Rockport: My Beloved Former Home, Part 2

While in Rockport in June, I made nostalgic visits to some significant places. I walked around Hale Street and looked at my first home in Rockport, a cottage in the garden of number 9. I was so happy in that tiny house in those early days in Rockport that I wrote a small piece called Rock and Sky: One Woman’s Life in Rockport and published it locally in 1978. It’s my story of coming to Rockport from New York to visit a friend and staying to make a whole new life for myself.  Oddly enough, a battered copy is currently available on Amazon for ten dollars!

Subsequent owners have changed the cottage almost beyond recognition. There used to be a shed roof rising toward the north, with a row of clerestory windows across the back wall. The steeple of the Unitarian Church across the street was framed in one window, and I could see the sky and the stars. That is all gone and the entire roof line altered. The outcropping of granite outside the front door is still there; that would be hard to change.

My Old Home (Much Changed)

One morning I also stopped in to see my old church St. Mary’s Episcopal and had a nice chat with the office administrator about the people I used to know in the parish.  A few have died, but many of them are still there, thirty years later. St. Mary’s was rather influential in my life when Father Bamforth was rector. He retired shortly after I moved away from Rockport, and he and his wife Pat are living and flourishing in Maine.

St. Marys Church (2)

These are a few of the windows in the church. It was nice to see them again.

When I first moved to Rockport, I was utterly enchanted with the charming old houses and the little lanes and the flowers everywhere.  Now I know a lot more about architectural history, and I’m used to Jamaica Plain, with its large stock of late 19th century houses by leading Boston architects, classic turn-of-the-century apartment buildings like the one I live in, and even beautiful triple deckers. I’ve been on house tours all around eastern Massachusetts and beyond, and I love to walk around Boston and admire the historic and also new architecture. Still I enjoy walking the village streets of Rockport and admiring the houses and gardens.

This is one of the sweetest cottages, right by the harbor. The trellised arbor with the pink roses melts my heart.


This house on High Street is classic New England–looks more like Cape Cod, the other cape.

Cottage with Roses

This is the famous Hannah Jumper House on the harbor. I love the soft blue of those shutters, and the picket fence and roses are perfect.

Hannah Jumper House

On a quiet side lane on Bearskin Neck is this simple shingled cottage with beautiful blue trim,

House on Bearskin Neck

and here is a grander house near Old Garden Beach, which was featured on a house tour a few years ago and was one of my favorites. The wraparound porch is dreamy, and the view is fantastic.

House on Old Garden Road

I saw this pretty garden nearby, on Norwood Avenue.

The whole village was in bloom. The Rockport Library has a rose garden along the side. The Art Association had peonies in front.  The most favored flower in shop window boxes along Main Street seemed to be pansies.

Of course every time I go back to Rockport, I wonder if I would be happy there again, if we were to find a house we could afford. Peter seems to prefer Maine, but Rockport has the advantage of being a train ride away from Boston and of course being a place that has been deeply home to me.

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Rockport, My Beloved Former Home

 

Front BeachJust after the summer  solstice I set out for Cape Ann for a three-day visit to my beloved former home. From 1975 to 1985 I lived in Rockport, when I was in my late twenties and early thirties, and those were the most formative years of my life. As a reader and writer of memoirs and other life story writing, I am interested in those pivotal moments in a person’s life when a particular decision or action changes everything that comes after. For me, going to Rockport in July 1975 (41 years ago!) was a such a momentous turning point that I divide my whole life into the time before I went to Rockport and the time after. Rockport as a place is still the deepest home I have known. I love my home in Boston very much, and I love Boston, but I don’t feel quite the deep connection to the land and sea I had in Rockport.  All these years later, I am in a sense still living on the deep reserves of peace I stored up in those years.

It’s only forty-five miles from Boston to Rockport, but when I cross the bridge to Cape Ann, I feel every time that I am in a different sort of place, a more enchanted place. Returning there reminds me powerfully how much I love to be by the sea. That first night I walked around town until sunset. One can walk everywhere in Rockport; that was something I always loved.  It’s also a completely safe place, utterly peaceful and benign. There was a gentle sunset on June 22nd, and I followed along the shore line to see it.

