Marshfield, another time, another world

© 2000 TGregory & Laloba Press; Photographs Mark Fiore and T Gregory

I’m on vacation and have fallen under the spell of Massachusetts. We rented an old house (if houses aren’t approaching the century mark, somehow they don’t appeal to me). It is on a quiet street that leads to the ocean, and its true name is The Boat House.

Marko, Julia, Matthew

As I sit on the porch I see only three other houses: enormous lovely things. A widow’s walk, weather vanes, flagpoles.

I can hear the waves faintly, smell the salt, feel the sun. I am enchanted.

I’ve schemed to stay the whole summer — looked at houses available for sale and done the math to make it affordable to buy one.

Jimmy Buffet adopted Key West. I want to make Marshfield mine. I feel as if I’ll do anything to hold onto the magic that surrounds me here.

Years of summers in Panama City and Destin, winter trips to Palm Beach have given me a love for the sand and salt and air that abound ‘at the beach’, but they never prepared me for summer in Massachusetts. Here, I’ve the green of Oz – yards overflowing with rhododendrons and azaleas. Hostas so full and lush they seem to have been spreading for a hundred years. And here, they may have.

Florida beaches are lovely, sparkly, never-ending stretches of smooth white sand – one’s view diminished only by the white-hot light of the sun.

Here there are trees – pines that can’t survive the heat of the South, gracious maples . . . Rocks: boulders that decorate yards; stone walls, stacked to border lawns and mark property lines; beaches covered with stones of muted colors, beige and blue, pink and deep purple — smoothed by years of tumbling through the surf.

My child brings me a shell, gold and platinum and the color of sand and I plan to paint my living room in those colors so I can remember this time whenever I enter that room.

The children have cousins here; aunts, uncles, grandparents. People we’ve not been close to for more than a week or two at a time over the last ten years.

Beach Path

On Monday I sat with their grandfather, Salvatore, and great grandmother, Michelina, who was born in 1912 in Boston. She told me about her family, her husband of 60 years, Jimmy. She wept when she spoke of him.

I studied the photographs of her wedding in 1927. . . portraits of her parents, Celestina and Frangesco. . . Michelina and her sisters, Nellie and Rose when they were little girls.

And I sorrow that my children don’t celebrate the tradition of this family. Aren’t steeped in its heritage, don’t sound like Italians or Yanks.

We’re from the Deep South and our tongues are magnolia-laden and foreign here, even to blood kin.

We’re amusing and different, almost exotic in our sameness of look and different approach. There is a photograph of me and my children and Jimmy on Michelina’s hutch. We look so out of place there.

Michelina’s Peonies

I picked Michelina’s peonies, their blossoms so fragrant they fill the beach house with scent. They’re in a blue bottle I bought just for the color.

I mark the days of my visit as the petals fall to the table, knowing my week will be over when the blooms fade.

I find it artistic and melancholy to look at them there, arranged as for a still life, and don’t wish to sweep them away.

I don’t want to say goodbye.

My Marshfield Notebook

An orgy of fresh lobsters, melted butter and crisp white wine. I am Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald in one body; the sun, the air, the food, the company. We are more than Tender is the Night. I am giddy with happiness.

Mark has steak and salmon for the grill. Nana has brought meatballs and fresh Italian bread. Grandchildren, grandmothers, uncles, aunts. The feast goes on through the day and into the evening.

We sit on the porch of the summer house and eat and drink and laugh. How could anyone be unhappy in this small slice of time?

We’ve set up tables along the porch – it is around the house on three sides and we could serve an army here and not be crowded.

Glen, my favorite brother-in-law has brought lobsters and we laugh and talk in the kitchen as he steams them. My vegetarian daughter plots to return them to the ocean, and when it is too far away, fills the bathtub with water. We dissuade her.

Butter melted, soft hot bread. Children everywhere. The green of the lawn seems to go almost forever. And in the distance we see the beach.

The Boat House. Marko, Julia, Mark & Matthew

This day is for enjoying each other and ourselves. And oh, do we!

Some go off to nap. A few of us carry chairs and towels down to the beach to watch the children delight in the cold water.

The rocks clack and clatter in the waves, and it is the most amazing sound.

Now I interview my children’s grandmother about her parents. Her grandfather came from Sicily after the earthquake of 1906. Most of his family died and his older brother John brought him to Chelsea. He was ten when he entered the country at Ellis Island.

Her mother was from Nova Scotia and came to this country with her parents. Her grandfather died in an accident building the Mystic River Bridge.

She had sisters: Caroline, Theresa, Mary, Sarah, Jessee and Cecilia. Brothers: Frances, William, Albert, Arthur.

Her name is Dorothy Ellen and she was born in City Hospital in April, 1930. Now I am prepared to complete my children’s family tree.

There is such history in her words, such richness in memory, I want to save every word for my children. And when they want to know, like I want to know, I’ll tell them.

At a reunion of my children and their children, their wives and husbands, I’ll tell them of the Calareses and the Fiores in the North who came from Italy and Nova Scotia and the Carvers and the Stovers of the South who were natives in North Carolina and the hills of Tennessee.

And if I do well, I’ll tell them at a summer house in Marshfield, where we can see the sea.