Pot Luck

Laurel Tarantino

I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I will never have a formal dining room.  You know the kind I mean, a room with a long handsome table that seats ten or twenty people, with water glasses, stemmed goblets for wine, fine china and fingerbowls.  The kind of table where I would have to question, “Which fork is this, my salad fork, or is it for the main course?” A room where there are old fine art oil paintings that adorn the walls, lit by brass lamps that reflect the mastery of the artist.  Oh, and candles, how they’ll set the mood for an exquisite evening.

No, I may never know what it’s like to dine in such a formal setting, but I do know fine dining.  I’ve found a dining experience that fits into my life just perfectly, and I can’t imagine a month without one.  Pot Luck dining: I don’t know where these dinners originated, I like to think they started right here in New England.   I’m not going to “Google” them on line to learn their history, but one thing I do know, whoever came up with the concept was a genius.

I can’t remember my first, perhaps it was at the Fire Station in Lovell, Maine, where it seemed the entire town showed up to socialize.  I’m always tempted to stop at those suppers you see advertised on a hand painted board “Church Supper Tonight, All Are Welcome,” but it’s usually last minute that I see them and I was brought up never to show up empty handed.  So I smile instead for those inside enjoying their community gathering.

I have a small group that gets together to play what we call “Extreme Croquet,” mostly during the not-so-perfect weather days, hence the name “Extreme.”  One Saturday a month, at High Noon, weExtreme Croquet meet for the fun and the bragging rights of taking the win on the course.  There may be briar, knee deep grass, waist high snow, rain, or other obstacles on the course.  Always, there is friendly ribbing…   “Watch him, he cheats!  Send Him, Send Him Long.”  And always, always, there is laughter in abundance and a great variety of food in between rounds.  A quiet comes over the room as folks warm up with some of Helen’s chowder, a mound of Shepherds’ Pie, or a slice of Tracy’s extreme lemon cake.Extreme Lemon Cake

So, I may have only won bragging rights once in 20 or 30 games, but I surely come out on top each time I go, from the friendship, fresh air filled with the sounds of friend’s voices, and that wonderful, ever present “Pot Luck” meal.

Fast forward now, to a boat building shop on Harbor Loop.  The building itself is part of Gloucester’s Maritime Heritage Center.  Why they took the word “Heritage” out of the name is beyond me and a whole other story.

Anyway, when I bump into Geno he’ll say, “Hey, we’re going to be cooking this Saturday, you should come by if you can.” Or: “We’re getting together this weekend,” and the one I’m always sad to hear: “We’ve been getting together, I haven’t seen you in a while, where’ve you been?”  Life.  Why is it that life sometimes gets in the way of being somewhere we’d like to be, doing what we’d like to do?

Back to the Dory Shop.  There’s usually a boat in the process of being built on any given Saturday afternoon you step through the old wood sliding door.  Hopefully, for our purpose, it’s at the stage where it’s upside down and we can use the bottom for our table.   One of my fondest memories was hearing someone yell from inside the shop “Hey Geno, we need a bigger boat,” as people kept arriving with more food.   There’s plenty of sawdust, boat building tools and warmth from the wood stove that will surely have something good cooking on it.

Cooking on the wood stove at the Dory Shop

Cooking on the wood stove at the Dory Shop

Remove the lid from the cast iron skillet and catch a fine mouth-watering aroma taking the chill out of a November day.

Tom will most likely arrive with rosy cheeks, a bucket of steamers and a few lobsters he hauled just that morning.  Someone may bring Finnan Haddie, home baked beans, a salad, sweets… Ever hear of a “Gloucester Lollipop?”  We have those too, when Joe comes in with his Mackerel on a stick and what a treat when Geno makes his fish cakes and calls from the wood stove to get ‘em while they last.  You never know what you’ll get, but a guarantee is that you will be welcomed, you will be well fed, and you’ll have such a grand time that you’ll want to return again and again.

An added bonus to Saturday afternoon’s at the Dory Shop would be the music. Someone is bound to bring an instrument or a pretty voice to entertain for a spell.  Want to dance?  Go ahead, no one judges you here.

Music at the Dory Shop

Music at the Dory Shop

Perhaps others will join you, or try and sing along. It’s okay if you don’t know the words.  Just don’t sit in the rocking chair if it’s empty. That’s Joe’s chair and he’s too much of a gentleman to tell you so.  It’s just a given for those of us who’ve been around a while.  The way I hear it, Geno started these Saturday afternoon “Pot Lucks” so he would have something fun to do with his uncle.  How wonderful for us that we benefit from these kind souls.



I bring you a bit away from the waterfront, to a two-car garage that houses no cars, behind Burnham’s Field.  I call these pot luck meals “Sunday Dinner at Joe’s Garage.” I have an entire photo album just for these meals.  Some of the photos include Joe gathering mussels off theGathering Mussels seaweed beds of Ten Pound Island with his daughter, to be later photographed in a pan of garlic, fresh tomatoes and wine.  Oh, and the fresh bread!