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Front Beach at Sunset (2)

The next morning there was brilliant sun as I walked out to the Headlands, always one of my favorite places in town, really a sacred place for me and a place where I go to touch stone. You go down this little wooded path

Path to Headlands (2)
and come out on the rocky cliffs above the harbor

Rocky Headlands

and suddenly the view opens out dramatically and you can see up and down the coast. Bearskin Neck and the breakwater lie below, encircling the harbor, and Pigeon Cove extends to the north in the background.

Breakwater from Headlands (2)

It’s a great place to watch boats come in.

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To the left is the harbor and the village behind it.

Rockport Harbor and Village from Headlands

In the opposite direction is the sea, the open sea that rolls all the way to the horizon and then on to Spain.

sailboats from Headlands

When I was young, I would spend whole afternoons up on the Headlands. I would climb down the cliff to a special place overlooking the mouth of the harbor, where there was an overhang that provided a bit of shade. Nearby was a depression in the rocks that formed a sort of cradle that you could lie in, under the huge sky, and be held by the rocks. For years when I returned to Rockport I would go back to that place. Now I won’t be able to go there again. At sixty-five, I wouldn’t take a chance of turning an ankle or falling on the climb down.

I sat on the top of the Headlands for a long time. It’s nearly always quiet there; not many of the visitors know about the Headlands or else they can’t be bothered to walk up (too busy with the shops on Bearskin Neck!). The few others who were there on that weekday morning were in contemplative mood as I was or walked quietly around on the rocks. Being on a cliff above the sea is my favorite position in the world for joy and exultation. Some of my greatest experiences have been on cliffs in England, in Dorset and north Devon and Yorkshire. Here in Massachusetts the Headlands are  the high point.

I continued along the coast to Old Garden Beach to the south of the village. The water sparkled and the sea air refreshed body and soul on this splendid morning.

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June Tea Times

June, my birthday month and usually the summer month with the nicest weather, is one of my two favorite times of year, the other being Christmas. My life seems to revolve between the two solstices. I love to celebrate with nice afternoon teas in June, using my prettiest rose china.

Coronation cup

Early in June I was thinking of the Queen’s ninetieth birthday celebrations going on in England, and I used my Coronation tea cup with one of my favorite plates.  I bought two of those Limoges plates with the green border and the rose garlands at the local thrift shop for a few dollars when I first lived in Jamaica Plain, long ago now.  I had this tea on a tray on my chaise longue, which is how I have my afternoon tea now that I’m retired.

On another day, when it was hotter, I used a blue setting. I think the turquoise tea cup and saucer and the footed stand are exquisite.

Tea with blue china

Peter won’t join me at tea time, but we have a special Sunday breakfast that is like a tea, and he loves scones and jam and cream at that time.

Breakfast Tea with Peter Scone with cream and jam

I adore these romantic plates which I found years ago in an antique shop in Cape May, the only time I ever went to Cape May. They come with a set of berry bowls. I always use these plates in June, the time of roses and luscious local strawberries.

Besides my home teas, I had several enjoyable tearoom experiences this past month. On the way to Cape Ann for a little vacation, I stopped off in Salem, which seems to be becoming a bit of a tea center, in keeping with its history I suppose. Jolie Tea has moved from Hamilton to an excellent location in Salem, opposite the side of the Hawthorne Hotel. Interestingly, Sophia Peabody Hawthorne lived in this building when she was a little girl.

Jolie Tea cafe (2)

In Hamilton Jolie Tea sold tea and tea wares and books, but was not able to serve tea. In Salem it has become more of a café/tea room, with croissants, macarons, madeleines, and light lunches on offer as well as two set teas, La Petite Tea and High Tea (by reservation). Of course there are dozens, if not hundreds, of teas to be brewed in the shop or bought by the ounce to take home. Many of them are flavored teas blended by Jolie Tea. Flavored teas are not usually my cup of tea, as I’m more of a purist, but I must say I like some of these blends, for instance one called “Soiree” which combines three black teas with vanilla and rose petals.

