How Will You Use Your Time?

Responding to cultural quarantine in a time of crisis.

I believe that time is a gift. It is a gift that I often waste, breeze through and forget to carefully plan. Sometimes I waste good time by working too much. Other times though, I waste it by spending too much time on social media, or too much time on the phone and then, time is the thing I lose. Perhaps most frustrating of all, I do not always do a good job of anticipating how much time a given task will take. Yet, I have also learned that time is precious. When I was a young person, even a young adult, I would often say, “I can hardly wait until________.” But now, I can wait. While I am tired of being cold, it is still winter in Pennsylvania in mid-March, at least temperature wise, and I do not want to wish my life away by wishing it was another season or time. Time is something I have finally learned to save and to savor.

picture of a yearly planner with a pen
Photo by Plush Design Studio from Pexels

How many sayings about time can you recall? “Time and Tide wait for no man (sic)”, “Time’s a’wasting” I asked that question of my Facebook friends recently and got a lot of responses, many were different from what I expected. Here are a few of their comments: “A day late and a dollar short,” “For such a time as this…” (From the story of Esther in the Bible, Esther 4:14), “time after time,” “How many times do I have to tell you___”, “Third time’s a charm,” and “Long time no see.” Poll your friends, make your own list, and see what you learn.

I had a friend years ago, who had a home made sign on his wall that read, “What is time for?” or, it might have read, “What is it time for?” Either way, it is a worthwhile question. As a pastor, I have a lot of freedom to set my own time schedule (except of course for Sunday mornings or if I had a Saturday evening service). I don’t punch a time clock, can choose my own day off, and while I do periodically report to a team about how I spend my time, there is a lot of freedom given.

Within that freedom though, there are certain expectations. Although denominationally, leaders are trying to be more realistic about time commitments, the average expectation for my 23 years of full-time ministry was 55-65 hours a week. And John Wesley, the founder of Methodism had some interesting things to say about time. Basically, ‘Be on time,’ ‘Do not waste time” and, ‘Spend the exact amount of time needed, but not a minute more; paraphrased, of course.

Every morning, since I have become a pastor, I have one important tradition or ritual. My second favorite ritual is sitting on the edge of my bed, clutching my pillow to my chest, while trying to make myself move. Wait, maybe that is my first favorite ritual. But before that, I have to ask myself these two crucial questions: “What day is it?” and “Where am I supposed to be?” As long as I give myself the right answers, everything is good. But there are times I wake up in a panic, Is it Sunday?

picture of an alarm clock with roman numerals and a bell on top.
Photo by Krivec Ales from Pexels

Please do not put too much energy into analyzing this, but, my recurring nightmare for 23 years has been that I overslept and arrived at church so late, that there were only a few disgusted people left in the building who were on their way out, and I had no reasonable explanation for my behavior! Fortunately that is not an every week dream, but I have lost track of the number of times it has darkened my door in 23 years.

But my chief concern in writing this piece is to ask you, not your favorite expressions about time, but how will you spend the gift of time in these days of chaos, fear and toilet paper purchase power? I say that, not belittling the enormity of the crisis before us, which is indeed worldwide, but attempting to look at the gift of time that is hidden in all of the closings. Please do not yell, or think me thoughtless, I realize that there are huge financial/economic issues tied to those closings. But one important reality is that many of you, like myself, can act as though you are “human-doings” and not “human-beings. ”

Picture of two people at a square table, one has a cell phone in hand.
Photo by Helena Lopes from Pexels

When those who work come home, those who cannot work are still there, and there are no distractions of meetings, games, events, concerts, dinners out, what will you do with the extra time you have been given? How often have you wished that you had more than 24 hours in your day, wished that you had more time to read, relax, visit, bake, write, build, play, opportunities to do good to those around you? In addition to all the things this crisis has handed us, fear and chaos, to name a few, it has also handed us a temporary gift of time.

In addition, although we have never been here before, we are not the first generation to face such a daunting challenge. We can learn a lot by studying how our grandparents or parents, made it through World War II, The Depression, and other major social disruptions. Many of us have gotten so married to our conveniences, that the basic skills of cooking, canning, gardening, sewing, baking from scratch, using hammer, nails and screws or heavens, “making do” by using things up until they are beyond repair, and an unheard of discipline, of not buying big ticket items until we have the cost saved up. But I think some of us are planning to rekindle those disciplines out of necessity. Not only is the bread aisle empty in our local grocery chain, so is the flour, and yeast!

Picture of a little girl learning to crack an egg into a bowl.
Photo by Elly Fairytale from Pexels

Some families I know are teaching their children such basic skills as a matter of course. But this thing that has happened, this awful virus with unknown potential and forced closings of schools, dining places, churches, non-essential businesses and gathering places, can bring couples and families together; perhaps in new ways. It is somewhat ironic that the tools of social media that have blocked real conversation, can actually be life-lines to connect with family and neighbors in the midst of self-imposed or government imposed quarantine.

This crisis will tell the world and speak volumes about who we are, depending on how we handle the challenge. Can we take care of “our own,” and still be mindful of the needs of our neighbors, the vulnerable among us? Will we be compassionate people or fear driven hoarders? Only time will tell.

I would love to hear from you. How are you handling time in the midst of crisis and social distancing? How are you staying connected to those you love and care about when you are not in the same house? Where have you seen acts of compassion? What opportunities have you had to show compassion?

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

INTRODUCING SHEBA

Sheba is our fourth rescue dog in thirty years. When we lost Misty in the Fall of 2019, my husband and I had an unspoken agreement, or assumption, that we would be adopting another rescue dog. There were certainly some concerns, we are not young (sigh!), we are retired, well, partially retired in my case, and I was pretty sure that a puppy was out of the question. We agreed that we were going to look for a senior dog.

We also were going to wait until the first of the year, because we already had planned to go away for a week after Christmas and did not want to bring a new dog into the house, only to have to kennel it before it had been here long enough to get adjusted. And, although many people consider “Christmas” a pastor’s busy time of year, it is actually the entire four week season of Advent and leading up to Christmas Eve that constitutes that “Busy time of year.” I knew that I was going to need to focus.

In the interim, we looked online, especially to check the dogs listed at our local animal rescue center, looking at older dogs. Finally, one January day, we showed up in person, looked through the book of the dogs they had in residence and asked to see Sheba.

Picture of a tall, lean, black and tan dog.
Sheba, checking out the driveway.

If you have been following my blog, your first thought might be, “That is not a beagle!” True. Sheba is a long, lean, black and tan dog of mixed parentage. She weights about 45 pounds, and when she thunders down the stairs in the morning, you would swear it was a horse! Why, when I love beagles so much, did I not get a beagle? My answer, might only make sense to animal lovers. I know that in theory, animals do not have personalities. Wait! If you are an animal lover of any kind you are amazed at the ability of your pet to express any range of emotions: joy, happiness, anger, fear, annoyance, betrayal, stubbornness, to name only a few traits. Scientists, psychologists and any number of specialists can have, well, scientific explanations. Here is mine. I did not want to adopt a dog who might look like Misty, or Sammy, as much as I love beagles and it seemed like the best way to allow our newest family member to assert it’s own “personality” and not be mistaken for Misty or treated like a “Misty II” was to adopt a dog that was totally different, not only in temperament, but also in looks.

There is no mistaking Sheba for Misty. Sheba is younger than we were thinking. Not a puppy, but not a senior either. She was four-and-a-half when we adopted her, she will be six in June. Her story, is not one I have ever put in print, although we have shared it with people verbally. Sheba was one of sixteen dogs surrendered/rescued from an animal hoarding situation. It may have started out well meaning, but all sixteen dogs were kept in crates, stacked up on each other, maybe 2 or 3 crates high and I suspect she was surrounded. Sheba, as big as she is was, was probably in a crate that was on the bottom. It may or may not have been a “puppy mill” but she had recently had puppies within a month of her surrender, but there were no puppies when the dogs were handed over. That is really all that we know about her background.

She had been at the shelter for about 2 weeks, when we arrived to visit. When they brought her into the office to meet us, it was clear that she had made friends with some of the female workers, but Sheba did something I have never seen a dog do. As she came into the office, and saw that there were strangers there (us), she lifted up each paw and held it in the air before putting it down and lifting up the next one, and she shook. Well, she wasn’t a senior dog, but she was definitely a dog that needed us. I could have held out for another dog, but I couldn’t. She was so timid and scared. When we brought her home the next day, my husband wisely suggested that one of us sit in the back seat with her and the other one drive, instead of leaving her back there on her own, cowering, As it turned out, perhaps I should have been the driver. But I was the “back seat with the dog person.” I petted her and talked to her all the way home.

