.

The list can go on and on: clear air to breathe; good food and drink to nourish; the ability and places to walk; the sights, smells, and textures of our world.  I am thankful for trees, flowers, the wind, birds, dogs (Nala), sailboats, music, books, the list goes on and on.

I’m quite uncertain about a single creator but I’m thankful for the spirit (or spirits) that animate my life and my world; your life and your world.

Morning ablutions do end; until tomorrow.

 

 

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Moving on

I was born July 24, 1947 at Nazareth Hospital in northeast Philadelphia, twelve miles from Bristol where my parents lived and where I would grow up.  I was a baby boomer, my father was in the Navy during the war; mom worked and waited for him.  They were married in 1946.  Since they were the first their group to have a child, my father was sometimes called “father” by friends.  I doubt if many care about the details of my life but after 70, 71 to be exact, years, I find the need to reflect and record.

My life history is one fairly typical American. No Tom Jones or Ishmeal here.  Immigrant grandparents, religious family (Roman Catholic), small town, self-employed parents (father, Vince, an appliance store, mother, Cis, a dress shop), four sisters (Cissi, Vicky, Marylee, Liz), college, married young, Peace Corps, one child (Jenny), two grand children (Eli and Viv), single family home, 40 plus years in high school and college teaching and administration, political and community involvement, local and international travel, hobbies (reading, writing, photography), 67 at retirement, too quickly followed by major medical issues.  My life in under 100 words.

This morning at six I am sitting in a screened porch on Ayers Pond, Orleans, Cape Cod, MA.  The sun is up and beginning to reflect the sailboats in the marina.  I have a cup of coffee and blueberry muffin from a great local bakery, yogurt and blueberries.  The bird feeder needs to be filled.  In the next two hours the rest of the house will get up, Jen, Rob, Eli and Viv, my wife of 50 years, Diane.  It’s our third year in this house; six consecutive years with the Kwait’s on the Cape and decades of spending summertime in New England.  Life is good, still.

Last year we had to leave Orleans after one week — what do they say, “getting old . . . you can fill in the blank.  At home in Yardley, I ended up in St. Mary’s Hospital for ten days.  Then months recovering. In 2015 I was hospitalized for months.  Last night I got into the kayak, paddled around the Pond.  Although I needed help getting out, I proclaimed a second recovery, back to what is now normal.  My birthday wish is that I can ride a bike sometime today.  It’s been two years, but I thought it was something you never forgot.  I remember getting my 80 year old father on a bike in Nantucket.

Recently I’ve heard echoes of my mother’s admonitions,  “Can’t means I won’t”  or “It’s the little things that count.”  “Haste makes waste.”  On parents: Tim Russert, “The older I get, the smarter my father seems to get.” And then there was Twain, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”  Took me till 71?

My new tagline’ slogan, is “reflect, recharge, renew,” seen on a church in CN while driving to the Cape.   I could add “relax” and make it the four “Rs.”  Blog and journal writing documents my reflection.  I constantly look at the present through the past.  Our personal history flows from all that we’ve experienced and done.  Our present is  also influenced by our world, economics, politics, social trends, technology, war and peace. John Muir, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” It’s  frightening but the current administration in Washington is influencing who I am today.

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For months I’ve been in overdrive recharging.  Now that time has passed,  I need shorter periods of recharge.  It may be an afternoon nap; a shower, a day alone at home, two weeks on Cape Cod, anyone. It’s a constant process; always has been; but more critical as we age.  A long walk this morning along the bay shore was refreshing (another “R” word.  Lunch was a lobster roll and clam chowder from Young’s at Rock Harbor.  This afternoon I’ll rest and recharge before a Birthday  dinner, hopefully at the Marshside in Dennis.

The task of “renewal” has been more difficult for me.  I want to have some plans, goals, dreams, something new in the final period of my life.  At the Smithsonian, retirement year one, I bought a small journal with a historic world globe on the cover.  It was to be for my dreams, aspirations, a bucket list if our will.  It’s still pretty blank.  For most of my life, photography has been a creative outlet.  I’d planned on a new more professional camera and lenses.  But I haven’t bought it yet; just take many pictures with my phone.  I thought about volunteer work.  More traveling.  Writing a book.  Change. Renew?

My mother again, “For good ideas to be worthwhile; they must be put into action.”  I’m not worried.  Life is good, remember.  And I know I’m “moving on.”