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Jolie Tea Interior (2)

I arrived at Jolie Tea about 11:30 in the morning, so I decided to have second breakfast or elevenses, an almond croissant and a cup of simple English breakfast tea. There are three small marble tables set in front of a banquette wrapping around a corner under the pretty windows. I was the only customer for a few minutes. The tea was good, but unfortunately the croissant was not fresh–disappointing in a French-styled tea place.  Maybe it would be better another time. I will try “La Petite Tea” on another occasion, which consists of a scone, a madeleine, a macaron, and a pot of tea.

Marble Tables Jolie Tea (2)
It’s so hard to get good tea when out and about in the U.S.; even in places that should know better, the tea is almost never prepared properly. Therefore I welcome the presence of any tea shop like this, that has good teas and knows how to brew them. In England you can count on getting a good strong cup of tea, brewed in a teapot even if with teabags. It may not always be fine tea, in fact it usually isn’t, but at least it’s not the warm flavored water sort of thing that passes for tea in this country (a tea bag set on the side of a cup of not-boiling water!). It reminds me of what the tea expert James Norwood Pratt said in a recent article–that he would rather have ordinary tea well prepared than fine tea that is not properly made.

The teas I took home from Jolie Tea have been very nice: a light Cheericup Ceylon for the summer, an excellent Temi Estate Sikkim tea, and the Soiree blend.

Melita FioreThere is another French tea and pastry place in Salem, Melita Fiore, on Washington Street just two blocks from the train station (as I discovered last December when I took the train to Salem for the House Tour). It has a lovely white interior with café tables and curvy chairs, a chandelier, and  large windows. The bakery cases are full of fancy pastries, cupcakes, and macarons. So far I have not had the chance to sit down here and have tea. In December I took a cup of Darjeeling, brewed from loose leaves, and a macaron with me to the train station to have while I waited, and both were excellent. I definitely plan to return here, with a friend I hope, and enjoy the elegant atmosphere along with tea and pastry. Later this summer the Peabody Essex Museum will be having an exhibition Childe Hassam on the Isles of Shoals, which I want to see, and that will give me a chance to try Melita Fiore.

Continuing on to Cape Ann on my recent excursion, I drove around the back shore of Gloucester, rolled the windows down and breathed in the fabulous sea air as I watched the waves coming ashore on the rocks while driving as slowly as I could along the coast. I passed Good Harbor Beach and continued into Rockport on Thatcher Road (127A), a very pleasant drive in the south end of town. I decided to have lunch at Heath’s Tea Room in Rockport, a relaxing place about half a mile from the center of the village. As it turned out, there were almost no vegetarian options for lunch, so I had the “Dartmouth,” the smaller of the two set teas, which comprises six tea sandwiches, a scone with butter and jam, and a pot of tea (no sweets course). Heaths Tea Room Rockport

I asked for vegetarian sandwiches only and was given cucumber, always a favorite, and some very nice ones made with whipped cream cheese and slices of fresh strawberries. I do think it was regrettable that both were on white bread; however, I enjoyed them. Several kinds of scones are always available, and I chose cherry walnut. Heath’s scones are quite delicious and fresh.  They are definitely the American type of scones, which I have never seen in England, triangular and with add-ins, but good for what they are.

The tea room is decorated with pretty china, which is for sale, but the china I was served on was very ordinary, a plate and tea cup I wouldn’t have in my own house. This is unfortunate, as lovely china is to me one of the most enjoyable elements of tea time, and I take great pleasure putting together my tea settings. Still, even though Heath’s is not everything I could wish for in a tearoom, I’m very glad there is a tea room in Rockport these days, and I go there almost every time I’m in Rockport.

