Photos by Iory Allison
My Grandmother used to read my Mother and her sisters “into” a book. By the time she had got through the first chapter or so her girls would be clamoring to race on with the story themselves. I have followed GrandMother Gwendolyn’s lead and I hope, after you hear me start, you will grab the text and fly through my boyhood in Truro.
Left to Right: General Nuisance, our beagle, Thorne, Gordon, Seward, Nancy & Iory
When I was a boy in Truro it was a lonely place and by that, I mean it was open and uncrowded. Sweeping vistas stretched out across the Atlantic Ocean or Cape Cod Bay as far as the eye could see. The day sky was a vast blue space accommodating mystic cloud-mountains expanding beyond all limits. The night sky was infinite. Truro was the first place where I saw the Milky Way – our spiraling galaxy trailing across space. In August shooting stars fell from grace marking a path of white fire across the black dome of heaven. From our little sweep of beach, tucked into a clearing in the expansive salt marsh, we could follow the flooding and draining of the Pamet River. The tides came and went marking time by ever changing arrangements of golden sandbars, little islets instantly eroded, shape shifters following the irresistible currents of surging tidal water. Little sand eels darted across tide pools disappearing into the loose sand with a flash of silver underbelly. Every six hours the pull of the moon directed the flow of the water. When the tide turns there is a moment of stillness, the Slack Tide, when floating on buoyant salt water with only your face above the surface, you can feel the pause, an instant of calm, stolen time, a moment of utter tranquility.
View out to sea,
Cape Cod Bay
The Barn, Truro
When I was a boy in Truro it was a place of adventure. My two brothers and our parents lived in a barn on the Pamet River. The night winds snapped the cedar shingles on the roof sounding like mischievous spirits dancing. Explosive thunder storms seeped right through the barn doors leaving puddles on the floor. The ice in the ice box, suffering from the summer heat, cracked and popped, spilling a bowl of blueberries gathered that morning. Large sea clams from North Truro sand flats once shucked and channeled through the meat grinder came out still wiggling, causing us to squeal with horror before mother, without concern, tossed them into her chowder.
After dinner, tucked into our bunk beds, Mother read to us the adventures of Treasure Island and Ivanhoe. Her theatrical resonant voice like the swift flowing tide carried us to places of dream and such where pirates marauded and knights in steel armor vanquished dragons.
Cascading Sand Dunes
When I was a boy in Truro, we were careless of consequence, charging down the giant dunes of Longnook and Ballston beaches accelerating the inevitable erosion without concern. Our gaudy beach towels tied around our necks, flapping like Superman capes. My brothers and I raced towards the relentless rolling surf. The bracing chill of ocean water could hardly cool our ardent passion for waves crashing, riding the push of curling water, swollen with power, rearing stallions stampeding in froth. We flew on the crest, feeling the power of the ocean literally hurling us out of her, into her – can you hear the seals bark and the gulls laughing?
Pamet River, Truro
When I was a boy in Truro each month the full moon flooded the marsh with an overabundance of sea water. We waited past dark scurrying out – whispering and giggling, to dive naked into the high tide creeping up the beach. Around us in the darkness, phosphorescent plankton sparkled with magic light and the more you spun round and splashed the more this mystic twinkle danced and caressed our collective nakedness.
When I was a boy in Truro we played in the boat yard where a collection of discarded vessels, landed boats, forgotten by crew and captains had washed up in a maritime dead-end collection. The haunted vessels listed in their cradles from age rather than strong winds. Disheveled cabins smelling of engine oil, tar and neglect disgorged fascinating artifacts. There were old life vests covered in brittle canvas filled with blocks of cork that when torn from their casings became little cork boats that we fitted with paper sails. On board the Mary-Louise, tucked behind the tiller wheel, we found an old tin fog horn. Thorne, my oldest brother, brought it home to the barn blowing loud blasts of warning announcing that we, carousing pirates, were approaching. Mother instantly saw a useful tool and adopted the fog horn to call us in from play at the end of each day.
When I was a boy in Truro, Margaret our neighbor lady, took me to her secret blueberry patch. She led me past a blind of thick bushes concealing a forgotten cart path, two sandy trails with grass and weeds growing between. We walked silently. Margaret’s words were spare. I could hear a faint swish as the tall grasses brushed against our blue and white enameled pails. Then the swelling drone of Cicadas, excited by the rising heat of midmorning, filled the empty spaces. The smell of pitch pine radiating from gnarly branches entwined above us made a shady tunnel to walk under. The path dipped down and rose abruptly making a roller coaster ripple. Just after that, we broke cover and came out on the highlands bare of trees and thickly carpeted with cranberries, their tiny leaves sparkled in the brilliant light of a new day. From those heights the bay waters twinkled in the distance and the vault of the sky was colored from the deepest azure to pale blue at the horizon. All along the edge of the woodsy thicket from where we had come, low bush blueberries grew, laden with clusters of tangy fruit. The ripe berries fell easily into our hands – lips stained blue with the taste of summer.
