For my father, the Cape transcends its label as a “destination” even though it has been seen as one by families for generations. He admits that it’s a pleasurable location where the beaches are the main attraction. The summers are crazy and exciting, while winter is long and dreary. To a young newlywed, caught up in the beauty of the landscape and swept away by nostalgia of visiting Hampton as a kid, it seemed like the perfect place to settle down and raise a family.
I was born in Hyannis, almost halfway down the Cape of Massachusetts. I lived with my father and mother for a few years in Cape Cod before they moved to Berlin, Massachusetts to be closer to family. Soon after, they divorced and my dad moved back to his house in the Cape. From then on, I visited him bi-weekly and we have created many fond memories of our time together. He recalls:
Most are my fondest memories are sharing this place with you, since you were about 3 years old. All the trips down and back, singing in the car, discussing life, munching on something from time to time while doing so. Walking along while you were first riding your tricycle, with the pink and silver streamers or the big-wheel, lifting your legs and picking up speed going down the small incline. I had to shout out instructions to help calm my nerves. Watching you climb nearby trees and jungle gyms and going to the playgrounds in the area with Dave and Paddy Hanbury. Doing Hooked on Phonics when you were young gave me happiness. The birthday cakes with all the single digits, the time I almost squirted anchovy paste instead of frosting…
My dad would also rent his house out for a few weeks every Summer which was a source of income for him. When the house was rented we took trips to New Hampshire or my stepmother Heidi’s house in Maine. I was also very lucky to witness my father propose to her on the boardwalk by the beach in front of our house, and then attend their beautiful wedding on a beach in Wellfleet (father down the Cape).
My dad has introduced me to many of his friends around the area; Georgio is an Italian chef who works at the Yarmouth House restaurant, and Ben is an Irish bartender who works at Molly’s (now Red Face Jack’s) — he used to be a boxer. My dad recalls playing sports with “the Irish and Greeks” and other locals. He says he spent a lot of dreary nights at the local pub drinking and chatting with his friends about sports and watching the weekenders come in.
During the interview, my dad begins to shift from his fond memories towards a whole different aspect of the landscape. He says places like Hyannis used to be like a charming Camelot type destination but eventually evolved into something like a drug haven where there are often heroin busts and stabbings. He believes it was probably always happening but going unnoticed, and that other parts of the cape including Plymouth and Provincetown undergo the same problem because “the cancer has spread to every part of this peninsula”.
Meanwhile, there are still lots of elderly folks who visit the Cape to retire, expecting a relaxing and leisurely lifestyle. But it seems that children who are raised here want to leave as soon as they can — if they survive addiction, that is. He empathizes with those who struggle with addiction, stating that it can be quite lonely there unless you become involved with the community in some way. He also states that he would never have been able to live in Cape Cod if he hadn’t won the lottery in 1991.
Suddenly he says, “Oh! I forgot to mention Meghan’s hill. You were so cute running up and down it. That’s where I want my ashes scattered, when the time comes. Oh and don’t forget the crab biting your toes, the bedroom door slamming one time when you were upset with me. Saying the Hail Mary before we turned on the classical music and fell asleep. The mini breakfasts, pizzas, ice cream truck, DJ’s chicken wings, roast chicken, Taki’s Italians… preparing coffee for you before school… The senior year, the boyfriend, the red house, in years past, the green house and a couple of others you may have been too young to remember. Going to the movies and eating popcorn, keeping the money from a few social security checks, saying you were coming down Mon to Thurs, then not at all, what else seemed to be more important?”
He’s calling me out for an incident that occurred when I chose to hang out with some old friends instead of visiting him. I feel super guilty about that but plan to see him this weekend!
Clearly we have many shared experiences within the landscape, but I also have had many experiences aside from time spent with my dad. For example, I attended high school in Cape Cod my senior year and met many interesting people there, who I no longer keep in touch with since I moved to Boston and then back to my mother’s house. At one point, during my senior year, I came into contact with someone who had heroin on them and intended to sell it. I can recall quite a few classmates of mine who used the stuff — it was so prevalent in the area that one who does not discriminate among people would at least pass by someone who has used a few times during your stay in the Cape. My experiences vary because I am a lot more adventurous than my father. During my time there I got to see a lot of Cape Cod’s hidden beauty in spaces that seemed untouched by human influences: beaches hidden in the woods or those reached by means of a kayak!
It is easy to see how a place can become more than just a location or destination. A place is nothing but flora and fauna without the people that inhabit it and the relationships they have with their environment. In Rhys Jones’ article “Ordering the Landscape”, he cites numerous groups of people and how they relate to their environment. He begins the article by discussing the perception of the newly discovered landscape by the Europeans during their colonialist pursuits in the Age of Discovery. When presented with a whole new system of culture – those who hunted and gathered for food rather than staying and growing on land, for example – the Europeans failed to respect its cultural systems already in place. Instead, they saw it as new and not previously owned because the land itself was wild and untamed.
Jones writes, “Thus the same landscape perceived by the newcomers as alien, hostile or having no coherent form, was to the indigenous people their home, a familiar place, the inspiration of dreams.” (Jones 185) This perception can be traced to John Locke’s influential ideas of private ownership. In the same way that the Europeans disregarded the native’s cultural systems however different, vacationers coming to Cape Cod see it as a land of luxury. Jones also states how a place becomes a landscape through the interactions between people living there and their relationship to the people that visit:
“Thus the core of one’s geographic perception was kin-based, its center the country belonging to one’s own people. This was often expressed by people defining themselves according to the special characteristics of this core territory, and distinguish themselves from strangers who came from different kinds of country.” (190)
Jones’ analysis is dissimilar to mine in practice but related in theory. I did not describe the details of Cape life; how people acquire food and make a livelihood. I can, however, recognize how the local culture has influenced and enlightened my father and I. Jones and I also recognize that in essence, everything is connected and relates to each other, as well as grows and develops each other. The land, as well as ourselves, is not static but dynamic — one cannot help but influence the other.