JUST BACK FROM: I HAVENT TALKED to Aunt Patti in several years, not since Granny, her sister, began suffering severely from the effects of Alzheimers disease and consequently forgot who most of us were. Growing up, I saw her only when she stopped by Tulsa, Oklahoma, for a day or two and visited Granny; she always demanded beans and corn bread for dinner because they reminded her of home. Otherwise, I came to know her mostly through Grannys memories. Thats not surprising, though, because Aunt Patti, better known as Patti Page, the Singing Rage -- one of the best-selling artists in music history -- was a busy girl.
Ever since I moved away and became a writer, Ive actually seen Aunt Patti and talked to her more often -- interviewing her about career milestones and catching clips of her on cable television (every time the movie Elmer Gantry comes on, for example). But shes always been with me. Her songs were often on the record player when I was growing up. I think I knew the words to Mockin Bird Hill before I knew the words to any Van Halen song. And when the songs were not playing on the record player, Granny would hum them while she did housework. Granny and her sister Virginia would sing with Aunt Patti at weddings when Aunt Patti was starting out, and once, they sang with her on The Mike Douglas Show in the 1960s. One of Grannys (and Pattis) favorites was Old Cape Cod. The first lines come to me still, at odd moments during the day, at least once a week: If youre fond of sand dunes and salty air/Quaint little villages here and there/Youre sure to fall in love with old Cape Cod.
I think of this as I order lobster stew from Jake Rooneys, a local favorite in Harwich Port, Massachusetts, on a clear day in the Middle Cape. The waitress smiles as she brings it to me. This is my favorite, she says. I nod and savor the lobster meat, which has been sautéed in butter, and the sherry cream broth. I talk to the patrons as we watch sports on the TV. Thats when my sin hits me: Ive stopped at a place without a view of the sea.
This just wont do. Ive come to the curling peninsula of eastern Massachusetts that surrounds Cape Code Bay to experience the Cape myself, to see if its small-town seaside charm matches the ethereal quality of Aunt Pattis tune: If you like the taste of a lobster stew/Served by a window with an ocean view/Youre sure to fall in love with old Cape Cod.