Gloucester Native Anna Solomon Publishes Novel Set in her Home Town

leaving lucy pear Anna Solomon

By Miriam Weinstein

When Anna Solomon began to weave together ideas and images for her second novel, Leaving Lucy Pear (published in July 2016 by Viking), her upbringing in Gloucester played a very large part.

“I loved growing up in Gloucester,” she says. And, although as an adult she has lived in Providence and now lives in New York City, “it is still my home, and it is still embedded in me. I feel I could write about it until I die.”

Indeed, the natural and the man-made landscape of the place, as well as its history, figure prominently in this story about motherhood, choices, consequences, and discovering one’s true nature. It begins in the 1920s when a well-to-do young Jewish woman leaves her newborn baby to be found under a pear tree on Eastern Point. It follows the baby, the woman who left her, and the woman who found her. So yes, this is very much a work of imagination. But locals will recognize the intimate descriptions of this very particular milieu.

Because of her Cape Ann connections, Solomon was able to tap into local historical expertise. Sarah Dunlap, co-author of The Jewish Community of Cape Ann, pointed her to historical archives. Barbara Erkkila, historian of the granite industry, described how it felt to be a child on Cape Ann in the early years of the 20th century. Erik Ronnberg’s knowledge of the history of the fishing industry helped her to work through a plot problem.

Solomon’s Jewish upbringing on Cape Ann also played a large role. “The Jewish community is a very, very tight and supportive local community,” she says. “The synagogue (Temple Ahavat Achim) for me felt like a second home. Because it was small, and people came from all over, there were many different kinds of Jews there. It showed me, at least as a child, a lot of ways to be Jewish.”

In addition to Leaving Lucy Pear, Solomon is the author of a previous novel, The Little Bride, and Anna Solomonco-editor with Eleanor Henderson of Labor Day: True Birth Stories by Today’s Best Women Writers.

Solomon will speak about Leaving Lucy Pear at the Gloucester Lyceum and Sawyer Free Library on Thursday, October 13 at 7 p.m., and at the Boston Book Festival, on Saturday, October 15, at 10:45 a.m., at the Boston Public Library.

(This review also appeared in the Jewish Journal).

 

Miriam WeinsteinMiriam Weinstein is a writer who lives in Gloucester. Her latest book, just released, is All Set For Black, Thanks: A New Look At Mourning. She is also the author of The Surprising Power of Family Meals, and Yiddish: A Nation of Words.

Telling Tales: A Gathering of Stories by Eric Schoonover

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Telling Tales: A Gathering of Stories by Eric Schoonover

A Review by Peter Anastas

(Dogbar Publications, Gloucester, 2016, 142 pp.,  $15)

 

“We tell stories for as many reasons as we live. They celebrate the beginnings and endings of our lives. They are the hand that rocks the cradle, the hand that wraps the shroud. They give meaning to the long or short haul of our lives.” –from the Preface

 

In Telling Tales, Gloucester poet and novelist Eric Schoonover has given us a collection of essays as finely written as they are delightful to read.   Each essay explores an arresting theme and tells a particular story, so that in reading them we are doubly rewarded.

We experience the taste of dates in Egypt with their author, who shares his thoughts about the role of memory in our lives.  In an essay that dramatizes issues of class and companionship, we accompany Schoonover as a young college instructor, who travels from his Eastern American classroom to Washington State to join a fire fighting crew in the Palouse hills.  We’re with him in a car race in which a relationship is also explored, and we assist him in building “Tuva,” his Micro sailboat, which still plies the waters off Cape Ann (he also builds a bed for his grandson Jacob to whom the book is dedicated).  Most powerfully, we climb into the mountains of Switzerland, where Schoonover travels to scatter the ashes of his parents near the small Genevan village where the family spent several memorable vacations.

Yet for all their variety and Schoonover’s scintillating prose, these essays are seamlessly constructed, as befits the boat builder who wrote them.  The word essay comes from the French essai, which means “an attempt.”  In writing an essay one begins by setting down tentative thoughts about a subject.  In the process we may also be trying to discover what we actually think about that subject, and what we want to say about it once we begin to write.