 

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Books: the Facebook seven

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I’ve become careful about what “games” I play on Facebook.  This quiz will tell you how old you are; another your level of education or favorite food.  Then there are posting competitions. The craziest was the “ice bucket challenge” a few years ago.  More recently was the movie challenge, post a photograph from so many days that influenced your life.  No commentary.  I did respond however to posting seven days of favorite books.  It was an interesting exercise.

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Day one I posted Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle.  For many years a copy of one or other Sherlock book would be on my night stand.  Evening after evening I’d read a short story or chapter in a novel.  I thought I was in London, in 221 B Baker Street with all the atmosphere Doyle created.  I enjoyed the Holmes Watson relationship.  And I reveled in the chase, guided by the science of deduction, observation, details, facts before theories.  In my bedroom closet is a collection of Holmesian related books and magazines.  A bit of an obsession.

 

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Day, book two.  “Beautiful Swimmers: waterman, crabs and the Chesapeake Bay,” by William Warner.  I clearly remember finding this book on a rack in John Wanamaker’s.  The cover looked so interesting; maybe you could judge a book by . . . I’d never been to the Chesapeake and rarely if ever had blue crabs.  But I was captivated.  Specifically I wanted to try soft shell crabs.  At Holy Ghost Prep I asked one of the Giordano boys (Ninth Street Italian market), “Can you get me soft shells.?”  They weren’t in season. My first taste was in Cape May, visiting Jerry and Kate Alonzo.  It was a stand or food truck, Jerry and I bought soft shell sandwiches.  They’ve been a favorite ever since.  This year on a week trip to the Eastern Shore, I had soft shells three times.  The best actually were several weeks later in Cape May.  Some books don’t let go.

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Book three was “Walden,” by Henry David Thoreau.  I think  I discovered it while attending Boston College, not far from his Concord home.  I was drawn to the economy of words and economy of life.  Living away from it all, listening to the wild, the trees, growing beans, reflecting and writing.  Henry was my type of guy.  Amazing but I never visited Walden Pond until several years ago when we stayed in Concord for several days.  We made the pilgrimage to the reconstructed cottage, statue and the original site.

 

IMG_2902Book four.  “The Sun Also Rises,” by Ernest Hemingway.  I discovered modern American literature in a summer course I took at Council Rock after my sophomore year.  I was searching for identity and signed up as Paul Profy (Paul is a middle name), an alter ego.  There was Vince and there was Paul.  When the instructor called out my name I didn’t respond, a girl next to me said, “Is that you.”  I responded  “Oh, yes.”   Rainy and I would date for the rest of High School.  But more significantly was my exposure to Hemingway.  Later I was an English major at BC — how strange that meant English Literature major, British and American.  For my first paper, I read Hemingway.  All of Hemingway, short stories, novels, poems.  I read every piece of criticism in the BC library and visited other university libraries.  I even read doctoral dissertations.   I recall one, “The insect symbolism in the Nick Adams stories.”  Give me a break, I thought.  What can I write about.  My instructor, John McCarthy, suggested, why not compare Nick Adams (young man in many short stories) and Huckleberry Finn.  I did.  A year later a Hemingway critic, Carlos Baker, published a book with the comparison.  Did McCarthy know?  Of all the Hemingway canon, I chose “The Sun” with its lost generation, expatriates, hanging out in Paris and Spain, a world of drinking, bull fights, writers, artists and lovers.  It could have been other Hemingway; I liked them all.

 

 

Day five I turned to children’s books.  And there are many.  “Nobody’s Boy,” by  Hector Malot was a gift from Aunt Lucy.  My father read it over and over when I was quite young.  I loved the story of the orphan who eventually found his mother.  But with a recent re-read, it didn’t hold up.  Another early favorite was “Uncle Wiggley,” by Howard Garis.  A collection of short stories about Mr. Longears, involving some danger escaped, help from Nurse Jane, and an ending that promised the next story. For the FB posts I chose two, “The Velveteen Rabbit,” by Margery Williams.  I read it to Jenny, night after night.  Her teddy Durgin (Boston born) talked to her just like the  the rabbit that was real when loved.  And I included  A.A. Milne’s “Winne the Pooh.”  Such a delight; characters, adventures, serendipity, messages.  I could read it again and again.

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Book Six.  “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” by Mark Twain.  Hemingway said, “All American literature come s from Huckleberry Finn.”  I read it as a kid, a college student and as an adult.  It is certainly all American, characters and themes.  Huck rebels against civilization, convention, American hypocrisy.  I get so annoyed when it is banned for racial language.