Meandering Beach Pamet River, Truro
When I was a boy in Truro, I wandered the beach bordering of the Pamet river salt marsh as it wound round the dunes high and low following the flow of glacial currents formed before the concept of time. There was an old farm, its pastures shaggy with neglect, following the wrinkles in the land. A half-hidden deer path, led up from the beach coyly tucked between fragrant rose thickets ablaze with magenta blossoms. I climbed the path and saw something sparkling brightly, beckoning me towards a patch of sandy bank that broke the green carpet of cranberry leaves. As I approached this magical place I saw old bottles half buried in the sand exposed to years of sun and rough weather. Their wiggly glass had turned beautiful shades of lavender and purple with swirls of iridescent gold trailing over the rounded shoulders of discarded bottles. I had discovered the old farm dump, an archeological dig of rich deposits that would draw me back time and again offering all sorts of prizes.
From Truro Farm Dump
When I was a boy in Truro the sand train came ponderously swaying on rusty tracks following an eroding dike that cut a straight path across the salt marsh. At the center of the marsh, where the Pamet River cut through, a trestle bridge tenuously stood on water weary pilings encased in barnacles, trailing tattered beards of green sea weed rippling in the swift current. The long train banged out warning from a weathered brass bell mounted on its old-fashioned engine. This snorting war horse pulled endless rusty brown cars filled to overflowing with fine pale sand from the restless dunes of Provincetown. As this frightful behemoth lumbered past, shouting out a horrendous racket, the clickity-clack of steel wheels marked the beat of rail gaps calling out a percussive rhythm – hesitant pulse of aching complaint against another long haul. All of us, witnessing this wounded warrior, waged a cynical bet against its forward progress half expecting the ponderous caravan to topple into the drink at any moment. The enormous load of those mountains of sand, weighed down with outrage and complaint at being disturbed, rebelliously flew off the exposed sand peaks trailing a dust cloud that refused to cooperate with the outrage of rape. Without the need of parental warning all of us kids kept a respectful distance from the sand train. After all, we who were steeped in the lore of knights in armor knew all about the devastation of dragons.
When I was a boy in Truro Tiny came for a swim to our small crest of beach. It was early June, but she could not wait for the ease of summer-heat to launch her into the Pamet’s beguiling waters. Truro was her wise choice in all the world. The Pamet was the life blood of Truro. It had surged through long dark nights of winter into spring when the tide’s relentless and graceful flow teemed with life immortal. The slow progress of horseshoe crabs unconcerned with seasons, centuries or eons were like Tiny, a force to be reckoned with. She was, of course, enormous both in stature and personality speaking in a trumpeting British accent, she proclaimed the moment when her upper thighs bravely encountered the thrill of effervescent chill as, “Delicious!!” She dove head first into the current much like her sister whales following the tides, powered by the invisible reach of the moon. It was at that moment – I, a child, she a Grandmother – Tiny showed me what it was to be subsumed into the irresistible alure of a lover’s embrace.
Photo by Iory Allison
Delicious summer water
When I was a boy in Truro, Dad took us with him on the trap boats fishing in Cape Cod Bay. Thorne, Seward and Iory, one at a time in succession over the years. We drove through the darkness of deep night to North Truro. Arriving at the old weather-beaten icehouse a dark shadow that struggled to maintain its dignity beside the railroad tracks running along the dune cliffs. Periodic trains of refrigerator cars would carry the frozen catch back to the city markets on the mainland. The icehouse was surrounded by a scattering of tattered fishermen’s shacks nestling into the steep dunes, half buried by the drifting sand.
By the time we arrived, about 4:AM, the four-man crew were already there, gathered in the shadows around a pot-bellied coal stove, black iron glowing red through an open grate. The atmosphere was thick with the smell of tar from the nets piled around the barn loft, coal soot and drying fish with an acrid overtone of gull guano mixing together much like the smell of mud flats at low tide.
The fishermen filed out to the crashing surf to launch their dory, bow and stern pointing upwards pinched together like hands in prayer. The heavy dory dipped and reared in the teasing surf. We all followed the skipper’s bark, jumping in, no hesitation was allowed – all men flowing with the grace of an old dance. They pulled long oars climbing the wave swells out beyond the surf to the trap boat thrashing at its mooring, the fishermen’s sea dog, loyal, waiting, eager for the chase to begin.
The trap boat followed a line-curtain of coarse netting hung at fifty-yard intervals from hickory polls sunk deeply into the sandy bay. This wall stretched out perpendicular to the shore channeling the fish towards the oval weir trap, 140 feet in diameter. The boat entered the trap where the bowman caught a line that pulled the net closed. Once inside the trap we were surrounded by an explosion of panicking fish forming a dense cyclone of struggling muscle. The fishermen showed me how to pull the net with a technique that avoided the weight of the boat but grasped the net tighter and tighter around the ball of fish. The men were excited to see large tuna circling the mass, sending showers of squid flying in all directions with a cracking whip of their tail fins. One magnificent monster, at least six feet long, probably weighing half a ton, shot out of the panic with heroic bravado. He leaped ten feet or more out of the water, flying over the weir net in a miraculous arch escaping capture, diving into the bay with a splash sounding like a gunshot and disappeared.
