What was life like on Old Cape Cod?

Even as a child, I knew Orleans was unique.

Sea Crow Press author Mary E. McDermott reminisces about life in her beloved home town Orleans. Her new book, Old Orleans: Memories of a Cape Cod Town, preserves stories of local life in simpler times.

Even as a child, I knew Orleans was unique.

Almost across the street from my home was a private residence which had originally been the town almshouse; it is now the site of the police station. Back then, the fire and police departments shared quarters on Main Street. The fire whistle was tested daily at noon. When it blew for a fire, the number of short and long blasts indicated the area of town where the fire was located. Nearly every household had a card, sponsored by Ellis’ Market, which explained the different codes; when the whistle sounded, the card was eagerly consulted!

Freight trains still ran through town, and it was a treat to go to Depot Square (now part of Old Colony Way) and watch the train come in.

Summer held additional treats: each year, the American Legion sponsored a carnival for a week. The carnivals traveled from town to town and were the delight of all the kids and many adults as well. 

A glimpse inside Old Orleans

Another seasonal treat was to go to Philbrick’s Snack Shack at Nauset Beach for fried clams or scallops and their incomparable onion rings. Dessert might be an ice cream cone from Pal’s or Howard Johnson’s (nobody called it HoJo’s then).

Orleans was home to some interesting individuals. I remember Mrs Carter, who had a sort of boutique on Main Street and always went barefoot. In my mind’s eye is a picture of her crossing the street, wearing a beautiful blue dress, with nothing between her soles and the pavement. 

For some time, friends had been urging me to preserve some of my memories, especially those concerning my mother, a 12th-generation native, and thus was born Old Orleans: Memories of a Cape Cod Town. I hope readers will enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Mary E. McDermott is a 13th-generation Cape Codder living in Orleans. She worked for 17 years in the Orleans Assessor’s Office and 23 years as a commercial insurance broker at Pike Insurance Agency. She has been a justice of the peace to solemnize marriages since 1976 and has previously published two books of poetry, Tapestry and Handle with Care. Her poems have appeared in several publications including the Christian Science Monitor.

Old Orleans: Memories of a Cape Cod Town, is available now wherever good books are sold, especially your local book store.

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