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Sunday, June 26, 2011

OVER THE BRIDGE: GROWING UP ON CAPE COD







In 1966, at the age of 38, my father and mother packed up seven children, our Nana, a dog and a bird and we moved from Southampton, Massachusetts to Brewster, Cape Cod.  Previously, we spent our summers on the Cape where my grandparents lived in Eastham.

Growing up in Brewster in the Lower Cape was unique, as any town on Cape Cod was at that time.  The original Brewster Elementary was very small.  Today, in its place stands the Brewster Town Offices.  We lived on Stony Brook Road in two different homes.  The first home was the original Wixon Farm homestead built in 1860. 





We lived there until our second home was built by my father at the west end of Stony Brook. There, we had the cemetery across the street, a penny candy counter at the Godwin’s Antique Shop, the beautiful bay beaches nearby and year round entertainment at the Herring Run at Brewster Mill. 
We skated on Schoolhouse pond and Crocker’s pond.  And every Halloween we walked many miles for a measly bag of candy, putting home made firecrackers in mailboxes and stringing toilet paper from one end of town to the other.  We had Conrad Aiken, the novelist and poet living less than a mile away and John Hay, author of The Run and The Great Beach, across the street on Red Top Road. 


An infamous landmark remains still today a short distance from our house on Stony Brook.  The Snoopy Rock.  
My sister Amy was the creator of it, painting the rock in the early 70’s.  It has been written up in numerous articles documenting Brewster.  Today, she would probably be facing public graffiti charges.
Our friends were in short walking distance (about 45 minutes) and by the age of 11, I had steady babysitting employment within a 2 mile radius.  I babysat for the owner of the Lemon Tree Pottery Shop (when the shop was part of their home before it became Lemon Tree Village on Route 6A). 
I remember at the time thinking the owner and her children must be pretty well off .  When I sat for the boys I was instructed to make peanut butter sandwiches with Skippy crunchy peanut butter on Pepperidge Farm bread.  We never had that in our cupboards. We did, however, get our milk delivered each week in a 5 gallon jug with a spout.  That was cool.  So, life was simple but good. 

As the Cape grew the need for a new high school was eminent and while Nauset Regional was being built in Eastham, the students of Orleans, Eastham and Wellfleet continued to share the old high school in Orleans, now known as Nauset Middle School on Eldredge Parkway

 Brewster was fortunate enough to be part of a new concept – rent-a-school.  For the 7th and 8th grade we had an “open” campus experience in the rented parish hall of St. Joan of Arc church in Orleans. It was at this time that four of my friends and I formed our first band.  We were called “Us Five” and I do believe we invented Karaoke.


Awaiting the completion of NRHS, I spent the first year of high school in split sessions at the old school on Eldredge parkway.  And in 1972 the high school in Eastham was finished. 
Now, being from west Brewster my parents were not keen on our traveling 40 minutes to school so they built our third home on the cove on Gibson Road in Orleans

Probably considered my favourite home we ever lived in, Gibson Road was full of wonderful memories. Sailing on the cove, capsizing on the cove, long walks on the beach, activity downtown, Nauset Beach and, of course, my first real job at 15 working at Cap’t Cass Restaurant down at Rock Harbor. 

Summer relationships came and went and the tourists came and went.  And by Labor Day everything closed up and the dreary grey winters set in.  And during that time, for extra money, some of us would go down to the local newspaper, The Oracle, and fold newspapers once a week.  Actually, it was not for the money – it was for something to do!!
My social life as a teenager in the winter on Cape Cod was probably somewhat uncharacteristic when compared to most teenagers in more populated Massachusetts’ towns.   We would drive our cars from Orleans Bowling Alley to Nauset Beach, back and forth, never changing course, all night long, pretty much every Friday and Saturday night.  Hmmm.  The only movie theatre was in the center of town where the CVS is now.  We did have the Wellfleet Drive-in, built in 1957, during the summer months, but aside from that not much else was happening.  Wellfleet finally built their indoor cinema in 1986.

 Nauset High School was awesome.  The campus was a mile form Nauset Light beach and we spent
 many mornings, once we were allowed to have cars, watching the sunrises before going in for our first class.  And since we had an “open campus” policy we sometimes were allowed (I think) to leave school grounds and run to the shopping center at the lights in Eastham.  There was the general store, a coffee shop and across the street Nickerson’s Garage.  That’s it!  Oh, wait – one bank.

Sports were big. Our coaches were our teachers and good grades were “occasionally” mandatory.  We flew to Nantucket for basketball games.  We took the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard for all the school sports.  Our league consisted of Nauset, Harwich High School, Sandwich High School, Chatham High School, Provincetown High School, Nantucket High School and Martha’s Vineyard High School.  On many days we would not return home until 7:00pm.  That is a 12 hour day.

