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”

IMG_1203

Finally…

IMG_1223

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

IMG_1229

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

IMG_1235

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

IMG_1238

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

IMG_1288

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

IMG_1273

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

IMG_1285

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

IMG_1307

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

IMG_1262

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

IMG_1264

As painted by Nanci. Love it.

IMG_1297

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.

IMG_1328

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

IMG_1326

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

IMG_1324

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

IMG_1330

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.

IMG_1336

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

IMG_1371

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.

IMG_1354

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!

IMG_1374

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

IMG_1395

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.

IMG_1232

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

IMG_1406

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!).

IMG_1426

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.

IMG_1427

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?

IMG_1401

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

IMG_1259

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.

IMG_1592

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

IMG_1588

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.

IMG_1595

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.

IMG_1449

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.

IMG_1452

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

IMG_1603

A sweet good-bye.

IMG_1600

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.

IMG_1517

The boys on their second and final search for critters.

IMG_1501

What’s this?

IMG_1511

A tiny crab!

IMG_1483

One more cast of that magic trap…

IMG_1547

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.

IMG_1549

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

IMG_1525

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. !

IMG_1528

Crane spotting.

IMG_1460

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.)

IMG_1461

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.

IMG_1576

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.

IMG_1654

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.

IMG_1676

This is the front hall. !

IMG_1667

Mom indicates the large staircase…

IMG_1671

…and Elihu investigates it.

IMG_1664

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.

IMG_1674

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

IMG_1687

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

IMG_1689

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

IMG_1692

How about this garage. Not too shabby, huh?

IMG_1739

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

IMG_1748

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.

IMG_1718

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

IMG_1705

My son is clearly comfortable here.

IMG_1701

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

IMG_1715

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

IMG_1720

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

IMG_1727

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

IMG_1724

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

IMG_1653

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

IMG_1779

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.

IMG_1757

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

IMG_1759

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

IMG_1761

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.

IMG_1795

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

IMG_1807

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.

IMG_1808

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.

IMG_1827

One quick stop to get directions…

IMG_1830

…and to smooch a pooch.

IMG_1825

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

 

Bye Bye July August 1, 2013

In much of the Western world August is the month of vacations and holidays. In Europe folks head to Mediterranean coasts and leave signs in windows telling all that they’re gone for the month. People there fairly expect it. But here in the states there is no one favorite summer month for vacation. In fact, it seems that much of the country favors a spring getaway to a trip in muggy mid-summer. (I can remember classmates returning from mid-winter and spring breaks with those telltale ski goggle suntan lines while I secretly felt sorry for myself that I had never had the privilege.) I myself come from a family that never once took an honest-to-good vacation. Since my father was a musician, the family accompanied him to some lovely places where he performed, but it was not quite the same. Ditto with my ex husband.

Our family did, however, spend the summers in our tiny country cottage here in Greenfield Center, New York, as my mother and father were busy hosting their long-running Festival of Baroque Music. While my youth’s memories are colored by the sounds of early music and the scents of freshly mowed fields, I cannot say that as a child I necessarily looked forward to that particular time each year, nor did I realize at the time how rare and lovely the experience was. To me as a child it was just plain hot, muggy and buggy. And there was little to do.

Some years I headed for New Hampshire, where I spent two weeks in an overnight camp that both my mother and grandmother had attended. (While I enjoyed it once I got there, I remember feeling a low-grade dread growing in my stomach as the trip approached.) In our tiny house we had a black and white tv that got only three channels; we seldom watched it much during the day anyhow, as my mother’s constant refrain was “it’s too nice a day to be in the house – go outside!” In retrospect I can realize how lovely and innocent my summers were, but as I was experiencing them I just remember thinking mainly this: July is hot, long and boring. As a kid I never really did like July.

But here I am today on the final evening of the month, and my feeling about this time of year has changed. It’s fascinating to me that I feel so differently about July as a fifty year old woman. Today I relished the gorgeous day, the blue sky and puffy white clouds. The breeze was exquisite, my progress on the house encouraging, and my plans for the future invigorating. As I sat in my chair admiring my freshly painted house – plus my windswept view – I just kept thinking about how lucky I was. I loved this spot, I loved my home, and was beginning to finally love my life.

This year July had been a great month. And, it occurred to me, although it really had been just visiting my old neighborhood, I did even manage to take a trip to Chicago. And I suppose that constitutes a vacation. After all, it was refreshing and very enjoyable. So yeah, I guess it counts. That makes my July a success for the books: a proper vacation, some kid-free time to do some fixes on the house, and a few moments alone in the fresh air with a good book. The garden’s going well, the house is tidy and no one needs me right now. Yes, this has been a very good month for me.

