What Was School Like on Old Cape Cod?

The Education of an Orleans Girl.

Sea Crow Press author Mary E. McDermott reminisces about student 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.


The lives of Orleans baby boomers were influenced by a succession of teachers, all of whom had distinct personalities and who played various roles in shaping our education.

Our first-grade teacher, Mrs Eldredge, had high standards and an often-sharp tongue, but impeccable taste in literature. She introduced the class to Beatrix Potter’s Tale of Peter Rabbit and Carl Sandburg’s Rootabaga Stories, an introduction for which I am still grateful.

Third grade’s Mrs Wilcox (later Mrs Wright), had a wonderful sense of fun and humor, as well as empathy. On one hot day, someone from another grade brought her a bottle of Pepsi, which she would not drink in our thirsty presence. A nature enthusiast who lived near the school, she once walked the entire class over to her house at lunchtime to watch the birds at her feeders. 
On winter afternoons, an upperclassman would come by with a report as to which ponds were safe to skate on. Ice House Pond off Brick Hill Road in East Orleans—better known as “the pond behind Charlie Moore’s” —was usually among them.

Orleans High School back in the day.

The town’s first Catholic priest, Father James Lynch, had long dreamed of opening a parochial school, and his dream came true. The school building, which held grades from kindergarten through eighth, is now home to the St Joan of Arc thrift shop. A group of the Sisters of Divine Providence from Pennsylvania came to teach. Some, like Sister Georgette and Sister Marianne, were gentle souls who truly loved children. Others, who shall remain nameless, ruled by the ruler across the knuckles and soul-searing insults. But they all taught us to study hard; every afternoon, our book bags were heavy with homework. 

When I entered high school in 1960, the district had regionalized to include Orleans, Eastham, and Wellfleet. Brewster students could choose to attend Nauset or Dennis-Yarmouth, and those from Truro could come to Nauset or go to Provincetown, which today is part of the Nauset region. A few of the Wellfleet boys were jokers, and their jokes were not always funny. A few years ago, I asked one of them why they had picked on people, and he replied, “Because it was our first time on someone else’s turf, and we were scared.” That was a revelation.

The faculty included some first-rate teachers with knowledge and wit. English teacher Miss Elisabeth Hooker founded the Archy Club, named for the cockroach in Archy and Mehitabel; members could come in early for help with spelling and punctuation. Dr Stewart Brooks, who taught Latin and ancient history, invented the holiday Egredior Day, which fell on March fourth, because egredior in Latin means march forth. Mrs Betty Murphy made the French language a lot of fun and also participated as a cheerleader at the annual student-faculty basketball game. Mrs Frances Mayfarth knew that her juniors would not be able to focus on English the day before Christmas vacation, so she had us put our desks in a circle and take turns relating how we learned that there was no Santa Claus.

We may have come from a small-town setting, but we were sent into the world with as fine a background as could be found anywhere!

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.

The Beautiful Tulip Blog

Wonder what the tulips look like in Holland? Explore springtime in Dutch tulip country with Sea Crow Press author Mary Petiet.

Mary Petiet

We spent Thursday tulip spotting in the Dutch countryside. There are many tulip fields between our house and the ocean, so we started on the North Sea.

It looked like this.

It’s been raining and cool forever, so the sunshine was tremendous. Also tremendous was the cafe on the beach where we stopped for a snack after the dog ran herself ragged. We hadn’t sat in a cafe since before last Thanksgiving, so it was a bit of moment.

Then we wended our way home through tulip country.

The landscape between the ocean and Amsterdam in the Netherlands transforms annually into a floral sea with miles of tulip technicolor. I have written about all things tulip here if you want the backstory to this unassuming bulb gone big-time.

We passed field after field of color, and I realized that this is the Dutch equivalent of New England leaf peeking when…

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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.

