This page is for occasional pieces on events from my past that may eventually become a memoir of sorts, which will please my daughter Kerry, who has been begging me for years to document some personal and family history.


A MOST UNUSUAL BICYCLIST

November 17, 2020

Unfortunately, I don’t remember his name; I’ll just call him Jimmy. Jimmy is one of the more interesting characters I have met over the years. The time was early 1970s. Jimmy lived in Philadelphia. He was a gentle soul but unusually strong and worked as a construction laborer. He was intellectually very limited, though, and could not drive, but was able to take care of himself and live a fairly normal life.

Most of all, Jimmy loved to bicycle. He rode a relatively expensive Schwinn Paramount, a hand-made road bike with a polished chrome finish. I first met Jimmy on a club ride in the Pennsylvania Dutch country. He had recently set a new record for climbing Mt. Washington on a bike, so I asked him about it. With a nonchalant shrug he said “Yeah, I did. I was riding with a group and we passed the mountain so I decided to go up to the top.” When I asked if it was hard, he replied “Yeah. If I did it again, I’d leave my weight belt off.”

Another time, as I was heading to my office at the Cape May County Court House in Southern New Jersey, I saw Jimmy pedaling down the road, so I stopped to greet him. It was a Thursday, so I was surprised to see him and asked what brought him to Cape May. He said he was planning to ride a double-century on Saturday and was checking out the route. A double-century is a 200-mile club ride.

After I moved back to Massachusetts, I saw a blurb in Bicycling magazine that Jimmy had been hit and thrown over a car, landing on the pavement behind it. There was a photo of a badly mangled Schwinn Paramount that had been run over by the car. Remarkably, Jimmy suffered no serious injuries but was bruised and shaken. Most of all he was distraught about losing his bike. When the executives at Schwinn heard of Jimmy’s plight, however, they gave him a new Paramount.

I didn’t think much about this at the time, but looking back so many years later, I feel blessed to have had this brief encounter with a truly unusual person.


THE ACCIDENTAL TECHIE
May 13, 2020

When I began working at the Steamship Authority in December 1990, they had not a single computer. The accounting department was still using mechanical calculators and hand-written ledgers. Reservations and ticketing were all done on paper.

I had been using a Compaq computer in my consulting practice since 1986 so brought it with me, along with both a dot-matrix printer and a first-generation HP inkjet. That computer was the portable of the day: about the size of a suitcase but heavier. It had a nine-inch monochrome screen, white letters on black background with no graphics.

The operating system, Microsoft’s Disk Operating System (MS-DOS) used separate readers for floppy discs. One disc contained the program being used; the other was the storage disc for whatever I was writing. Speed and memory were considerably smaller than a Fitbit. It cost $1600. The inkjet printer cost $750 but lasted 16 years, and worked better than any new HP printer now on the market.

When others in the executive suite noticed how quickly I was cranking out letters, memos, and reports with no secretary, they started asking about that strange box on my desk. It wasn’t long before others had computers on their desks, although some served more for image than practical use.

In August 1991 Hurricane Bob blew through Cape Cod, leaving Woods Hole without power or telephone service for a week. Few people had cell phones then, and cell service was spotty, but the Verizon tower on Martha’s Vineyard was still working and I had a phone in my truck.

That first-generation phone was permanently wired into the truck, with an antenna on the roof and a large handset next to the shift lever on the floor. The phone itself was a box the size of a book, mounted on the wall behind the driver’s seat. That phone cost $2100 installed, and about $300/month for service, but paid for itself in a few months of my consulting because I could bill one client for my travel time while billing another for phone consultation.

I parked my truck in front of the terminal building, and employees stood in line for the chance to use it. For an entire work week, that was the Authority’s only telephone. Not long after, the General Manager and Engineering Manager had phones installed in their cars. For the next ten years until I retired, the Authority paid my cell phone bill.

By the time I retired in 2001, the Steamship Authority was fully computerized. They had an IT department and were making their own computers. Reservations were fully electronic, as was bookkeeping. The Reservations Bureau in Mashpee was connected to the terminal by fiberoptic cable. And everyone had a cell phone in their pocket.