August is just icing on the cake. I feel like the next two weeks before Elihu comes home are the most supreme gift. Will use every minute, will savor every summer breeze. Soon enough I’ll need to prepare for the upcoming school year; gotta get ready for my fall classes and start thinking about lesson plans… So August won’t be all mine. But still, I got it good. Financially summers are always very tight because I don’t have any private students – that means no income. But the time itself – that is just so precious. I wait all year for the time to open up so that I can finally get to that list of projects. This year I got a lot of em done. And that feels very good.

July also marks my one year anniversary as a divorced woman. Another milestone, another step towards this new life we’re making for ourselves here in upstate New York. Sometimes I wonder how I ever got here, and what on earth I’m doing sharing my property with forty chickens and a goose, but sometimes it feels like the best fit ever. Especially on a fine summer day. Thanks, July, I’ve enjoyed you immensely. See you again next year…

 

Plymouth Ho! July 8, 2012

And here we are! On the north end of Buzzards Bay in Massachusetts. Wareham, to be exact. Our drive went smoothly – we drove the three and a half hours straight without stopping. (A very compelling book on tape by author Gary Paulsen had us riveted and helped to pass the time.) We stopped first at the Mayflower II in Plymouth. The smell of salt sea air hit us right away as did the sound of seagulls. Before us was a vast expanse of water – it was an inspiring sight. Somehow, my child who sees little of any detail beyond twenty feet, he too felt the shift in our space – he too felt the wide-open of it all. We were someplace very different. Sadly, the tourists (of which we were embarrassed to be a part) were everywhere, and it was all but impossible to imagine the scene some four hundred years ago – let alone fifty. We had romantic images in our head which were quickly dashed when reality set in. I had some idea it might be thus, but Elihu was quite disappointed in the commercial nature of the whole affair.

Aboard the Mayflower we met guides in costume who were deeply in character (lots more prep for this gig than Tony N Tina’s Wedding – that’s for sure!) and really helped to bring us into the feeling of the historic ship. Later, we visited an historic town circa 1627 as well as a Wampanoag Indian village that also employed costumed, in-character guides. We both loved the visit. Really fascinating.

And food? Well, what does one eat when on the Cape? Why lobster and clams – the whole silly body of the clam, thank you very much. No strips here. Serendipity guided us with absolute skill as we were prompted to find a restaurant in which we not only sat directly over the water, but we had open windows at our elbows, salt sea air gently wafting in and birds upon birds above and below, skimming, scooping, diving, swooping. We saw our very first cormorant in the flesh as we did a Caspian tern and the black-headed laughing gulls. But almost more amazing was that we sat next to a young boy who, like Elihu, had loved birds since he was small and knew them all just as well. Truly, this kid was a bird boy; so said his grandma and he himself nodded in agreement. Thomas, if you should in fact read this, it makes us happy to know that there is another boy in the world who loves birds as Elihu does. We were very happy to make your acquaintance and hope one day to meet you again.

Perhaps the most important part our trip was made just an hour ago when we visited with my Uncle Paul and Aunt Sandy. I hadn’t seen them in almost twenty years – yet they looked instantly familiar. And for the first time, here before me was a person outside my immediate family with whom I shared a bloodline; his face, build and mannerisms all right here for me to see up close. This was new. In the tiny room I could study my uncle. He was a good looking man – something I found interesting that I’d never noticed before. I could see the resemblance to my mom at once. I sat there, feeling almost as if I were in a dream. The Conants and the Jacksons (my mom’s side) just don’t ‘do’ family. It had occurred to me earlier as I wove around the curving roads and struggled to get my bearings in the dark, that none of them would have made this sort of effort to see us. But in the end it didn’t matter. My uncle’d had a stroke a few years ago and I had to come and see him in person before it was too late. I felt very lucky as we bid them goodnight and made our way down the steps to our car.

We’ll see them again tomorrow. Thankfully we have no agenda here but to lay on the beach, find some sea critters and hang with the family. Right now we’re going to get into bed and continue reading a book about a young boy on a whaling ship that once moored in nearby New Bedford. And just a minute ago, as Elihu flew his rc helicopter (single blade, fixed pitch he’d want you to know) he said “life is too good to be true right now!” Yup. That’s pretty much how we’re feeling.

