Living on the Wrong Side of the Bridge

One of my favorite memoirs from years ago was by an NPR writer, Carol Wasserman titled Swimming at Suppertime. It was about life on the wrong side of Buzzards Bay, in her case Wareham, which for me is actually the right side. But it’s always stuck with me, the title and subtitle — she was mourning the loss of her husband, in between writing,  living year-round, and swimming (at suppertime) with her lady friends in the gritty town of Wareham, Massachusetts — a stone’s throw (if you’ve got a good arm) — from chi-chi Cape Cod.

Me, I live on Cape Cod. I grew up here in between my father’s military tours in other places. And Wareham, Marion, Mattapoisett, and beyond — the Route 6 West corridor along Buzz Bay — is more like the Cape Cod I remember  from childhood and into my college years. It was more colorful, more real, more of a struggle, and more of a delight for those who survive here year-round, because we were all in the same boat.

We took a ride to Wellfleet a couple of weeks ago, hugging the back roads that wind along the backside of Route 28 on our way east. It was a Saturday on the brink of the full moon, and I was feeling hemmed in, crowded, suffocated, wanting to climb out of the box of this island-peninsula — serene and accessible open space is becoming rarer here, speed and traffic more prevalent. I want slow, meandering, and I feel more of that on the other side, even in the eastern Massachusetts land of more strip malls and industrial parks and more traffic — the sky and roads just seem to open up a bit more, I don’t feel as trapped.

I wanted to be back over the bridge — but as we rolled further along to our destination, I started feeling lighter, a little less encumbered — noticing the undulating marshlands and bogs with the crimsons, golds, and russets of a coastal autumn. As we moved beyond Chatham and Orleans, and on out towards Eastham and Wellfleet, I began to relax more. Off-season on the Outer Cape can be close to desolate, a stark contrast to what it is in the summer. It can truly feel like the edge of the world. Wellfleet was quiet, but not quite yet shifted in to winter mode. We parked down near the wharf, and walked up to and across Uncle Tim’s Bridge, for a walk around the tiny island that sits in the brackish water that empties into Wellfleet Harbor. Ah, peace, although not quite on my “right side of the bay,” but for that morning, for me, it worked. I relaxed, enjoying the view, the air, the outdoors, the ground beneath my feet, and contemplated what it must be like for people who don’t have either the time, or the means for these therapeutic escapes. Wellfleet is an example of what the rest of the cape has become — more of a playground for the wealthy, than a home for the rest of us.

A Saturday Ramble

I bought my first-ever, brand-new car almost two years ago and I did it before turning 60! Quite the feat for me.

A Subaru Forester, stick shift no less. Built-in theft protection nowadays. Klaire, from Planet Subaru in Hanover worked with us, and while they aren’t always perfect, they’ve been a pleasure to work with. We bought into the total maintenance/protection plan they offered us because it really forces us to keep up on regular, routine (as opposed to belated, e.g., broke-down) maintenance.

Sooooo, to get to the point, we recently had the 18-month service, and Planet provides a loaner car if you drop off your vehicle for the day.

Our plan was to explore the Bridgewater Triangle area between Bridgewater and Attleboro, winding through the back roads of Hanson, Abington, and beyond. Believe it or not, there are actually still scenic back roads in eastern Massachusetts, despite open space being rapidly gobbled up by endless, repetitive, big-box-store strip mall developments.

Our first stop was donuts at Sandy’s Coffee Corner in Hanson and they did not disappoint. The counter attendant was a friendly lady, the real deal, no pretensions here, just good old-fashioned donuts and bakery. I may be a food snob (among other things), but I like down-to-earth real people, who don’t let the groovy success of their place go to their heads. ‘Nuff said on that.

Next up were twisting roads that took us over to Bridgewater, home of Bridgewater State College, surrounded by farm country, surrounded by — you guessed it — strip malls and industrial parks! But it’s amazing how you can connect to the wild unknown in unlikely ways, through people and places. For me/us (the man was with me), this is usually through food and craft — whether craft beer, craft coffee, craftwork, and more.

