Sunday, April 19, 2015

On a Bridge to the Past

Suppose I had not bought this house.

After all, I tried pretty hard to buy one in the town down the road. We lived there once upon a time, and I still swim in a warm bath of memories every time I slip down there. I remember how I felt sitting at this stoplight. I remember sunlight at this exact angle as I drove down Main Street before. 

We could really have done up this warm-bath-in-memories thing royally because, while we hunted for houses, what should show up in the MLS but a home we lived in before. The interior was painted all cute and somebody finally installed a dishwasher in the kitchen. Yes, it was smaller than what we’d been living in, but we were on a mission to downsize.

We didn’t take the bait.

We did, however, bid on a house two blocks away, loving its gleaming hardwood floors and granite counters. But even that proved more than I could take.

I was a different person when I last lived on those streets. I’ve figured out a few things since then and if I woke up and looked out on the same trees, I would have felt like somebody moved my Candy Land marker all the way back to Start.

In Richard Russo’s That Old Cape Magic, 57-year-old Jack Griffin grapples with his own past as he drives over the bridge to Cape Cod, on his way to a wedding.

He rode over that bridge in the back of his parents’ car every summer.

Mom and Dad attended Ivy League schools, assuming all the while that they would teach there. And if not the Ivy League, then a smaller East Coast college would do.

But they ended up in Indiana.

Snobby and lacking any talent for happiness, Mom and Dad got their East Coast fix vacationing on the Cape. Living all year for this hiatus from life’s cruel joke, they spent their week snatching up real estate magazines and snubbing anybody who tried to befriend them.

Can’t we just imagine the parental voices that play in Jack’s head? Not to mention the words that slip out of his mouth. Yes, Jack admits he inherited the worst parts of each parent.

Jack also honeymooned on the Cape. Oh, the plans he and Joy made as they holed up at their beach-side cottage in Truro thirty years ago

Today, though, they’re a little like a bookshelf. When you first set it up, the books sit up straight. They’re organized—biographies here, novels over there. How-to books up high, children’s books down low.

After awhile, Abe Lincoln gets shoved in beside Dr. Suess. They both slouch. They wear a coat of dust. Somebody needs to tidy this place up, but nobody wants to.

Yeah, that’s where Jack and Joy’s marriage is these days.

So Cape definitely launches on a gloomy note.

But it’s not all hopeless, I promise.

And Joy’s twin baby brothers definitely liven things up. These two Marine-Corps oafs ache for somebody, anybody, to insult them, because there’s nothing they love better than to throw a punch.

Language cow patties. 

 If you need something to pull you through Jack’s midlife taking-stock, you might whip up some Simple Sweet and Spicy Chicken Wraps. With a little bit of honey hiding in both the spread and the chicken, this dish earned a lot of love from me.


  1. Love your line "lacking any talent for happiness." It's sad but true that some people live that way. The bookshelf bit is great too.

  2. A remarkable review! You have a gift for crystallizing the two-dimensional print. You must be a chemist!