I had brought a pail to gather star fish that clung to the weir net. Once home, I would straighten out the slowly writhing legs, place them on the cement ledge of our barn to dry in the sun for some days. Then I would take my catch to Tiny’s shop in North Truro, Fishnet Industries, and sell them for 10 to 25 cents apiece.
When I was a boy in Truro dad always got up at 7 sharp, grabbed his coffee and set off in the Jeep to “get the paper.” First stop, Snowy’s gas station a place of fascination not to be missed. While Dad marched forward to the station shop for his paper, I got lost in the “garden.” There, piles of artifacts, junk really, were arranged into fanciful sculptures half hidden between towering corn stalks, sweet pea tangles and a profusion of summer flowers in various stages of dominance. A disreputable scarecrow held court in the midst of this jungle. He was clad in a frilly dress over tattered overalls. An ancient bonnet tipped at a rakish angle shaded bottle-cap eyes and smiling lips of yarn drooled down his face. I seem to recall a gaudy parrot perched on a pole opposite the scare-crow squawking in a loud voice but I may be making this up, fantasy was real in Snowy’s garden.
Dad returning to the jeep after his chat with Snowy, an ancient geezer he had known for decades, started the jeep and backed up to go. I was momentarily misplaced before he realized his loss and beeping his horn, I scrambled into the back seat and off we sped.
Next stop Bill L’engle’s down Longnook Road. Mr. L’engle and his wife Lucy, known as Brownie, were painters. Their rambling farmhouse had an old-fashioned windmill looking like a huge erector-set toy on which was attached an over life-sized figure of a circus acrobat or some such fanciful creature. This fellow was painted on old drift wood planks salvaged from one of the wrecks that the treacherous sand bars of Longnook Beach would disgorge from its memory of sorrowful winter storms.
Beyond the door yard of the L’engle’s kitchen, a tall lady-elm held aloft her drape of elegant skirts, shading the shingled roofs with green luxuriance. In the surrounding garden, at the base of the mighty elm trunk, a goldfish “pond” was half hidden in a mystery of overabundant flower beds. Pink waterlilies with tatty floating leaves veiled secret depths where a splash of goldfish darted helter-skelter hiding from intruding eyes. On the still waters floated one green-glass sphere, A Portuguese fishnet float found years ago tossed onto the sand of Cornhill beach. I was enthralled by this beautiful jewel seemingly so fragile that had survived the ocean’s roar. The idea of floating glass was magical.
Green glass sphere floating in the goldfish pond
When I was a boy in Truro, one spring before the rush of summer exploded into full bloom, we stayed at an old farmhouse on Atwood Road. The clapboard walls were painted a caulky white. Forest green exterior shutters had to be pried opened on rusty hinges that squeaked with complaint as we let light into the hibernating house. The back yard was surrounded by a towering old privet hedge long since let go from its prim trim of more proper times. This intimate garden room created a snug hide-away where lawn chairs circled around a bird-bath decorated with large glass marbles sunk into its cement base showing swirls of color in the clouded glass.
One morning I wandered off beyond the hedge row, up the hill where, tangles of twisting pitch pines grew in a dancing embrace with bayberry brambles, a memory of last year’s promise, not always accomplished.
Deer Path in the Woods
I was drawn by a faint path carpeted with brown pine needles trailing through the soft grass. I followed this trail as it meandered into a grove of locust trees woven with an impenetrable tangle of blackberry brambles. At this place of disguise and removal, I caught an elusive trail of intoxicating scent, a mysterious perfume. As quickly as it came, it was gone, leaving an aching loss, like the betrayal of love. All my senses were jolted alive, hungry for that spectral presence. I cut through the blackberry canes heedless of the tear of jealous thorns, leaving messages of rebuke written in bloody runes on my arms.
Locust trees held aloft a canopy of dancing leaves. Their undulating grace followed the choreography of warm breezes aroused by mid-morning sunshine. On invisible currents came waves of scent. Not wild like the woods but refined, distilled, redolent with feminine grace, beautiful like the memory of a first kiss. I drew deep breaths of glorious scent into my lungs lusting for the source of this divine revelation. Thrashing against the Gordian knot of underbrush, I penetrated the last barrier and came tumbling out onto a remnant of neglected lawn. The shaggy grass was encircled by a phalanx of old lilacs laden with a wealth of flower clusters. The thick lilacs – faded memory of a housewife’s pride – corralled a cellar hole ringed with granite foundation stones. The farmhouse, now long gone, had tumbled into itself, leaving an indentation of debris couched by thick blankets of brown leaves. Here cascades of lush purple blossoms clustering on reaching branches, radiated lush flower scent filling the air with the passionate reward of love fulfilled.
Old fashioned lilacs