EASTHAM — The quahog fritters were sensational. In the kitchen of this house I’d known for 68 years and had quietly rattled about in for three and a half months, here were seven family members, ages 7 to 78, scarfing up each round as it came off the griddle.
Everyone was talking at once. All had traveled as safely as they could to spend the summer of shutdown on Great Pond together. More quahog meats had gone through the grinder for me to make chowder for lunch the next day.
Looking out past the flickers on the suet cake, and the jays and cardinals and chickadees on the large wooden feeder, I saw glimpses of a kayak and a small sailboat through the opening in the trees. Across the pond was Kinnikinick, my great-grandfather’s house, inherited from his aunt Jemima Clark, after whom Jemima’s Pond, the next kettle hole over, was named. The bank is still covered in bearberry, also known as “kinnikinick.”
My dad said his grandfather Hatch was frugal beyond anything we might have imagined growing up in the 1960s. As his rental cottages were being built, whenever he found a bent nail on the ground it would be straightened and reused.
His were the first rental cottages in Eastham. They were rented for $50 for the entire summer to teachers, who could live on the yellow and white perch they caught from the rowboats that came with the rentals. They walked to the bay, now First Encounter Beach, at low tide and scratched for quahogs for chowder and fritters, ate beans, squash, and corn (known to the Nauset tribe as the Three Sisters) from the garden, and thus sustained themselves until their fall income started up.
Dinner in this 1830 farmhouse, a few nights after the fritters, was takeout fried fish platters. Two mornings later, the remaining four clams from that quahoging tide that had provided two great meals were still on the front porch. The stench of their dead bodies perfumed the entrance to the house.
Pablo Neruda’s couplet (from the poem “Country”) comes to mind:
I live now in a country as soft
As the autumn skin of grapes.
Where uncertainty exists, fear finds a foothold and rumors abound. For many among us, dealing with scarcity and with financial and even food insecurity is familiar. Desperation festers around fear of the virus. Experiencing a lack of work or no unemployment insurance, the risks of having immigrant status or a different skin color, the lack of nearby family, coupled with an abundance of pride of independence, and all this can wreak havoc on well-being and makes for sleepless nights.
The culture change that can carry us through hard times includes a new model of heroism. To be brave enough to ask for help is one of the hardest things in our John Wayne individualist American culture. Many long to be able to help someone. We need the relational skills to become available to one another in new ways that do not intrude on each other’s privacy or solitude. These could emerge when time passes slowly and collaborative supports are available to us all. We’re talking ultimately about systemic redistribution of the risks and benefits of living together as fellow humans in these critical times on our planet.
Some call this system social democracy. Diminished extractive production partnered with different, more frugal consumption, maybe fewer brands to choose from, more bent nails to straighten — these are inconvenient changes on a large scale, but we’ve now proved how quickly we can make dramatic changes. Resources of the state must be made available that build equity and greater justice, all likely to be part of such a new economy. A frugality of material resourcing, less waste, supported by an increased abundance of social capital might be the winning ticket.