They had come a long way technically, but still had far to go. I had been using a CAD program for several years but nobody else in engineering had any interest in it nor knew how to use it. It was a $3000 program that would have simply gone to waste when I left, so I took it with me and used it to produce drawings of railroad buildings and equipment that have been published in several books.

And that is the story of how I became the accidental technical guru who changed the destiny of a major Cape Cod business.


OUR FIRST POCASSET COTTAGE
February 15, 2020

Our first summer cottage in Pocasset was located next door to Grandpa Bert’s house on Circuit Avenue. Dad may have bought it even before he married Mom in 1939. I believe he bought it from his older sister Elizabeth and her husband Ned Cotter, but have not verified that. Ned was a Colonel in the Army Corps of Engineers and was sent to Japan for a stint after being in charge of the Cape Cod Canal for a while after it was widened and realigned in 1934.

I suspect the house was built around 1900 by one of my great-grandfathers, but have not verified that either. It was similar in construction to the Big House and Little House that Grandpa Bert owned nearby, and were built about the same time.

As a vacation home, the cottage was pretty crude – more of a camp than a home. Until about 1950 it had no running water. There was a shallow well under the kitchen with an old-fashioned cast-iron hand pump on the top of the pipe. To get water for cooking, washing, or flushing the toilet, we had to prime the pump with water from another source – usually a bucket we kept next to the sink.

The bathroom, such as it was, was attached to the back of the house. It had a sink and a flush toilet but, since there were no water connections, we had to wash up or flush the toilet with water from the kitchen pump. Both the sink and toilet drained directly into a sort of cesspool – basically a hole in the ground – covered by a wooden hatch and located directly under the bathroom, about ten feet from the well. There was no tub or shower.

There was no refrigerator either until about 1950. Instead there was a wooden icebox in the back entry shed, next to the bathroom. An elderly man in a mule-drawn wagon came around once a week with 50-pound blocks of ice to keep the milk and meat chilled. He didn’t speak our language, but knew what we kids wanted. With a smile he would chip off slivers of ice to sooth our summer thirst.

Sometime in the late 1940s, Dad sunk a new well out front, installed a pump, and piped cold water to the sinks and toilet. I don’t recall ever having hot water, though. We would just heat a kettle on the propane stove to wash up. My brother Ken recalls that Dad installed a propane instantaneous heater in the bathroom that had to be lit with a match for each use. He may be right; I know there was one in the Little House. After piping the house for water, Dad mounted a small water tank on the roof leading to an outdoor shower out back. The sun would warm the water enough to take the chill off a quick rinse when we returned from the beach.

The structure itself was also pretty crude. Not crudely built, but certainly minimalist. Exterior walls were pine boards and cedar shingles on bare studs, with no insulation, vapor barrier, or interior finish. Interior walls were fashioned from vertical bead boards set into 2 x 4s top and bottom. They did not extend to the roof, but stopped about eight feet up.

The hip roof did not require any internal support, so the interior was completely open except for the board partitions. Like the walls, there was no insulation or interior finish. I loved to hear the sound of rain on the roof, and now enjoy that sound once again in my current home with its many skylights.

There was one floor, but it was raised above flood level on locust posts, with a small garage for boat storage and unexcavated space beneath. It was built against a hill with the back door at grade. An exterior staircase led to the main entrance along one side of the house. The main room, with sofas and chairs in front and a dining table in back, was in the middle, with two bedrooms on opposite corners. A large kitchen was in a back corner, and a sunroom with window walls on two sides in the opposite front corner overlooking Hen Cove and the town pier across the street.

The back yard was thoroughly overgrown with wild grapevine that had to be savagely cut back each spring to gain access to the back door. Unfortunately, the grapes were not good for eating or cooking. The front yard was flat with a Cape Cod lawn; tall grass that we cut back with a scythe in the spring and mowed once a month in the summer. A solitary scrub pine tree served as home to families of chickadees.

