The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Cape Cod Scrapbook August 28, 2014

“Cape Cod Scrapbook” is a companion post to the previous one, entitled “Two Weeks Gone”

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Finally…

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My Uncle Paul and his sister (my mother) Nancy, my son Elihu and my Aunt Sandy.

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Cousins Elihu and Rusty take off in search of sea life without a word of goodbye.

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This is the dock behind their house; at high tide the water comes much closer in.

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This is the small neighborhood beach. Just perfect at low tide to find critters.

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After our first brief visit, we all headed out to this local eatery.

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While we waited for our food, Elihu and I went out to the pier to hang with the fishermen.

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I think all eleven year old boys get a kick out of live fish.

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Aunt Sandy, Uncle Paul and mom at the end of a fine dinner of fresh, local seafood. The harbor is just outside.

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Elihu points out the location of the restaurant on this mural of what Wareham looked like over a hundred years ago.

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As painted by Nanci. Love it.

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A picturesque New England dock scene from the restaurant window.

IMG_1315If you’re ever in Wareham, Massachusetts, stop by Narrow’s Crossing and get the whole fried clams.

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The following morning we found a nice little breakfast joint in the neighboring town of Onset.

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We’re at the Pier View Restaurant. The bay is right behind mom and Elihu.

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Note the Linguica. It’s a Portuguese sausage, usually kinda spicy, always tasty. (Dig the great prices, too.)

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Mom’s not usually down with me making changes to the menu, but I requested that my Eggs Benedict be made with the local linguica instead of ham. I suggested that they might want to call it “Eggs Elizabeth” should it become a hit.

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And here’s the handsome man who carried out my culinary wish.

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We’re not at our family’s beach here, but rather another, more expansive stretch of coast about two miles away to the Southeast. I preferred it as it was much more wide open than the small neighborhood beach, it was sparsely populated and there was lots of sand.

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We fed the seagulls earlier, and when we left the beach to go into the water, they ransacked mom’s bag. The gall of those gulls!

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Mom on the beach. She spent much of her youth here.

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My Cousin Janice, in the middle, is about to undergo her third year of chemo for an unrelenting cancer. She’s got a great spirit, and both children and grandchildren to live for. She’s ready to kick its ass once again.

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Elihu shows his Great Uncle Paul his catch from the day.

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Uncle Paul is in his chair, on the right. Since his stroke in ’91 he still gets around well – drives too – but speaks very little (might be due in part to his wife – she kinda makes it hard for the poor guy to get a word in edgewise, stroke or not!).

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Sandy gave mom a history of the Jackson side of the family, compiled by Paul and Nancy’s paternal grandmother. I know mom doesn’t have great feelings about this side of the family (her father left her mother and never supported them in any way, nor did her father’s family help out), but nonetheless it’s nice to have this information.

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This is a letter from Uncle Paul’s paternal grandmother, describing in part the contents of the book. Dated November 11th, 1963. There’s a fascinating amount of detail going back a couple hundred years. Both the Conants and the Jacksons have been in this country for over three hundred years, so when people ask me what nationality I am, I tell em that I really am American more than anything else. But hey, at this point in the game, aren’t we all pretty much mutts no matter what our lineage?

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Uncle Paul and Cousin Rusty. Rusty likes to say in his local accent that I’m his “Cape Cawed Cahzin”.

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This is the shack where Rusty keeps his stuff and works on various projects. His father was a shop teacher, and it seems he has the tinkering gene too.

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There’s a lot of stuff here… certainly more orderly than my own brother’s mess.

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Sadly, since Uncle Paul’s stroke, his boats have languished here in the back yard. If only I lived nearby! I dearly miss the sailing era of my life.

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We discovered these very odd-shaped fungi poking up through the ground all around the house. The craziest part is their smell – super funky bad, almost like skunk.

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This is Gertrude – or Gert, as locals know her. She lives directly across the street from my family in a house painted the color of tomato bisque. She knew my mother’s mother, Lydia, and is thrilled to meet Lydia’s great-grandson. Gert’s in her early nineties.

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We’re enjoying a visit with Gert in her breezeway. (I just love these time-capsule homes – nothing’s changed in forty years.)

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A sweet good-bye.

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Gert sang with big bands in Boston in the ’30s and ’40s and regularly appeared on live radio programs as well. We have both those things in common! She has difficulty remembering what day it is, yet she remembered me well from my visit two years ago – she even remembered that I ‘was the singer’. I was impressed! She’s one spunky lady. She zips around the neighborhood in her motorized wheelchair and seems to know just about everyone in town.

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The boys on their second and final search for critters.

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What’s this?

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A tiny crab!

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One more cast of that magic trap…

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And look! A flounder! Crazy looking creatures they are, with both their eyes on top like that. They swim flat along the bottom and usually don’t come in this close to shore. Rusty assured us this was a really lucky catch.