To top off the month, on the afternoon of my birthday Peter joined me for tea in the Courtyard Restaurant at the Boston Public Library. We were given the table by the windows looking out at the fountain in the library’s wonderful cloistered courtyard, one of my favorite places in Boston. The room is elegant and restfully quiet, and the service is excellent. Our waitperson coped calmly with my being a vegetarian and Peter’s not drinking tea and asking for simplified versions of the tea sandwiches. With her help and mine, he chose a delicious, refreshing drink made of a puree of fresh cherries and soda water; other fruits were also available.

Tea Display at Library

This is the display at the entrance to the Courtyard Restaurant.

Peter and Tea Stand (2)Here is Peter contemplating our tea assortment. I had cucumber with lemon cream cheese and mushroom butter sandwiches, among others; Peter had ham and deviled chicken, having rejected the smoked salmon and the shrimp salad. The scones are small, which is quite appropriate as part of a large tea, and are served with clotted cream and apricot jam and lemon curd in little glass jars. They’re a bit hard, but they do well enough with the jam and cream. I’m not sure why they give apricot jam here–to be different, I guess.  Strawberry is the classic because it’s the best!  Anyway, the sweets course is quite nice, best of all the fruit tart with custard and the macarons. I had a good pot of Darjeeling to accompany all the little savories and sweets.

This is where I had one of my retirement parties two years ago, with twenty-one current and retired MassArt faculty. I reminisced quite a bit about that grand occasion, which marked the completion of a thirty-two-year career and the beginning of my fabulous retirement. Our faculty member Laura Reeder recorded the occasion, and so I have a collection of photos of the party. I really should make a book with those photos and the ones of my other two parties at MassArt, the alumnae party and the staff party.

I thoroughly enjoyed my birthday tea. We stayed a good long time, and it was a setting most conducive to quiet conversation. There were only a few other tea takers while we were there, a father and daughter, a mother and daughter, pairs of friends … all very tranquil and delightful. Even Peter enjoyed it, and he was only there because it was what I wanted for my birthday.

I’ve been living what often seems like a charmed life in the beautiful month of June, for which I am full of gratitude.

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A Spectacular June in Boston

Roses outside our WindowsWe’ve just had one of the loveliest Junes in memory, with day after day of sun, blue skies, and most importantly, low humidity. There were very few uncomfortably hot days in the entire month. While the news in the world has seemed devastating, nature has been at her most benign. I decided not to work as hard this month on the house clearing project and to give myself some time off for excursions within the city and beyond.

The neighborhood has been blooming. Right outside our window the rose bush was lush earlier in June. That rose was planted not so many years ago, and it has thrived in the sunny, south facing patch of ground outside our building.

As I walk around the neighborhood, I like to look into people’s gardens. The pink and lavender and blue flowers have been heavenly.

 

Meanwhile the ducklings and goslings are growing up at the Pond. We’re so lucky to live in the city and yet have the chance to observe wild life two blocks away at Jamaica Pond. Thank you, Frederick Law Olsted–I will never cease to be grateful. The green and blue tranquility of the Pond is a priceless asset to the neighborhood.

The Green Cove

I call this the Green Cove, for obvious reasons.

Mama duck and ducklings

The mother duck takes care of her babies all by herself; the male duck is out of the picture early on. The ducklings stick together and stay close to mother. They fall into line behind her in the  water, and they’re a lovely, quiet family. I like the duck personality.

Swimming

Meanwhile, in the Canada goose families the father goose is always present, keeping watch.

Into the water

Goose Family in the Water

The goslings grow fast.  I took the photo of the pretty one on the left on June 6th. By the 19th they had become gawky like the one on the right.

We have two sets of goslings at the Pond this year, one group of seven and one of five. The two families join forces to raise the young, so I always see them together, four adults and twelve goslings, with the five being slightly older than the seven.

Two goose families

Sometimes I like to go back to the Pond to watch the sunset. If I sit on a bench on our side of the Pond, the sun sets directly across the water. It’s as Thoreau said, “Really to see the sun rise or go down every day, so to relate ourselves to a universal fact, would preserve us sane forever.”

Sunset at Jamaica Pond

Sunset over dock

 

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Lovely June Day

June 1st has been a lovely day, after a hot and humid May 31st. A north east breeze was blowing, and we had a delightful walk at the Pond.

