Gaining glimpses into lives completely different than the one I lead in central Ohio is one of my favorite aspects in travel. Oftentimes the characters in these non-fiction stories consider themselves to be ordinary individuals in an ordinary existence. Familiarity masks the magic and camouflages the charm. Which makes it all the more fun when you meet someone like Joan Ellis of Barnstable, Massachusetts on Cape Cod.
My leisurely drive along Massachusetts 6A with my aunt in the spring of 2010 took us out of traffic and into the quaint little towns that mark one’s passage onto the Cape. We had stopped for photos and fruit and were walking back towards the car when I was struck by a view Mrs. Ellis must see dozens of times a day. She was unloading groceries but noticed me peering toward the twin Adirondack chairs perched at the end of the marsh that was her backyard. Mrs. Ellis graciously invited us up for a closer view.
Knowing we probably weren’t the first to admire her home , we asked how she handled what must be a constant stream of passersby. Mrs. Ellis laughed, “You’d better be comfortable with visitors when you live on Main Street!” She told us she liked to prune the flowers along her front fence wearing one of those t-shirts that make the wearer appear to be sporting a rather shapely bikini. She lamented that the younger generation didn’t even blink but that she got occasional honks from older drivers. She was hoping for a better response on April Fool’s Day which would land in the next week.
The shingled house with a detached garage had been her husband’s family home, and Mrs. Ellis shared a little of its history.
The Barnstable County Courthouse across the street used to be neighbored by the county prison and a working farm with wandering cattle. Prisoners once grew potatoes in the marshland I’d noticed behind the house. Mrs. Ellis said that she was often asked if it didn’t make them nervous to have the Courthouse’s two cannons pointed directly at their home! Her standard response was that it didn’t worry her much knowing that the cannonballs had been found by her husband as a young boy and were safely stored in their own cellar.
Her main concern that afternoon as the spring season began was whether her hollyhocks would recover after an excessively wet winter to bloom in customary profusion along her Main Street fence. I hoped so too. Mrs. Ellis’ ability to prune her hollyhocks seemed intrinsic to Barnstable’s quiet charm.
Updated from April 22, 2010.