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The Cape at Summer’s End: Cape Cod Yesterdays!

By (September 2, 2016) No Comment

ccodyesterdaysOur book today is Cape Cod Yesterdays, which bestselling novelist Joseph C. Lincoln dashed off in 1935 and which went through his customary flurry of reprints, since the man was a storyteller with a golden touch, an immensely popular bestselling author of a century ago who built a large chunk of his career on his skill at doing what he does in Cape Cod Yesterdays: wax nostalgic for Cape Cod.

He often did this by setting his gentle, enormously readable novels in a kind of fantasy-Cape, but in Cape Cod Yesterdays he gives his readers the experience undistilled – he offers his readers a trip to “old times on the Cape – not very, very old times; at the most not more than a generation ago – if you care to travel lazily back to a boyhood or girlhood spent in whole or in part on the ‘right arm of Massachusetts’” and then brings them to those times, ably aided with paintings and drawings by Harold Brett.

This is the #1 favorite – very nearly requisite – occupation of all people who’ve evercape4 spent any time on Cape Cod, in fact: reminiscing about some earlier incarnation of the place, when there were fewer goll-dang amenities, fewer distractions, and most importantly, fewer people. This earlier incarnation is never much earlier – as Lincoln writes, not very, very old – because the people doing the wistful gazing know perfectly well that the very, very old Cape Cod was nothing to get wistful about. No, instead their Shangri-La Cape Cod has to be always just slightly out of reach, lingering at the edge of the recollections of some of the adults in the room:

The motorcar is a comparatively recent invention, but then, counting by lifetimes, so is the railway – for Cape Cod. Many of us can easily remember when the branch railroad to Chatham was built. Before that, you left the train at Harwich and finished your journey by stage.

cape2(Cue a painting by Brett of that Harwich stage trotting away on a crystal blue day)

I make no exception for myself, needless to say: I reminisce about vanished Capes Cod every year at this time, when the subtle changing of the season that began imperceptibly in mid-August finally becomes overt, when shadows lengthen at twilight and early morning dog-walks wear the first tang of autumn chill. I always find myself thinking about Cape Cod at summer’s end, reliving in my memories all the times of my long association with the place. I remember walking beaches and silver forests with little crowds of dogs at my shins (the dogs of my various hosts, plus my own inevitable knot of beagles, their tails straight up in the air like flags); I remember happy feasts and long evenings talking and laughing on screened porches or beachfront balconies; I remember reading in guest-bedrooms under slanted cape1ceilings; I remember poking around in tidal pools for all the curious things that live there; I remember browsing in dust-smelling second-hand bookshops on hot afternoons … and, like Lincoln, I remember with special relish the indescribable joy of hunkering down in an unweatherized Cape house as a storm raged outside:

Those winter winds! How they used to howl and whine and shriek and whistle about the gables of our house when I went upstairs to my small bedroom or when I woke in the morning. At times only a mournful crooning, rising and sinking and whispering at the window. But, at other times, when what the old salts call a “three-day no’theaster” was raging, then they did not croon, they howled. The window sash shook, the panes roared as the torrents of rain were thrown against them, the old house trembled, the bed quivered, the water pitcher on its stand in the corner tinkled against the basin.

cape3Cape Cod Yesterdays has of course itself now become a curio (bedroom water pitchers in stands?), and new Cape-when-I-was-young books have taken its place, featuring grainy black-and-white beach house TV reception, or dodgy Wi-Fi, and they’ll continue (“When I was a boy, you could fly a drone all around Barnstable County without a government permit … ah, those were the days …”) as long as people keep finding things at Cape Cod that they don’t find anywhere else, as long as the Cape keeps on with its effortless way of making beautiful memories. I could write many such books myself – maybe not as many as lucy reads about cape cod yesterdaysJoseph Lincoln did, but many – especially in years like this one, when sad duties keep me from visiting the Cape at all. I can think of the place at summer’s end, but there’s no option of packing a bag and hopping on a bus to one of the two doors that would be open to me if I went.

But I can visit it in my memories, and those memories get more burnished and comfortable with every passing year. I suspect that’s how the whole rigamarole began.

Home » stevereads

The Cape at Summer’s End: Cape Cod Yesterdays!

By (September 2, 2016) No Comment

Home » stevereads

The Cape at Summer’s End: Cape Cod Yesterdays!

By (September 2, 2016) No Comment