In Bridgewater it was coffee at the Better Bean, with latte art created by the charming barista, Peri, who is also a young Reiki practitioner. I loved the fact that her business cards were hand drawn and written by her, and the energy she radiated was so welcoming and nurturing, a loving healer. The coffee and sandwiches are stellar, the interior a bit broody, and sparse, but it has a good coffee shop vibe going on.

Next stop was Black Hat Brew Works. We had the stout which was quite good, and we would have stayed longer, but one thing we’ve discovered on our jaunts is that no matter how excellent the product may be, if the hospitality is nothing remarkable to write about, we tend to move on, and move on we did, to Crue Brew Brewery in Raynham. It’s the heart of this story, a family-run brewery owned by brothers Keith and Kevin Merritt, along with Kevin’s wife, Tammy. It’s in an industrial park, as are many breweries, and it is a large space, perfect for many of the events they host — music, yoga, cornhole, and more with the friendliest brewermaster and hardest-working owners you could ask for. Both Kevin and his wife still work other jobs, Kevin as a schoolteacher in Boston. They are also raising two adorable girls who get in on the act, and their dog reminds me of our dog, Bob!

Kevin was happy to share his crue brew mojo magic with us, and I find it particularly special that he is a hometown Raynham boy, who was determined to keep the business there. Needless to say, we bellied up to the gorgeous bar, while Randy, the redneck brewmaster (his words, not mine!), pulled some porters for us. We had some good laughs, and I learned how cans are filled, sealed and labeled. According to Kevin, Randy belly rolls the labels on!! Joking, joking! Crue Brew was definitely one of the high points of our day, and while we popped into a couple more spots on our ramble, nothing quite measured up to our Crue Brew experience. And on that note, hope to see you there on our next visit. Looking forward to some oatmeal or maybe a coffee milk stout, Randy and Kevin! And don’t worry, if you’re into IPA’s and lighter brews, Crue Brew has plenty of those!

The Idyllic South Coast

Saturday, October 19, probably around the same time, my niece got married on a beach in Kitty Hawk, NC while Jennifer Lawrence married in a mansion in Newport, RI. Needless, to say, my niece was the star in my story. She looked like a Greco-Roman goddess, and as a Helen, she was definitely one who would have launched a thousand ships. Most of our family were there, with a few exceptions, us being two of them. Before the wedding, I had lots of mixed feelings about not going, but I loved how everyone kept me in a texting loop so I could feel a part of things, and what with photos and everyone’s updates, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

So, what did we do instead to celebrate her day up North here? We took off for Westport Vineyards, one of our favorite destinations. On the way, we stopped off in Padanaram, a sweet little hamlet in South Dartmouth, that’s part of the town of Dartmouth. Less than ten years ago, Padanaram was a shell of what it is now. Rather abandoned and forlorn. Not anymore, it is experiencing a fabulous revival, a bit upscale, and while not totally to my taste (I like a little more grit and diversity), I appreciate it, and I wouldn’t turn my nose up at a chance to live there.

One unexpected delight on this venture was happening upon the newly opened shop of Shara Porter Designs. We were thrilled to stumble upon her here — to me she’s one of the original trailblazing artists of the New Bedford Artists and Lofts Renaissance. Once upon a time, we had a wee store in downtown Hyannis, and Shara’s was one of the lines we carried, along with one of her earliest studio mates, Moontide Dyers.

Shara screen-prints quirky, offbeat images onto vintage cloth, leather and vinyl accessories— pocketbooks, keyfobs, wallets, suitcases, you name it. She also used to do clothing but her primary focus now is accessories, — vintage, custom, and new. Her convertible crossbody bags are the best — functioning as a waist pack, a wristlet, or a crossbody. I could not stop thinking of the one I wanted once we left her shop, kicking myself for not just buying it already! But, it’s a good excuse for a sooner-rather-than-later return trip. The shop is bright and beautiful, and the product lines are super affordable for the average budget. I can’t wait to see how it all evolves.