I participated in the school band and orchestra.  Our music instructor, Frank James, was an outspoken Wampanoag Indian who loved his old red corvette.  He was extremely dedicated to us and to that school.  We were the ONLY band in town for the local parades.   Now, the professionals are hired.
  
Now, this is the part of the story that only those that grew up on the Cape would really understand.  My entire life I wanted to go on vacation at the ocean spending late afternoons wrapped in a beach towel and sitting in a beach chair enjoying the beauty of the ocean.  Now, you may be asking, “what the hell is she talking about? - she grew up on the Cape.”  Yes, but while all the summer visitors were enjoying the beach we were working, and while the lazy days of summer allowed for late afternoons in the sand, we had to be home for dinner.  And after moving off Cape to Connecticut each and every summer I would go home weekends and during vacation time and it was the same thing:  Around 4:00 in the afternoon (prime beach time) I would head back to the homestead to help with dinner with my parents and family.  Oh, occasionally I would go to dinner with friends or out for the evening.  But, to this day, there isn’t a summer that goes by that I don’t wish I could just relax and do that late afternoon beach thing.   But time with family could and should not be traded. 

If you weren’t working on weekends during the summer, then you were having family time and that meant many hours going out in the boat.  We loved pulling up to a beach along the bay shores for a quick swim, or going out to the inlet or buzzing over to Billingsgate or Brewster flats to go fishing for stripers or blues.   My four brothers are diehard fisherman and if any of my sisters or I caught anything bigger than they did – well put it this way – the competition was fierce.

Then in 1974 I was off to Merrimack College.  Twenty minutes north of Boston meant going home to the Cape a lot and usually with friends.  I do remember people, who I would meet for the first time, asking me if people really lived there during the winter.  Huh???    I also remember meeting a guy from Lexington, Massachusetts who told me his high school had a few thousand students!  I nearly fell over.  I could not even fathom the size.  My senior year at Nauset saw about 100 plus graduating.  A regional school no less!

And at college, my hometown was, unbeknownst to me, infamous for really only one thing (besides Nauset Beach).  It had a Christmas Tree Shop.  Everyone talked about them.  Again, huh??    And summers I came “home” and worked at the old Pancake Maid across from Nauset Marine and then at Cape Cod Sea Camps where my father was General Manager and now and then I helped at the family business - Felco, an engineering firm in Orleans

Upon graduating from college the plan by some of my friends was to go out west – to the pacific ocean.  For me it was the arctic – I lasted 5 years.  Now you may ask yourself what does that have to do with Cape Cod?  Well, I lived in an Eskimo village called Kotzebue. 




 It is 20 miles north of the Arctic Circle.  Occasionally, I would travel further north to go whaling up near Point Barrow.  It was at this time that I realized why some of the Eskimo people that I knew had tight curly hair as opposed to the common very straight hair.  I concluded that if you follow the generations of whalers in North America you will see that many of the Portuguese whalers from New England traveled as far north as Alaska following the herds.  Voila!  Curly haired Eskimos.   I suppose a genealogist would counter this by explaining that perhaps this trait of curly hair could have come from the Netherlands or Labrador.  But I prefer my version and this is my story – accurate or not.

And after Alaska I returned “home” and worked at Lily Pulitzers, now Yak’s, and at Focalpoint Studios.  And for a social life we went to the Ho in Orleans, Beachcomber in Wellfleet, Piggy's and the Back Room in Ptown, Jimmy D’s in Eastham, The Squire in Chatham and once in awhile we were daring and drove to the big city - Hyannis - and went to Pufferbellies. 

And then at the age of 28, I moved away from Cape Cod and went to law school in Connecticut and then later lived and worked in Connecticut.  And, of course, now I live in Canada and the rest is history.

A facebook friend commented to me the other day.   “Sue – you still refer to the Cape as going “home”.    I will always refer to Orleans as “home”.  Coincidentally, my first home in Quebec where my first son was born was on the island of L’ile d’Orleans.  Our home here in Dunham is named “Orleans”.

 My very dear, much loved, childhood friends have reminded me for some 40 plus years (holy shih scoff!), that I am not a true Cape Codder.  I was not born on Cape Cod as they were.  I was a transplant.  However, I will always consider it my true home.    My childhood years, my teen years and my young adult years were molded on Cape Cod.  My roots are there.  My parents last home is on Pochet Road, and that is where my father is today.  And, as long as my Dad is still in Orleans, I will continue to drive over that bridge every chance I can to go home for dinner.


And so my story comes full circle.  In one week I will once again pack up the car, the kids, any pertinent family gifts and I will drive six hours, with the tunes blasting, heading towards the bridge.  And before the bridge is in site I will turn to my children, as my Dad always did when we were young, and say “who ever sees the bridge first gets a quarter”.




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