Bread is always warm at Joe's Garage

Bread is always warm at Joe’s Garage

Joe makes loaves every time.  Hot from the industrial restaurant style ovens, smothered in sesame seed, a true gift for your taste buds.  How many pictures of food can you take?  I don’t know yet, I’m still working on it.  I know for sure, there’ll be more delights coming from Sunday Dinner at Joe’s Garage.  Homemade sausage, pizzas, linguini with the clam sauce, countless photo ops.

Today I’m at another friend’s house for “Patriots Football.”  I’m among some of my dearest of friends and they all know I’m not here to watch football.  Oh, I do hope the Patriots continue with their winning streak, but it is certainly not the foremost reason for being here.  It’s the nourishment of friendship, good eats and conversations, before, during half time and after the game that feed me.  Even the dogs are happy to be invited.  Maybe someone will toss them a scrap; in the meantime, they run and play in the autumn sunshine.    This group of people take turns each time there is a one o’clock game on a Sunday.  One week it might be at Maria’s or June’s, perhaps a Harvest Meal at Lenny and Ricks, wherever it may be any particular week is the place I want to be.

I can hear cheers from the other room, the Pats must be winning.  From where I sit, we have all won for this day we’ve been given together.

There are so many ways we enjoy ourselves.  I find for me they generally involve food.  The Fort Gang feasts at different friends’ homes during St. Peter’s Fiesta, celebrating the Fourth of July with the same crew and then some in Rockport.  Bringing a dish to the Orchard Street Parade where the famous “Hat Ladies” debut their incredible work.   St. Joseph’s Feast at Auntie Emma’s, which starts before most are out of bed to make the pasta.  All memories that make forever stories to be told time and again.

So folks, if you’ve never experienced it, I highly recommend it…   call it what you will, “Pot Luck Dinner, Pot Luck Lunch, Sunday Dinner at Joe’s Garage.” Make up your own excuse, just do it.  Get together with your friends, share in the making of the meal, and eat it together, be it leaning on a porch railing or the bottom of an overturned boat.  Rain, snow, sunshine or under the stars, simply enjoy each other’s company.

If you want to “Google” the origins of Pot Luck, please let me know what you find.  I imagine they’ve been around since time began.  Surely, because of them, I dine on the best food on earth, in the finest settings, surrounded by the laughter and love of friendships old and new.

It doesn't get any better than this...



Laurel TarantinoLaurel Tarantino, writer, is happy to live in her hometown, Gloucester, with her husband, James,”Jimmy T,” daughter Marina Bella, and the family dog, Sport. She is known for “stopping to smell the roses” and loves to photograph and write about her beloved waterfront community.




Conversations- by Laurel Tarantino

482668_503652546337838_18847582_n                                                                                                  Tilted House and Speedboat, John Bonner

A new entry in Loving and Leaving the Fort

April 25, 2015

My husband leaves early for the airport every day now. (Well, not the airport, but “Ocean Air.” To me, it sounds like he’s out at Logan.)   Anyway, my point is that he leaves early, 4:30 am, so he’s up by 4:00.  When he first got relocated to this position I thought I’d be fine with it, since my favorite part of the day is when it starts waking up.   I’d get up, pack his lunch and see him off for the day.  Boy was I wrong.  It seems there’s a big difference between waking on your own at 4:00 to watch the day unfold and waking to an alarm clock with half an hour to pack a “Jethro Bodine” size lunch box with healthy choices for a long day.

I’m not doing that now.  I learned quickly that I would be junk for the rest of the day, so now I’m getting his lunch ready the night before and I’m finding that I’m still junk.  There’s a lot to be said about waking with your loved one, sharing idle talk over coffee and seeing them off with a hug and a “Have a nice day.”


With our new routine, Jimmy will sometimes lean over and quietly kiss my cheek or forehead before he leaves as not to disturb my sleep.  It’s just the right gesture for me to smile and reposition myself to luxuriate under the warm blankets.  The next thing I know, two hours have passed and I wake alone, feeling empty.  I didn’t get to tell him to have a wonderful day.  I didn’t get my hug.  Something small, but so important is now missing from my every day.  It’s only been a couple of months of this different routine and I need to find that niche that is going to solve my morning lonesomeness.

There’s a loneliness I’ve carried with me out of the Fort too.  How do I explain?  How can one describe an empty emotion?  I find it amazing that something so empty can weigh so much.


The house I lived in down the Fort felt like a meetinghouse to me, or more so, a meeting yard. Perhaps because of its location sitting where it does out on that peninsula of a sort.  It’s impossible not to pass by it when traveling around its one- way street.  I spent a lot of time in the yard, be it for the dog’s sake, to mow the lawn, or just to play in the garden while the songbirds chattered away.  Always someone was bound to go by, on foot, bicycle, in a car or on a skateboard, and they’d stop for conversations over the fence.  Oftentimes it was simply small talk, “Beautiful day we’re having…   saw a great movie last night…   had some delicious beets from the garden for dinner…  ”  Sometimes we’d solve the world’s problems or each other’s.  More often than not, these conversations over the fence would lead to the gate opening and pulling up a chair at the table, then someone else would happen by and join us.  Before I knew it, the clothes I’d been washing wouldn’t get tended to for hours.  One of the drawbacks of time spent with friends, chores wouldn’t get done; but what’s more important?  I’ll choose time with a friend any day.  There will always be chores.