This house survived the hurricanes of 1938, 1944, 1950, and 1954 relatively intact. In every storm, however, the flood waters left seaweed in the floor joists and washed away anything in the lower level. The storms also caused great anxiety for Mom, so after Hurricane Carol in 1954, the family decided to sell the house and build a new cottage two door up the hill on Saco Ave.

The owner of the Gray Gables Market bought the house for $7200. Within a year or two, the market closed and the house was sold again. Subsequent owners made many changes, including raising the front yard about four feet, which eliminated the pine tree and did nothing whatsoever to alleviate the flooding problem. They also added an upper level, and made the interior more conventional. The basic structure is still there, but it is barely recognizable as our sweet little rustic cottage.


THE NEW SUMMER COTTAGE
February 13, 2020

In the aftermath of Hurricane Carol in 1954 our family drove to Pocasset to see how our waterfront cottage on Circuit Road fared. The house was built on locust posts with a garage and unexcavated space under the main level. The back door opened at grade. The water level had never reached the living area during the hurricanes of 1938 and 1944, but had left a lot of seaweed between the floor joists.

A National Guardsman was blocking all traffic to the waterfront, but Dad was able to convince him that we had a legitimate reason to get to our house. When Mom first saw it, she broke into tears. Mom always expected the worst in any situation and thought the house had been destroyed. The garage door and lower level sheathing were gone, and the exterior stairs to the side entrance had disappeared, but the main structure appeared untouched. Once again, the flood waters had reached only to the floor joists.

Grandpa Bert, who lived next door year-round and who rode out the storm at home, told us he watched as the town beach float pounded against the front of our house at the height of the storm. His garage was destroyed and his cellar flooded, ruining his furnace and workshop, but he still had a working fireplace.

It wasn’t long before we had cleaned up the mess and restored the house, but it took months to get rid of the fetid smell inside. Nevertheless, the emotional toll the storm took on my parents was enough to drive them to make other plans. They decided to sell the house and build a new cottage two doors up the hill on a vacant lot they bought from Grandpa Bert. Grandpa owned the Big House next door, which he rented out each summer, and the Little House behind it that my aunt and uncle rented for the summers with my cousins Judy & Sallie.

I was 13 at the time, and looking to becoming an architect, so I was recruited to design the new house. I had already designed an addition built over the garage of our winter home in Wakefield, so this was actually my second commission. The lot was small, 50’ x 100’, so the house had to be compact. Dad got a variance from the street set-back zoning which allowed us to align the front wall with the neighboring houses.

While cleaning out some old boxes of Mom’s papers recently, I found my original drawing for the cottage. It contains some innovative ideas for saving space and creating a visually open layout. I insisted on using a half-wall between the dining room and kitchen, which proved to be a nice feature.

Pocasset 1956

Between the kitchen and rear bedroom was a wall that served both rooms. It had a closet at each end; one serving the bedroom and the other a broom closet in the kitchen. In between was a built-in set of drawers on the bedroom side, with shelves on the kitchen side. This design also worked very well. Two things did not work so well. The front entry porch was only four feet deep; it really needed another foot. And the bathroom should have been reversed. As it was built, the door had to be kept closed to block the view of the toilet from the dining table.

Dad hired George Ballentine to frame the house and put on the roof. He was the grandfather of Steve Ballentine, who owns the boat yard in Cataumet. A mason built a fireplace and chimney, and another contractor installed a cesspool out back. We did all the rest, including plumbing, wiring, sheathing, and all interior finishing.

George drove an old Pontiac “woody” station wagon with the Olympic rings logo of Ballentine Beer on the nose. He set the house on black locust posts that he had salvaged from a 100-year old house that was being torn down. My job was to shingle the exterior and install pine palings around the partially excavated crawl space under the house. Both lasted 60 years.

Pocasset 1956

The living room had oak flooring and knotty pine walls, which were all the rage in 1965. All the other rooms had linoleum floors. There was a gas floor furnace in the central hallway, but it never worked well. The ceilings and all the other walls were Homasote, a new product made of compressed recycled newspapers. We soaked the panels with a garden hose before installing them. When they dried, they shrunk enough so that there was never any sagging or bulging as they aged.