Essays have generally been categorized as “formal” or “familiar.” Formal essays usually consist of an impersonal analysis of a subject, while familiar essays are generally written from a personal point of view and  tell us as much about the writer as his or her subject.

Our era may well be one in which we have witnessed the primacy of the familiar essay, through the popularity of personal essays and memoirs, the profusion of Op Ed columns, and, more recently, the explosion of individual blogs, in which writers write as much about themselves as they do about their subjects.  Yet the new digital technologies (not to speak of texting and Twittering) with their inherent demands to think and write fast, and therefore more superficially, have helped to create a literary culture in which care of construction and thoughtfulness of intent have often been eclipsed by the pressure to post or respond to other posts.  While this has arguably afforded more democracy of access and expression (everybody is now seen to be a writer), the inevitable consequence has been a sacrifice of depth.

For this reason Eric Schoonover’s Telling Tales is all the more welcome.   The personal voice is here in these wonderfully luminous essays, which are both autobiographical and a history of the sources and growth of a literary sensibility.  We come to understand who the author is through the gathering details of his life—fishing with his father as a child; experiencing his first misunderstanding by a teacher in the rural Western Massachusetts school he first attended, in a town where he was the only paperboy; teaching English and literature in a variety of settings; and traveling to remote places whose cultures fascinate him, with his family as a child and later as a mature traveler and writer

With this collection Schoonover has in effect restored the essay to its proper place as an invaluable yet ever flexible mode of expression and exposition, a means of coming at the world in multiple ways, while sharing with the reader what the writer has discovered during the journey.

In describing what he has set out to achieve in this rewarding book, Schoonover quotes Joseph Conrad’s own reason for writing: “I want to make you see.”   And we do see through Schoonover’s eyes some of the world he has experienced and remembered, just as we feel through language that rises to poetry what he has felt and wishes to share with us.

Telling Tales may be a slender book in terms of page length, but it is brimming with the kinds of wisdom, humor, insight and sheer intelligence that are certain to make a lasting impression on the reader.

 

eric schoonover

Eric Schoonover is a writer, boatbuilder and watercolorist, who lives in Gloucester in a small 1735 Cape Ann cottage with his wife, also a writer. He is the author of the award-winning The Gloucester Suite and Other Poems and a novel, Flowers of the Sea. His latest book, Telling Tales, has just been published.

A Gloucester Rengu (linked haiku)

Digital Collage by Bing McGilvray

Digital Collage by Bing McGilvray

The bronze face stares
Out, beyond breakwater’s edge,
Yellow moon rising..

Squawking roof ridge  gulls
Gossiping, suddenly rise,
White-black globs falling

Bronze hands hold the wheel
Tight against the bashing sea
Heavy rain forecast.

Wildly tumbling gulls
Diving  behind a trawler,
Pierless occupation.

Lost fishermen’s names
One hundred on George’s Bank
Record Catch report.

Where pink beach roses
Edge rocks, furious seas break,
Gabbianos peck.

Children anxious,
Have all the boats returned?
Widow’s walk crowded,

San Pietro coming
Held high by six owners, wobbling,
Sinking memories.

The swift sweeping tide
Rushing past Annisquam Light,
Madly tacking, pushed back..

Ferrini moon danced
Olson delivered mail
Thunderous acclaim.

Babson’s tales in Maximus
Olson’s great poem,
Rants in the G D News.

Only lobsters now
Great cod landings a memory,
Avaricious failure.

Smiles passing by on main street
Fresh bread, Sicilia’s,
Fog lifts slowly in the morning.

Soaring  high hunter,
Quick, red tail searching Dogtown.
Silent lobsters crawl.

Sea waves never stop
For famous Cape Ann’s Artists,
Loving the beauty.

Great granite ledges
Quarried deep swimming pools,
Delicate Heron.