In the mornings I was pretty much guaranteed a visit from some of my four legged friends, Snuggles,  Ceasar, Oso.   Ettore would mosey by with Rona, Lucky Dog with Janine, Bandit would come up from Beach Court, but he was more of an afternoon visitor, could have timed a clock by him and, of course, I can’t forget Lulu with her entire self wagging with joy.  Always these visits ended with “Have a great day, see you later,” and most times I would see them later.





If the weather was nice late afternoons as folks were coming home from work, we’d end up back at the table til the sun went down, laughing, appreciating, reminiscing.  More often than not, people who had grown up down the Fort and since moved away would be driving by to relive their “Fort Days,” and they’d join us too.  New friendships would be formed, old ones reunited.  How the stories would flow, some in broken English, some broken by giggles because the story couldn’t be told without laughing, but always with a sense of a passion for a special time and place.  A small tight community, within a larger one.   Dinner would be late, but that was okay, because my husband would most likely be out rowing around the harbor anyway.  He’d pass by the house, see folks in the yard and pull the dory up onto Pavillion Beach, so he could walk up the house to say Hello, and then off again to enjoy his routine of exercise in the great outdoors.  He always had conversations of his own on the harbor, maybe with Gus and his crew that would just be tying up from days out at sea, or other folk who happened to be out on the water or on the dock when he came into Harbor Cove.



Meanwhile, back at 26 Fort Square, it was just easy living with a casual pace about life.  Friends would slowly adjourn the table with “Goodnight, see you tomorrow…  Love you, that was fun… “  and the day would end with a fullness to it.  Some of my favorite talks were with people who are no longer with us.  Paul would come to the fence at the side yard and we’d talk flowers and recipes;  Auntie Philly who I shared a backyard fence with, always had kind words. How I loved to see her.   Her aprons hanging on the clothesline must have heard a thousand stories.  And there was Chicky who would put her head out her second story window to ask across the street how my baby was doing.  My baby is no longer a baby, the table has been sold,  and these days are now gone, but not from my memory.  I like to think that those who are still down the Fort feel the same void that I do, not because I want them to feel any sort of emptiness, but so they know how very much they are loved and missed.


Fort Journal- How to Become Part of the Fort

How to Become Part of the Fort

by Laurel Tarantino

From her Journal “Loving and Leaving the Fort”

March 15, 2015

How to become part of the Fort:

be part of a 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th generation that has always lived there,

find a rental,

buy your way into it,

or marry into it.


I did the latter.

jimmy and laurel dating

Jim Tarantino and Laurel Josephson, 1991


I was feeling a bit sorry for myself the night I met Jimmy in 1990.  I had it all together, a job- two actually, a beautiful bachelorette pad on Goose Cove, dependable wheels, money in my pocket and a good friend to enjoy free time with.  What I lacked in my life was a loyal dog, a good man, and at that immediate moment in time, a decent meal.  I’d been grabbing fast food in between my day job and more take out for dinner at my night gig.  I was really tired of never having a nice sit-down meal with someone during the week that I decided I would take one night, blow off work and sit down to a nice relaxing meal for myself.  My boss completely understood, course it didn’t hurt that my boss was my mom at the time.  So I never punched in and headed for town, in search of a meal that would sate me.

Now, where to eat?  The first place I came to that made me think, “I’ll try this,” was Antonio’s.  If they didn’t have a nice steak on the menu, at least they’d have Italian,  with a name like that.  Plus that, it looked inviting, and it was.

It was a small place, a few tables in one room with an intimate little bar.  Anyway, I mosey up to an empty chair at the bar, there’s a guy in one of the other chairs who informs me that the bartender will be right back.  He also told me that he could get a drink for me if I knew what I would like.  A glass of wine or beer would have been easy, but I wanted a Bacardi Gimlet, straight up.  Had to wait for the bartender to come back for that order, but I didn’t mind, it gave me a chance to peruse the menu.

So the bartender comes back from wherever it was he had gone.  I thought he was really interesting to look at.  A bit tall, lean, border lining on thin, perhaps a couple weeks overdue for a haircut, but what struck me right off the bat was his polite manner and a set of eyes a girl could get lost in.  I didn’t think he was  handsome, but there was something about him that made you want to keep looking, hopefully not getting caught staring.