Brother Ken was even then the aspiring engineer, so his job was to help Dad wire the house and install the plumbing. Both jobs were done with the blessing of the town inspectors, who were far more lenient then than they are now. Dad even made the kitchen counters and cabinets, using the same knotty pine he used in the living room. All the pine was finished in a new product called MinWax. Because both Dad and Mom were taller than most, he set the kitchen counter an inch higher than normal.

This cottage served us well every summer from 1956 until Dad died in 1969. Mom kept it until 1992. It was becoming a real burden for her to maintain, and neither Ken nor I wanted it. Ken was living on the Connecticut shore, and I had a condo nearby in Monument Beach. With her proceeds from the sale, Mom bought a condo at Lily Pond in Pocasset, where she lived the remainder of her life.

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The new owners added a deck and outdoor shower, and replaced the roof shingles, but otherwise kept the house pretty much as it was for another 24 years. They had a boat that they spent most of their time on, using the cottage as a home base in the summer. When they retired in 2016, they tore down our little cottage and replaced it with a two-story structure that reflected some of the architectural elements of the original house. We were all sad to see it go, but we no longer had any family attachment to the neighborhood that was so close to our hearts for so many years.


MY HAWAIIAN ADVENTURE – PART I
February 4, 2020

It was mid-November 2007. Winter was setting in and Cape Cod was starting to look pretty bleak. I was feeling bereft over the sudden failure of my 50-week second marriage. A counsellor I was seeing asked me “What is your Plan B? What were you planning to do before you met Martha?” Without hesitation, I replied that I was thinking of going to Hawaii to attend a slack key music festival. Her response: “Well, do it.”

A week later I left home at 3:00AM on a 23-hour trip to Kauaii, where the festival was scheduled. My travels tend to be adventures full of surprises, and this trip met that standard in spades. I flew on a Wednesday because I wanted to catch a performance by Cindy Coombs, one of my favorite slack key artists, who played at a restaurant in Hanapepe that served dinner only on Fridays.

After two days of exploring the island, I headed down to the southern coast for dinner. Parts of the movie South Pacific were filmed in and around these buildings in Hanapepe. The one on the left was a saloon in the movie. The one on the right is now an art gallery that was selling spectacular enlarged photos of island attractions.

Hanapepe

I had read on the restaurant website that it was primarily a breakfast and lunch place that did not have a liquor license but guests could bring their own, so I stopped at a liquor store and picked up a six-pack of screw-top wine, taking only one bottle in with me. That turned out to be a fortunate choice.

Although I had made a reservation, I found that only parties of two or more would be seated at tables. I was welcome to sit at the bar, however. A young woman who came in and sat next to me became annoyed when she learned of the liquor policy. I handed her my car keys and told her she would find the rest of my six-pack of wine on the floor behind the driver’s seat of the white Chevy SUV parked by the front door.

That proved to be a great ice-breaker and resulted in a most pleasant surprise. My bar companion said she was a nurse from Maryland and had come to Kauaii for the slack key festival. I told her why I was there, and learned that she was a close friend of Cindy Coombs, and was staying with her for the weekend. She said Cindy was teaching her to play the ukulele.

Cindy’s performance was disappointing in that she could barely be heard over the murmur of a roomful of happy diners. During a break, though, she joined us at the bar. Being able to have a casual conversation with her made the trip worthwhile; I could always listen to her music on CDs. It also became obvious that Cindy was not a particularly warm or friendly person, and that the relationship between the two women was probably more intimate than I needed to know.

Kauaii is a small island, only about 30 miles in diameter. The westernmost inhabited island in Hawaii, it is the remnant of a single volcano that has reportedly been extinct for 240,000 years. Much of the island is wild public reserve, and large areas are not open to the public. A single two-lane road circles three-quarters of the way around the coast, connected many small villages that are populated largely by people of Chinese descent whose ancestors came to the island to work the cane fields a century ago.