Kent Bowker 5/24/2016

Kent BowkerKent Bowker started with poetry at Berkeley in the Fifties, then became a physicist working mainly in optics.  His new book of poems is Katharsis: Sifting Through a Mormon Past.  He lives in Essex, next to the Great Marshes and is treasurer of the Charles Olson Society.

The Mystery of Pico Miran … Part 2.

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“Mystery of Metempsychosis in the Last Years of Man”

Winslow Wilson/Pico Miran—Part Two

Peter Anastas

During the summers of 1956 and 1957, I had my first job in journalism editing the Cape Ann Summer Sun, a weekly eight-page supplement to the Gloucester Times. Drawn to contemporary art, I often reviewed the shows of the Cape Ann Society of Modern Artists, whose gallery was located in the old Red Men’s hall in Rockport.

While covering the exhibitions of what was then considered controversial art as compared to the traditionalism of most Cape Ann painting, I became interested in the work of an artist who called himself Pico Miran. Whenever the occasion arose, I wrote about his paintings, which I felt were uniquely distinct from the rest of the work displayed at CASMA. It turned out that Pico Miran had another name—his real name, actually—Arthur Winslow Wilson. Wilson, a native of Texas, had been the poet E. E. Cummings’ classmate at Harvard in 1911-1915, where each served as editor of the Harvard Monthly. After college and the war (Wilson served in the air force, Cummings drove an ambulance), they moved to Paris in 1923 to paint and then back to New York, where they shared a studio in the Village.

Cummings, whose poetry is just now experiencing a resurgence of interest, was one of our finest early Modernist poets (the late Stephen Scotti set some his poems to the most beautiful music). He was also a considerable painter, who showed in major galleries. Wilson, who retained a studio at Carnegie Hall in New York and another on Cape Ann, beginning in the 1940s, taught portrait and landscape painting classes at the Rockport Art association and showed portraits and seascapes in Rockport. But he also did a radically different kind of painting, which, in a catalog for a 1951 exhibition of his work at the American Art Gallery in New York, he called “Post-modern art,” employing a term which the poet Charles Olson brought into currency at the same time.

In his catalog essay for the exhibition, Wilson wrote: “The new art will be Gothic American, in the sense that it will brush aside all soft precedent in the whole life span of art, and treat forbidden truth, and be moltenly ductile to the shape of realities never before considered proper for painting.” Wilson also showed this highly experimental new work at CASMA, where he exhibited as Pico Miran, a name he derived from the Florentine Renaissance humanist philosopher and poet, Pico della Mirandola.

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“Human Conception of God”

At first glance one might consider the paintings inspired by Surrealism, but Wilson-Miran eschewed the term. “My drawing is straight classical naturalism,” he wrote in a letter to the editor from that summer, “the very kind that surrealists have violently rejected. . .My art has no relation to that of Salvador Dali, whom I knew in Paris.”

Wilson appeared to like my attempts at understanding his Pico Miran paintings and wrote a letter to the editor indicating his appreciation. I responded to Wilson’s letter and we exchanged several communications before he invited me to his studio in the Bradford Building on Main Street.   What I discovered was a conventionally dressed older man, with thinning hair and a brown beret. He ushered me into his sparsely furnished two room apartment in an old Gloucester redbrick downtown building that would sadly be demolished after a fire in the early 1960s, a conflagration in which Wilson lost the only copy of an autobiography he had been working on for years, and a man whose portrait he had painted perished. We sat in a front room. There were no paintings in evidence. He gestured at the door to another room, where, he said he painted. At the time I did not know that Winslow Wilson and Pico Miran were the same person.

We sat and talked in a room that smelled faintly of turpentine and linseed oil. He told me about his friendship with Cummings, with whom he was still in touch (Cummings had been the poet I discovered and read principally during my first year in college). He asked me if I had read anything by Samuel Beckett and I told him I had read Waiting for Godot and Beckett’s trilogy of novels, including Molloy and Malone Dies, which had been recommended to me the previous summer by painter Albert Alcalay. He told me that living in the Bradford building among single old men was like inhabiting a Beckett novel or play. He also told me that he had been corresponding for a long time with the American philosopher and critic Kenneth Burke.