That was fourteen months ago. She has truly come a long way in fourteen months, but we often wonder if she has come as far as she is going to come. Here is a rare picture of Sheba:

picture of a black and an dog getting a bath at a groomer's
Sheba at the dog groomers

What makes this picture of Sheba so rare? It is the only time she let the groomer pick her up and put her in the sink! The next time we went, she took 5 treats out of his hand, but then hid under my chair when he tried to pick her up. Sheba is afraid of ________, fill in the blanks. She is afraid of men, small dogs, children, strangers, men, sudden noises, men, the football players from the nearby school who walk by on the way to the football field. She is afraid of everyone but me. There is a meme/prayer on Facebook that says, “Lord, help me to be the person my dog thinks I am.” My husband says, that would be impossible, because Sheba seems to think I am perfect. Fortunately, we both know I am not. He is as good to her as can be, and she will take treats from him, allow him to pet her (sometimes), beg him to pet her when I am not giving her enough attention, or if I am not here, or if I have stopped petting her in order to try to accomplish something. But sad to say, when he walks in the room, she runs in the opposite direction. I am far from an expert, yet everything about her affect and behavior seems to shout trauma.

It would not be accurate to say that she is an affectionate dog, but more accurate to say that she soaks up affection, loves to be petted and fussed over. She is funny, needy, stubborn, challenging on many levels, and I cannot imagine life without her. One other thing for now, that you might notice in the top picture. She is a black and tan dog, living in a brown, tan and gold world. Every room in our house is paneled and every room has different paneling: all shades of brown. The carpeting in the living room and in the bedrooms is brown and dark gold. We foolishly (I) picked out a dog bed that is dark brown. It can be difficult to tell her apart from the dog bed, the floors and her indoor surroundings. She blends in.

Picture of a black and tan dog partially hiding under a desk
Sheba half under my desk.

I wish that we knew more about her life, some days I wish any pet could talk and then there are days I am glad she can’t. We just keep offering her love and care and a good home and do our best to be up to the challenges. There is so much more to tell, but that is it for an introduction.

Not holding back the tide.

Michele

Ten Reasons to Vacation in Onset, Massachusetts This Year: I’m Set On Onset!

Briefly, I am not a travel writer, nor am I being paid for this post. But I want to give some love to my home town and share with you Ten Reasons to Vacation in Onset, Massachusetts this year:

Onset Beach, Photo Courtesy of Onset Bay Association
Courtesy of Onset Bay Association

REASON ONE AND TWO: My first reason to encourage you to visit Onset, is Onset Beach. It is a family friendly beach with many opportunities. See the people in this picture? This could be you, while other folks are sitting bumper to bumper on the Bridge to the Cape. While they are fuming, you could have your vehicle parked, your blanket spread, sunscreen on and ready for action: avoiding Bridge Traffic is my second reason.

The Cape Cod Canal, view facing the Village of Buzzards Bay

REASON THREE: The Cape Cod Canal. If all you do is fish along the canal, sit and picnic at one of the viewing areas and drink in the serenity it offers on a day like the one pictured above, you will have gained something special. But you don’t just have to look, there are Canal Cruises that you can take from the Onset Pier and there is also a Deep Sea Fishing boat, docked at the Onset Pier. It doesn’t get much more convenient than that.

Sign on the dock, with a view of thte canal and the railroad lift bridge to the left of the picture.

REASON FOUR: The Massachusetts Maritime Academy, in near-by Buzzards Bay, is a full college with male and female students, a training ship and more. Gone are the Quonset huts of old. Visit, not just for a good view of the canal, or just to view the campus, but also to take a tour of the newly opened library (Information Center). I do not mean to imply that the entire campus is open to the public, but the library is open to the public and from what trusted friends tell me, worth the visit.

REASON FIVE AND SIX: The Onset Bay Center, that is scheduled to open in June of 2020, through the Buzzards Bay Coalition, offers “on the water programming for kids and families.” The programming includes, but is not limited to watercraft of all kinds, environmental studies and more. For a full picture of services and opportunities go to http://www.savebuzzardsbay.com. Kayak rental will be available again this summer and the Nemasket Kayak Company has space in the newly built Onset Bay Center. You can find out more about their services here: http://www.nemasketkayak.com.

REASON SEVEN Summary: Swimming, boating, fishing, sailing, kayaking, serenity seeking and family fun.

A view from Onset Pier

REASON EIGHT: The Cape Cod Canal Visitor Center, in Sandwich. Although Sandwich is not Onset, that is the location of the Visitor Center, (at the other end of the Canal) and, it is rich in resources, information about the canal, the historic reasons and current use (no pun intended). The canal is operated and maintained by the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Like many of the places listed here, the Visitor Center provides a great family outing. You can learn more here at: http://www.capecodmuseumtrail.com.

REASON NINE: The Edaville Railroad! (Actually, now the Edaville Family Theme Park) http://www.edaville.com. Again, this is not in Onset, but is in Carver, which is a short drive from Onset. It was one of my favorite spots as a child taking a train ride around the cranberry bogs in the winter and enjoying the lights and sights. Edaville has gotten new life as an amusement park.

Postcard of The Union Villa, Courtesy of Angela Dunham

REASON TEN: History! Onset/Wareham is an area with a rich history and lots of local folks that are glad to share it with you. The town of Wareham boasts an active historical society: see, http://www.warehamhistoricalsociety.com and the Wareham Free Library.

RESOURCES: One important resource that will prove helpful for your visit to Onset, is the folks at the Onset Bay Association. They keep things lively, interesting and up to date on local activities. From large festivals of all kinds, to small group craft opportunities, they can keep you informed. There is a Blues Festival and also a Cape Verdean Festival scheduled, and Fourth of July Fireworks, just to name a few. You can also find them on Facebook, and you will also find them friendly and welcoming.

WHERE TO STAY IN ONSET

One place to start looking for short term rental housing would be the local real estate agents. When I was planning for my trip home last fall, I was surprised to find that my “go to” hotel search site, also listed vacation rentals for apartments, rooms, houses and bed and breakfasts. Many are listed in multiple locations. I found the perfect place for me at Airbnb. Since many hotels now offer in room refrigerators and microwaves, a hotel may be a good choice. But choosing where to stay is personal, so I leave you with those suggestions, but if you think you want to visit this summer, start looking now.

I promised you Ten Reasons to Vacation in Onset, I can offer you 400 more. You might know, or perhaps it sliped your notice, that this year is the 400th Anniversary of the landing of the Puritans in Plymouth. There are lots of activities planned. Again, you might be thinking, Beach Girl, Plymouth isn’t Onset! No, you are correct, but it a short drive. Think about making Onset your base of operations, the place you come back to again and again. There are some big celebrations planned for this spring, with the return of The Mayflower II, after an absence of three years. It will sail into Boston Harbor for a week of celebration from May 14, 2020 to May 20, 2020 and then will move to Plymouth for celebrations and shipboard visits May 21, 2020 to May 25, 2020. You can learn details about events and ticket prices at http://www.mayflowersails2020.com.

The town of Plymouth, Massachusetts and Plimoth Plantation are two more things you will not want to miss. I visited Plimoth Plantation as a child and it was nice, but it was relatively small, a total of 6 houses, maybe more, with gardens and the type of furnishings that would have been in use at the time. Today it is a comprehensive historic site with a lot of attention to detail and accuracy and living history. There are special programs, hands on crafts that are culturally specific. I look forward to going back and spending more time there. I cannot begin to do it justice in this short space, but you can find everything you might want to know at http://www.plimoth.org.

Visiting Plymouth this year and participating in the 400th Anniversary celebration, does invite some sensitivity. Many of us above a certain age learned a very “white-washed” and sanitized version of the early history of our country, especially in regard to relationships between the original residents and the newcomers. Not everyone is celebrating this anniversary, so sensitivity, humility and a willingness to learn by listening to the stories of others can help us grow beyond inaccuracy, and give us something to celebrate. One book that helped me with this is “Mayflower” by Nathaniel Philbrick. http://www.nathanielphilbrick.com/books/mayflower. Now, bear in mind, I am not a travel writer, no one is paying me for this post, and I do not do Book Reviews either. But if you decide to visit Plymouth, the book may be a good read.