Legend has it that this mountain was once the peak of Lemuria, a continent that has largely sunk into the ocean. My favorite spiritual channeler, Lee Carroll, claims that Lemuria was a landing place 40,000 years ago for intergalactic travelers from the Pleiades who introduced the spirit of God into the human race, and who maintained a temple of rejuvenation on the top of the mountain that allowed the more privileged inhabitants to live very long lives.

There are two roads that climb the south face of the mountain and merge partway to the Kalalau Lookout with spectacular views over Honopu Canyon, seen in many adventure movies.

Honopu Canyon

Both roads are narrow and winding. One has sections of single-lane unpaved switchbacks; the other follows a narrow ridge that can be a white-knuckle trip in bad weather. Above the merge, the road cuts through Waimea Canyon, which Mark Twain called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.

The trip from the coastal village of Waimea to the lookout is 17 miles and climbs more than 4,000 feet. In places the road follows a sort of continental divide with very different weather. The western half of the island gets daily afternoon rain and fog; while the eastern half stays sunny and dry most of the time. There are places along the road where one side is lush tropical jungle, while the other side is desert-like, with cactus growing, as seen in this photo.

Cactus

As I was heading up this mountain road early Friday morning, I stopped at an art and crafts festival in the village of Waimea. Under festive tents, local artisans had set up tables to sell their creations. Most of it was not worth a second look, but one table caught my eye for its display of beautifully designed jewelry. I bought a gorgeous necklace to give Martha for Christmas, hoping still to salvage our marriage. I had a pleasant chat with the woman who made it, but didn’t get her name as I was eager to get up the mountain before the afternoon rains began.

The slack key festival was scheduled for Sunday afternoon in the ballroom of the Hilton Hotel in Lehui where I was staying. That left me only Saturday to shop for gifts to send home to the family. Kristen wanted anything but a T-shirt, so I arranged for a nursery to send her a beautiful orchid plant. Kerry wanted local foods, so I assembled a package of unusual items like coffee butter that the Kauaii Coffee Plantation sent to her. Not sure what I should give Karen, I realized I should have bought some earrings at the art and craft festival. So, I drove back to Waimea only to find an empty field where the show had been.

Sunday morning, I drove down to the harbor where the cruise ships dock, hoping to find something in the gift shops there. Unfortunately, there was nothing but the usual T-shirts, coffee mugs, and plastic leis found in any airport shop. And besides, I had to get back to the hotel for the 2:00 show.

There were tables along the corridor leading to the ballroom with vendors selling slack key CDs, hand-crafted ukuleles, and Hawaiian shirts. The last table by the door stopped me cold. There was the woman from Waimea with her beautiful jewelry. She remembered me from Friday. I told her of my quest for earrings for Karen, but said her pieces were over my budget. When she asked my budget, I said $35. She then offered me a deal. She said she had recently moved back to Kauaii from California after a divorce and was trying to get her business going. If I would take a photo of her with her wares to put into a brochure, she would sell me any earrings on the table for $35. Here is the photo. Her name is Sierra Gwin. I hope she has been successful. Karen loved the earrings.

Sierra Gwin

The festival was great fun – very informal. I lost out winning a CD for coming the longest distance to a couple from Old Orchard Beach, Maine. I saw many of my favorite artists, and some I didn’t know. One highlight was a sensuous authentic hula danced by a former Miss Hawaii in a sheath dress – no wiggling hips in grass skirt.

When I returned the car before flying home early Monday morning, the woman who checked me in was astonished that I had logged 360 miles in four days. I had driven every open road I could find, from Mana Point to Haena Beach Park. The road ended abruptly at the beach where Elizabeth Taylor’s brother had once built the notorious Taylor Farm hippie hideaway. There on the beach was a line of ominous signs that read “Do not go in the water – you will die”.

My Hawaiian trip had also come to an end, but the adventure will stay with me forever.


LIFE IS GOOD
January 15, 2020

As I approach my 79th birthday and somewhat reluctantly peek back at a life not always well-lived, I have to say that the last six years have been the best. I attribute the change to three events: selling my house, joining the Unity spiritual center, and quite unexpectedly falling into a wonderfully loving intimate relationship.

