Friday, April 8, 2011

Cape Cod: Finding Friends

The rumors that I joined an abbey to cloister myself from the world are totally false.  Yes, it’s true I spent days alone, but there’s much to be said for quiet times.  I’m in good company when it comes to believing a solitary life leads to a journey within, but even Thoreau walked back into society after two years on Walden Pond.  Although, I was alone in this brave new world called Cape Cod, I needed to interact with people in some way.  I had short conversations with my 7-11 friends, said hello to passersby as I power walked each morning and connected with a diverse group of characters that I met through the hand of serendipity.  As John Donne wrote, No [woman] is an island and while I treasured my alone time, I hoped to make new friends.    

Seagull Lady

The first year I lived on the Cape, only two things kept me from paying homage daily to the majestic power of the ocean…really bad weather or being under the weather. I ventured out in wind, sleet, snow, and sprinkles. The first winter after the temperature dropped into the frigid range, I’d pull into the parking lot of Craigville Beach joining the few cars lined up as if they were at a drive-in movie, facing the ocean and watching the ever-changing spectacle.  Bundled in coats, hats, and gloves, a few brave souls ventured out of their cars defying the fierce ocean winds for a few minutes.  
 Every blustery morning that I was at the edge of the ocean, a woman crossed the parking lot toting a bucket.  She’d dip into the bucket and toss bird seed into the winter winds.  Before the seed touched the ground, frenzied seagulls transformed the black-top into a screeching sea of white feathers.  Seagull lady and I formed an unspoken acquaintance. I’d wave and smile then she’d nod her head in my direction before flinging more seed into the air offering one more look at the crazy scene that followed.   I met her hand raised in good-bye with a wave of my own and we’d each go our separate ways until the next time. Over the weeks, I looked forward to our morning meetings with an ocean view and bird seed.  The seagull hullabaloo ended with the coming of the sun, light, cars, and people.

A Washashore Meets Harry
As soon as the weather warmed I resumed my daily beach walks. It was a late afternoon walk, the heat of the sun still penetrating the sand making it warmer than the breeze that swished my ponytail. As usual, I walked head down always searching for gifts left by the sea. In my lone strolls I often got lost in thoughts unaware of my surroundings. I came to a sudden halt after nearly knocking over a white plastic bucket of slithering blue-green creatures. I quickly looked up and there stood an older gentleman with a Red Sox cap pulled down to shade his eyes.

Whooaaa there,” he said holding a long fishing pole in one hand and between his fingers a wriggling worm. I apologized for nearly knocking his bait bucket over as he threaded the thing onto a hook.

“What are you fishing for?”

“A striper would be good, but anything works for me. Not from around here are you?

“No. I’m from Ohio.”

“Yup, I could have guessed the Midwest. What brings you to Cape Cod?”

My response wasn’t really an answer, just a bit of information. “I moved here in September.”

He suggested I stand back before he cast his line so far out that I lost track of the end. While slowly working the reel he asked me another question. “What’re you running away from?”

“I’m not running away from anything.”

As he pulled the line back in, he stopped for a moment and looked at me. In my long life of experience I’ve come to know that people who leave everything behind are running from something.”

I stood in my tracks for a moment, caught off guard by the question. I hadn’t expected an arrow to piece the armor I’d so painstakingly hammered together and it took time to conjure up a response. “I don’t think I’m running away from anything. Perhaps I’m running toward something.”

“Hmmm…you may have a point there. By the way I’m Harry,” he wiped his hand on his pants before offering it to me. A good, firm grasp met my hand and we both smiled. “I’d better move along and let you get back to fishing. Someday you’ll have to explain just how surf fishing is done.”

“We call it surf casting and there’s not a whole lot to it. Just throw your line out and hope.”

“It was nice meeting you, Harry.” I said as I stepped away the question posed to me searing my brain. As I moved further down the beach I thought about running away or running toward. I suppose some run toward a new job, a new love, a new life and the chance to begin again. Others choose to escape by running away from a life unfulfilled or too difficult to endure in its present state. Which road had I taken? I wasn’t sure, perhaps a little of each.

“Stop by and chat any time you see me on the beach,” he called out.

I turned and with a smile said, “I’ll sure do that.” And I did. Over time Harry and I shared bits and pieces about our families and what we did in life. I offered glimpses into Ohio and farm life and reciprocated with stories of the Cape before it became gentrified. He likened the demise of the family farm with the fishing life on Cape Cod, often bemoaning the state of the Cape in the new millennium causing pangs of guilt that I’d moved to this paradise he’d known as a child and through his adult life as his home.

One day, while walking the same sandy beach littered with tracks from earlier beachcombers, I glimpsed Harry fishing. He focused his attention toward a flock of gulls circling over the dark waters of Nantucket Sound. Like a pas de deux between sand and water, he moved down the beach in tandem with the winged birds hovering over the ocean searching for morsels of seafood. Where there are gulls feeding there’s fish. With a whip of wrist the line arched toward the shimmer of water and wings. It was a beauty to watch. Eventually, I caught up with him. He hauled in a small fish, dropped it into the bucket, and pushed his fishing rod into the sand as I approached.