Wilson’s conversation was as literate and knowledgeable as his letters. He explained to me that one of the themes that lay behind his paintings was the fear of a nuclear holocaust and its subsequent annihilation of all forms of life. He said it was the reigning anxiety of our age and that Beckett’s novels, written in French during and after the war, were the primary art of our post-war, post-atomic bomb world, reflected in the title of his painting, “Apocalyptic galaxy with the little doors to Nowhere.”

My meeting and talks with Wilson-Miran brought to a close the summer of 1957, after which I returned to college, graduating in 1959. Wilson and I corresponded over the next several years. He sent me two books by Kenneth Burke, Permanence and Change, and A Philosophy of Literary Form, which had a significant impact on my thinking about literature. During those years I left the Times to work on the waterfront, a job more lucrative and more directly engaged in the city’s maritime life I had once only reported about. We would run into each other on the street or at the post office, where Wilson maintained a post office box while continuing to teach at the RAA.

Wilson had moved from the Bradford Building to the bottom floor of a house on Ivy Court near the Fitz Henry Lane house, a house soon to be demolished during urban renewal—what the poet Charles Olson called, “renewal by destruction.”   I visited him there several times but was not shown the room in which he painted and our talk was mostly literary. Wilson was one of the most well-read artists I had met, especially in the avant-garde literature of Europe that I was also immersed in, including the novels and plays of Beckett and the “theater of absurd” plays of Eugene Ionesco, many of whose images would recur in the paintings he showed under the name of Pico Miran.

Before I left for Europe in the fall of 1959, Wilson invited me for lunch at the Gloucester Hotel, once located approximately where Walgreen’s is now. He often took his meals in the dining room, where he was known and respected.   I remember that we ordered chicken croquettes, then a staple of New England cooking.   And we talked long after our empty plates had been taken away. We did not correspond while I was in Italy; but immediately upon my return I looked him up again, finding him back on Main Street in an apartment that was located where the present courthouse and police station had been built. Like the former Bradford Building, it too became a casualty of urban renewal. I often wondered about the effect on Wilson and his art of his having repeatedly been forced to leave the spaces where he lived and worked.

During the following years Wilson seemed to have dropped out of sight, though I learned that he continued to teach at the RAA and show at The Cape Ann Society of Modern Artists, until the group disbanded sometime in the late 1960s. as it members gradually died or ceased to spend their summers on Cape Ann. One day in the early 1970s, I received a call from my friend Peter Parsons, with whom I was preparing an oral history of Gloucester. Peter was cleaning out an evacuated apartment on Main Street across the street from W.G. Brown’s department store for use by a program of Action, Inc., the city’s antipoverty agency, where Peter worked as a youth counselor and I would soon begin my career as a social worker.

“You gotta come down here,” Peter said. “I’ve found something you’ll be interested in.”

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“Maldoro”

When I arrived I found the floor piled with books, papers and old bank statements. As soon as I began looking through them I realized that they had belonged to Wilson, who had apparently left the apartment in haste. Among the possessions was a two-volume autobiography of Emma Goldman, the American anarchist writer and activist, who had been an early influence on Henry Miller. There were notes and other jottings in what I immediately recognized as Wilson’s characteristic calligraphy, and a trove of newspaper clippings about nuclear testing and related subjects I had previously discussed with Wilson.   What we found of especial interest were sets of collotype prints, (a gravure-like photo reproduction process), of several of Wilson’s postmodernist paintings done under the name of Pico Miran. I was as stunned by them as I had been when I first saw the actual paintings, beginning in 1956.

Peter tried to find Wilson in order to return his abandoned possessions. Tracking him down to a rooming house (was it on Webster Street?), he found the painter apparently sanguine about having walked out of his previous apartment and possibly his life in it.