There was friendly banter; he introduced me to his friend who was the other customer at the bar.  I got my delicious ice cold Gimlet and ordered a Steak Au Poive with all the fixings, salad, mashed and green beans.  I’m a meat and potatoes kind of girl.  I’m also, a bit ashamed to admit, a smoker, which I wouldn’t have brought up, but it has to do with my story.  Back then, 1990, you could still smoke in bar rooms, so I went to light up after a few sips of my beverage.  When I did, Jim (the bartender) says, “Hey Chris, what’s wrong with you?  Be a gentleman and light the lady’s cigarette.”  I in turn said, “Oh that’s alright, he doesn’t know any better, he’s from Gloucester.” Boy did I ever say the wrong thing.  I thought the bartender was going to come right over the marble top bar and give me a “what-for.”He says, “Excuse me miss, I happen to be from Gloucester, I’m proud of it and I resent that statement.”  I could not apologize fast enough, and immediately let them know that I was from Gloucester as well.

That’s when Jimmy had me.  From that moment I was completely intrigued by his passion and pride.  All of a sudden his eyes seemed more intense, his hands, graceful, long and beautiful, he had become an instant Laurel Magnet.

Small talk continued, I enjoyed my meal and little by little, the restaurant started emptying out.  I was getting a bit sad that the night was coming to an end and I may not see this guy again.  Then he asks me, “Would you like to dance?” A bit taken back, I say “Yes, but there’s no dance floor.”  Of course, he can take care of that too.  He and a couple friends move the dining tables and chairs that had been recently vacated, he throws some coins into the juke box, he puts his hand in mine, the other on the small of my back and I find myself dancing (honestly-melting) to Sinatra singing “The Summer Wind.”

Great, now I’m all off kilter!  This guy just cleared tables so he could dance with me, but of course, the song ends.  He has to “Z -Out” the register and close the restaurant for the night.  Now what?  Do I ask him where he’s headed?  Is that too obvious?  He’d danced with me, hooked me with fresh bait, but didn’t follow up with what would come next.  I’d already learned in earlier conversation that he sometimes hangs out at the “Blackburn Tavern” or the “Old Timers” down the West End.  I head out to the street and my car and think “Damned, that’s it” as he waves Good-night and heads to his car.  Double Damned!  It’s a way cool silver Chevy Impala!  Did he have to have a nice set of wheels too?  Well, it’s a good thing he did, you couldn’t miss it and I didn’t, when I went “Jimmy Hunting.”He was parked up on Main Street, but I found him in a very empty Old Timer’s and he asks, “What’d you follow me?” I could only be honest and answer  “Yes.”

So, I haven’t a clue what our conversation was about so very long ago.  I do remember once the Old Timers closed for the night, that we drove out to Niles Beach in his way cool Chevy.  We sat across from each other, him leaning on the driver’s door, me on mine.  It was dark and cold outside, I remember wanting to giggle every time he moved, because his leather coat made so much noise against the seat.  Nervous laughter I believe they call it.  I noticed something sticking up awkwardly in the back seat; it’s a child’s sled.  I knew it was too good to be true; he has a kid and most likely a wife too.  He explained his situation, a recent divorce, and the pain of leaving his young daughter with her mom.  The guy just kept getting better and better.  To hear him speak about his little girl, you knew he had a huge heart, with a bit of an ache in it.  We finally called it a night, parted with an exchange of phone numbers and “I’ll call yous,”

I only wanted a decent meal that January night, but I left with Don Henley singing a tune in my head, “This is the last worthless evening that you’ll have to spend…   “ Here we are 25 years later, miles of memories in between, and still enjoying each other’s company.  I also learned something else that night-  I will never, ever stereotype a Gloucester guy again.


jimmy and laurel married

Jim and Laurel Tarantino, 2010                  (photo by David Cox)

The Warmth of a Wood Stove by Laurel Tarantino

Loving and Leaving the Fort

A new entry from Loving and Leaving the Fort

January 2015

What is it about the warmth of a woodstove? I’m sitting on a very comfortable couch, my dog Sport by my side, enjoying the quiet, in a Maine Forest Yurt. It’s minus 9 degrees outside and a very toasty 78 degrees inside, and I ask that question again. What is it about the warmth of a wood stove? I can’t nail it down, but for me, there’s nothing like it.

Until I was thirty, I knew no other source of heat. I’m told when I was an infant, a sickly infant, that my folks installed a wood stove to replace a nasty furnace that blew heat up through the floor grate, along with dust particles and whatever else was lying on it. Problem solved. Oh I got sick once in a while, but nothing like before.

As I sit here now, I realize you can’t replace this all- encompassing warmth. Wool mittens drying for the next round of sledding, boots warming on top of the wood box as you shake the snow off your shoulders and hat, even the splash of snow gives an all- telling sizzle as it hits the iron and welcomes you to the warmth inside.