To be perfectly frank, moving on the Westport Vineyards, was sort of an anti-climax, but if you’re going for an anti-climax, it’s the best kind. Gorgeous weather, lush vineyards and rolling farmland, coupled with bonhomie, and cousins out for their monthly wine club, what’s not to love? The wines are light, crisp and refreshing, the tasting rooms are the best I’ve experienced on the South Coast, and enjoying a glass of wine outside on their grounds is heaven for me. The view, the light, the air; an effervescent moment that lingers long after it’s over. Thank you Shara and Westport for a beautiful, ordinary sparkling day!


Presence

thestoryofrain

It’s been almost a month since I posted last, my mother’s 78th birthday is this coming Saturday, and I’ll bring cupcakes for a (hopefully) candlelit vigil that day at dusk.

Already moving through month 3 without her presence, and for the most part I try not to dwell in the sad places in my mind. I talk to her a lot. Eventually I’ll allow myself to think more, probably to cry more (it’s there, I just don’t want to get started because I’m never sure when I’ll stop), but for now I have the conversations with her that I didn’t have when she was here. As my friend Diane says, “there is presence even in absence.”

It’s October, the month when the veil between our worlds, Mom’s and mine, thins a little. That belief comforts me.

Dear Blog

Dear Blog,

Do I want you to become a vehicle for my grief? Some days, yes. Like Fridays, the day of the week my mother died. Seven weeks today. I was reading an article on the Sabbath that Oliver Sacks wrote shortly before he died, and besides the fact that I agree with him about keeping a Sabbath, I also thought of how much my mother would like the idea that she died on a Friday, the eve of the Jewish Sabbath. Blog, we both know how much Rhoda loved all things Jewish and Judaica. We even talked about how possibly her Davis grandfather, Frank, may actually have been a Davidovich at one time. But I’m straying off-topic.

The point here is I don’t always know what to write in you, so many times I just don’t. Then I remember I have dozens of sketchbook journals I could cull through to share bits and pieces of here, which I may consider eventually, although I do like something fresh.

Oh sure, when I’m driving or walking or listening to music and my imaginary conversations with myself start, the ideas flow, the words spill all over, but I usually have no way of transcribing until I get home, and you know how that goes. By then, I’ve moved on to something else and the solitary act of writing is neglected. It’s hard to write, and I don’t want to turn into a blogger who believes her mission is to teach others or enlighten them or constantly be a source of wisdom. I just want to share a few words now and then so that someday, somewhere little bits of my life and the lives of those who have touched mine will be noticed. And maybe remembered. Because none of us want to be forgotten.

Three Weeks

street

Since my mother’s death, every Friday eve around the time she died, I do a vigil. This past Friday, there was a light rainfall, our gardens were iridescent in the moonlight, and the fresh air and scent of the rain just felt so good…so I did it outside in my nightie, standing with my arms wide open and looking at the sky. Sometimes my tears get stuck so I let the rain fall on me to wash away some of my grief.

Looking Back

family-05A person is a sum of many parts, of all the lives they’ve touched. There is no all good, all bad, we are many spirits interwoven into one giant one. My mother had a giant spirit. Personality Plus. A lot of heartache and drama; also a lot of joy even if she wasn’t always aware of it. And sometimes we weren’t.

But looking back, I remember the way my two year old son’s eyes lit up, overjoyed to see my parents walking towards us at the county fair — a surprise trip from Cape Cod to Vermont.

My mother and I fought a lot, said cruel things, but there was always love, a connection that I couldn’t break no matter how hard I tried to break the apron strings. Heck, I’m still tied to my Dad’s and I’ve never even seen him in an apron.

But my mom. I was lucky to have her. I had her for fifty more years than she had her mother. She was seven when my grandmother Lottie Mae died. It defined her life and it defined ours. She was fierce, possessive, couldn’t let anything go, perhaps because she lost the most precious thing to a child at a very young age.

Rhody — “A Swell Gal”

family-16
Rhoda Jane Hurley died the evening of Friday, July 22 surrounded by many loving family members. To be honest it was a shock. She was very much like the Energizer Bunny, always rallying and roaring back stronger than ever. Not this time.