“They’re no longer mine,” I recall Wilson having said to Peter, who offered him what we had gathered from the Main Street apartment. Peter left what he had brought in a suitcase or trunk with Wilson’s landlady.   I retained the collotypes and some of Wilson’s notes, along with the catalog of Wilson’s 1951 show of the Pico Miran paintings at the American Art Gallery. I also saved a copy of Wilson’s “Manifesto for Post-Modern Art,” composed for the New York show because I believed these documents needed to be of preserved no matter how vehemently Wilson had refused them.

I saw Wilson once again, a year or two later at the post office in Gloucester. I stopped to greet him and we exchanged a few brief words, but he seemed distracted and eager to terminate our conversation. Perhaps he saw me as a person from that past he had walked away from, leaving behind the evidence of an extraordinary productivity, beginning with his Harvard writings.

It wasn’t until I met Claudia Howard, Wilson’s granddaughter and the conservator of his legacy, that l learned of the final years of Wilson’s life, which you can read about on the fascinating website she has created to celebrate her grandfather’s life and art. Winslow Wilson/Pico Miran

There is no doubt in my mind that Wilson is an important American artist. His seascapes and portraits painted under his own name compare with the finest paintings in that genre that have been exhibited on Cape Ann, or, for that matter, anywhere else in the US. His paintings done under the name of Pico Miran, as strange and disturbing as they may seem on first viewing, may now more than ever reflect the turbulent times—the Cold War, the nuclear threat, Korea, Vietnam—in which they were first painted, not to speak of their significance for our own age of terror and displacement.

It is my hope that Wilson’s work from the entire range of his singular productivity will again be shown, as it was when I first encountered it in the 1950s and it stimulated my thinking about the role of art in our understanding of who we are as a people and a species, and also about the remarkable person who created that work.

Please visit the website for much more about Winslow Wilson/Pico Miran

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“Science Ends in a Scientific Ignorance (docta ignorantia) which Speaks in Three Tongues”

The Mystery of Winslow Wilson

Wilson eyes

Who was this artist who lived and worked in the shadows for many years in Rockport and Gloucester, and why should we on Cape Ann be interested in his life and work?

Arthur William Wilson (July 20, 1892 – November 18, 1974) was an American artist who painted under several known pseudonyms, including Winslow Wilson and Pico Miran.   Wilson/Miran is considered one of the earliest artists of the Post Modern Art Movement.  He is widely quoted from his Manifesto For Post-Modern Art, published in 1951, under the name Pico Miran.

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Wilson attended Harvard College between 1911-1915, becoming an Editor of the The Harvard Monthly with his friends John Dos Passos and E.E. Cummings.  Wilson would go on to share an apartment at 21 East 15thStreet in New York City with E.E. Cummings, and enlist in the U.S. Military during 1917-1919, joining John Dos Passos and E.E. Cummings and other Harvard students in France.  He spent time in Paris with E.E. Cummings, and mingled with Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso and other influential painters of the period in London and Paris in the 1920’s.

Winslow WilsonWilson was active in the New York, NY, Lime Rock, CT, Gloucester, MA, and Rockport, MA art scenes between the 1930’s – 1972.  Wilson painted post-modern artwork utilizing the name Pico Miran in his Gloucester, Massachusetts studio, taught portraiture at the Rockport Art Association in Rockport, Massachusetts under the name Winslow Wilson, and painted seascapes as Winslow Wilson in his Rockport, Massachusetts studio.

From all aspects, it seems that Wilson was strongly influenced by his time at Harvard and World War I.  In addition to a tragic event which resulted in the death of one of Wilson’s friends in 1912, there is evidence that Wilson encountered trauma during World War I.  Art became a vehicle through which Wilson found solace.  His Post-Modern artwork is replete with images of industrial and nuclear effects upon the common man.  Growing up in rural Texas, to a life in Boston and New York, friendships with intellectuals, Wilson’s writings reveal a man who held his craft and opinions in high regard.  Understanding that Wilson eschewed family relationships while fully immersing himself as a bit of an artistic recluse, provides an insight into the life of this artist.