Happy Post Script: We heard from the young birder and his cousin tonite! (Finally someone taking me up on the “Say Hello” page entreat…) Come back and visit again, Thomas and Lucas – and please share some of your bird stories with us sometime…

 

Get Crackin’ July 7, 2012

So much yet to do. The biggest item is off the list: make sure the automatic coop door opener really works. Although I bought it last year (paid for a pricey rush delivery in fact) it sat uninstalled all year long in my garage, as I just couldn’t manage to do it myself as I’d planned. Even bought a sawsall to make the cut in the wall – really, how hard could it be? As I set out I discovered, hard enough. Maybe if I’d had more practice with the saw – which was much harder to control than I’d expected – I’d have been able to cut myself a hole into which I could then install the door. But I simply couldn’t manage it. The whole project, for as simple and straight forward as it looked was too much for me to muster on my own, and in the end I hired my brother to watch over my flock as we left town for a couple of days on divorce business. (And I gave the sawsall to a kid who mowed my 5 acre lawn in trade.)

This year, having a much larger flock and hoping to go away for a much longer time, I simply had to get it installed. When I unpacked it, we discovered chimpmunks had not only filled the entire thing with corn (the industrious little fella was dead at the bottom of his own cache) but had cut both the cord that pulled the door up as well as the wiring that told it to do so. God bless this handyman that I found at random from the local Pennysaver. He fixed it. And installed it. Then, as it began to appear a task completed, the timer got knocked to the ground by the birds on the first night, and came apart in pieces. Day two of coop preparations, four days to departure. I was beginning to panic. Lower back pain had me all but immobile, and now this. Swearing like a sailor, I wrestled the pieces back together in the obscene heat of the garage. It worked, but not quite as it should have. It took two more days until we had both a successful raising of the coop door on its own as well as a successful lowering of the door. Hooray! Right? Nope.

First night it was the new guys. The chicks – who are now just about full grown chicken size, but who eat like teenagers and don’t know the routine of the mature flock quite yet – they haven’t figured out where to go at night. At dark, when all the others are high on their roosting bars, safe for the night, the younguns are in a crowded clump on the ground, huddling for safety. How else do young ones learn but to be taught? I’d thought they’d imitate the elders, but no, apparently it’s up to Elihu and me. So, one by one, Elihu puts the little guys through the tiny open door, where I then take them and place them on a roosting bar. We are teaching them. We hope. Day one it’s forced. Day two, the timer still isn’t working right, so we miss an opportunity. Day three – complete success! Out on their own in the morning, up and safe on their roosts by nightfall! And the tidy little door shut all by itself! Houston, we have liftoff!

Except for Maximus, who walks around the empty pen, waiting for us to come and talk to him. He fits through the small door just fine, but for some reason he has chosen not to follow his flock. He’d rather wait for me to come out and make my nightly check; he likes to talk to me. He gurgles and grunts low to me, follows me on my feeding and watering chores, stays ever close. “Oh Max” I cry to him in frustration. “You’re supposed to use the door too!” Maybe he needs some teaching like the little ones did. I can’t open the door or I’ll throw off its timing, so instead I open the large door with the diamond patterned window panes (Elihu called it the ‘Shirley Nelson door’ the moment he saw it cuz he said it looked ‘just like the kind of door a woman named Shirley Nelson would have in her house’.!) I pick up my soft, white goose and I carry him across the threshold, depositing him gently inside. “You must go inside with everybody else, Max” I scold. I’m happy to see the little ones have all now found their own spots on the new roosting bars. All seems well. If only the goose would go in on his own. I’m prompted to do some googling on the subject of geese and raccoons – could a raccoon, of which we have plenty, really take down my gander, attitude and all? I learn that yes, he could. So I have a goose problem still. Earlier I’d had too much testosterone in the pen, so I’d placed Bald Mountain on his own in the brooder pen for the week. Sorry, you’ll be ok big guy. It’s still a lot better than being stuck in a tiny cage for the 4H poultry show at the county fair for a week…But what to do with the goose? I’m trying to make it so that ALL my birds go in, roost and the door closes. Period. So the gal who’ll watch them has only to fill the food and water. That itself if enough of a chore. One more dilemma to solve before we go. Geez. Will we go at all? I wonder.