She was born in Claremont, NH on October 8, 1938 to Lottie Mae and Clifford A. Densmore, the fourth “surprise” with much older siblings. Her fondest childhood memories were of her mother’s beautiful home and gardens, and she used to reminisce about the fresh garden vegetables — tomato sandwiches, cucumber sandwiches, radish and butter sandwiches and gorgeous salad plates her mother would lay out. She had a pet pig, who would meet her after school and she was allowed to shoot at cans for recreation. Her parents’ deaths in her eighth year haunted her all of her life, but she persevered, raised by her older sister, Carol, and traveled to a bigger world than Claremont. Her sister was married to a Navy man, and they lived on Chicago’s North Shore in a striking Art Deco apartment building at 5200 Sheridan Road for a few years. When she was 11, she traveled by plane to her maternal Grammy Angela’s in Maine, a place she felt cared for and well-loved. She had deep roots throughout New England, with ancestors having fought at Bunker Hill and in Shay’s Rebellion.

Rhoda finished her school years in Rhode Island, graduating from No. Kingstown High School in 1956, where she was known as “Rhody,” a swell gal with a terrific personality, the nicest girl in the senior class or any other class. Just a blue-eyed blonde, never known to wear a frown, her sunny disposition won her many friends. She planned on entering the nursing field, but met a dashing young Marine named Bill Hurley at the Hingham Marine Barracks pool, and nursing school became a distant memory. Roller coaster rides at Nantasket Beach, followed by Bill’s many trips to RI while courting, led to marriage on January 16, 1957 in E. Greenwich, RI. They had no real honeymoon, but in March of 1957, they were off to NC and the journey began.

Within six years, there were many moves to various bases throughout the South. Four daughters were born, and her husband was off to the Mediterranean and the Caribbean for the Cuban Missile Crisis, and other assignments. Through it all, she held home base together while her husband did his job, all this by the age of 25, with four girls, ages 5 and under.

In Quantico, life settled down for a bit, with Bill back on base. She pursued Altar Rosary, ceramics classes and decorating her home as the girls grew a bit.

In the summer of 1967, after a Cape Cod vacation, Bill moved her to a house in a brand new Hyannis neighborhood. Within a week, he was off to Vietnam and Rhoda settled into an unfinished house with her girls, ages 3 through 9. Throughout his “tour,” she set about finishing their house, had a midnight sled ride one snowy night with neighbors down the only hill around, and set about worrying about Bill during the Siege of Khe Sahn while caring for their daughters. Her girls were her life and she particularly loved their school vacations when they were home with her. The winter of 1968, she finally had that honeymoon in Hawaii with Bill when he had his R and R from Vietnam. When he returned for good that summer of 1968, the next move was to Ohio Steel Country to run the Marine Recruiting Center. It was the turbulent times of Kent State and Vietnam protests, but after two years they returned to the Cape for a couple of years so Bill could finish college, before it was off for another tour, this one in California. In 1974, they returned to the cape for good, with Bill doing tours of duty that didn’t require moving the family.

Rhoda loved interior design, refinishing furniture, and making a home. She was a long-time subscriber to Better Homes and Gardens, she loved reading, especially history, biographies and mysteries, and she was an avid map collector. Her love of geography she shared with her son-in-law, Patrick with a yearly subscription to National Geographic. Although a homemaker, she was also very much a business manager, keeping a meticulous household and records. She dressed impeccably, and Kathleen Needham used to tell Rhoda’s daughter “your mother was always so glamorous.”

Her daughters’ friends all loved her as she did them, particularly Holly Murzic Romotsky, who predeceased her in 1986. She swapped her car for Holly’s 1960’s battered Rambler wagon one weekend so daughter “Patti Ann” and her friend Holly, would have a safe, reliable vehicle to travel off-cape in. She knew what she was in for and loved to tell the story, as sometimes you had to lift the Rambler’s hood and use a wrench on the choke to get it to start.

Rhoda was a great storyteller, and she could tell you a good one, full of colorful details if you had the time to listen. A smart, independent woman with a sharp tongue and a memory like an elephant’s, she had a sense of humor, loads of personality and was known as a “hoot,” “feisty,” and a “cool lady.” She adored dogs, particularly Bucky, her beloved Obi (with his own room and loveseat), Joey, Bob, and numerous Sullivan canines. It was a mutual admiration society.

