Our book today is a little treasure from 1920, Cape Coddities by Dennis and Marion Chatham, dotted all throughout with charming little spot illustrations by Harold Cue. I’ve been pulling this little volume down off the shelf every year when Spring first begins to unfold in Boston; the song-birds come back to the lawns and hedges, the lilac blooms outside the window, and the middays grow warmer and warmer. It’s the time of year that first awakens thoughts of summer, and that turns those thoughts to Cape Cod, where I’ve spend many very happy summers.
It’s still a slow process, this change of seasons; the mornings are still chilly, as are the nights. But little books like Cape Coddities hurry along the process in my mind, especially since the Chathams, like so many writers, can’t resist the lure of describing that hallowed Cape vacationer ritual, the opening of the summer house as soon as possible in the season:
The family reach the house after dark on a Saturday night. The lock readily responds to familiar fingers, the door creaks a friendly welcome as the family grope their way through the hall in good-humored rivalry to see which shall be the first to secure the box of matches always kept on the right-hand corner of the mantlepiece in the living-room for this emergency. Then, as the lamps are lighted, the old familiar objects appear precisely as they had been left, perhaps six months before, with a coating of dust, to be sure, but nothing which a few moments and a dustcloth could not remove; for dust in this region is little known. True, the chairs, or at least such of them as possess cushions, gathered from all hammocks and piazza furniture; but a few deft passes by the fairy godmother of this establishment, and presto, the cushions are distributed and the sofa offers a cozy retreat for the entire party. Otherwise the living-room is livable. A fire ready laid is only waiting for a match and a turn of the hand to open the flue. Such is a cottage by the sea if it has been planned and built as it should be, not alone for summer use, but also for spring and autumn holidays.
“There is no such word as hurry in the bright lexicon of Cape Cod,” our authors write, and they spend a good deal of their book’s 150 pages describing the various kinds of leisure the Cape has always encouraged in those lucky enough to enjoy it. Clamming, antiquing, amateur fishing, relaxed lunching … the Chathams have warm, sentimental words for all of it (and they lament the tyrannical motorcar, whose chugging and churning, they fear, is permanently altering the nature of the Cape). And for those of us who’ve spent a great deal of time inland on the Cape, it’s wonderful that the Chathams included a chapter on “A Fresh-Water Cape” full of rivers and ponds:
To the majority of people Cape Cod spells sea breezes, a tang of salt in the air, scrub oaks, tall pines, stretches of and a large appetite. To the few who know the Cape from more intimate acquaintance there is added to this picture a swelling country densely wooded in sections and spotted with ponds. It is a source of never-ending wonder how these ponds exist in a country where the soil is so porous that a few minutes after a shower there is no trace of the rain.
In recent years I’ve found myself thinking about the Cape all summer long, not just at the beginning and, as I’ve always done, at the end. Many of the quaint elements of the Cape the Chathams describe are long gone in 2016, but the amazing thing about the region is how many of them that remain. The Cape Cod in the pages of Cape Coddities is immediately recognizable even a century later. It fills the reading of the book with smiles.
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