This Thing Called Courage

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Rockport Part I

I HAVEN'T POSTED IN A WHILE because my mom is up from Florida for a good part of the summer, and she's been with me for a while. When she arrived last week I told her there were three things I needed her assistance with: the new thingys for the stove-top; identifying and figuring out how to work some kind of food prcessor/cuisinart thing I discovered in my attic; and rearranging the towels on the bathroom shelf so they would all fit (she has this neat way of folding them that's beyond me.)I asked her what she wanted to do this morning and she said how about rearranging the towels, but it was far too nice a day for that (and I can't imagine a day inclement enough for such an activity.) I suggested instead a trip to Cape Ann for the day, specifically Rockport, Massachusetts, on the "stern, storm-bound coast of New England." She readily agreed, and we were off.

Well, it wasn't quite as simple as that. Getting-there-is-half-the-fun department, she refused to ride in 'that death trap' (my car) and so I suggested instead we rent something. The fact that the a/c doesn't work in my car weighed heavily on her decision, I think, as did the fact that she borrowed my car yesterday to have lunch with Aunt Mary and, she said, it took both her feet on the brake to stop the damn thing. This necessitated a trip to the car rental place(she had a coupon, of course) whcih, alas, was in the Heart of Darkness, a place I avoid like a cholera ward, i.e., the Mishawaum Road/Cummings Park section of Woburn, where the hellish practice of anything-goes-suburban-sprawl has been raised to a fine art. I would imagine the legislative bodies responsible for the nightmare of concreate, asphalt, and big box stores that thrive here were either: a. as utterly inept in their responsibilities as the Bush Administration; or b. as open to bribery as the members of the Bush Admintsration. It's like that 'Pleasure Island' in Pinnochio, except instead of getting to smoke cigars and gamble, that environmentally-fatal creature, the American Consumer, gets to buy their little heart out: you want Lowe's? We got it! Home Depot? We got it! Car dealerships? We got 400 of'em! Kohls? Pier 1 Imports? Staples? Comp USA? Got them too! And of course all these consuming people have to frequently Consume as well, so the area is riddled with those nasty chains that evoke happier days that never were, where eating is FUN FUN FUN! and, if you're lucky, and living large and wild and dangerously, you MIGHT get to buy that cute new girl in accounting a margharita!: TGIF's, Fudruckers, Applebee's, Friendly's, etc etc ad nauseum. There are traffic lights every ten feet, but this only exacerbates the utter chaos and gridlock that grips this tree-less, sterile blast furnance of a place; one longs for Dante to adequately describe how heinous this area is. But, as the accomodating host....

The car rental people (all unnervingly polite and yet pushy at the same time and energetic Morman-looking young men with white shirts and black pants and striped ties) wanted to give us one of those nasty little things that look like a gangster's car from the 1930's that, in a cartoon, fell into a puddle and shrunk, and came out ashamed and chagrined and raced away with high-pitched squeaks. "Don't you have anything bigger?" Mother asked. Well hey, as a matter of fact they did. For only a few more pesos, one could get a 2008 Cadillac DeVille!!! Mother looked at me. "What do you think?" she asked. "Oh, what the heck," I said. "When in Rome...let's go for the Ho' Wagon." Thus it was that we arrived in Rockport some time later (Mother was starving so we had to stop for infinite-shelf-life cheese and cracker packets at a gas station) one hour later in a very classy, classy style. Fortunately none of my eco-feminist tree-hugging friends saw me. I kept looking-- dubiously- at the gas gauge and was astonished that it didn't seem to be moving at all. "My GOD, still half a tank!" I kept exclaiming. Then I realized I was looking at the temperature gauge instead...oops. Along the way, we passed through many beautiful, sea-girt places, and the names invited further exploration, for which we didn't have time: Annisquam, Bass Rock Road, Grapevine Street, Manchester By the Sea, Bear Skin Neck, etc.

