Not long ago, a disgruntled reader of the Independent complained that I was “a typical washashore.”
There’s some truth in that. I don’t have a long family history here. I grew up in New Jersey. I came to the Cape only for vacations and short visits for most of my life. Teresa is from Oklahoma. We have come and gone from here, following work where we found it. We’ve been here full-time for less than 15 years. But I was reminded this week of one reason this feels like home to me.
In doing research for his article on Wellfleet’s annual July 4th road race (see page A24), reporter Alex Sharp unearthed a newspaper story about the 1977 races, in which his grandfather, his aunts, and his father (then age 11) all won prizes. Alex also came across the original registration form for the “First Annual 4th of July Wellfleet Road Races” in 1975. To enter the race, it read, “Detach the lower portion and send it to Bob Morse, Box 62, South Wellfleet, Mass. 02663.”
Seeing Bob’s name on that form took me back to another time.
I didn’t know Bob in 1975, when he was teaching English at Nauset High and his friend Brewster Fox asked him to help organize a race. Bob was a favorite of his students, and he and his fellow teacher John Gray had no trouble recruiting a crew of them to participate in the race, which soon became a popular tradition.
I didn’t meet Bob until a few years later, after alcoholism had cost him his teaching job and he had become an oysterman and jack of all trades. He had met my sister, Harriet, a sociology professor at Framingham State, who was spending more and more time in Wellfleet retreating from a bad marriage, and they became an odd and memorable couple. We came to Wellfleet regularly to spend time with Bob and Harriet. Bob took us out on the flats, introduced us to the crowd at Uncle Frank’s, and read to us from Thoreau’s journal. We were embraced and regaled by his children, Heather, Brad, Brett, and Kyle, and their partners and young children.
Bob Morse married us in 1996. We asked him to officiate because anyone can get a one-day designation to do so from the governor in Massachusetts, and we knew he would do it the right way. He wrote and conducted a ceremony with gravitas and wit, declaring our marriage “the triumph of hope over experience.” Wearing the suit he bought for the occasion, Bob was taken, by those who didn’t know him, to be a judge.
Bob is gone 21 years now, and Harriet 15. Heather left us almost 10 years ago. I still don’t understand why Bob had to take his life, but I will never forget the raging anguish, honesty, and love that filled the Congregational Church at his funeral.
Bob would have enjoyed the strange coincidence of having a student who loves the road race remind us of all that history 46 years later. Knowing and loving Bob Morse made us believe we were meant to wash ashore on this sandy refuge, and to choose hope over experience.