 

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Concluding this exercise wasn’t easy.  For my final book, number seven, I chose “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.”  My love for local history, a memoir and an amazing character that takes center stage.  Franklin in well Franklin.  They broke the mold.  Who can forget his arrival in Philadelphia, two rolls under his arms, encountering his future wife.  Or his twelve step program for overcoming vices. Great autobiography.

This is one FB game I enjoyed.  Interesting choosing books.  I should re-read all of them.

 

 

 

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Morning in Orleans

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Yesterday we left Yardley at 9:30, the Highlander loaded with kayak, beach chairs, umbrella, kids toys, fishing poles and everything else needed for a two weeks trip to Orleans. It was a nice sunny, not too hot day but traffic was heavy. We took the NJ turnpike, NYC route. After the George Washington, we got on the shaded Merritt Parkway to Milford, CN. The Merritt was part of the route to Boston College in the 1960s. Memories.

We stopped at the Guilford Lobster Landing to have a roll ($17) and officially mark our return to New England.  Not much else on the menu, we did have a few stuffed clams and chips.  No inside seating; no credit cards.   At the same dock area there are two other seafood choices, Guilford Mooring, a fancier sit down restaurant which we haven’t tried, and  Pa’s Place, another small breakfast, lunch stop. A larger menu than the “Landing” but also known for their lobster rolls.  Last year we tried a Lobster “shack” in another town but didn’t like the atmosphere as much as Guilford.

 

Traffic was surprisingly light going over the canal.  We took the Bourne bridge and headed to 6A since we needed gas.  Although it’s slower than Route 6, it’s more interesting, studios, restaurants, shops, B and Bs.   In Barnstable we stopped at a market for beer (Alagash White), prepared lasagna, and oh so tasty oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  In recent years we haven’t explored 6A very much.  We decided it would be an activity this trip.

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This is our sixth consecutive year in Orleans, sharing a house with the Kwait’s.  For the first years we stayed on Pilgrim Lake.  It was a nice place, secluded, large deck,  the kids could kayak to a small beach across the pond. Fishing was good; the snappers were huge.  But there’s always greener grass.  Diane found another three bedroom about 10 minutes from Pilgrim Lake.  The new cottage was on Ayers Pond, connected to the Namequoit River that empties into Little Pleasant Bay and the Atlantic.  A major difference in the setting, Ayers is a marina where wooden boats are built. So the Pond is filled with sail and motor boats.  When we arrived yesterday, there was a group taking paddle board lessons.  We could probably take sailing lessons.  The fishing hasn’t been as good as Pilgrim.   Theoretically we could kayak to the ocean at Chatham.  The best feature of the house (8 Peck’s Way) is a screened in porch with a Pond view. My place to sit, reflect, read, write, watch birds, feel the breeze, listen to the wind.  I need  chimes like we always had in Nantucket.

For ten years we rented a cottage on Nantucket.  Usually  two weeks.  I’ve previously written about our golden years there.  Unfortunately, the owner, John sold the property for about 2 million. Maybe in 2006.  The price wasn’t the cottage which was moved but the property which was on the edge of preserved moors.  We couldn’t find anything like it.  The following year we rented on Cape May Point, then tried Orleans, when Eli was about two years old.  Another year we were with Eli and Viv at Harvey Cedars, Long Beach Island.  But then for several years when Eli was being treated for neuroblastoma, there were only weekend jaunts.  Finally we went to Pilgrim Lake, as close as we could get to our Nantucket experience.

Diane and I have had many other Cape adventures.  Her family vacationed here regularly. My first visit was September in my sophomore year, several of us rented a house for a few days.  No memories.  The most memorable visit with Diane was a day trip on Easter Sunday, probably in 1968.  We were married, had a gray British Sunbeam, c. 1959?  Great, fun car.  We drove to the new National Seashore (a Kennedy initiative), and cavorted on the sand dunes.  I’m sure a no-no today.  When we returned to the car, late afternoon, we discovered that our car keys were lost in the sand.  What to do?  A fireman came to our rescue (amazing, ten cents in a pay phone call).  The Sunbeam had a crank start if you wanted. Our rescuer crossed some wires, turned the crank and we were on our way back to Boston.  Several months later a car thief did the same thing and we lost our hot rod.