Following Wilson’s death in 1974, his long-term companion, Jane Grey (an accomplished portrait artist), gifted his paintings to his only son, Horace Peter Wilson.  Those paintings remained stored in Kansas City until 2012, at which time the paintings were distributed to Wilson’s grandchildren.

In 2014, Gloucester writer David Rich wrote about Wilson: “His value lies in his theorizing postmodernity, and making the first forays into postmodern visual art — the seascapes were a virtuoso performance; Winslow was no less a character than Pico or Tex. In that sense he was a performance artist. A kind of Andy Kaufman who took personae and masks to the extreme. On this conceptual level, if explained as such, Wilson ought to be recovered; and could be recovered by an astute and enterprising curator.”

Wilson portraitThe paintings are in the process of being professionally restored and framed, and efforts are underway to showcase Wilson’s paintings.

For more information please visit the Winslow Wilson website.

 

It’s Boiling Hot

On Pavillion Beach. © 2014 Jeff Weaver (b. 1953)

On Pavilion Beach.                                                                                            © 2014 Jeff Weaver (b. 1953)

Its boiling hot, they’ve gone to catch the wind 
at high tide when you can sail the tidal river 
above the sandbars, when the scope is wide 
room to tack and reach, as we try to reach to the far 
points in our life where you are the self you wish to be 
away from the effigies others might prefer 
beyond the expectations of correct behavior and pieties 
free of the sand bars in our circumscribed environment 
the enclosing freeways that bind us into pockets 
webs of mercantile definition, malls of distance, 
the all-together loneliness of the social web. 
This is not the place for me. 

Where can one go to be free of this American entrapment 
where black and brown and white can live in harmony 
where all beliefs, intellect and toil are respected, 
was our Cape Ann like that, not entirely but enough 
the classes did mix, brawls were plenty enough 
but the morning light broke bright on sea calm water 
where rancor stills and the gulls cry instead. 
Perfection of a sort sadly doesn’t last 
the tentacles of wealthy desire slowly penetrate 
crawling over the bridge, tourists who end up staying 
and driving up the rents, buying the cheap houses; 
improving them twists the old mix out  working people 
can’t afford to be here any more, to smell the same sea 
air, feel the tidal sweep over the marshes 
swim in the warming creeks. 

Kent Bowker 
July 7, 2016 

Kent BowkerKent Bowker started with poetry at Berkeley in the Fifties, then became a physicist working mainly in optics.  His new book of poems is Katharsis: Sifting Through a Mormon Past.  He lives in Essex, next to the Great Marshes and is treasurer of the Charles Olson Society.

June Should Not Just Be Gay Pride Month, It Should Be Gloucester Pride Month

By Michael Cook

Gloucester Pride. © 2016. Joy Buell

Gloucester Pride.                                                                      © 2016. Joy Buell

 

As I passed by City Hall earlier this month and saw the rainbow flag flying, I couldn’t help but reminisce about the night almost twenty five years ago when, on December, 1, 1991, about one hundred people gathered at the foot of the steps that overlook Warren Street for what became the first of several annual candle light vigils to commemorate World AIDS Day.

My late roommate, the Gloucester born and raised John Barnes, had been a driving force behind the first World AIDS Day candlelight vigil but, sadly, was unable to attend. He was hospitalized with pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, one of the many potentially lethal opportunistic infections that so often took the lives of people whose immune systems were compromised by their underlying HIV infection.

That first vigil Johnnie had such a hand in getting started spread to other towns the next year, from Lynn and Salem, and Lawrence to Newburyport, as other communities followed Gloucester’s lead in directly addressing a painful issue so many communities would have preferred to ignore.

John recovered from that bout of PCP, but by late spring it became clear his time was running short so we, his family and friends, prepared to make good on our promise that he would die in his room at 51 Fort Square overlooking his beloved Gloucester Harbor.