At any rate, Rockport was as lovely as always, and truly has the best house architecture of any place in America I know (a very simple example of this being the house with the purple door, above). It combines three of my favorite things-- water, stone, and charm-- in such a beautiful and unique way. We were starving when we arrived so we decamped to the first restaurant we came to, the Blacksmith House which, yes, was actually a smithy going back to 1820. Until recently they used the old forge to cook their meats, they said. It was right on Rockport Harbor, and the view from our window seat was lovely (see other pic above). We both opted for the haddock dinner, which was exceptional. The waitress was a bit of a North Shore hippy, none the better for the heat (the place was not air conditioned) and mother kept her running I can assure you. I took out my notebook and began jotting things down. When I told Mother I was noting things for my blog, she said, "Don't forget to tell them about the..." and now, alas! I have forgotten! Maybe in part two I will recall this admonition.

At any rate she kept asking the waitress for information about Martin Ahearn, who used to be president of the Rockport Art Association. He is my mother's cousin (or something-- his father, 'Uncle Martin,' was my great grandmother's youngest brother.) Uncle Martin's wife, my mother added, Aunty Bride, was "very tight" and mother unraveled two anecdotes to back up her claim. It helps to be Irish to understand such stories, and the cast of Cecille B. DeMille thousands involved, but here they are as best as I can translate: there was a family wedding way back when when our family consisted of only my parents and my older sisters Peggy and Maureen. My mother (who made her own dress, which came out so nicely, she said, someone tried to pick her up at the bar) had had enough and wanted to go home, so she did-- my father (of course) wanted to go back to the house to continue partying. When he got there Aunty Bride (mother of the bride) had things all laid out and accounted for, including sandwiches, which my father began to scoff up. Aunty Bride was horrified when he ate more than his share, and she put out the word and had one of her sons try to escort my father from the premises as a result of his screwing up her system of exact and precise alotment. That made bad blood. The second story involved another Ahearn brother who never mnarried and when he got sick, he landed at Mae O'Brien's house (another relative) down in Somerville. Mae took care of him until he died and when he did, he left his money to Mae, NOT to his sister-in-law Aunty Bride or her husband, his brother Uncle Martin (the artist Martin's father, if you're still with me on this) and Aunty Bride called up my grandmother (who really had nothing to do with it but was very close to Mae, being her first cousin) and blasted her over the phone. My grandmother was VERY reticent and did not quarrel, or ever raise her voice, but Someone Who Was There reported after the phone call that my grandmother's face was "beet red."

"But the real bad blood started," mother added, "when Mary Keating (Aunty Bride's daughter) called the police on you and Tiger Miller Christmas Eve. I NEVER forgave her for that."

"Moi?" I inquired. "She called the police on moi? I have no recollection of what you're talking about. And I think you mean Chipper Miller."

"Yes, Chipper, of course. Isn't that what I said?"


"Well anyway, she called the police on you and Tiger and I had to go down to the police station to get you. They put us in a room and allegedly left us alone, and I said to you, 'Now, Joey, tell the truth.' Course I knew they were secretly listening, that's why I said it."

"But what did we do that she called the police on us?" I asked.

"You and Tiger--"


"Yes, you and Chipper had been throwing pumpkins against Mary's house, riding by in your car and throwing pumpkins against Mary's house as you rode by, over and over again."

"Ah," I said. Alas, this was beginning to sound vaguely familiar. "But wherever did we get pumpkins on Christmas Eve?"

"You had a secret stash, no doubt. You used to love to go out in the country and steal pumpkins every fall. You and all your friends."

Just then the waitress returned with theatrical timing to report that she had Martin's ('Junior,' as the family called him, though it seems strange to call someone that when they're 89) home address and phone number, and mother placed the call immediately. "Do you wanna visit if we get the invite?" she sotto-voced to me, one hand over the mouthpiece.

"Sure," I said.

Well, we didn't get the invite, as Martin said he was in a wheelchair now and "at home," but he told us to visit his gallery in downtown Rockport, which was now run by his daughter (also named Margaret, like my mother and great-aunt and great-grandmother) and his business partner, another painter. After dinner we did, and I will save that story for the next entry.


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