For most of the years that we rented on Nantucket, we spent several nights in a B and B on the Cape.  Usually nights before we took the ferry.  Usually it was along Route 6A, the road we traveled yesterday.  On the little time we had, we explored craft and art studios, especially the many potteries, had several favorite restaurants, The Impudent Oyster (still there) was one; Christine’s (gone); both in Chatham. We stayed in the Captain Freeman Inn in Brewster, nice location near restaurants and a busy general store.  Another was the Nauset House Inn in Orleans.  We remember riding our bikes from there to Nauset Beach.  There were others; names forgotten.  On these trips, we’d lunch and shop in Hyannis before boarding the ferry.   Although we thought of ourselves as Nantucket people, we got a taste of the Cape.

Yesterday we passed a church with signage, “reflect, recharge, renew.”  It captured my current thoughts on life but particularly travel, especially in retirement.  On Nantucket and now on the Cape we’re in no big hurry.  It’s not new territory we’re compelled to explore.  This morning I filled the bird feeder and this evening I sit with squalking Blue Jays, a Mourning Dove and variety of smaller birds.  Chipmunks and small brown squirrels scurry around the porch.

 

Today we had showers off and on.  A walk along the river in a small preserve near the house was cut short due to bugs.  So we drove outside of town to a dead end on the Bay.  Thankfully the town allows several cars to park and access the beach.  An easy peaceful walk.  While out about, we stopped at Nauset Market, wine and a sandwich for lunch; Cottage Street Bakery for muffins and macaroons; a local farm for corn.  All familiar spots.

In the afternoon, we organized the house.  Kwait’s will arrive tonight.  We read; took a short nap.  I’m listening to the rain. We’re on Cape Cod. “Reflect, recharge, renew.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Individual and History

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I recently finished reading, “The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty,” by Sebastian Barry.  Although I don’t read many novels, I decided to get it after a FB recommendation by Trish O’Connor.  Barry is an Irish writer.  I totally enjoyed his lyrical, creative, Irish use of language. In addition there was a fair amount of local vocabulary that sent me to the dictionary.  At times the dialogue reminded me of my grandmother speaking.

I grew up in Bristol Borough, with an Italian father and Irish mother.  As a child although we went to the Irish parish (St. Mark’s), I wanted an Italian identity.  Then in college I read Leon Uris’s “Trinity.”  My eyes opened to Irish history and heritage, particularly, “the troubles,” the Irish drive for independence.  I wrote mother proclaiming that I accepted my Irish heritage even if we didn’t know much about our ancestors.

The “Whereabouts” opens in Sligo, western Ireland, at the turn of the century.  Eneas parents are tailors in a mental institution. His Pappy is also a musician and Mam loves to dance.  Simple people, they live quiet lives, raising their kids.  Eneas isn’t exceptional in any way, has no great talents, is a pretty average kid.  Growing up he has one good friend, Jonno Lynch.

During the first war he joins the British Merchant Navy and is stationed in Galveston, TX.  And so begins his wanderings.  Back home he cannot find employment and so joins the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC).  Basically he is a British policeman.  Unfortunately many in Sligo and Ireland, the Irish Republican Army, (IRA) are rising up against the British.  The IRA were known to kill members of the RIC who they saw as traitors.  In 1921, Ireland was partitioned and the Irish Free State was created.  Even though he was not political and left the RIC,  Eneas became a marked man.

Since he did not feel safe in Sligo he travels, ocassionally returning to visit his parents.   He serves in France during WWII. Lives in Lagos, Nigeria where he makes a close friend, Harcourt.  Eneas’s life changes when he gets a pension due to his military service.  He and Harcourt open a home for sailors outside of London.

Eneas’s friend, Jonno, became an Irish patriot.  Several times he warns Eneas that “they” are after his life.  Jonno shows up at the sailor’s home.  He is accidentally shot by someone traveling with him and Eneas sets the building on fire to destroy the dead body. But Eneas thinks Jonno is calling to him and he runs into the fire, to his death.  His wanderings have come to an end.

It was a good story but what struck me most was how historical forces beyond our control can shape our lives.  Eneas wasn’t political, wasn’t particularly pro- Irish or pro-Bristish.  But his service in the Royal Irish Constabulary earned him a label, led to his future wanderings and eventual death.

How many lives of my generation were determined by Vietnam.  Those that served, obviously those that died but even those that resisted, or made career choices based on the war and draft.  How many lives of today’s immigrants driven by economic, social or political turmoil in their home country wander, seeking a new life, seeking asylum in the United States or European democracies.  How many have hopes and dreams shattered by the current Trump administration.

How often do forces beyond our personal, individual control determine our life choices?

 

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