Photo Courtesy of Onset Bay Association

There are many things I haven’t addressed in this post: I have tried to provide lots of websites that will give you more information, pictures and details than I could possibly include here. I have also not mentioned food, but there are many places in and around Onset/Wareham, good pizza, seafood restaurants, new or recent night spots, but that won’t matter as much until you decide to go. There is a lot I have left off, we haven’t talked about searching for seashells, other areas of water exploration or activities. perhaps you will go through my list of Ten, Plus the Four Hundred (400) and make your own list. Perhaps, if you go, you won’t be able to wait until you get to go back again. I know that is true for me.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

A Slice of Pizza and a Slice of Life: A Union Villa Story

A little over two years ago, when I was in the middle of a December baking frenzy, I went to the local grocery store to replenish my supply of flour, sugar and butter. When I got my change from the cashier, it included a red quarter. She said, “I’ve never seen a red quarter before.” I was a little startled to see one myself, it had been years. I told her I had seen one before and asked if she would like to hear the story? The last time I saw a quarter like this was probably late summer of 1968, although I used to see them on a regular basis. Jack had a roll of quarters that were painted with red nail polish on both sides. They were used to prime the pump, as it were, to encourage customers to also play songs on the juke box. Not unlike bar snacks, it encouraged participation.

picture of several quarters on a desk top including one with red nail polish.
The Red Quarter

It was great for me, because I could ask him for a red quarter, almost whenever I wanted, and he would give me one. It was a bonus to be able to chose my own music, since living there forced me to listen to everyone else’s music. The other benefit was that when the owner of the juke box came to collect the money in the coin box, he not only returned the red quarters to Jack, but he would give me the records that he was changing out. It was a nice way to build my collection of 45’s, and even if it wasn’t all my kind of music, the price was right. I hadn’t thought about red quarters in a long time. You can be sure this one is staying with me.

ALL THAT AND A BAG OF CHIPS

There is a slightly awkward story, that I am going to share with you anyway. It is awkward, somewhat embarrassing and true. There was a potato chip rack at the end of the bar that held small bags of potato chips and other similar items. I remember the vendor coming in, the metal clips that held each bag in place, and no, I did not get leftover potato chips when he came with new ones. I am not sure I ever ate potato chips at the Villa, especially when I could have pasta and pizza any time. But for some reason that I credit with living at the bar, or visiting all those other bars before my parents bought the Union Villa, I love the smell of potato chips, especially when a new bag has just been opened. It is very seldom that a bag of chips comes into this house without my getting to open the bag, and inhale the aroma before the dispensing begins. See, I told you it was somewhat embarrassing, but it is also true.

I don’t know if “décor” is the right word for a bar, most of the decorations were neon lights advertising the selection of local beer. There was a player piano, off to the center and a stage area for the band. There was a brass ship’s bell on the wall behind the bar next to the shelves of whiskey. That, of course, was a slight nod to Jack’s career at sea. In addition, there was a wooden sign above the porch that read, “The Union Villa” and above those words were added the words, “Jack’s Port O’Call.”

Post Card of the Union Villala Hotel circ 1880
The Union Villa in the early days, Courtesy of Angela Dunham

The first winter they replaced the orange and green wooden booths with “new to them” booths and tables that had bought in a restaurant sale. The booths were wooden, brown, highbacked booths with light ivory colored padding. They also bought black metal tables with silver stripes on the side and standard wooden bar chairs with seat backs and seats that Maggie re-covered. To all this, they added light colored paneling in both the bar room and the pool room. If you do not know this, paneling was all the rage in the 1960’s. Mom had just had the living room paneled in our house in Point Independence a year or so before we moved to the Union Villa. As a side note, that paneling salesman must have gotten around because our retirement home is paneled, and I suspect it too, was done in the 1960’s, but that is another story.

Although the quality of the pictures is very poor I want to share these with you. The picture on the left is Jack and Maggie, my dad and mom. She must have come out of the kitchen to have the picture taken and they are clearly, standing behind the bar. At least, it is a close up. These pictures, as old and beat up as they are, are the only ones I have of Jack and Maggie at the bar. The pictures are held together with love and plexiglass and a picture on the other side that I am afraid to move, lest they all fall apart. The picture on the right was taken from the other end of the bar. You can see the old metal cash register on the left, Jack is behind the bar in a plaid flannel shirt. You can also see the faded hand of someone pouring a beer and one of the customer’s smoking a cigar. If memory serves me correctly, it was one of our regular musicians.

Two faded pictures of a man and a a woman standing behind a bar, and in the other picture some of the customers at the bar.
Home

The television in the corner was a very big deal because it was color t.v. That television traveled up to our apartment for the winter, where the three of us could enjoy it. That must have been a big deal to Dad, because he would even watch “Bozo the Clown” because it was in “living color.” That of course, was something he would only do in the apartment. The television traveled back downstairs to the bar by the April 1st opening, so the patrons could watch the game in color or whatever else they were interested in watching. When it wasn’t busy, I could sit at the bar and watch Star Trek Episodes. The original.

Picture of two pislner glasses on a bar
Photo by Matan Segev from Pexels

While it may sound odd for a bar, they did their best to keep it a family place. That is if the noise of the juke box, clinking of glasses when the bottle of beer hits the side of the glass were sounds you might expect on a typical family night out. You would not hear the sound the foam makes as it bubbles up to form a head on the beer. You would hear instead, the shouts and cheers that came from the pool room and the sound of the cue ball breaking up the recently racked billiards. You might have heard the clatter of someone stepping heavily onto the wooden pallet at the bottom of the steps and the sound of the screened swinging doors being pushed open. Jack or one of the regulars at the bar, would call out a greeting to whoever came in, if that could be heard above the laughter that occasionally erupted from “The Dirty Corner” (see Life at the Union Villa). And maybe, if you were lucky, you would hear an old roofer named Lou exclaim, “Merciful heavens” as though he were laughing the words.

I am always interested in learning how or where people learned how to do the things they do, whether it is in earning a living, doing a craft, playing an instrument, installing anything and repairing equipment. It seems that the combination of Jack’s early life as a rabble rouser, a young seaman, a boxer, being an officer on a merchant ship, in charge of crew, placement of cargo and other things, and being a life long social drinker prepared him for the occasional work of being his own bouncer. He would not tolerate lewd behavior, or language, and he had no problem shutting someone off who had too much to drink, or was otherwise out of line. On rare occasions, the local police came to the rescue. While it would be an exaggeration to say that he flew across the bar as needed, he could move pretty quickly around the bar and out front for a fifty-something stocky guy.

Picture of a person's hand  holding a slice of pizza.
Photo by Kenneth Carpina from Pexels

SATURDAY NIGHTS IN THE SUMMER

Saturday nights in the summer were “All hands on deck.” There was one waitress, Jack behind the bar, plus an additional bartender, Maggie in the kitchen, plus one additional cook. For reasons that I can’t quite explain, I played hostess. I spent Saturday afternoons with my hair in curlers and sometime after supper, took the curlers out, brushed out my hair, donned my favorite dress and went downstairs to the bar. I greeted customers and on occasion when it was busy would ask some folks to share a table, if I knew that they knew each other. I could help take pizza orders and just visit with people. No one asked me to do it and there was no expectation that I had to work. Although, pizza boxes, that might have been an expectation that I fold pizza boxes. Even though my parents were way too busy to talk, it was much less lonely downstairs in the crowd than it would have been upstairs in the apartment, watching “Saturday Night at the Movies” on the black and white television alone.

The most difficult thing about Saturday nights was the smoke. With so many people smoking cigarettes, cigars and occasional pipes, the smoke was thick enough to burn one’s eyes. I would end up going into the restroom several times in any given Saturday night, pull some brown paper towels from the rack, soak them in cold water, wring the water out and hold the cold, damp paper towels over my eyes. Then I would go outside for some fresh air, and back into it all over again.

Every night at the bar would end the same way, whether it was a busy, hopping night, or just a slow evening. Around 11:45, Jack would stop wiping down the bar, walk over the where the ship’s bell stood, grab the rope pulley and yank it against the side of the brass bell. After the bell sounded, he would lift his voice above the din, and call out “Last Call for Alcohol!” He called it out as if each word had extra syllables, and while it was not musical, it sounded as though there were a crescendo to it, with a drop off on the last syllable.

When our loved ones have fought the good fight, battled cancer and other demeaning and debilitating diseases, we could not wish them back to suffering. But I tell you, I would love to see those sights and to hear those sounds again. To see Maggie in the kitchen again, decorating a pizza with slices of onion and pepper and other things; to hear the background noises, the conversations, the juke box, the ship’s bell, and Jack once more raising his voice above the din, “Laaaaast Callll for Al-co-hallllll”

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Jack and Maggie in Business

I received some obvious but important advice from a friend two years ago, as I prepared for my fist trip to Onset in almost 25 years: “Expect everything to be different.” Well, yes. of course. In my excitement about the trip, those obvious words were helpful. There were lots of surprises and changes. That was a good thing. Rather than be disappointed by the changes, I met them with a measure of relief.

