Friday, September 7, 2018

Home, finally

Motif #1 is said to be one of America's most photographed scenes. It's located in Rockport's harbor, and sometimes it gets wrapped up in a big green bow for the holidays.

A few of us awaken to home; others have to seek it. I’m one of the latter. At 70 I’m finally here. Home.

For a few years in the early ‘90s I lived in the downstairs apartment of a big house owned by Lura Hall Phillips. An activist on behalf of Rockport, Massachusetts, she never held still. She was 94 years old and easily moved up and down the steep staircases in the house and in and out of Rockport’s business.

Lura introduced me to many like her, creative characters and doers who worked hard for our town. Roger Martin and Ted Tarr were among those who responded to her calls for action. At her memorial service a few years later in Millbrook Meadow, a magical place across from Front Beach that she worked to preserve and restore, Roger called her the ‘town prod.’ Ted said his day started at dawn when Lura’s to-do calls began. “I knew better than to ignore Lura Hall Phillips,” he said, laughing. He took the calls and did what she asked.

It was Rockport that inspired such devotion to duty. I responded, as well. For 10 years I wrote and published weekly essays, many about Rockport. They were really love letters and everybody who read them knew it. I received a drawerful of happy mail, mostly from people who understood. They loved reading about their special town. 

All the same, I knew my place. Roger Martin called me one night to explain that I was not a true Rockporter. I don’t think he held my Southern California roots against me, but he made sure I knew the nuances of home. To this day, I do not refer to Rockport as my hometown; instead, it’s the place where I live. I told Roger that it didn’t take a local to know a good home. I had journeyed from place to place, lover to lover, job to job, for 45 years. Yes. Rockport was home. The motherlode. After so many years of strife and rootless angst, I found home, safety and serenity in large part thanks to Lura Hall Phillips. She decided I would have the downstairs apartment over 85 other applicants because she said she liked my writing. Did she suspect that I, too, would catch the bug and carry on her tradition of serving Rockport with my writing and small but important civil actions?

I just finished reading and reviewing a novel I really enjoyed by Stephen McCauley, who also has a residence in Rockport. The book is smart, funny, full of warmth and love, and presents a view of humanity rooted in Rockport. Also, “My Ex-Life” is a page-turner. 

The the book is set in Rockport McCauley calls it Beauport. I’ve written fiction set in Rockport and I call it Lodgeport. I like Beauport better, but now it’s taken. I should note that part-time Gloucester resident James Masciarelli has a new novel out this summer, as well, and it’s called “Beyond Beauport.” But the fictional Beauport he references is Gloucester. The bigger point here is that writing about Rockport and Cape Ann will go on for as long as there are writers and a Cape Ann that’s still above sea level.

My Ex-Life,” which I reviewed for Gatehouse Media newspapers last week, portrays a Rockport many know well — a pretty place, unpretentious, in need of a master plan for its commerce and its future residential development. Like me, its characters lived hard and busy lives but, happily, found their way home in time to enjoy their good fortunes.

I ended up buying Lura’s house from her estate just a few weeks before she died. She’d fallen and broken a hip, and was in Addison-Gilbert Hospital when I told her the good news about the approval of the mortgage. She held my hand and told me she was really happy for me. “I love that house,” she said. “Now you can watch over it for a while.” She died just a week later.

This morning as I write this, I sit on the deck and look out over the ocean. Big clouds are building in the north. It’s 86 degrees and humid. Storms are predicted. During the Perfect Storm in 1991, the winds blew so hard I could not stand up outside without holding onto to something. It was my first night in the apartment. Terrified, I ran upstairs to Lura’s apartment and asked her what we should do. 

“Why, nothing. This has been home for many people for many decades. It will withstand the storms.”

 "It will withstand the storms."
                       — Lura Hall Phillips


  1. Nice tribute to Lura as well as Rockport.

  2. Thank you, Betsy and Susan, for taking the time to read this post. It was really a pleasure to sit and think a bit about Lura.