The house sale and move rate chapters of their own, as does the story of finding the perfect dwelling a mile away. The important point is that I now live in a place that truly feels like home, and for which I thank Spirit every day. And that leads to the second major event that has truly changed my life in a most profound way.

After a lifetime of studying and thinking about religion and spiritual concepts, I have finally found a spiritual home that fits my understanding of God, the universe, and where each of us fits into the picture. The modest little building that houses the Unity on Cape Cod spiritual center in Hyannis pulses with palpable spiritual energy. Its members comprise the warmest and most loving spiritual community I have known.

It was at Unity that I met Paula, a delightful widow who in many ways is as quirky and eccentric as I, but in different and complementary ways. We have been together three years now, and have settled into a most comfortable relationship. We often drive each other to exasperation, but both of us have grown more loving and accepting from being together and confronting aspects of our personal behavior that needed to change.

Other things that have caused the last six years to feel so satisfying include two major consulting projects that I have completed for the town: developing a wastewater treatment plant for our burgeoning downtown and revising the Local Comprehensive Plan that I wrote with the first LCP Committee a dozen years earlier. Between these projects and my earlier work on several volunteer committees, I feel I have left a lasting legacy.

I have also been blessed with the opportunity to bring my executive management experience to bear as president of our condominium association. Working with a board of dedicated and intelligent managers, I have helped the community deal with several problems associated with aging structures and building consensus to solve those issues. The unit owners have responded with surprising support for our programs, even when those programs have entailed substantial costs.

Finally, I feel like I have found my voice through my writing. With publication of my personal narrative in 2012, I set out all the random thoughts and beliefs that had been rattling through my brain for many years. Continuing with my studies and reports for the town, and moving on to what has now become hundreds of opinion pieces and essays published in our local newspapers.

Our local weekly paper, the Bourne Enterprise, now pays me a small stipend to write a monthly column on anything related to Bourne. Our regional paper, the Cape Cod Times, has also published a number of my opinion pieces, including one that was picked up by former presidential candidate Marianne Williamson and posted on her Facebook page, where it received more than 1000 likes and loves, and more than 250 comments.

I want to keep on writing and staying physically active. I have lost interest, however, in doing any more consulting or serving on any more town committees. I will continue as president of the condo association as long as I feel I can do it and the neighbors want me. I also want to continue making things, especially the railroad models, but will probably not do much more drawing. And our little town has many miles of hiking trails we have yet to explore.

When you move into your late 70s you tend to expect the other shoe to drop at any time. We are fortunate that we haven’t lost many contemporaries, but a few are on the precipice. My mother and both grandfathers made it almost to 90; Paula’s mother was 95 and her father 100 when they moved on. So, we should have another decade or even two if all goes well. And if it doesn’t, we’ll both be back soon enough for another go-around.


A SENSE OF PLACE
January 6, 2020

By 1995 I had become secure in my work with the Woods Hole, Martha’s Vineyard & Nantucket Steamship Authority, paid off my debt to the IRS, and bought a new Chevy Tahoe. I was ready to move up to buying a house with a shop and garden.

One of the first properties I looked at was a little Cape at the top of the hill in Pocasset Heights, a place where I had spent part of every summer for the first fifty years of my life. Mom had sold off our summer cottage a few years earlier and moved to a condo at Lily Pond, so we no longer had a presence there.

The agent was a pleasant middle-aged woman who talked fast and frequently. When she started to explain the neighborhood to me, I managed to interrupt and tell her that my grandfather had retired to a house that he built in 1904 on the northeast corner of Circuit and Saco Avenues; my father’s cousin Bobby Holcomb had built the house we could see at the end of the street; Bobby’s father had built the one on the southeast corner of Circuit and Saco; my great-grandfather had built the next one up the hill; and that I had designed and help build the cottage next to that when I was fourteen.

Without missing a beat, the agent replied “Oh, so you know the neighborhood”.