Picture of woman, boy and little girl in front of a home.
Mom, my brother and me, about 195., before the porch was added to the house.

When my parents officially moved to Onset, around 1944, or a little later, they bought a house in Point Independence. It was a large corner lot on an acre of ground. The driveway went around it in a horseshoe configuration, and there was a dirt road from their property all the way to the beach.

THE COTTAGES: MARCELLINO’S REAL ESTATE

I don’t know whose idea it was to build the cottages, Maggie’s or Jack’s or both, but it was a pretty smart idea. Between the proximity to Onset Beach and the proximity to Otis Air Force Base, they had no problem renting them, either to “summer people” or to young Air Force couples.

The cottages were modest, mostly two bedrooms with eat in kitchens, small bathrooms with showers, not tubs, and they were furnished. Jack did much of the outside work, along with a neighbor who was retired Air Force and a local contractor.

Maggie did the inside work; she picked out furniture, made curtains and couch covers, laid linoleum, (flooring), cleaned the cottages between residents and handled most or all of the renting duties.

She also handled the bills, contacted local contractors as needed and at least on one occasion, crawled under one of the cottages to wrap frozen water pipes.

picture of cottages in the back yard. mom, Aunt Millie, Phillip and myself.
Mom, her sister and my cousin, and myself on the right. Cottages number 5 & 6 in the back circa 1955?

There were times I know she was afraid: there were times I know she was lonely, but in all times I knew she was competent. I don’t know how she knew how to do most of the things she did. She took the commercial course her one year of high school, that was where she learned typing and shorthand and other office skills.

She learned how to sew when she was in fourth grade, and sewed all of her life, until about the last two months before she died. She did not have any special training for running a business, but growing up in the poverty of the early 1900’s, she learned a lot about being careful with money. She would never have seen herself as a businesswoman, yet she was.

She and Jack were both young working adults by the time of the 1929 stock market crash. She must have liked making curtains and spreads because it is something she did a lot. Even years later in retirement, in her own apartment, she would make curtains and bed spreads to match and changed them two or three times a year.

picture of cottages on maple Street
Taken October 2019, looking left to right, cottage 8, 7, 6 and 5. Compare with the previous picture from 1955. Photo courtesy of Angela Shwom

THE UNION VILLA

Maggie worked hard, and truthfully, some of that came with the territory. She did not get a clothes dryer until 1970! Prior to that, everything had to be hung outside to dry, even at the Union Villa. Ironing clothes and sheets were standard, and most things had to be sprinkled before you could iron them.

I still own an iron and an ironing board, but only use them when I am desperate. With the fabrics of most of our clothes, and linens, that kind of work is not needed. There was no dishwasher either, not even at The Union Villa.

Some of the work she did was just necessity, and some of it was how she coped. I did grow up a little spoiled. When I tried to help with ironing my own clothes she said I was taking that away from her, and she needed to do it. I was about 16 and dad was back out to sea. Now she was lonely in a much bigger house, a five story hotel, and I was still away at boarding school during the week.

Jack worked hard too, but when the bar was closed and they were working on projects in the winter, he would stop working a few hours before her and say, “Come on Maggie, why don’t you knock off?”

I was never aware of money growing up. I know that my dad made good money in the Merchant Marine, and we had what we needed, but they reinvested everything back into the business and there was no real luxury. They didn’t go out and buy themselves things, the money they did spend on themselves was mostly on entertainment, dinners out and yes, all those drinks.

When they bought the Union Villa, it was much the same. Maggie, at 52, was on her hands and knees laying linoleum in the hallways of the hotel, and hanging new curtains in the rooms.

They spent the winters replacing old furniture in the bar and remodeling. It wasn’t anything extravagant, but it looked nice. Most of all, as much as possible, they did their own work.

When the bar was closed for the winter and everything else was cleaned, she took the curtains down from the windows, took them to our apartment and soaked them in the kitchen sink repeatedly, until the water turned from dark grey until it was finally clear, with all the nicotine washed out.

When we returned to Onset in 1994 for my mother’s burial, we had less than 40 hours in town. (My first trip back to Onset in 21 years). I did notice that the cottages had been renovated and improved, some had solar panels in the roof. I didn’t have a lot of time to sit and stare. You can drive on the road, but there is no street parking, only private driveways.

When we returned in 2018 I had more time to look, and even more time to spend walking around and taking pictures when I was there last fall (2019).

In 1994 the Union Villa still looked like I remembered it, but it was mostly empty. The bar was no longer there, but there was a Real Estate office in the corner of the downstairs. When I was home last fall, it was completely different. It was no longer The Union Villa Hotel, Bar and Restaurant, but the U.V. Apartments.

The U.V. Apartments
The U.V. Apartments 2019. There are now 10 apartments that are full time rentals.

WHAT ELSE CHANGED?

In the intervening years, the cottages have been totally renovated in some cases rebuilt from the foundation up. A few of the cottages added a second floor, many have solar panels and decks and most have a second door, which was probably a legal necessity as housing codes were revised.

The funniest change I experienced however, was in 1994, when we returned to town for the second part of my mother’s funeral. I had been talking to my husband about the wonderful seafood we used to get from Besse’s Seafood Market, just across the stone bridge.

Locals who are old enough remember, you could call up and order fried seafood to go, fish, scallops, clams and more. Or you could go in and order it and watch them prepare it.

I still remember watching them toss the seafood in question in the egg wash, and milk, the flour, watching the cooks shake the wire mesh basket up while the flour flew every which way. I remember the smells, the lobster tank, the sizzling sound of the basket going into the deep fryer.

Or, if you wished you could buy fresh seafood and cook it at home. I talked about it so much that my mouth was watering. I couldn’t wait to get there. I took my husband and daughter and we pulled up into the parking lot, of … a closed ice cream shop. I think it is a Real Estate office today, but if I am wrong I am sure someone will correct me.

CHANGE IS NOT A FOUR LETTER WORD

I said in the beginning of this post that I was relieved by the changes I saw. Change is essential to growth. Truthfully, I love what I see in both the cottages and The U.V. because real people live there!

The really hard thing, would have been to arrive in Onset and see that the buildings had been abandoned, torn down or otherwise dilapidated. But people, investors, have loved them into new life! I love that! I love the fact that the two “mom and pop” businesses that were the heart of my parents’ work, livelihood and energy, are still that for someone. And I am not saying it is because of them, it is not because of Maggie and Jack.

The present incarnation of both of those places is because others have looked at those sites, those buildings and seen new possibilities and invested funds and energy and hope and loved them into a new existence. But because of Jack and Maggie’s vision and work, seeing what those places have become fills me with hope, joy and gratitude.

Sometime soon, I will show my hometown some love, and share with you some of the good things that are available in Onset today. Summer is coming with all kinds of opportunities for family vacations and getaways.

In the meantime though,

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Author’s note: Look for more Jack and Maggie or Union Villa Stories on this site.

Misty

When we lost our dog Roxanne, in April of 2012, I said I was not getting another dog until I retired. That anticipated retirement date was six years in the future. I lasted a little more than six weeks. I meant what I said, and I was determined, but I was somewhat unaware. I was unaware, or had not realized, what a huge void Roxanne’s death would create in our home. She had been part of our family for 14 years. She was a living presence with traits, traditions and a relationship history with us! So her absence was keenly felt.

A picture of Roxanne laying behind the couch. She is a big, long dog who looks a little bit like a beagle on stilts.
Roxanne

I know that some people have more than one dog at a time and while we had considered it, we never did it. There were reasons, expense mostly, but also each of our dogs has seemed to be like “only children” who wanted all of our attention and did not want to share. Some folks, when they realize their family pet is well into old age and may leave at any time, bring a new pet into the household and we weren’t going to do that. Plus, even though Roxanne was almost 15, we didn’t sense the end coming. So we agreed, and I said it, “No new dogs until I have retired and we are in our own home.” But then…

But then one day a friend and parishioner came to our home with his roto-tiller to till garden space for us and brought his beloved Lucy, a friendly, loving Bassett Hound. They were at our house for a relatively short time, but when they left, and Lucy went with her master, I began to have a deeper sense of what was missing in our home. Puppy love; but more than that, devoted presence, dependent distraction from the cares of life?