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These folks invited us over for a drink. Mom’s on the right.

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The world proved itself to be a small place once again; the woman on the far right has a brother who lives in our town. !

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Crane spotting.

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Mom, pulling away from her brother Paul’s house, as he watches from the porch. (Note Gert’s tomato bisque-colored garage door in the side mirror.)

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After she waved, mom noted to me that that might well be the last time she would ever see her brother. What is there to say? Poignant, and quite possibly true.

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Later that night we had one of the best dinners I’ve had in a long time at Mezza Luna in the town of Buzzards Bay. Great music played, the vibe was elegant, the food expertly prepared. Highly recommended by all three of us. Their house clam sauce was spectacular.

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The next morning we set out for home – the long way. This was the house in which my Auntie Helen (mom’s Aunt) lived – in New Bedford, Massachusetts. High class, high style.

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This is the front hall. !

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Mom indicates the large staircase…

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…and Elihu investigates it.

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This was the office of my mother’s uncle, who was a doctor. She remembers getting a vaccination under protest in this room as a young child.

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This is our host (yet another Nancy!) in the grand foyer.

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The new owners have put together a small history of the house and their progress with the restoration.

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As a child, mom used to think these decorations looked like door bells. We all agree. They do.

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How about this garage. Not too shabby, huh?

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Now we’re off to see if we can find Auntie Helen’s summer cottage. But first we’ll have lunch at the harbor.

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We’re eating at Sail Loft, just behind the marina in South Dartmouth, Mass. I’m enjoying the iconic “law-b-stah” roll. I am not kidding when I tell you these were among the very best french fries I have ever had. Really. This place has a cozy vibe, plus live music. I’d go back if I were a local.

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The house on the right at the end of the pier was Auntie Helen’s.

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My son is clearly comfortable here.

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And there’s an osprey nest here too. A little bit of heaven for each of us.

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An ‘almost’ selfie of us on the new pier with the yacht behind.

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As a child I remember walking down this yard and path to the beach.

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Inside Auntie Helen’s old house, Elihu zones right in on the bird art.

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Elihu and Grandma look out over the bay to a view I marveled at as a child.

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We passed a lot of boats and bridges on this trip.

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Now we’re visiting the house mom lived in for her middle school and high school years. She had a lot of happy stories to recall for us as we drove around Fall River. Her bedroom had been upstairs on the left.

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And this enormous structure was where she went to high school.

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On the steps that she once scrubbed with a toothbrush (see the previous post for the backstory on that).

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Durfee High School, Fall River, Massachusetts. Long-time drummer for the band Steppenwolf, Ron Hurst attended Durfy HS too, years ago. The grand building is no longer used a school; it’s a municipal building now.

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Now we’re in Barrington, Rhode Island at mom’s very first home.

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Eighty years ago it was all farm land. The house on the left side of this picture is the same house as in my photo above (sans the addition, which is on the right in the first pic.) Both mom and the current owners knew the family that still lives in the small house on the far right side of this photograph. Mom knew the generation that came before, but still the same family. I thought that was a sweet thing to learn. In this photo it was all wide-open fields and orchards – it looked just like this when mom was Elihu’s age – but now the area is heavily wooded and houses are everywhere.

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Here’s the view of the ocean from the front door. In the old days there was only an orchard of fruit trees between this house and the water.

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One quick stop to get directions…

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…and to smooch a pooch.

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Now it’s goodbye until next time. Thanks, you lovely ocean, you. You feel like home to me.

 

Lung Leavin’ Day February 2, 2014

The past few weeks have been incredibly stressful and frightening for me, but hearing someone else’s story has quickly put a new perspective on things. Today Heather Von St. James celebrates another year of life, another year of victory over Mesothelioma. I myself had a friend (luthier, Jim Norris) die of this cancer years ago. It broke our hearts to learn that our friend was diagnosed with this particular cancer, as Mesothelioma is usually thought to be a certain death sentence. Heather, however, has shown the world that it is not. Heather is a shining spokesperson for hope. Please learn about her story, and watch her video. Here is Heather’s story. May you take from her experience inspiration to face the challenges in your own life. And please, if you’re able, donate something to help fund research into fighting this disease.

1266854_685378121502165_639066134_oHeather Von St. James and her family. Gorgeous, glowing and glorious is she.

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Woke up with a dull headache already nestled in between my temples, just waiting for me. I wondered how long I was doomed to live with this now. Now that the corner had been turned, and I’d foolishly declared before the world that a) I had been an idiot and ruined my father’s Studio and b) had been stupid enough to announce to the world that I was going to make it all better. What kind of spell had I been under? What the hell had I just gone and done?

Last night, as I stood at the sink (washing dishes for the third time that day – my kingdom for a dishwasher!) a realization came over me in a rush, and I literally felt as if I would vomit into the soapy water. Oh fucking no – the whole thing just presented itself to me in an entirely different light. This was no opportunity! This was a trap! And I’d fallen into it! Worse yet – I’d made the trap to begin with! The ‘if onlys’ came at me fast and furious, and I almost thought I would pass out. Instantly, I was terrified at my future.