“Hey there, washashore,” he said with a smile.”

“What’s a washashore.” I asked

“You,” he said with a smug grin on his grizzled face. “A washashore is someone who wasn’t born here and grew up somewhere else,” he explained.

“That’s what I am,” I agreed, “a washashore.” I never did find out if it’s a derogatory sort of name, but I like to think old Harry thought of me in a fond way, even if I was a washashore.

“How’s the fishing today?” I asked.

“Not too bad.” He said pushing the bucket with the toe of his shoe, drawing my attention to his catch of the day.

Like every other meeting, we scratched the surface of our lives and then moved on about our business.

Ladies of the Cape
I always thought of myself as a social being; someone who thrived from interacting with others. In my previous life, I’d been ensconced with the church we attended, my children’s activities, garden club, and starting a small business. When I was one of two, I entertained friends and couples. Now, I found myself hundreds of miles from family and friends and no one to invite for dinner.

Making new friends after age 40 is not an easy task. I never realized how children open the doors to adult friendships until I didn’t have to taxi my children to play times, sport events, and school extra-curriculars. I discovered as we mature, we develop solid friendships and tight circles of friends that share a common bond. New to the Cape without children in tow, no job, and knowing no one made forming friendships difficult. The truth of the matter is that in order to meet people we must walk out the door. The first year I lived on the Cape, I may not have walked out the door enough, but I did a few times.

While MJ and  I were on our east coast road trip, we met a woman managing a shop on Commercial Street in Provincetown.  We struck up a conversation and she offered loads of information about moving to the Cape.  She gave me her phone number and told me to contact her if I ever moved to Cape Cod.  She was the first person I met with after I was settled in.  We had dinner one night at the iconic Lobster Pot in P’town.  Having a real conversation with a woman seated across the table was such a wonderful event.  We talked, had a few drinks and ate a delicious seafood meal.  I thought we’d become good friends, as she understood me better than anyone because she too moved to the Cape alone.  We had one more dinner, but by then she’d met someone and her time was taken up with work and a new love.  I ran into her a year or so later and she was preparing to move.  Her time on the Cape was over.     

My landlord, an artistic woman with drive and focus, called one day to invite me to a get together of artistic women.  I told her I’d think about going and let her know.  I didn’t want to go, I didn’t want to join anything at this stage of my life, but after a day of pondering I accepted her invitation hoping to make a few acquaintances that would turn into friends.  The Cape Cod women’s group met at an upscale restaurant with a pricey menu that I found off-putting as I cautiously counted every penny.  The ladies, all dressed to the nines, didn’t seem remotely interested in a woman that moved alone from Ohio to Cape Cod.  I stood to the side watching women hug each other, exchange business cards, and catch up on news.  The longer I was there the more I realized that I was not ready to be part of the ladies that lunch.  Had this invitation happened a year later, I believe I would have been far more receptive to the idea.  This could have been a marvelous venue for networking and pushing myself forward, but I never went back.  Instead, I remained cocooned inside my home.
My landlord, undaunted and persistent, introduced me to another divorcee who she thought would make a good friend. Unfortunately, this woman and I had little in common. After one lunch, I never contacted her again, nor did she ever phone me again. The wide berth of differences was too far to reach across. Perhaps I just didn’t have the energy to travel that distance at that time.

I believe, especially in those first few months after I moved, that I needed to go within to find what remained of me after years of putting myself on a shelf. Like most women, I was always there for whoever needed me. When cookies were needed for a bake sale, I said yes. When children needed a ride, I drove. When field work needed to be done in a hurry, I jumped on a tractor and helped. If family or friends were in need I was there. I married young, I barely knew who I was or what I really wanted in life. I’d not given myself time to explore the world, but remained in the places of my childhood. I took my job as wife and mother to heart, but the years slowly scratched at my being until I was no longer sure of who I was. So I hunkered down in my little house on Cape Cod, withdrew from the world for a time, and searched desperately for me.

The Whale Man        

Loneliness can get the better of us and it certainly did me.  In between exploring the Cape, talking to friends and family on the phone, and searching for a job, I chatted online and that’s where I met a whale man from Cape Cod.  We struck up a conversation in a chat room and suddenly I felt like Meg Ryan in the updated version of You’ve Got Mail. There were no planned meetings to chat, it was a hit or miss sort of thing, but boy was I intrigued.  Here was someone who could type intelligent, full sentences with proper punctuation.  He was quick, witty, and not too far.  Let’s meet!
Sometimes, common sense flies out the window. We met at Millway beach in Barnstable at night. This is the exact opposite of what should be done when meeting a blind date or an internet chat buddy. Keep it in public within full sight of people everywhere. What could have been a disaster turned out to be more than fine.