Desert Island Books with… Fran McNicol

Find out what books author Fran McNicol can’t live without in her guest blog for A Little Book Problem! Fran is the author of Bare Hooves and Open Hearts, a book about connection and best animal husbandry. #nelipotcottage #seacrowpress #alittlebookproblem #whatareyoureading

A Little Book Problem

desert-island-books

Today I am transporting another fortunate/unfortunate soul to my desert island with nothing to keep them company except five books of their choice and one luxury item. This week I have stranded author… Fran McNicol.

Book One – Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels

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Jakob Beer is seven years old when he is rescued from the muddy ruins of a buried village in Nazi-occupied Poland. Of his family, he is the only one who has survived. Under the guidance of the Greek geologist Athos, Jakob must steel himself to excavate the horrors of his own history.

A novel of astounding beauty and wisdom, Fugitive Pieces is a profound meditation on the resilience of the human spirit and love’s ability to resurrect even the most damaged of hearts.

The first time I read Anne Michaels I was transfixed. She is a poet before a novelist and her use of language is precision…

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JOIN SEA CROW PRESS IN WELCOMING AUTHOR MARY E. McDERMOTT

A new book about Cape Cod from Sea Crow Press!

Mary E. McDermott is a 13th generation Cape Codder. Her stories are time capsules transporting readers to an earlier, pre-development Cape Cod past.

What was life like on old Cape Cod?

Lunch counters. Working the telephone switchboard. A song called Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs Murphy’s Chowder. Love during World War II. Hurricanes. A time when scarlet fever could kill, doctors made house calls, and locals brushed shoulders with celebrities such as Anaīs Nin and Dr. Scholl in Provincetown. 

These and other poignant memories of a Cape Cod town are preserved in the stories of an Orleans family bringing local characters and simpler times to life. Told in vignettes spanning from the 1920s to the Baby Boom, these stories preserve the grit and charm of Old Cape Cod.

Old Orleans: Memories of a Cape Cod Town is living history at its best. This quiet read brings the past to life now and for future generations.

About Mary E. McDermott

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.

JOIN SEA CROW PRESS IN WELCOMING AUTHOR FRAN MCNICOL

A new book from author Fran McNicol.

Fran is an accomplished surgeon and horsewoman and she writes from Nelipot Cottage in the English countryside.

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What if we could keep our beloved horses in a way that is governed by their needs, rather than our convenience? What if we could offer horses a life that fulfils their need for friends, forage and freedom, as well as our goals and desires?

This seems a fair exchange in return for allowing us to share their grace and beauty. A healthy, happy and sound horse would be a partner in a dream come true.

This book is the story of my journey, from horse-mad child, through goal orientated doctor training horses for competition, to listening to my horses and learning from them about life and love.

Fran McNicol

An afternoon spent reading Fran McNicol is a journey through the English countryside with her band of horses and loyal dog. Along the way, she shares her best practice techniques to achieve barefoot healthy horses pastured in social groups with access to forage in fields rewilded to combine best horse nutrition with best environmental practice.

Barefoot Hooves and Open Hearts will be available on March 30 from Sea Crow Press and wherever good books are sold.

Until then, stay tuned for our cover reveal, and a series of blogs from Nelipot Cottage.

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ABOUT FRAN

Fran McNicol is an amateur equestrienne living in the UK. As a full-time surgeon, she obviously knows a huge amount about the human animal, but the most useful product of medical training, from the horses’ point of view, is that she learned how to research, evaluate evidence, and then apply theory to optimise the care of her horses.

Her writing is therefore a mix of opinion and her current state of learning from 25 years of doctoring, time working around the world as a polo groom, and many years of keeping her own horses. She loves training young horses and focuses on riding the sport horse both classically and holistically. She competes regularly for her local riding club, especially in One Day Eventing. 

Nelipot Cottage started life as an educational blog to share learning and best practise to promote the benefits of a barefoot and holistic herd lifestyle for whole horse health and to reflect on life lessons learned along the way. She believes that horses exist to bring out the very best in humans. Fran hopes that sharing these tales will bring new friends, kindred spirits, exchange of knowledge, and lots of positive energy into the lives of the Nelipot herd.