Well, we were getting ready to go on vacation, so no decision, no adoption yet. But once again my sweet spouse began to read to me from the classified ads. A shelter near us had a Beagle that needed a home. His name, I think, was Tucker. He read that more than once, and we talked about it a little bit, and said, perhaps, when we got home from vacation, we would visit the shelter and check it out and take a look see at Tucker. Then we went on vacation. I don’t remember the details of where we stayed, or how long we were gone, except that while we were away, we visited two families who are friends, who also had sweet affectionate dogs. Doxie loved hanging at our heels and being petted and was generally sweet. I was in trouble.

Then there was Maggie, my friend Carol’s dog. Maggie was a big dog, a Labradoodle and although she was routinely cautioned away from us and the table, came around and loved to be petted. Perhaps it was me and not the dogs who needed to be warned off. They should have met us, me especially, at the door with signs that said, “Hi Michele, DO NOT PET THE DOG! But they didn’t and I did. When vacation was over, I probably asked more than once, “Well, do you want to go to the shelter to see if they still have Tucker?”

So we went, but Tucker was at the other facility getting some needed medical treatment. But they did have another Beagle. A few actually. They brought Misty out to meet us and I knew I was in trouble. In puppy love. My husband says too, that he knew as soon as Misty pranced into the room, that she would be going home with us.

Picture of a beagle with a harness, sitting on the back seat of my car.
Misty the Wonder Dog

Misty was a popular dog at the shelter and on outings to schools or when school children visited. Everyone loved Misty and loved to feed her. She had acquired a nick-name among the shelter staff: “Porkchop.” She got some exercise and a more regular diet when she got home with us. She loved to be taken for walks and she loved to hunt. Unlike Sam, our first Beagle, she would go diving into the brush, through the woods, on a trail, no matter. Misty had been a hunting dog, part of a pair (a brace) of dogs and been surrendered when her human was getting to a place in life when he could no longer care for her. He kept good records though and that was nice to have, especially since we had no information on Sammy at all.

I did make two mistakes with Misty that cost me, but it was okay. We filled out the paperwork to adopt her, but had to come back the next day, to give them time to check our references. It gave us time to, to get a dog crate, leash, collar and all the things one needs for a new dog. None of that was a mistake. The problem was I had to leave for a conference 45 minutes after we brought Misty home. I was gone four nights and three days, which was plenty of bonding time for her and Roger. When I got home, she was already his, or, truth be told, he was hers. A good friend referred to my husband as “her (Misty’s) Roger.”

To make up for what I missed, when I got home, I let her get on the couch. I wanted to be able to sit with her and pet her. We had not let either of our other two dogs on the furniture. Not that they never found their way there; but they were not invited or given permission. Since I gave Misty permission, she assumed that she owned the couch and was never dissuaded. Did I say that she adored my husband? She would get onto the couch, throw herself up against his side, throw her head back, looking up to him in total adoration. It soon became clear that where Misty was concerned, I was the other woman.

picture of a white bowl with scraps of gingerbread.
Gingerbread house scraps

Despite being the other woman, she was my constant companion in the kitchen, especially during what I lovingly call “The Gingerbread season.” If you are making gingerbread for houses, it plumps when you bake it and you have to trim it while it is hot, or the pieces won’t fit together correctly. She was always willing to get rid of the evidence. She ate her food very fast, vacuumed it out of the dish. That probably came from being one of two dogs and competing for food. The funniest thing she ever did where food was concerned though, was the time I gave her a little bit of leftover chili and rice. I thought it was a treat. She barked at it and would not touch it!

One day, when Roger and I were both sitting on the couch, she came up to me and put her paws on my knees. That’s sweet, I thought, she wants me to pet her! No, that wasn’t it. She used me for a ladder to climb up onto the couch and promptly went over to him, threw herself against in and looked back up at him in adoration. Admittedly, I was gone a lot, meetings, classes, gatherings, etc. and I was working on my Doctor of Ministry Degree which meant two weeks in January in Rochester and two weeks in June for three years. Roger was home.

She did get back at me though. One time Roger was away for a few days and I was working on homework. I had to leave her alone 3 times in one day to tend to different pastoral functions. The first two times she was great. So I didn’t pen her in. She never did like or adapt to the crate. The third time I left her was not the charm. She got a page out of my notebook that I had carefully written notes about my reading, and chewed it a bit but mostly tore it up. But I am stubborn. I taped it together and took it with me to school to prove that even at a post-grad level, my dog ate my homework!

To be fair, I was always greeted warmly enough when I came home and it’s not that she didn’t like me. Sometimes, it really did hurt. In theory she was my dog, in reality he was her master, her hero. One other time she climbed up on the couch on my side of the couch and I thought I was going to get some attention, but no, I was just convenient. She practically ran over to him on the other side of the couch. But I could not have not loved that dog. And for many reasons, but here is one. The picture below is not as clear as I wish it was, but it is important, and worth way more than a thousand words.

picture of a beagle curled up at a man's feet.
Misty the Comforter

In 2015 my husband was diagnosed with cancer and our family doctor told me to prepare myself. It was a rough go round and I know many have gone through that. The treatment made him sick, and almost killed him, the side-effects did the same, and then the treatment for the side-effects was no picnic either. We were fortunate in many ways because he was the first patient in our health system to receive a newly approved cancer drug and he is alive today because of it. But through those rough, weeks and months, Misty was faithful. Never underfoot, always near by and ready to cuddle up with “her Roger.” How could I not love a dog like that?

Picture of eagle curled up on a blanket
Another picture of Misty, curled up at Roger’s feet.

In March of 2019 we learned that Misty had an inoperable tumor in her bladder. We weren’t sure what to do at first, because despite the diagnosis, she seemed pretty normal, ate and drank and played and showed no signs of pain. The vet gave us medication that would help minimize symptoms and we agreed to monitor her. She had six good months that she might not have had, if we had reacted immediately. When it came to her last day, it was pretty clear it was the end of the road. Our vet was very compassionate and we never let a dog cross that rainbow bridge alone. We held each one, cried and mourned.

Why Beagles? I don’t know how to answer that. Many are bred for hunting, but I am not a hunter. I think they are really cute and the dogs we have had, have been great members of the family. I am glad that we were able to give her a home and she gave us laughter and so much more. I blame Lucy, our friend’s Bassett Hound. I blame Doxie and Maggie too. But I guess most of all I blame Lucy, or maybe the right word is credit, for encouraging me especially to visit the shelter and adopt a dog who needed us as much as we needed her.

(Photo credit for featured image at top of page: Photo by Arteim Beliaikin from Pexels)

Last Day of Vacation

It is my last full day at home, and I have come to the Canal for one last look. I have taken several pictures with my phone, sometimes needing to point, shoot and hope, because the glaring of the sun obliterates any view on my phone screen, and I am no photographer. When I think I have taken as many of these “seeing, yet not seeing” pictures as I should, I tell myself that it is time to go, gas up my car, work my way through my vacation rental gathering and packing anything I won’t need in the morning and prepare for the trip home.

Picture of the Cape Cod Canal taken at the Herring Run Recreation Area, facing the Sagamore Bridge. Clear sky, blue water, green grass
Herring Run Recreation Area Just above the Sagamore Bridge

It is time to be efficient and mature and say good-bye to the Canal and leave, but something catches my eye and it freezes my feet to the ground. So, I return to my car to retrieve my notebook and find a place to sit. The wind seems to swirl the water a bit, but there are no waves. I learned that this is caused by the current and not the wind. They swirling circles are eddies, pulling in the opposite direction of the current. None the less, the water passes, moving east to Sandwich at a fair clip. Yet, the movement of the water is smooth and reflective like glass. The sun shines on the water and it shimmers in places. The current moves the water along, as if to say to the water, “move along, there is nothing to see here.”

There are many eddies of different sizes and I wonder if I would stare at them long enough if a fish will push through the water or if I tried to focus on one eddy, how long I could keep it in view. Occasionally a bird, a Canada Goose maybe, will sweep down across the water as though it were coming in for a landing but not quite touching it, looking for food, I imagine. Then, as quickly as it arrived, it takes off again. By now, the eddies that passed by my spot are probably at the Sagamore Bridge on their way out to sea.