We greeted each other standing between our cars, shaking hands, and smiling. He asked me if I wanted to walk the beach under the stars. How could I say no? I couldn’t. So we did. It was a cool evening, but the stars shining so brightly overhead lit our way. He told me about his life and his life work with right whales. He described in detail the schooner he was building and that one day he planned to just sail away on it. I invited him back to my house, I know….not a good idea. Call it woman’s intuition or my ability to read people or maybe just plain dumb luck, but I knew I’d met a man with a sense of honor. We sat on the sofa, talking about everything from children to wildlife conservation. This was no washashore seated beside me. This was a born and raised salty, seafaring Cape Codder with intellect followed by all those letters of the highly educated. I was fascinated and he seemed captivated by this small town, Midwest country girl who knew how to drive a tractor and came searching for herself at the edge of his beloved ocean.

Did it go any farther than a mild flirtation?  Yes and no.  Over time the one thing I learned about this amazing man was that he tragically lost the love of his life and replaced her with whales.  The need to work hard, long hours and always be at the ready kept me at a distance at all times.  We shared intimate interludes, but always with the understanding that this was more a friendship with benefits than building anything that would come remotely close to a relationship.  We met impulsively when he was near Hyannis or when time allowed.  He remained a friend until I left Cape Cod.
A Few Others
I met others here and there. The bartender at Sam Diego’s who always set me up with a glass of merlot, on the house, was another interesting fellow. We’d banter about the Cleveland Indians and the Boston Red Sox and he’d fill me in on how his final year of college was going after putting his education and career creating on hiatus while he married and had a couple children.

I chatted with the cashier at Shaw’s and the librarian at the Centerville Library. I did find friends that first year, but not what I hoped for…a woman who I could build a relationship with. I longed for a female companion like I had in Ohio, someone to confide in, to go shopping with, take in a movie, or have lunch with. I met another friend who would play a significant role in my life for a few years, but his story is bigger than a mere paragraph or two, so I’ll save the telling for another day.

The photos I used were taken by my sister while she was visiting and me.  The  black and white photos were taken by my daughter.  I scanned a post card I picked up while MJ and I were on the east coast.  The whale photo on the post card was captured Alan Hudson, a Cape Cod photographer. 

I'll have another chapter ready next Friday.  Oh my....what direction shall I go? 

Have a wonderful weekend!


  1. Bits of your story resonate with me, but my bits come together differently. This is like reading a rather good novel. Since you are what someone called an 'imaginary friend' on the Internet ;~)

  2. Hi Diana...I've never thought of myself as an imaginary friend, but I am, sort of you and you are too! As I've said before, I'm skimming the top and not going too far into the tale. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

  3. What interesting characters you met!
    I like the way you told this part of your story by describing characters you (at times literally)ran into.
    Cocooning is nice but you also got yourself out there. I admire your courage.

  4. Awwww thanks MJ. Your so supportive and such a good friend. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Beautiful post...and such a wonderful read! love the photos too..captivating! beautiful!

  6. Teresa, this is a great post. I love conversations, anyway - there are plenty in my books - but these are special. Wise old Harry and the questions you both posed. We have moved many times - running away ot towards?? I suspect that the answer is sometimes one and sometimes the other, BUT, towards is so positive a stance and suits your courage at that time. I do have to say that I would have hidden away from 'ladies who lunch'. The very idea horrifies me and I really identified with your reaction.

    At some time, if you have not already, read Edith Wharton's short story 'Xingu' I thnk that you will love it - I did. It has the essence of that lunch in the tale - most amusing!

  7. Kiki...thank you for stopping by the Cottage and reading my Cape Cod tale. Your exuberance never ceases to amaze me.

    aguja...I was dumbfounded when Harry asked me such a pointed question. For a time I wondered if I looked like the part. As for the ladies that lunch...I honestly didn't give them much of a chance, but on the other hand, they were not very welcoming to a new face. Oh yes, I'll definitely look for Edith Wharton's short story, Xingu. Again, I could go into greater depth with the story, but decided not to. I also could have taken it on a humorous turn. Something to consider for another time.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Dear Teresa, I love the way you presented these vignettes. You told just enough to make your new friends seem real to me. P x

  9. Pam...thank you for stopping by and reading my Cape Cod posts.

  10. Reading this was like I wrote it. This is my second year as a Cape Cod resident and I move here alone. You just don't find friendships here that we are used to. I am finding female friends to be somewhat fleeting and shallow. It is not easy here and I am hoping this next year gets better or I may move on.

  11. Dear Anonymous...It's been months since you commented and it's a shame I'm just now reading what you wrote. It's hard moving alone, no matter where it is, at least that's what I believe. I'm wondering if age has something to do with it, too. As we grow older, our circle of friends becomes tighter with history and sharing good times and bad making it more difficult for someone on the outside of that circle, a new friend, to break in. I did, eventually, make some good friends, a few that I am still in contact with. I miss them and treasure our time together on the Cape. I did learn one huge order to make new friends you have to be willing to walk out the door and join something...anything, especially if you work from home or do not have a job. Getting a job outside the home forced me to meet people and it was a very good thing. I found more creative souls on Cape Cod than I ever had living in rural Ohio and it was soul satisfying.

    Don't give up. Get out there and live! I wish I had done so much more while I lived on Cape Cod. Maybe someday I'll write a post about what I wish I'd done while living in my paradise. Good luck to you!


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