Loving and Leaving the Fort

Perhaps it’s the simplicity of it, which isn’t all that simple. I can hear my mom saying, “By the time I put that piece of wood in the stove, I have it named.” I can understand why she said that, but some may not, so I’ll explain. When I was growing up we were fortunate to have 70 acres of land with hardwood, fields, wells and a brook on it up in Lovell, Maine. In late autumn, we’d fell trees, clear the branches into brush piles, cut the tree into manageable 6 to 12 foot lengths, haul them to the landing where they’d be cut into stove length, throw them into the back of the pick-up truck, drive up to the house and unload them into the dooryard where they would be split and stacked. Half a cord went onto the porch and 8 to 11 cord were stacked in the yard, bark side up so the rain would run off. If you were really lucky, you had a gas- powered wood splitter. We had both going, wood splitter and a brother who liked to split a few by hand, meaning with an axe. So, you can see how my mom could have been so familiar with each piece of wood she fed into the stove that she could have given it a name. This chore wasn’t accomplished in one day either; it took several weekends with a lot of us pitching in to help.

Loving and Leaving the FortWe had three wood stoves growing up, one in our house on Holly Street, and two in the old farmhouse in Maine. I never thought of myself as being “rich,” but my dad often said he was the richest man he knew. Years later, I realize why. It wasn’t because we had piles of money in the bank, we didn’t, or the fact that we had two homes. Our house was tiny, three boys to one bedroom, my sister and I in the other. The house in Maine was right out of the Beverly Hillbillies, before they made it to Hollywood. No, we didn’t have fancy real estate that only the well- off could afford, but our riches came from keeping those two homes running. The hearty breakfasts eaten together before hauling wood, the delicious stews or one- pot meals that kept us going ‘til suppertime, all lovingly prepared by Mom, who would be right there with us throwing a log onto the splitter once she took her apron off. Those times together were our riches.

Summertime was no different, it was still work, but it was always fun work. I can picture my dad, lying on one hip as he weeded the garden. I’d love to hear Mom and Dad bicker during planting season, she’d be putting perennials in her flower beds and Dad would say, “You can’t eat flowers, Bev.” To which she’d reply, “Food for the soul Ed, food for the soul.” Tomatoes, they were always another subject of controversy, she’d think he was planting too many, he’d think not enough, probably because it was Mom in the kitchen putting them up for winter stews. Needless to say, we had plenty of tomatoes.

When I was little-little, being the youngest of five, I can remember trying not to slip on the seaweed beds that clung to the rocks at the haul-back on the stone bridge on Goose Cove as we all filed into the dory. If it was an early low tide, Dad would row us over to Jones Creek where he’d dig clams and sea worms. I’d get to play in the warm shallows, chasing minnows and just being a kid.

Loving and Leaving the Fort

Always there were peanut butter sandwiches and boy, didn’t they taste good. Which makes me think of another question… What is it about being on the water that makes you so hungry? Is it just me, or can you eat an entire cooler full of food when you’re on the water all day?

Anyway, the tide would come up and we’d head over to the “Hummah,” our beautiful wooden boat that spent more time on dry docks in the Wheeler’s Point Boat Yard, than it did out on the water. My dad was a perfectionist when it came to painting her. This day, she’d be moored in Lobster Cove and we’d bait our hand lines with the sea worms Dad had dug up or bought earlier at Gleason’s. Remember those cardboard boxes of seaweed and worms? Can you still buy those in Gloucester? We’d always catch flounder to go with the steamers we’d have for supper. I’d silently hope I wouldn’t catch an eel, or they’d be on the menu too.

If the day was still young enough and Dad could get the Hummah’s engine to turn over and cooperate, we’d head out onto Ipswich Bay and do some trolling for mackerel. I could have cared less if we caught anything, I just loved the warm sea splash as the boat cut through the water, maybe heading towards Crane’s Beach or the Bell Buoy. I loved looking over the rail into the green depths; maybe I’d see a whale! It was always fun. I had my own rod and reel, and my line had about six rubbery worms on it, all pretty primary colors. How excited I’d get to have two fish on the line at once. They’re truly beautiful fish, our mackerel, such vibrant colors, especially in the warm summer sunshine.

Of course every day has its end. We’d head in to the mooring, tie off the boat and jump into the dory again. Then it was back to the haul-back, if I was lucky, the tide would be up high enough so I’d only have to step on the granite blocks and not have to struggle with the seaweed. If there wasn’t a lot of sun left, the “No See’ums” would eat us to frustration. We’d pile our gear into the back of the truck and head home. There we’d stand in a tiny little brook that cut through our yard and hose the salt off ourselves.

When I think back, my folks must have been exhausted. They still had the chores once we got home. Unpacking the coolers, cleaning the fish, cooking the fish and steamers, melting the butter, peeling the potatoes, slicing the beets, setting the table…doing the dishes. My brothers and sister would help, but I was the little one, I got to put my pajamas on early and fall asleep right after dinner, the contented kind of sleep of a little one, who’d just spent the entire day out in the fresh air in a place and with people she loves. I bet I slept smiling.

Choosing Home, Gloucester, Massachusetts by Laurel Tarantino

A new entry from Loving and Leaving the Fort

January 15, 2015

Wow, January 2015! Where does time go? One moment you’re 17, carefree, playing in the surf at Good Harbor Beach, all sunshine and waves. The next thing you know, the cold Winter winds have awakened you and you realize you’re 50 something, wondering… “Have I packed enough life in those years?” I like to think I have, with lots more to come. Good and bad, easy and hard, so long as they balance out, better yet, with the good and easy outweighing the junk stuff.