Clouds reflecting in the water of the Cape Cod Canal, stones along the water's edge.
A beautiful clear October Day at the Cape Cod Canal

I want to take a few more pictures or buy them. I want pictures of the Railroad Bridge in Buzzards Bay and the Bourne Bridge and the Sagamore Bridge that cross the canal, taking countless visitors to Cape Cod. The bridges were both built between 1933-1935 and are some of the most familiar landmarks of my childhood. Seeing them for the first time makes me draw in my breath. I want pictures of my childhood homes too, but there is not enough wall space in my home, so I will have to carefully catalog these sights and store them in my heart.

picture of a sail boat on the canal, a square, wooden picnic table and the fence along the park.
My last look before leaving the Canal

Perhaps what I long for most of all is a video of this gracefully moving water that I can play it over-and-over again. There are some wonderful pictures posted on Facebook taken by good photographers with expensive equipment and daring shots. Colorful sunrises and sunsets, and nighttime pictures of the Railroad Bridge. I admire them and am grateful that a friend has shared them with me in my newsfeed. But this is the view right here, the blue glass water, the sun shining on the canal making the water shimmer, the blue sky and white clouds, the gentle breeze and the persistent current.

This is the picture that I want. The sound of the traffic on the road behind me cannot tarnish the feel of the breeze and this sight on my being. Sitting here, I think I understand how Robert Frost might have felt when he wrote “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening.” I do not want to go. But home, family and work beckon; so I grow up, gather my things, including a perfect half of a mussel shell and leave behind a tear.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Water Works

I grew up on Onset, Massachusetts. We did not have a park or a playground in the section of town that I called home, Point Independence. We had something much better: the beach. Onset sticks out into Buzzards Bay, like chubby fingers on a child’s hand, spread out in the Bay so that each finger is surrounded by water on three sides. It is difficult to drive around Onset without catching glimpses of the Bay. My street ends at the water, ending about two feet above the beach sand. In the years since I left home the boat population has soared and what used to be Janes’ Yacht Yard (Now Safe Harbor and Onset Bay Yacht Sales) and the Point Independence Yacht Club have both grown in size. We used the Maple Street drop off as one way to get to the beach, at low tide that is; at high tide the water comes up to the drop off.

Picture of Onset Bay and Point Independence with an Inn
Photo of Point Independence Inn, Photo Courtesy of Onset Bay Association

There is a lane directly down to the beach from our old house and that was always a better choice to get to the beach, otherwise one would have to walk a couple of blocks on the main street to get to a better access point for the beach. Yet, thanks to the finger effect of the shoreline, there is a lot of tourist friendly beach in Onset. The shore was so curvy, that it gave the impression that it had been laid out by a capricious artist, who carved and chiseled the shore, curving this way and that, at whim. The part of Onset Beach that we claimed, west of the Point Independence Yacht Club, was a low frills kind of beach. There were ropes with flotation devices to denote the swimming area, but no life guards or rafts, that I remember. Those were at the main beach in town that attracted the tourists who didn’t rent houses in Point Independence.

Having grown up near the inlet waters of Buzzards Bay and so close to the Cape Cod Canal, I have always had a fascination-fear relationship with water. Most of the bad storms that came our way were nor’easters, and they can be pretty bad. Plus the fact that we always lived close to the beach probably increased the fear factor. In Point Independence, the beach and thus the Bay were about two hundred yards down the lane. When we lived at the Union Villa, we were just across the street from the beach and the pier. For me at least, that proximity to big water made it that much more fearsome.

If you do not live in New England or the Northeast, you can learn more about Nor’easters from the National Weather Service. But let me share a picture. I arrived home in Onset on October 17th, the day after a Nor’easter had gone through the area. Actually, it lasted a little longer than a day. It was sunny but very windy when I blew into town. The water was only a little choppy, but it seemed like more than a typical high tide, and the water was an angry green. I had to take the picture from my car because the wind was strong enough I could not get my door open more than a few inches.

Picture of the beach, the day after a storm. Picture was taken from my car window.
Photo from my car, taken on Onset Pier, October 17, 2019

There were hurricanes that made it up to Massachusetts in the 1950’s (and certainly later too). One memorable Hurricane in the 1950’s lifted up one of the snack bars in town off its moorings (Kenny’s Salt Water Taffy). There were booklets published with pictures of all the local storm damage. As young as I was, I still shiver when I think about the high water mark of those hurricanes. There was a beach front house that had a large privacy wall. It was the last house on the left of our lane at the beach. Walking past that wall and seeing the high water mark that was several feet above my head, in a place that normally the water didn’t even reach at high tide, gave me shivers for sure, as well as a healthy respect for water. Perhaps that is where and how my fascination-fear of water was born.

The dirt lane that went from the edge of our property all the way to beach front served was a good path down to the beach. When I remember those storms, mom is still my hero. She had a knack for making it seem like everything was okay, or trying to make a game out of it, even if she was scared. The wind drove the rain sideways as it pelted our windows. We couldn’t help but wonder if the water would make it all the way up to our home. Mom moved the overstuffed chairs from the living room to the dining room to be closer to the heat and we sat at the table playing parcheesi and rummy and probably even fish. The storm windows were full length windows, with thick wooden frames and they latched over the regular windows somehow, and shook and rattled in the strong gales of the hurricane winds and shook our bones as well.

In June, July and August, the beach was a great place for sounds as well as sights. You could hear the voices from a hundred different conversations going on at once, blended in with the static from transistor radios. The voices of life guards calling through megaphones to kids fooling around on the rafts, were mixed in with the cries of circling seagulls. There were other sounds as well coming from the snack shack, that were noticeable as one stood inline to place an order. You could hear the sizzle of hotdogs or hamburgers frying on the grill, the boiling sound of the oil, as baskets of French fries and onion rings were dunked into them. Then of course, there was the ca-ching, ca-ching of the cash register being rung up, and the occasional sound of coin wrappers being hit on the side of the register to break them open as the coins fell into their holders. Even today when I see a cashier do that, I think of an egg being cracked open and its contents spilled onto a hot griddle or frying pan.

A picture of Onset beach in the summer, with people on the beach, umbrellas, lifeguard stands, etc.
Onset Beach, Courtesy of the Onset Bay Association

Beaches are inviting places, even to the locals and when we went out to play during the summer, it was most often to play at the beach. We went to lay on the hot crystalline white sand, to dig in the water logged sand at low tide and try our hand at sand castles, not unlike the tourists.

We went to swim or wade in the water, dodging seaweed and crabs and the gasoline rainbows left by the motor boats and yachts. We even collected sea shells and carried sand pails. As a rule, the locals didn’t own or carry beach umbrellas, we sold them. We didn’t wear tee shirts that said “Cape Cod Massachusetts,” we were there for the duration. Not that we resented the tourists; that was how many families, including mine, earned a living. But in a sense, the tourists were fair-weather friends. When the warmth was gone, the wealth was too. Maybe that’s why we called them “summer people.”

The Cape Cod Canal on a sunny day, the clouds are reflected in the water, the rocks line the side of the canal.
Cape Cod Canal, October 2019

It was in Onset that I first learned about the musical qualities of water. I remember the woosh-swish sound of the water, rising and falling on the beach, as though the bay were breathing. Although I moved away from there almost fifty years ago, it takes very little effort to recall the sound of the water climbing and falling up the gentle slope of our little beach. It is streams and creeks that are most noticeably musical. If you stand besisde a creek long enough, you can begin to discern the sound of notes and tones as the water rushes over various shapes and sizes of stones, rocks, boulders, sticks and fallen trees. The creek seems to sing as it passes by, the larger the rock, the deeper the tone: it is the music of the earth and sea.

My connection with water is undeniably sentimental and very much rooted in my childhood, but it is so much more. It is a connection with life itself that is both sensual and spiritual. I cannot drive by water without wanting to stop and admire it, whether it is a stream, lake or ocean, man made or natural. I want to know every stream I cross; I want to know the width of the stream, and the quality and depth of the water. I steal looks as I pass by, snatches of observations, to peer into the clear water and see the outline of every rock that lines its path. I don’t name the streams or call them mine, but I notice when they are low, when the huge rocks often covered with speeding water are dry and bleached looking. Sometimes the streams overflow their banks with café-au-lait colored water, moving at a clip that would suggest it was being chased by something much bigger, more fearsome than itself.

