My First 30 Days in Marblehead

Stoddard Vandersteel, who recently moved to Marblehead from San Francisco, shares his thoughts on his first 30 days in town.

The following reflection was sent in by Stoddard Vandersteel, who arrived in Marblehead on July 28

We arrived at our new home to an avalanche of new mail, amassed as we drove cross-country for a few weeks. One was a notice from the local electric company about past due amounts. Already, we are past due, and we haven't even set foot in the town and our lights are about to be out. 

I called the 800 number and guess what happened? "Listen carefully as our menu options have changed." No.

What happened was a woman answered the phone - a human being! I asked to speak to the billing department, but she asked why I was calling. "Oh, I can take care of that. No, we aren't going to turn your lights off - welcome to Marblehead." And she immediately took care of our past due notice. 

Later in the day, trying to set up auto-pay on their website, I encountered a problem. On dialing the 800 number, again the same lady answers, and again asks about my problem. On explanation, she again immediately resolves the issue. 

Next, I call the local bank about how to make our first mortgage payment. Dialing the 800 number, guess what, an actual person answers. "Can I speak to Carl Edwards?" (My loan officer). "Hold on, oh yes, Carl is at his desk" and suddenly I am speaking to Carl Edwards.

Time Warp again. This must be what small town America is. I had given it up for a lost past. Yet within 15 miles of Boston, here it is. And we are in it. 

This is certain confirmation that I am in a time warp, a time most of us recall as from decades ago, where service was rendered by people and not automatons. Remember that? Wow, so refreshing, almost miraculous that life can still be led in personal way.

Further warp confirmation with two discoveries.

The first is the raft at , a floating wood slab where kids appear, and against the "Do Not Jump From Gangway" they are doing just that into the glittering summer water below. It is Sawyer and Finn all over again. Just like it was in the good old days.

The second encounter is , which I stumble upon on a daily walk. In it are model sailboats, radio-controlled by men older than me, but in a sailing harmony of racing boats beating to the wind in a time forgotten. And on the shore are a couple of Dads with their children, fishing rods, lines to the bobs, silently awaiting the bite. Rockwell revisited?

Our tempo is to awake at 5:30 - the alarm is the sun streaming in on the rise. Like a vivid sunset, the sun bursts across the harbor, and there is no escaping it.

Soon, awake, and on foot to , the local cafe, the streets are alive with local residents on their early jogs, or dog walks. There is palpable life here even at 6 in the morning. It seems totally incongruous that from a small town cafe I am returning prior days email from work.

Soon the cafe floods with local trades people, but it is not a scene of waiting in line and then out the door, but here people sit down and discuss the travails of yesterday. This will take a little getting use to, but sense it will not take long.

In the west, I measured the cadence of the seasons by the sunlight. The bright overhead orb in summer and the soft glow in the low sky in winter - but there was always a sun to see, most days. But there were no snow drifts, or autumn foliage. 

Even so, you knew where you were by the fall of sunlight, like a sundial of seasons. But here in Marblehead, after 30 days, the cadence of seasons is already apparent. The sundown cannons of the five yacht clubs are blasting sooner, and farmer’s markets are already harkening fall with the appearance of pumpkins.  

The imprint of seasons is pointing to a much more dramatic reckoning than what we see in California - I will revisit this topic in February when the full import is upon us, and we come to our senses when we long for a warm sun.

Speaking of cadence, the flow of tides marks the daily rhythm. Of course there is the visual impression seen from our home, but it runs deeper in terms of when the fishing boats come in and the fresh fish appear in the market. The gulls gallivant at low tide with their fresh catch, dropped on the rocks below us to break apart their dinners. And at high tide, they are gone.

There is no mistaking sunset here in Marblehead, where for a small town of 19,000, there are five yacht clubs, and all at sundown, let loose a gale of cannons that quite get your attention. At sunrise, no cannons, but by civil agreement, they go off at 8 a.m.

Finally, the bells, as in England, from tower. Another marker to let us know we have shifted back 50 years in time.

Ever much more for while afoot in town, the homes are of ancient ancestry and decided charm, with bowed rooflines and off level floors, moats of fresh flowers, untouched for hundreds of years. Most with their original provenance plaqued by the front door

There are hundreds of boats in the harbor, almost all sailboats, and most of those with white hulls. Like so many swans lay before us on our front lawn as if on a time forgotten.

James Tighe September 10, 2012 at 12:50 PM
Very well written and does catch why we live here! If one wants the long lines to wait for coffee and the rush of business then Boston is not that far away. Here is a place to decompress after the mad scene that is Boston. Nice to come home to and all though born in Gloucester when my parents lived in Rockport I grew up in the foot hills of the Berkshires, in Litchfield, CT. not that far from Norman Rockwell and his studio. Traveling New England on business I find many towns with the ebb and flow of small town life, places were people know their neighbors and are earnest in their endeavors. New England is made of small towns and deep rooted sense of ethics which has spread over the centuries to the rest of the land. No matter were one is from, One only has to look at the "Spirit of 76" hanging in Abbot Hall to understand what U.S. is all about.
Ina-Lee Block September 10, 2012 at 02:05 PM
Thank you for reminding me (though I rarely forget) why we have chosen to make our lives here.
Betty Dew September 10, 2012 at 06:50 PM
Fabulous! Welcome to Marblehead!
Joe Whipple September 10, 2012 at 11:51 PM
A beautiful piece, reminding us of how good some of the things are that we have come to take for granted.
Joe Whipple September 10, 2012 at 11:54 PM
But one thing about Crocker Park and thinking of Tom Sawyer Huck Finn. As I understand it, pre WWII the boys skinny-dipped. So it's not quite so Mark Twainesque as it once was.
dory louden September 11, 2012 at 12:27 PM
So well written and so captures the essence of living here --- sometimes, we take all of this for granted, but Marblehead does offer a unique and special lifestyle! dalouden
Stoddard Vandersteel September 12, 2012 at 12:51 AM
I know you must be right about the villages of New England. I once drove across the US with one rule: no highways. Which meant many small towns - as if there was a different country from the one on our two coasts. It's just that I have strayed from those, but now in Marblehead, glad to be back! And I look forward to discovering small-town New England!
Stoddard Vandersteel September 12, 2012 at 12:59 AM
Well, that was just the first 30 days. I look forward to my impressions as the seasons roll by. In California, there are just two seasons: sunny/warm and rainy/mild. With the score 320 days to 30 days. Plus, in the course of a year, maybe at best two lightning bolts and several thunderclaps! An occasionally in summer there is a day with clouds in the sky. Think my new home will be much more interesting!
Stoddard Vandersteel September 12, 2012 at 01:02 AM
Seems everyday your comments come to life. One thing that struck me was so many people walking there dogs. But even more surprising is how many shopkeepers place water bowls outside there front door for the canine pedestrians
Ann Vandersteel September 12, 2012 at 06:58 PM
As a one time visitor to Marblehead, I look forward to many returns at my brother and sister in law's new home! So glad they settled back east! Love you Stoddard!
Patricia Goodwin September 13, 2012 at 02:44 PM
I've lived here almost 30 years. Early on, I wrote a piece called "The Loveliness of Marblehead" for the Reporter about my view of my neighbors, the Lovely's little farm, which I called a "moving Monet," very distracting for work. Marblehead, always beautiful. I also saw many couples, of all age groups, walking and holding hands. Still do. Not something you see everywhere.
Janet Bach September 13, 2012 at 07:31 PM
Your piece brings my childhood in Marblehead 40 years ago to life. Enjoy your journey.


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