Last I wrote, I was in the White Mountains, it was the 80s. I was in my 20s. Then, WHAM, I got my heart broken, or rather, I allowed it to break. I tried sticking around the Whites, I got myself a gorgeous place overlooking the Saco River and Cathedral Ledge. As wonderful as it was, with dear friends helping me to carry on, it just wasn’t going to happen for me. I needed and wanted out. I didn’t want what had been a place filled with wonderful memories to turn into bitterness.

What next? I called my brother down in Bay View, tears in my voice… “I want to come home.” His reply, “Come on then.” So there I was, thirty years old, never married, no home, no kids, running back to Gloucester to live with my brother, his wife and their three kids. “What a loser!” Well, that’s what I thought at the time. I was fortunate to have someone to let me in and it turned out to be a great place to re-start and get on with my next decade.

I had little ones to buy Christmas gifts for… (holidays are always tough when you feel alone). I had my own room with a separate entrance, a place at the table to eat dinner in the company of family. When my heart started aching and tears welled up, my brother would grab his oars, say “Come on,” and we’d jump in his dory tied to a haul back in Lobster Cove, and row out into Ipswich Bay. Sometimes we wouldn’t stop til we hit Hodgkin’s Cove. It was exhilarating, the healing had begun.

Loving and Leaving the Fort

Heading out into Ipswich Bay

I met a friend at one of the two jobs I was working. We hit it off right from the start. We were soon jet-setting all around in my faithful old Volvo. We were pretty fancy, us two; dinner in Marblehead, the next weekend Newburyport, off to the ski slopes in Maine. We could go where ever we wanted, do what ever we dreamed up, so long as we made it to work on Monday. Fun, fun times, but I needed to move on from play dates with my friend and living with my brother, after all, I was supposedly an adult now.

Loving and Leaving the FortEnter, Stage Left: In walks more good Karma. I’m having lunch over in East Gloucester with my mom, when I see and old friend across the room… Crushing bear hugs, “Haven’t seen you in years.” “What are you up to?” All led to me renting an amazing place on Goose Cove. Talk about being at the right place at the right time!

Goose Cove, back to my roots, where I used to catch baby eels off the dock, cupped gently in my bare hands. Here I was, 20 years later, hanging out on the rocks in my backyard, watching Snowy Egrets, Blue Herons, Green Herons and ducks while having my morning coffee. If the tide was up, an occasional pair of Swans would paddle over, looking for a treat. Such a magical place.

So, life was getting rosier all the time. Oh I still had my “Woe is me,” moments, missing friends, a cool job and my dog that I left behind in the mountains. Leaving my dog behind was the worst of it, but the best thing for her. I could never explain that I was letting her keep her fields and forests, in exchange for not having to live on a leash and as a shut in while I went to work. As she adjusted to life without me, I’d begun to settle into my old stomping grounds.

Sunrise, blue herons, coffee. Goose Cove

It’s hard picking up pieces of yourself and starting over again, but I was doing a great job of it. It helped that I was in familiar surroundings. Funny, how you miss the simple things. I used to worry that I wouldn’t have anyone to wave to on my way to work. Little by little, that came back too. It may not have been my friend Donnie in his Camino, driving down a road in Bartlett, but I’d see Fred in his pick-up truck on the stone bridge in Annisquam. Little by little, I’d bump into folks that I hadn’t seen in ten years. Oh, we wouldn’t begin again where we left off, friends can become acquaintances after a good amount of time. They’ve married their high school sweetheart, moved into a house of their own, had kids… it wasn’t like I could knock on a neighbors door and ask if Mindy could come out and play. Remember, I’m an adult at this point.

What I figured out was that Gloucester had its own way of welcoming me back. If I embraced and appreciated all she had to offer, she took me back, with open arms.

Swans stopping by for a treat. Goose Cove

Thanksgiving by Laurel Tarantino

2 December 2014

…In writing this I took a great pause here. You can do that when you’re writing in a journal. There are no deadlines to meet when you’re jotting down your thoughts, but sometimes your thoughts can keep you up at night just trying to make sense of them and to put them in ink form seems impossible.

My “Pause,” was Thanksgiving. I’d revisited what I’d already put down on paper in my head a bunch of times. Where was I going with it? I knew where; to the land where everything works out, and I clearly realized, sometimes everything doesn’t work out. Simply because life keeps loading one up with good fortune, doesn’t make the sun shine for others, but I like to think it will; well, for those that need it most and are especially deserving.

Photo by Laurel Tarantino

Having volunteered past Thanksgivings and then spending the rest of the day alone and on my own, I decided to travel with my family this year to spend the day in laughter, conversation with loved ones, and all the trimmings the day brings. It was everything I’d imagined. Simply wonderful, completely stress free and delicious, but throughout the day my thoughts would return to those not as fortunate and the indulgence was not as sweet. I struggled with that second glass of wine, knowing there are so many out there who are so completely alone. So, how does one win this battle between gladness and sadness playing out in their head? You give thanks and appreciate all that is before you and I surely do.

