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Cape Cod

I married well. I don't mean just the Longsuffering Diana, that pearl beyond price. I mean the whole Dinsmore clan that she brought to the marriage with her. A wonderful dowry they have proven to be, generous and witty and convivial. I have known them for more than thirty years now and, like a good vintage, they only improve with age. By any measure I lucked out big time.

And so we find ourselves here on Cape Cod—Falmouth, to be precise— this Christmas season and I find myself in my father-in-law’s study, working on this last wonk of the year. Bob’s study has a distinctly nautical motif, fitting for a retired Coast Guard captain who made a second career at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (known affectionately and acronymically as WHOI) just down the road.

Even back in New Mexico, if I mention “the Cape” practically everyone knows what cape I am talking about. It is probably the most distinctive feature of Massachusetts, or even the East Coast: a big hook curling around to Provincetown (where the Pilgrims first made landfall) to form Cape Cod Bay. Or you can think of it as an elfin boot, with Provincetown at the toe-tip and Woods Hole at the heel. Martha’s Vineyard is just offshore, Nantucket farther offshore. The Kennedys have their famous compound over in Hyannis. You get onto the Cape by crossing the Cape Cod Canal via the Bourne Bridge or the Sagamore Bridge, high-arching spans that terrified me when I was a little lad.

We have been here in every season, swimming in the summer, walking the village green, bundled up, in the winter. Gorging ourselves with seafood (clams a favorite). The old urban railway bed has been paved over between Falmouth and Woods Hole to make a running/walking/biking trail and that is a ritual with me: running the trail to Woods Hole and then running back by way of the coast road, past Nobska Light and through the woods. I dawdle around in Wood Hole for a bit, check out the big car ferries, see what WHOI research vessels might be in port. Coming back, I get a good view of Martha’s Vineyard and the sailboats in the sound.

Well then, Christmas. We came from near (Plymouth) and far (Albuquerque) for a Christmas that Scrooge—the reformed Scrooge—would have been proud of. A couple of dozen of us from six to 82, everybody with something for the potluck. Big tree in the sunroom, fortressed with presents. Holiday cheer flowing, but no screaming or fisticuffs, Diana’s family being much more couth than mine.* A “Yankee swap,” which is a wonderful celebration of cheap greed. Catching up, joking, teasing, grinning. A good, good Christmas, and then a good Christmas sleep.

Did my first run of the vacation yesterday, to Woods Hole and back. Overcast, high thirties, a few hearty people on the bike path, beaches deserted of course. Good view of Martha’s Vineyard and, yes, people do swim from here to there, although the chop in the middle means that no aqua-duffers should try it. Woke to the sound of rain this morning, a rare treat for us desert rats.

An old friend is coming down from Lowell (up near New Hampshire) this afternoon and will spend the night. The Dinsmores have never met Ed, but they are indefatigable hosts, and I know that Ed will charm everyone in his turn. Later there are the Christmas lights up in Sandwich, the Whaling Museum in New Bedford (how did we miss that for all these years?) and good down time in the intervals. Diana and I are the oldest “kids,” so down time is appreciated, too—we don’t have to apologize for it. Sunday we catch the plane home from Boston; if the gods are smiling, the trip goes without a hitch and we are back with our cats at a fairly decent hour.

So this is the way the year ends, with neither a bang nor a whimper but just a very contented sigh. Another year gone, and another ahead. No matter what craziness the world dishes up, may we all meet that year with hope and strength and maybe—just maybe—we can wring some joy from it, too.

Happy New Year, one and all.

*I’m just kidding, Sheas!

Meet Your Macinstructor

Jerome Shea is an emeritus professor of English at the University of New Mexico, where he still teaches his classical tropes course every fall and his prose style course every spring. He has been the Weekend Wonk since January of 2007. His email is


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