In the summer of my fourteenth year, my two maiden aunts decided their only niece needed a “cultural education.” Our small city had a symphony, but no ballet. Hence, in the eyes of my aunts, both educators, it was a cultural wasteland. For five weeks, we would be touring around New England, taking in all the cultural sights that could be soaked up in a short period of time.
I wasn’t keen about writing back then, but apparently, I kept a journal, and a rather descriptive one. Several years ago, while cleaning out a box of family photos and ephemera, I came across that journal. I imagine I was far less interested in the churches, museums, concerts and ballets I saw that summer, than in the restaurants, swimming pools and motels I enjoyed on this cultural awakening. However, it seems I did enjoy the majority of cultural sights. I lovingly described the stuffed lobster dinner I enjoyed at “Marigold,” a quaint eatery somewhere in Marblehead, where I had my first popover. Its rich and pillowy egginess has stayed with me all these years. While impressive to look at, they are quite simple to make, as I often do now. I also was impressed by our tour of The House of the Seven Gables, in Salem, the brilliantly white billowing sails of the tall ships in Mystic, Connecticut. And I fell in love with Motif #1 in Rockport, Massachusetts, with its collection of lobster pots and buoys contrasted against the faded red of the weathered building that jetted into the harbor. I wrote about the sea salt taste on my tongue and fish briny smells of the wharf, the intense blue sky and later, the unbridled fury of the ocean after a brief storm. I wrote about this small sea town, vowing to return someday.
I loved the Indian corn pudding at the Wiggins Tavern in the Hotel Northampton, and was spellbound watching and listening to the sixteen-year-old Van Cliburn at Tanglewood. I was equally mesmerized by Merce Cunningham, while at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. Sixty years later, these memories are still with me.
I wrote about our visit to Walden Pond, to Sturbridge Village, to Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts where the shot was fired ‘heard round the world. And I remember the Beef Wellington I ate at a country inn there. I was enchanted by Normal Rockwell’s paintings and equally enchanted by The Red Lion Inn, where my aunts and I lunched, enjoying lobster bisque and chicken potpie in the elegant, antique-filled dining room.
We visited small, white, pristine country churches every Sunday and one, the First Church in Bennington, Vermont, I would later revisit for a wedding, some 45 years later, when I was working in Bennington.
I don’t think we missed a single New England cultural or historical site. And apparently, that trip did have a profound impact on a fourteen-year-old girl. Because, as an adult, I returned to many of these historic sites. My first vacation as a single woman, fresh out of college, and alone, was to Rockport and fifteen years later, I introduced my husband to this quaint and charming seacoast town. My husband and I have attended many concerts in Tanglewood, spent a Thanksgiving at the Hotel Northampton and spent many an hour browsing the paintings of Normal Rockwell in West Stockbridge.
At fourteen, my writing wasn’t very profound, but it brought a flooding of memories. I wish I could go back and rewrite the story of that summer, but I’m not sure it could be any better.