Picture of the Cape Cod Canal at the Herring Run Recreation area, just above the Sagamore Bridge.
Herring Run Recreation Area, The Cape Cod Canal, just above the Sagamore Bridge

As a child I learned to ride in the car with one eye on the road and one eye on the canal or bay and that is the way I drive now. One eye on the road ahead, and one eye out for any body of water that does me the kindness of running parallel to the road on which I am traveling. Often, it is the Susquehanna River. Sometimes it is Sugar Creek, Towanda Creek or the Tioga River. I drive with a sense of longing, wanting to stop, to ponder and drink in the view, though I can’t drink the water. When the river and streams are overflowing, muddy and moving fast, that same fascination-fear pulls at me to stop and gaze. But I drive on as though some weight were holding my foot to the gas pedal. Though I seldom stop, I do not drive on without noticing or longing. In Psalm 42:7, the Psalmist wrote. “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.” Deep calls to deep, and so it is with me.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Home

As I sit at my computer, I think of some of the sayings or expressions that people have penned about home. I wonder if I will appear to be too trivial, if I mention them, like a middle school student who begins an essay with Webster’s definition of their particular subject. Perhaps no one cares what Miriam Webster defined something as, because there are so many online sources for definitions and descriptions. For myself, as much as I like and use social media, this blog, for instance, my “sort of smart” Android phone, Google and other search engines and my Kindle, I still prefer the heft and feel of my dictionary.

As a student in both college and seminary, I learned to keep my dictionary close enough that I could reach out my arm and get hold of it. This was an act I frequently found necessary, because if one tries to simply go on context one could get derailed. Maybe I needed a dictionary so often because I am not as smart as I think I might am. But the main reason, is that scholars who write text books seem to feel or be driven to show off their vocabularies, throwing multi-syllable words into every paragraph. I would circle those words in my own books to force myself to admit that I wasn’t quite sure what they meant and would be better off looking them up. Why all the bother about dictionaries and definitions? Because when used, they can open doors and windows to meaning that deepen understanding.

picture of a woman sitting on stone steps in front of an old house. A young boy sits next to her and a young girl stands facing her.
Mom, my brother and me circa 1953

But what of home? When I was growing up, I only had two homes in eighteen years, the one on Maple Street, the home of my childhood, and the Union Villa, the home of my youth. In the years since, I have lived in more than eighteen homes, in five states in fifty years. When some people leave home, they never look back. That wasn’t me. It is just that having left home, with the change of circumstances over the years, going back was, well, difficult. I wasn’t raised in a family that did much in the way of cemetery visits, none that I knew of at any rate. So, the first time I visited my grandmother’s grave was on the day my father was buried. Two years after dad died, mom moved back to Baltimore to be close to her family. As a result, the second time I visited my father’s grave (and my hometown) was twenty four years later, when my mother was buried, next to my dad.

Picture of a tomb stone in a cemetary.
Grandma and Grandpa Marcellino

We had less than 40 hours to be in Onset, so it was a quick but sentimental journey and then there was so much to get back to: packing up mom’s apartment and moving everything out, going through pictures and making decisions and then everything got busy. In the months that followed, my youngest daughter graduated from high school, the other two had long flown the nest. We moved from our four bedroom, four story rental to a two bedroom apartment and prepared for my daughter’s move to Florida. A little over two years later, we were packing again and moving to a parsonage, as I had been approved and licensed as a newly appointed United Methodist Student Pastor.

The following eight years, I was an obsessive full-time student, serving three churches (part-time?) and barely lifted my nose from a book except to preach sermons and other pastor-like tasks. Letting anyone know where I was, except the post office, and our immediate family, did not even occur to me. It is not that I never missed home (Onset) or never got home sick (boy did I). I missed my parents, who were gone, I missed the place I loved (Onset) but did not think there were any options for visits.

picture of open books and a note book on a table
Photo by Lum3n.com from Pexels

Years later, we were finally able to plan a vacation home. I was excited, to say the least. We planned a few days at Old Sturbridge Village and the rest of the time at home in Onset. That trip had to be cancelled at the last minute due to a health crisis. By the time my husband was released from the hospital there was precious little vacation time for such a trip. We tried again a few years later, I registered for my Fortieth High School reunion but, once again we had to cancel due to health reasons. During all these years, I really did not have any contact with classmates or my father’s family, so it was all about place, but not people.

After cancelling two trips, I told my husband the next time I wasn’t going to plan, we were just going to go. Spontaneously. Ten years past. As I prepared for retirement in the spring of 2018, a life changing invitation came my way, though I didn’t realize how big an impact it would have. I was invited to do a wedding in Maine, that summer. I readily accepted. Not long after accepting, I realized that the location in Maine was just four hours north of Onset. I was going to do the wedding and I was going home. Because I would be retired at the time of the wedding, I assumed we could take an open ended vacation. However, after the details were set, I accepted an appointment to serve two churches part-time. That changed my open ended vacation to once again, only have 2 days to be in town.

The primary image for the Beach Girl Chronicles. Onset beach on a cloud day. sand, seweed and water with an old building to the right.
Onset Beach, September 2018 ~ The Beach Girl Chronicles

We arrived in Onset on a cold, cloudy, sometimes rainy day. I did not care! I drove around and around, stopping, walking on the beach, taking lots of silly pictures of gulls on the beach, on the Onset pier and pictures of home. When my husband and I talked to a friend after our return she asked about our trip. His response, “Well, let’s see. We saw the house where she grew up, we saw the beach. We saw where her grandmother’s house used to be and the Union Villa, and we walked on the beach. We saw the house where she grew up…” I suppose he was bored. It’s okay; but I could not get enough of drinking in views and memories, sights, scents and sounds. A beach on a cloudy day is better than no beach at all, and clouds and drizzle do not prevent the search and rescue of a few sandy seashells.

picture of an old home. it is the same house as in the previous picture with the woman, boy and girl, but 65 years later.
Home from birth until March 1962, when we moved to the Union Villa

I had really thought this trip home would be a once and done. After all, I had no contact with old friends, did not know any of my dad’s family or have contact information for them. This trip was about memory and place, and a slice or two of pizza and at least one seafood dinner. It was a bittersweet trip, because while there were people in town who vaguely remembered the Union Villa when it was a bar, there was no one in town, fifty years later, who could say, “Oh yes, I remember Jack and Maggie.” Bitter. Sweet. But there was this surprising, nudging, nagging thought. Every place we went, every place I set my feet, that thought came as a simple word: “Write!”

And I understood that ‘once and done’ was not going to work. I wanted more; I needed more. So, I began to hope, plan, plot, dream, calculate and wonder if there was a way I could return. I did not expect such a profound pull on my heart, on my whole being to return. I had thought it was all about memory, but I think now it was about something larger. I began to wonder if I had left something behind when I moved away, something more significant than the things one fails to grab and throw into a suitcase before checking out. While I could share simple answers to that soul searching, the truth is that journey continues.

Serendipitously, I found contact information for a high school classmate before leaving town. It turned out that I was two weeks shy of being in town for the Fiftieth Class Reunion. Coming back for the celebration was not an option, but she put me in touch with other classmates and we connected through Facebook. I am grateful for that in more ways than I can say. When I was able to return to Onset for an entire week, to visit, take more pictures of gulls on the beach return again and again to my childhood home, connect with family I didn’t know I had and write, “Write!” I learned some important things. Many other people in the last fifty years have come to rightly claim Onset as their home. Some of them are quite active in supporting their town and helping it be what it is today and they are doing great work. (See http://www.onsetbay.org) I know that in that sense, Onset is only where I am from, it is not where I live. For me, it is home in the past tense. Yet, not.

Light blue ceremaic mug with small bowl and plate, dark blue outlines and pink flower in the center

I know some people who have never wandered far from home, who have at least lived in a discrete small radius from home. This applies to most of my in-laws, except one who left the state for his education and whose work keeps him darting all over the map. But most have stayed close. I know some people who have either bought what they lovingly refer to as the “old homestead,” or who never left it. My brother and I both left early on, both traveled differently but permanently. My children also left the nest behind, each of them in their late teens. My fault, I admit. I raised them on tales of my adventures, leaving home to visit my brother, getting my driver’s license at 19 and getting my first apartment. But I also tried to nurture their dreams and not hold them back with apron strings.

My husband and I have been together longer and lived together longer, than anywhere we have lived in our lives or anyone we have been with, almost thirty-four years. Two years ago, just before my retirement we bought our first home together. Every day I thank God for our home. It is a simple, old house, for a simple old couple and a goofy dog. It too, is home. Thirty four years ago he said to me, “Anywhere I hang my hat is home,” and then later, “Anywhere you are is home.” That is an important, yet humbling reality.

As a pastor, and a pair of parsonage dwellers we lived with a realistic sense that every home was ours to use, part of the benefit package, but not truly ours. Home. But not home, until the Bishop determined otherwise. Three such homes in twenty three years, to hang our hats and be together, not rooted in place, just simply tethered.