Johnnie was too weak to participate in that year’s AIDS Walk in Boston, so I and our neighbor, a young boy of eight who considered John one of his “bestest friends”, walked together on John’s behalf. That little boy sported a tee shirt his mom had custom made for him that had an image of Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer from “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” on the front. Mickey apparently was both Johnnie and the little boy’s favorite Disney character. On the back, the boy had his mom print, “John is my best friend. John has AIDS. I hate AIDS. But I love John ’til the end of time”.

I still have a picture of that little boy, who is now a 33-year-old, six foot, four inch, 250 plus pound galoot, riding on my shoulders because, as eight year olds are wont to be at the end of a six mile walk, he was too tired to cross the finish line on his own power

On July, 3, our upstairs neighbor and “sister in the fight”, who just happened to be the nurse coordinator of the VNA’s  AIDS home care program, insisted I take a break and spend some time on the Boulevard to watch the Horribles Parade. I ran into colleagues from NUVA and, as we were chatting, this overwhelming urge to get home came over me.  I finally hit the steps at 51 and threw open the entry way door.  Our “sister in the fight”, and VNA angel, greeted me by saying simply, “He’s gone.”

We made the necessary phone calls, but the funeral home informed us they couldn’t get “down the Fort” for a couple of hours because of the Horribles Parade. The minutes ticked away. The little boy’s mother and her husband came over just as the hearse was arriving. We all said our good byes.  Just as the hearse pulled away from the house, this huge burst of purple fireworks (purple was Johnnie’s favorite color), lit up the sky over the Fort. The little boy’s mother looked at me and said, “You know, he planned this.”

Over the next few months, Gloucester lost several other leaders in the local fight against AIDS, most notably the very wise and gentle Sam Berman, one of the original founders of the North Shore AIDS Health Project. Those were sad and mournful days, but there was also a spirit afoot in the city among those of us impacted by the epidemic that, despite the deaths and sadness, lifted our spirits.

The fundraisers at the old Grange Gourmet’s upstairs theater became events we all looked forward to because, despite the pain, illness, and deaths, they provided an opportunity to celebrate life, the community of Gloucester, and the leadership role it had taken in the state’s fight against the epidemic in some of its darkest days.

As I passed City Hall earlier in the month and saw the rainbow flag flying, I realized that spirit is still very much alive here in Fish City. Nothing exemplifies that reality more than the city’s courageous and compassionate response to the prescription opiate/heroin epidemic that is taking as many young lives today across the country as the AIDS epidemic did a quarter century ago.

I also realized that June should not just be recognized as “Gay Pride Month”. It also ought to be known as “Gloucester Pride Month” because, when all is said and done, this wonderful, sometimes frustrating, but always interesting city by the sea has an awful lot to be proud of – an awful lot.

 

 

Mike CookMike Cook is a long time liberal and gay rights activist who saw the uniqueness of Gloucester from the first moment he drove over the bridge during his move from Cambridge to Cape Ann in 1991 to run NUVA’s AIDS education and services programs.

 

TRAINS, BUSES AND SUMMER ON CAPE ANN

Children on the Beach. Edward Henry Potthast (1857-1927)

Children on the Beach.                                Edward Henry Potthast (1857-1927)

The Boston and Maine trains played an integral role in my summer vacations in Gloucester.  Now after reading the pieces written by Peter Anastas and Eric Schoonover I wondered if Enduring Gloucester’s readers could stand one more train story!  I hesitated then decided to take a chance. Trains seem to have played a memorable role in the lives of my generation.

1Pru - Train Depot

Each summer my mother and I would take the train from my small hometown in central Massachusetts to rendezvous in Boston at North Station with “Auntie” with whom I would spend my long awaited summer vacation days in Lanesville and Folly Cove.

While in Boston we shopped at Jordan Marsh and Filene’s for a new bathing suit for me and a new dress and shoes for the first day of school in September.  Then if I was lucky enough we might visit to Jack’s Joke Shop before riding the subway back to North Station and the Rockport line at Track 2. There I would say good-by to Mother and board the train to Gloucester with Auntie. In the early years engines were formidable, behemoth locomotives belching clouds of black smoke, later replaced by streamlined diesels.