So now, I will take another great pause. I’ll write in my journal, but of course there will never be enough hours in a day to do all that I wish, nor are there ever enough hours for me to write all the gazillion thoughts that travel through my mind in the course of a day. I write for me, but selfishly hope that one day my words will find their way to my daughter. Perhaps not today, I don’t expect tomorrow, but one day, I’d like her to know who I am, besides just being her mom. I feel I take a giant blind leap in sharing my words publicly, but it is a risk I take.

I think I may be able to continue my story of how I got back to Gloucester from the White Mountains soon, but who knows, Christmas is coming, and goodness knows where my head and heart will be taking me this month, I imagine a bit of a roller coaster ride of high “highs” and low “lows.” Are the holidays like that for you…or is it just me?

Higher Love by Laurel Tarantino

Photo by Laurel Tarantino

A new entry from Loving and Leaving the Fort

17 November 2014

Why do people move? I imagine there are a lot of reasons. Your job relocated you. You got approved for that mortgage and are finally going into your dream home. School. The landlord is selling the house, or perhaps, you’re simply ready for a change.

Whatever the reason, it can be exciting, sometimes traumatic and I believe in all cases exhausting. For me, it was all three.

The trauma and excitement were rolled up in one. A new adventure was before me, but I was leaving behind a place that held me in an embrace that comforted away the worries of the day.

I found myself recently trying to comfort a friend who couldn’t see beyond the sadness of a break-up that left her torn and heart broken. Of course there are the old clichés, “There’s plenty of fish in the sea.” “There’s always sunshine after rain.” “When one door closes another one opens.” These are just a few that come to mind. Being there for your friends is the important thing. You won’t be able to take away the pain in that moment; they have to go through the mourning process in their own time. What I have found, through personal experience, is the next love is a higher love. It has to be, or you’ll keep looking back, idealizing, instead of being in the present. After living on my own for a couple years, how I loved the sound of my own laughter. I’d learned I could enjoy myself without depending on someone else, and then along came Jimmy who also appreciates the simple pleasures that make up each day, my “Higher Love”

It’s been the same leaving Fort Square. I’ve enjoyed making it my home for the past 23 years, but I’m moving into the future knowing I will find the next great chapter in my life.

I spent the 80s in Mt. Washington Valley. I was kind of fresh out of High School, embarking on what, I didn’t know, but I was ready, ready to become an adult and see something different. Not far from home, Gloucester, but a complete change from sea and shoreline.

Photo by Laurel Tarantino

I’d made a good choice for myself. I found the mountains to be as powerful as the ocean. I’d made it “Over the Bridge,” and I was hooked. How breathtaking to see Mt. Washington topped with snow in the morning light. Add the beautiful colors of autumn to the picture and you find yourself parked, taking it all in and perhaps being late for work.

The seasons are so giving in the mountains. Ah, to hear the rush of snow melt in a brook along a woodsy path. The awakening shock of diving into a hidden pool formed by those rushing waters on a hot Summer’s day, the smell of cider and those of country fairs with the promise of warmth in a barn full of big brown-eyed cows and bleating goats. Even winter doesn’t seem as harsh. Snowfall is invited; it adds its own magic.

Comments on Loving and Leaving the Fort


  1. Wonderful memories when life was so simply


  2. You were blessed with these memories. Thank you for sharing.


  3. Thank you. Truly. It means a lot to me that folks are actually enjoying my writing when I am full of self doubt. Rewarding to hear your feedback and it makes me look forward to finding a moment to use my ink pen again.


  4. We cannot grow without roots! Love the story!
    Thank you, for sharing the gift!


Fort Square, High Tide, No Wind by Laurel Tarantino

A new entry from Loving and Leaving the Fort

October 29, 2014
3:30 am

Photo by Laurel Tarantino

How many times have I sat here in the small hours of the morning, thinking the whole world’s asleep, only to have the quiet interrupted by the low rumbling of a fishing boat’s engine? Their running lights cut through the darkness, casting a path of light on the water’s surface. It seems as though you could catch the path from shore and run across the harbor to jump aboard the boat. Then you could tell the Captain, “I’m up too,” and let the crew know how much you enjoy the interruption of your quiet time.

What a beautiful sight they are from shore. Pretty soon they’re joined by another boat, followed by another, and they start to form a parade of lights as they head out to sea. They’re headed to work, unknowing of the spectacular show they’ve given me. Oh to have a better camera to capture such a sight, but no photo or painting could ever grasp my sated senses.

We have beautiful sunrises and sunsets in all different corners of Gloucester. Folks oooooh & aaaaah when they’re shown a gorgeous rainbow, perhaps even a double rainbow, that comes from that special light after a rain. A light that seems unique to Cape Ann.