All is green now, so refreshing and soothing. Green Leaves

There is much new life among the water fowl.  I saw the nine ducklings for the first time, just a few days old.

Ducklings

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We’ve seen two small groups of goslings in the last week or two, and today we came across the latest goose family, resting on the back shore of the Pond. Seven goslings! I think this is the mother goose who was nesting on the hill. I was transfixed. What is it about baby animals that appeals more than baby humans? Everyone seems to love them.

Mother Goose with Goslings

As I watched, the little ones gathered around their mother, and she let some of them crawl under her wing.

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It was one of the sweetest things I’ve seen.

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Climbing on mother’s back.

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All together, mother and babies.

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Just look at the one little gosling’s head sticking out from under its mother’s wing!

I had to tear myself away from this heartwarming scene as Peter was waiting. I’ll look for this goose family every time we walk around the Pond.

The early summer flowers are out at the Pond and in gardens on Pond Street.

Later, in the afternoon, I prepared a tea tray with my June plate and teacup and had a lovely tea on the chaise longue, with soft breezes wafting in the windows. It gives me great pleasure to use my china in a seasonal way, and so I only use the June china in June and enjoy it all the more when its turn comes around. June is my birth month and a special time for me every year. Welcome June!

Tea Tray June 1st

Tea on June 1st

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The Memoir Project Celebration in Boston

Streets of EchoesFor ten years the City of Boston and the writing center Grub Street have collaborated on The Memoir Project, offering eight-week writing workshops to seniors in all neighborhoods of Boston and then publishing anthologies of their short memoir pieces. Ever since I heard about the project several years ago, I have been proud of Boston’s involvement in such a worthwhile endeavor and the support of our late, beloved Mayor Thomas Menino. I treasure my copies of all the volumes and have read every essay with keen interest and enjoyment and attended some of the public readings.

On Wednesday evening May 11 there was a celebration of the release of the fifth and final volume,  Streets of Echoes: Stories from Boston’s  Most Enduring Neighborhoods, Back Bay-Fenway, Beacon Hill-West End, and Dorchester. It was a beautiful spring late afternoon, and I walked over the bridge to the Seaport District, stopping to have tea at a table on Fan Pier looking back at the downtown skyline. The event was held at the new District Hall, in the midst of all the intense construction in the Seaport.

Downtown from Fan Pier

Michelle Seaton, who taught writing workshops in all the neighborhoods, told us the senior participants generally start out saying nothing important ever happened to them, so they don’t know what they’ll have to write about. By the end of the eight weeks, their notebooks are brimming with stories and they don’t know how they’ll fit them all in.  Each person is then assigned to a writing coach to help them hone their selected story for the publication. Some of the seniors have had previous writing experience, and others are quite new to writing. Continue reading

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Queen Elizabeth’s Birthday

Today, April 21st, is Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday, and I wanted to celebrate.  After a walk around the Pond in which I visited the nesting goose again, I made a quick batch of scones and put together a tea tray using my Paragon Coronation teacup.

Tea Tray for Royal Birthday

The cup is decorated with roses for England, thistles for Scotland, daffodils for Wales, and shamrocks for Northern Ireland. On the bottom of the saucer it says “To commemorate the CORONATION of HM QUEEN ELIZABETH II Crowned Westminster Abbey June 2, 1953.” I love the pink, yellow, and green colors and the center with the crown and Queen Elizabeth’s cypher.

Coronation Tea Cup

While I had tea on my chaise longue with the sun pouring in to our large bow-front windows, I read my new book Long to Reign Over Us, published to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s becoming the longest reigning monarch in British history last September. I really do admire the Queen for her steadfastness and loyalty, her dignity and elegance. There is probably no other leader on the planet who has served so long and faithfully. The Queen does not get to retire, although she may be slowing down a bit and letting the younger royals carry out some of the duties. She is an inspiration.

Happy birthday Queen Elizabeth

Long May She Reign

 

 

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