I tried to settle down, tried to break the situation down into the few things I knew for sure. Ok. I knew these two things: that if I didn’t do anything about the Studio, one day profound regret was a great possibility, and that if I at least tried to do something about the Studio, then I would never face that outcome.

I have always longed for a quiet, under-committed life, with low stress; a simple, beautiful home in which to live, occasional international travel, visits from out-of-town friends and long, lingering dinners with good wine; musicians with whom to make music, friends with whom to laugh. I’ve long imagined how my little life might pan out here in Greenfield, and it was the great consolation for having lost the possibility of a life shared with my husband and child. But if I took this on – good Lord, my life, at least for the next ten years, didn’t show itself to be any of these things. Crap. I want to be anonymous, I want to be left alone. I want to relax. I just want to be happy.

I suppose I’ve already blown it about the anonymous thing. And some mornings I wake up with a similar dread as today, and wonder just what have I gone and done? More than a thousand people are daily peering into my life, and I have almost nowhere to hide now. I can’t take any of it back, either. It’s all out there, forever.  And all of my own doing. Man, I guess I just never thought…. And that’s the problem. Never thought… How many of us truly do think carefully about things?

It seems to me that there are two ways you can live your life; you can tune out and fill your existence up with distractions (career, sports, shopping, activities, living through your children, food and so on) and never truly think very critically about your life, or you can face that awesomely frightening question of your very own purpose and potential here in this world. And should you find yourself contemplating that second question, you can either go back to that first, comfortable route (I really, really want to go back to that one, but I’m afraid I’ve screwed myself out of it) or you must plow ahead into that alternate, murky future. Fucking scary. Or maybe not for some of you, I’m sure many of you don’t share my way of thinking on this – Lord knows this planet is made up of all types; I’m continually amazed at how differently people approach things. You think you kinda understand how someone’s feeling, after all, we do share the most basic needs and wants, but then you learn that they feel something quite different from what you’d assumed they did. And we all know what happens when you assume….

And I myself had always assumed that life would be fairly easy. That all that yack yack yacking about how tough life was and how ‘youth was wasted on the young’ and such – all that was nonsense. All that Buddhist four truths stuff, all this inner exploration and contemplative journey crap – what a waste of time and energy. Enjoy what you got, help out a little when you can, and just shut up already! Ok, that was a young, middle class girl who had the world in her front yard but had no clue. This was a young person who hadn’t yet faced a lump in her breast or a set of knuckles inflamed with arthritis, or the death of her father (or the ruination of her father’s work at her own hand). So, things change. Or maybe things just wait for you to catch up with them. Maybe these little atmospheric whorls of potential events lie in wait somewhere before us in time, and it’s our tiny steps in between that determine which of them we ultimately enter into.

So as I stood at the sink last night, fighting the urge to throw up into the dishwater, I remembered a woman who’d recently contacted me. She’s a reader of this blog, and she wondered if I might not help her in her own journey. For just a second, my own distress diminished as I considered the fear that Heather must have known. I think I’m afraid – but of what? My issues are external, they do not hold my life in the balance of their outcomes. They are nothing, really, compared to the challenge that Heather faced. Ok, Elizabeth, see? There are far more frightening prospects in the world. You, (saying this to myself, of course) are a wimp. You are being cowardly. How dare you? I remembered also my promise to Heather, and if I never came to fixing the Studio, I could at least do one thing I’d said I would.

Here is Heather’s story. Of course, it’s inspiring. This woman’s courage is impressive, but so too is her follow-through. Ok, so she made that mind-numbingly difficult decision to have a friggin lung removed in order to save her life, and she survived. Wouldn’t that be enough, you’d think? No, apparently not – because Heather has the drive and focus to continue to spread the word about Mesolethioma. She’s still taking action, long after she did her part. She had to face a kind of fear the likes of which each one of us prays we never, ever have to face. Ok, she did that, then she took care of it. Then she goes and does more. (Plus she’s a wife and mom. Cannot underestimate the time and energy that role represents.) Alright. My situation may feel dire, but I can temper my fear just a bit when I realize that it’s external, and that it is not a life or death situation like hers. Thank you Heather, for showing us that nothing is a done deal. I am known to say that this is a pain-in-the-ass planet we live on, and that life here is tricky. Heather, you clearly already know all of that – but have gone far beyond worrying about things and bitching about how hard it all is (that would be me doing that). Thanks for teaching us by example. I’m going to try my best to live up to my own challenges as you have yours. I’m not sayin I’ll do half as well, but you’ve inspired me to at least try…

As Heather says, “With hope, the odds don’t matter”. Thank you for your inspiration, congratulations on all your achievements, and most of all, happy Lung Leavin Day!