Me, I like the setting Moon, especially when it’s big and full, shimmering across the harbor from Stage Fort to the place where I sit. Why do I love these wee hours, sitting, perhaps only my dog for company? Do I crave solitude? Do I only want this beauty for myself? No, I am not so selfish. I find myself saying to my dog, “Isn’t it amazing Sport? I wish Daddy were awake to see this. I wish everyone could see this.”

~ Laurel Tarantino

Fort Garden by Laurel Tarantino

Photo by Laurel Tarantino

Photo by Laurel Tarantino

October 18, 2014

Twenty years ago today we got married in my garden, surrounded by friends, flowers and the sea. It was pure happiness from the start.

Leaving now, I cry. How can I leave my garden? So many hours spent toiling away, with my feathered friends nosing around to see what I may have turned up. I talk to them, the birds, and they enjoy it. They’ll show you when they ruffle their feathers and tilt their heads to listen instead of flying away. I am rewarded with birdsong. I wonder if they’ll miss me, and I hope that they won’t, for I wouldn’t want them to be sad. And then there are the bees. How I love to watch them in their labors. They don’t give me much thought; they only fly to the next flower when my shadow falls on them. Perhaps I envy them their ability to throw their whole selves into a flower. Me, I can only stick in my nose.

So many rewards come from raising your own garden. The first green you see popping up through the ground after a long cold winter. Seems like every day brings a new blossom. So exciting if you like simple pleasures, to be surprised in the spring by the jonquils and tulips that have multiplied underground. What joy it brings a dear friend, a pretty nosegay from your own back yard. I could go on, but you probably don’t want to hear about the big fat worms we have here, or the brown snakes and their secret cache of snail shells.

I decide I’m taking my garden with me; I can’t leave it behind. Too much of me went into it. Too many heirlooms from my mom, sister and brother. I don’t know how, I have no place to put it, but I know it can be done. It’s not winter; it’s early October, the perfect time to transplant .

I will give my garden to my friend Ann. In her yard it will be enjoyed. In her yard, I can visit it from time to time. In her yard, it will not be lost to neglect or swallowed by weeds because it has been left on its own.

This will be an enormous undertaking. I’ll need a lot of help. If I invite my friends to this unusual garden party, will they come? Indeed, they arrive in the early morning mist with hot coffee, pastries and spades. Little Wyatt sits on his mom’s lap under the tent while his dad tends to the removal of flowering shrubs. Lois and Joe start with the phlox that are already resting after a spectacular summer exhibition. In no time my husband is off to Magnolia with the first load of fish totes full of rhizomes and roots.

It’s so odd to see the Butterfly Bush, still in its blooming stage, laying on its side waiting for its ride. I’m surprised at how calm I am. I thought for sure I’d be an emotional wreck, but I’m happy, I’m actually joyous I have such caring friends. Even Tommy got himself up early on a Saturday morning to help. He and Dave manage to get the three hundred pound barnacle-laden anchor into the back of Tommy’s truck. A bit of garden ornamentation that fills the entire truck bed.

The weather has provided ideal conditions for transplanting, With so many hands shaking out roots and separating Asters from Autumn Sedum, the work is done in not time. I find the only difficult moment to be the one where I must split my Bleeding Heart in two. My beloved dog Pal lays at rest under it. Five years has been graced with a beautiful resiting ground. I can only hope this flowering remembrance will persevere.

How I have loved my garden. How I have loved this morning and the chatter of my friends as they’ve toiled. Now it is off to Magnolia to plant their future. At Ann’s the work is a bit more difficult. We have to break ground in soil that hasn’t been disturbed in years, perhaps ever, but it gets done. Jimmy finds spots that the bushes can sink their roots into while others plant the perennials in their new digs. Ann mixes up her special elixir of Neptune’s Harvest and feeds each and every one. I am so pleased everything has gone so smoothly and with so much tremendous good will that I can only believe this has been a positive move and that my garden will flourish and live on. Just as the other half of Pal’s Bleeding Heart will take to its special spot beside our Birdseye memorial.

We break from our labors to enjoy a greatly appreciated and much needed lunch that Ann has prepared. I am blessed. No one is in a hurry to be somewhere else. They’ve enjoyed each other and being here for me, and for this task I’ve handed them. These fine folks gathered around the kitchen were not going to see me leave my garden behind.

Aside, Ann tells me, “You can visit your garden any time now, and once you’re settled, come dig up what you want.”

I tell her it’s hers now, that I thought I’d be sad, but I’m anything but. I’m looking forward to the next chapter in my life, you know the one where I become a famous writer and photographer! But I have to learn a few more adjectives.

I laugh while I sip my Prosecco. The old dreams of a 17-year-old girl are back. Being a photojournalist sounded good back then, and still does on this day, with my toy camera and my ink pens that are given freely at banks. Maybe, just maybe it’ll happen.

For now, I plant a “ring-a-rosey” of Autumn Sedum around the Hydrangea my husband gave me on our first wedding anniversary. Such a lovey day. Such amazing friendships. I have so many surprises to look forward to come spring. I fall asleep to the sound of rain, sweet sweet rain, blessed with another perfect day from beginning to end.