Picture of a brown turtle on green grass.
Photo by laura parenti from Pexels

Like a turtle that carries its home on its back, so I have carried home with me, in seashells and beach sand, cranberry scoops and Portuguese Pottery. I have carried them from house to house, state to state and some thing more precious than even those. Some thing that does not require bubble wrap, or shipping charges. Some thing that will not fade or crack like an old photograph and some thing that the heart might not be the right combination of delicacy and strength to hold. These are the things I have carried in my soul. And that begs the question: is home where you live, or something much more?

I am just a vintage chick on a journey of discovery, and I am not, NOT holding back the tide.

Michele Marcellino Somerville

Life at the Union Villa

Life at the Union Villa, when we lived there, was like a cross between “Joe the Bartender” from the Jackie Gleason Show* and Cheers.** My dad was definitely “Joe the Bartender,” well, “Jack the Bartender.”  “Joe the Bartender” was a regular skit on the Jackie Gleason show. As each scene opened, the doors of the bar would part, to reveal Joe wiping off the bar and singing “My Gal Sal” although it was barely recognizable. He would pour a drink for Mr. Dunahee, whom the audience never saw, and start a conversation. Eventually Joe would invite a local named “Crazy Gugenheim” to join in the conversation. “Crazy” was played by Frank Fontaine.

How was life at the Union Villa like Joe the Bartender? Joe was a big guy, wearing a white dress shirt, wiping down the bar singing off key and holding forth with the customers. That was dad. Although he would not drink during the busy season of Memorial Day through Labor Day, in the off season he would have a few drinks with the fellas at the end of the bar. When he had had enough to drink, or rather too much, he would sing “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” while wiping down the bar.  That was dad and I had no doubt then, or now that he was singing it for my mother!

Picture postcard of The Union Villa circa 1945

The similarities with Cheers was mostly in the downstairs, although it was just three steps down, not a whole flight, and in the special group of regulars that hung at the end of the bar. They nick-named themselves “The Dirty Corner.” I have no intention of being crude here, just describing the atmosphere and my family.  Dad would hang in the corner with them when it wasn’t too busy.

There were some customers who came in for a beer or two on their way home from work, but these guys stayed, for hours it seemed. They were always nice to me and careful around me and in many ways, some of the guys seemed like extended family, especially Dick and Hoppy, and others to some extent. They were not only regulars at the bar, but they were regulars in dropping in for a few free drinks at the apartment, when the bar was closed for the winter.

I never felt that I wasn’t safe around them and there was a lot of good-natured teasing. When they decided they had exercised enough restraint and wanted to let lose, there would be a chorus of “Good Night, Michele!” Letting me know it was time for me to move along.

picture of the writer in a white cap and gown on the steps of the Union Villa June 1968,
Me on Graduation day, 1968 on the steps of the Union Villa. In the far distance you can almost see the water of Onset Beach

A word about language and liquor: If you have been following along on my blog you know that my Dad, Jack, was a sailor. He talked like a sailor and there were probably more cuss words than non-cuss words in his general conversation.

Although I have no doubt that he knew the word, I have long been grateful that the “F-Bomb” was not one that I heard from him. When I hear such language, I wish that I could hand out small pocket versions, not of Gideon Bibles, but of dictionaries or Thesaurus’ or some other type of resource for the clean-language deprived. 

When it came to alcohol, my social world as a child was filled with it; the only difference between living at The Union Villa and life before we moved there, was the numbers of people who were imbibing. I think I became immune in some way, and I always understood that this was my parents’ business and livelihood.

picture of shelves in a bar with wine and  hiskey bottles
Photo by Chris F from Pexels

There were many perks to life at the Union Villa. I should say that biggest perk was that my dad was home, and not at sea. It was especially a bonus for my parents. They worked hard and had a good strong work ethic. In the early part of the season, and after Labor Day, they did everything themselves, which meant that dad was the only bartender and mom was the only person in the kitchen.

Once a day mom would tend bar, so dad could go upstairs to shower and change. She did most of the cooking, but dad made the spaghetti sauce and the meatballs.

Mom made the pizza sauce, the pizza dough and made the pizzas as well as sandwiches (Meatball Subs, and Italian subs, and occasionally she made stuffed Quohogs.) The first year, she sliced peppers and onions and made a design on each pizza.

After that she got wise and chopped everything up and kept things moving. I wish I had her recipe for the pizza dough, just for sentimental reasons, but it made 36 pizzas and I have never made more than two at a time.

picture of garlic, red and green pepper chilis, mushrooms and pasta on red and white checked table cloth
Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels

In theory, all our meals could have been pizza or spaghetti and I have not outgrown my love of pizza. Mom made sure to cook real meals for us, so that we ate well, even though we couldn’t sit at the table and eat together.

In the busy season, from Memorial Day until Labor Day, there was extra help, an additional bartender, one waitress and one extra person in the kitchen. I helped where I could and I wanted to, I never felt required to do it.

On occasion, I made pizza dough and could roll and make a pizza, if it wasn’t rush time. I mostly folded pizza boxes, but not at the rapid pace I have seen on recent television commercials.

On a busy night in the summer, they might make as many as 100 pizzas or a little more. I know that is nothing today, but it was a barroom that sold food, not a restaurant that sold liquor.

My father could be outrageous. When a friend visited, dad would ask him, in front of the whole bar, “Young man, what are your intentions toward my daughter?” There were only 2 boys I knew who could stand up to that kind of treatment and still come back, my best friend, and the boy I eventually married, who was my best friend’s college roommate.

Once a boy came to see me and ordered a pizza. Dad said, “I’ll give you the pizza free if you go get a haircut.” (1965). Not surprisingly, he did not come back.

For my own part, I could be a bit of a brat. Sometimes when I had a quarter to put in the juke box, I would play, Ray Charles’ “Hit the Road Jack” though I never meant it.  When dad was drinking during the off season, I would take a magic marker and mark the line on the Jim Beam bottle (his preferred drink) before I went to bed. And when I went behind the bar to kiss him goodnight, I would ring the ship’s bell. I knew that would only be annoying if he had a hangover, but I did it to be, well, a brat.

picture of a pepperoni pizza and pizza boxes
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Some of the more selfish perks to life at the Union Villa were that I could have pizza with my friends whenever I wanted. I could also have all the soda that I wanted, but that wasn’t as wonderful as it might seem. In the 1960’s soda bottles came with bottle caps that required a bottle opener. There were rubber stoppers with metal handles that would be inserted after the bottle was open. But I was pretty sure then, and still feel now, that dad gave me the soda from the bottom of the bottle that was going flat.

I have never been much of a picture taker and most of the pictures I have that my mom had taken were from the 1950’s. I have only two pictures of my mom and dad behind the bar and they are so old and beat up they would not show very well.

They are Polaroid pictures that I keep in a plexiglass frame and seldom remove them lest they totally fall apart. One of them is a long shot down the bar, showing many of the regular customers and dad at the other end. The other one is mom and dad in a closeup, with dad in a pressed white shirt and mom wearing a skirt and sweater with a frilly apron.

Mom wore uniforms in the kitchen, but always pretty colors. Not sure she owned any casual clothes and I never saw her in slacks until she was in her 70’s and those were pantsuits that she had made for herself. So, many pictures of mom and dad, especially at the Villa, are in my heart. All I can do is show you snapshots through stories.

 It was an interesting way to grow up, not particularly good or bad. I had many blessings and some trials. Some days I marvel at the fact that growing up in that atmosphere I did not become an alcoholic, which in some sense, seems to be a family disease. I was relatively sheltered in the midst of all that alcohol and other things. I remember the smell of stale cigarettes and beer.

I remember the noise of the bar, the sounds of the band and the player piano, Dad with a wad of chewed up cigar, not too discretely tucked in his cheek, dad ducking his head in the window to the kitchen to holler in a pizza order, “Two plain pizzas for red-shirt.”  I remember the sting of cigarette smoke in my eyes on busy Saturday nights.

I have carried these memories and stories with me for years, carefully storing them as if in a secret compartment and only hinting at them with the simple statement, “I grew up in a bar.”

Most of all, I remember life at the Union Villa with mom and dad, Jack and Maggie, during the most formative years of my life, as if it were yesterday.

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

**Cheers http://www.imdb.com › title

Created by James Burrows, Glen Charles, Les Charles. … The regulars of the Boston bar “Cheers” share their experiences and lives with each … 3:49 | TV Program

*The Jackie Gleason Show https://g.co/kgs/CH8epX

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