2Pru - Train

My happy anticipation grew as we left the cities of Boston and Lynn behind and approached the Salem station.  At that point in our journey the lights were turned on in the passenger cars.  I knew what that meant. We were about to enter the tunnel.  How exciting that was to a four or five year old!

That event was followed by a sharp change in scenery.  After leaving the Beverly station there were glimpses of big houses, and blue ocean water.  And what was that funny sounding station…Montserrat? That stop was followed by Beverly Farms and Pride’s Crossing; then Manchester with sail boats in the harbor.

After passing the Lily Pond and the West Gloucester station, none too soon for me, the conductor would call out, “Gloucester, Gloucester.”

As we alighted from the train the familiar sights, sounds and smells left no doubt that we were really in Gloucester. Auntie and I then proceeded out to Washington Street to wait for the bus with me sitting on my suitcase in front of the Depot Café to wait for those big orange busses of the Gloucester Autobus Co.  We must watch for the bus that said “Lanesville, Folly Cove.”  That was very important. 3Pru - Orange bus Heaven forbid that we get on the wrong bus!

While impatiently waiting on the sidewalk I stared at the big house on the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and thought it was quite wonderful.  It was almost new then.  It is still wonderful but, like me, showing its age.

The landscape soon became more and more familiar.  As the bus made its way along Washington Street Auntie, always a teacher, pointed out the old Ellery house and, on the opposite side of the road, the big yellow Babson house.  The construction of the rotary, Route 128 and the A. Piatt Andrew Bridge were still a distant idea.  Little did I know that these historical landmarks pointed out to me as a child would be so important to me as an avid preservationist many decades later.

Way down the road we traveled under the Riverdale Willows, saw the abandoned Hodgkins Tide Mill and crossed the causeway to Annisquam.  After a few more miles we passed the Consolidated Lobster Company at Hodgkins Cove. I was told with a slight tone of disapproval that their lobsters came from Nova Scotia and not as good as our Ipswich Bay lobsters.  Our lobsters would come from George Morey at Lanes Cove.

Shortly thereafter we went down one last hill and there was Plum Cove and the sandy beach!  Oh happy day! We’re almost there.

After stops in Lanesville the big orange bus traveled down Langsford Street until it approached Butman Avenue and Ranta’s Market.  It was extremely important to pull the overhead cord at just the right moment to tell the driver we wanted to get off, not too soon and not too late.

From there it was a short walk with Auntie dragging my suitcase (without wheels of course) up Butman Avenue to Washington Street after which it was downhill to Auntie’s house. The magic of my summer vacations was about to begin.

Every day was filled with fun at Plum Cove or Folly Cove.  Cloudy days were fun, too, with hikes through the woods on the Rockport Path to the Paper House in Pigeon Cove, picking blueberries, walking to Dogtown or a bus trip to Rocky Neck.  On Rocky Neck there was a wonderful shop that I loved called the La Petite Gallery.  Other trips to Bearskin Neck or shopping in downtown Gloucester filled the long summer days.  One trip to downtown each summer always included a stop at Gloucester’s vast City Hall so Auntie could pay her taxes.

It was with great sadness that at the end of August the trip by bus and train was reversed.  I huddled by the window hiding my face so no one would see my tears.  Next summer was such a long way off.

Every detail is forever burned in my brain.  Little did I know that Gloucester would become my permanent residence and that I would be living in Auntie’s house or that my children and grandchildren would also know the magic of summer in Lanesville.

Little did I know that in the warmer months I would be standing in the now so- called 1710 White-Ellery house, no longer across the road from the old yellow Babson house.  The ancient house is now located behind the Babson house and here is where once a month  in the summer I tell  visitors about the construction of the house and explain to them how it was moved across the road in 1947 to save it from demolition as Route 128 became a reality..

And that is where I was on the first Saturday in June as another summer on Cape Ann begins.

 

Prudence Fish

Prudence Fish, of Lanesville, is a published author and expert on antique New England houses. Read Prudence Fish’s blog, Antique Houses of Gloucester and Beyond.