While I try to get every last piece of laundry folded and put away, and while I refresh my bed with a seldom-washed sheet still hot from the dryer, Elihu takes up a corner to help me make my bed as we begin to discuss the Max situation. It is clear that we cannot simply leave him outside in the pen. He will likely be gotten. The only option is our garage. Full of crap, some garbage, much of it not – in fact there are many nice things still left from my mid century life that I need to find good homes for.  But I do not want to come home in a week to find the furniture chewed on, green sloppy goose shit all over the cement floor… but what choice do we have? “Look”, Elihu begins, “it’s not a tiny garage, he’s got enough room. You just have to cover up the nice stuff and make Max his own little area. Wood shavings in that corner by the brooder pen. That’s all he needs. He’ll be fine”. Good lil man. Yes, if we doctor up that one last open bit of garage and make it his, he’ll be comfortable. Leave a fan on. He’ll be ok. And I can put up the baby gate by the door so that when our chicken sitter comes to set out food she won’t get goosed by our goose. (Sweet creature to me, to everyone else he is his master’s protector. )

All the while, my back continues to morph and shift, to become something foreign and new. I’ve had lower back episodes – one or two a year – for the past decade. I always bounced back within a week, nothing was ever any different afterward, and in fact it was all but forgotten by a month out. But this time I blew it, I guess. I went to a chiropractor. Initially , my experience was insightful and educational to a certain degree, but holy shit! That man actually did something to me! I was glad to leave my first appointment standing straight – when I’d walked in hunched over and to one side. But today it is a vastly different situation. I think I’d gladly take back my initial posture if I could get rid of this: I am now asymmetrical, my spine is twisted – as in no longer a straight line up and down – and my back sounds like jiffy pop being made on a stove… almost any movement at all and there’s a crackling sound. No pain, but the sound is new and disconcerting. And that I feel I’m a walking S is weird too. I can do stretches, breathe in deep, visualize my stretch and so forth… but nope. Nothing doin. I cannot straighten myself out. I seem to now have a new problem on top of the original one I’d come in for. !!!! I was so ready to receive this as the wholistic means of treatment and health from here forward…A practice that took into consideration the whole body, stress level,  diet, movement…but in reality it seems much more focused on simply vertabrae related ‘subluxations.’, one of which I believe the good doctor may himself have created. I know I sound a little paranoid here, but I’ve gone from a situation which though uncomfortable, was at the least, familiar, and at best, something I knew how to manage. But this popcorn popping, s – curving back is altogether new to me. What do I do with this? It’s annoying as hell! I can’t carry my bag on my left shoulder because I’m so newly outta whack. Huh? No one told men that new problems would likely pop up…. did they? Did I miss the handout?

Bed made. Kid asleep. Post slogged through, perhaps less intelligible than most, but well, it’s done. Soon I’ll update you on our itinerary. Our plans have changed so many times that to have posted updates as they occured would only confuse. This we know: I will drive us, with my new little popcorn-popping back, to the historic Mayflower II. (We’re smack in the middle of a historic kid’s book about a young boy on a whaling ship – and he speaks of my own mother’s home town, New Bedford, as if it were modern day New York City. It will be fun to see the town so described in the novel.) Yup, we’ll see the ship, then promptly ship out to visit my Uncle Paul and Aunt Sandy. Cousin Rusty seems a lot like my brother Andrew; he’s 50 and still lives at home. He slinks in and out, says very little and what he does remains mostly mystery to his family. Then there’s Janice, his younger sister and my other cousin. While younger than me, she is a grandmother. Yeeks. My paternal grandma had my dad at 45. Janice musta had hers in her late teens. Crazy. But for us, the craziest thing will be hearing ‘that accent’. We don’t often hear people who sound much different from ourselves, so it’ll be fun to be in the area and hear this local accent. Elihu will get a big kick out of it.

We have two decadent nights in Wareham, and nothing but beach and family to fill our time. Oh, and maybe a visit to the Plimouth Town Living Museum where the actors in costume speak as they did some 400 years ago, and where they don’t break character, where they serve food of the time sans utensils. That, we just might go see. Whale watching will have to wait. Money and time don’t allow it this run.

Next, our question is to return home? Or to continue west, via New Haven to New York City. My back pain will likely play a large role in this decision. We have yet to contact our NYC friends with the latest timetable, so friends, if you’re reading, please know things have been tricky. I hope that I may leave it at that and not cause hurt feelings or piss people off.  I’m also aware some may have altered plans on our account. Hope not too much. We’ll ask if you might receive us Tuesday, maybe also Wednesday night?? And Jersey friends, maybe the following two nights with you?

Little time. Lot and lots to do. I think I may even have forgotten how to pack. Hoooo – I’m woozy tired now. I’m gonna go and rest my crackin’ back so tomorrow I can start crackin’ the whip….