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Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Cape Cod

My cell phone died so we spent our last morning in Boston looking for a Nextel Authorized Dealer. For three frustrating days, I had been unable to have a decent conversation with my husband. He was busy helping his mother move her stepmother into a nursing home and get the house in order to facilitate a sale, in a miserable little town in central Florida where cell phone service is almost non-existent. When I finally got my phone problem straightened out, I still had to wait 8-10 hours for the new battery to completely charge, by which time we had arrived in Cape Cod.

Ah, the Cape, where it is entirely permissible to wear clothing covered with whales, kitties, and lighthouses; quilted purses are de rigueur; and there is only one hairstyle for women: a butchy boy cut, preferably white, with salt-and-pepper running a close second. Lots of places with cutesy names like Handkerchief Shoals, The Cream and Cone, and Sundae School; lots of nautical references with “Captain” being particularly overused; and lots of Olde Gift Shoppes.

We spent our first night at my aunt’s house in Harwich doing laundry and I got a little reading done while I sat out in the car, the only place I could get a phone signal, while I waited to hear from Sweet G, when he was in a position to get a signal. After a nasty exchange with my father that morning, I was desperate for a sympathetic ear. I picked up Little Children as an antidote to my suburban funk and managed to get a little way into the story, enjoying the dead-on characterizations, but waiting for something to happen. The phone at the house had not been turned on because it is only occupied in the summer, so I was forced to go another day without Internet service.

Now, before you go thinking that my family is the kind that owns grand summerhouses, let me set you straight. They are solidly middle class. S asked me if Aunt ML’s house was on the water. Never having been there I wasn’t sure, but my parents said, no, it wasn’t. Was it near the water? Not really. While there are some perfectly charming coastal New England villages with town greens, austere neo-classical public buildings, quaint white-steepled churches, and picturesque sailboat-filled harbors, this house wasn’t located in one. Even the Cape has suburban sprawl. This was your typical 70s split level in some nondescript neighborhood, a la the Brady Bunch. The girls wanted to know why you would want to live on the Cape if you weren’t anywhere near the water. Gosh kids, I don’t know.

S, G, and I left early the next morning, Mothers’ Day, and drove up to Plimoth Plantation. (By the way, Happy Mothers’ Day to you all, you really deserve it.) So far, S has pronounced this the hit of the trip (but insists we not rule out any future stops.) We stopped in at Hopamog’s homesite first, since, I reasoned, the Native Americans were there first, and also because there was a large school group that was visiting at the same time and I guessed, correctly, that they would probably hit the Pilgrim village first.

A Wampanoag girl named Carrie* gave us a great tour of their house, a Quonset hut-like building covered in bark, with three fires blazing inside and full-length benches thickly covered in deer and bear furs. The weather was rainy and cold, so we enjoyed the warmth of the house. Carrie told us that temperatures inside can reach 90 degrees in the winter and the Pilgrims were often shocked to see Wampanoag children jumping naked into the snow to cool off. The girls think we should build one of these on our island. I wonder if Code Enforcement would agree.

In the Pilgrim Village, we met Elizabeth Hopkins*, who was outside cleaning herring with another woman. A group of students were standing around watching and she asked if anyone would like to help. She was slightly startled when S cheerfully volunteered. S scaled the fish and then after Mistress Hopkins slit the fish open, dug inside and started pulling out the guts. That’s my girl!

*The re-enactors in the Pilgrim Village play the roles of actual residents from the year 1627, the year the contract with their financiers was up, and stay completely in character. The Native Americans are members of various local Wampanoag communities, not actors, and do not play any roles.

The other school kids gradually trickled away due to the inclement weather, leaving the entire place practically to ourselves. S asked everybody she met many questions and had some lengthy conversations with the characters. G didn’t say too much until we left, when she admitted that was the most fun yet. We thought it was pretty funny that the one-room houses were nearly identical in size and had furnishings similar to the setup we have back at home on the island.

Inside the Craft Center, we enjoyed talking with one of the costume designers and briefly watched the potter and cabinetmaker. The costume designer told us that in PBS’s upcoming Colonial House series, the participants secretly trained at Plimoth Plantation, and that their staff was responsible for building the living quarters. The show was co-produced by a British company, with their participation including costuming, but too few heavy outer garments were produced for the cold weather, so in a pinch, Plimoth costumers created some of the cloaks they used. Plimoth Plantation is about to open a new exhibit on a behind the scenes look at Colonial House and it, like everything else there, should be very good.

We drove over to the waterfront, saw the real location of the original settlement, Plymouth Rock, and toured the replica of the Mayflower. S decided that she wants to build a boat, a scale replica of a large sailing ship, big enough for her and her father to sail around in. Besides the Mayflower, she is also a big fan of Master and Commander. I know there are programs out there where you can learn boat building skills; I’ve got to look into it a little further.

We could’ve spent so much more time at both places, but we were due at a cousin’s house for a cookout that evening, so we raced back down the Cape.

Today we hit Salem, Massachusetts, stopping in at the House of the Seven Gables (and making me think I’ll give that book another try someday soon), having lunch with yet another cousin, and visiting the Salem Witch Museum. My cousin highly recommended the Peabody-Essex Museum for their outstanding collection related to the East India shipping trade but we were out of time, having to be in Connecticut this evening and it being almost rush hour, so we only had a quick look at the gift shop. This is definitely worth a stop next time we come up -- like maybe when S comes to stay with my cousin and her family while she works on her boat building apprenticeship.

Wait until S sees what’s in store tomorrow when we spend the day at Mystic Seaport…

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