It was hard letting go of her daughters as they left home, but fortunately there were grandchildren to sustain her for a few more decades.

Daughter Jacqueline remembers most “my mother calling me JJ, how much she loved me, how much she loved her son-in-law Patrick, and how much she loved our daughters Meredith and Caroline. I will always know these things to be true.” Betsy recalls the time when she was three and Rhoda left her at the Base Nursery Care while she shopped once. Afterwards, in the car Betsy stood in the back seat, ranting at her mother, “Don’t you ever leave me. I am not ready for you to leave me!” Betsy remembered “Oh I was mad at her. She was so flustered I think that was the time she ran a red light and got a ticket.”

Niece Debbie recalls wild times — “one that immediately comes to mind includes flying dishes,” and her mother, Patsy, Rhoda’s older sister — but also healing times. “Reconnecting with your mother was a wonderful thing. It helped me in dealing with my mother’s death, and it helped with some of my unresolved anger. I love your mother as if she were my own, but without the hurtful baggage.” Spirited Densmore girls, flying dishes, sisterly shenanigans, but always love in the end.

A few years before she died, Rhoda reminisced, about Betsy’s birth, life in Chicago, her mother’s garden, her own beautiful penmanship and how daughter Kathleen’s penmanship was just as beautiful. She’d cry sometimes, saying how much she was going to miss her children when she was gone.

According to Marty, Patricia’s mate, “We never agreed on anything. She was a conservative Republican. I was a liberal Democrat. She loved the Mannings. I loathed the Mannings. She loved horse racing and hated baseball. Quite the opposite for me. The one thing we did have in common is that we would never concede defeat when we got in an argument. After a time, we tended to avoid hot topics, knowing that it was futile to think that either one of us would concede to the other. More recently I would call her on a regular basis, usually in the evening. Rhoda tended to take her frustrations out on Patricia so I decided I would take up some of the burden. After a short while I ended up enjoying our conversations. We eventually were able to even talk politics, as she became a disgruntled Republican and I a disillusioned Democrat. We found a common ground. I miss our evening chats already. I suspect we’ll resume them in a future life — another place, another time, but never recalling our past. Until we meet again.”

As granddaughter Molly writes,” To my best friend, spirit animal, and the woman who gave me all my sass, style and sweet tooth, my heart is in a million pieces without you. Wherever you are, Gram, I hope the decor is impeccable and the Manishewitz is flowing. I’ll meet you there someday. I’ll miss you forever. I’ll love you for always.”

Besides her daughters Patricia (mate Marty Gravelle), Kathleen, Jacqueline (Patrick Sullivan) and Elizabeth (mate Vincent D’Olympio), Rhoda leaves behind her grandchildren Anthony and Molly Pizzo, Sophie Larios, Helen, Mairead and Albert Hurley, Meredith and Caroline Sullivan, great-grandson Isaac, niece Debra Coderre Woodman, and numerous friends and relatives.

A closing note in her yearbook from high school pal Bub “Lanky” Ramstead read, “To Rhoda, If in heaven we don’t meet, hand in hand we’ll stand the heat. Lots of luck.”

The last word: If Rhoda were reading this she’d snap, “That’s not the way it happened!” and she’d proceed to set the record straight. The story never ends. We miss you, mama.

**We always pronounced it Mum or Mumma.
family-18

Wolf Moon

I haven’t had a deliberate moon practice in a bit, but the Wolf Moon of 2015 seems like a good starting point for me, particularly as it relates to protection of self, hearth, and family (my idea of it anyway). I have a huge gold glass ashtray from my mother’s smoking days and it’s perfect to burn my sage in, as well as slips of paper I’ve written on — guilt, judgment, fear, clutter and doubt. These are things I am looking forward to releasing in the coming year — a huge task for me, but if I were going to have Colleen do a phrase for me, it would be what I remind myself when faced with big ideas — “baby steps.” Mother, may I? And a resounding “yes” is what I hear.