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Falmouth to Falmouth: All Ages

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Mark Crombie Flickr (Cornwall) / Digital Common Wealth (Menemsha)
Falmouth, Cornwall, c. 1930 (left), and Menemsha, Martha's Vineyard, 1938 (right)

Falmouth to Falmouth: Connecting Cornwall to Cape Cod

Falmouth to Falmouth is our award-winning experimental radio collaboration. CAI, in Falmouth, Massachusetts, USA, puts together the programs with SourceFM, in Falmouth, Cornwall, UK. The show spotlights everyday people talking to each other across the Atlantic Ocean about the similarities and differences in our two coastal communities. You can learn more about the program, and listen to other episodes, here.

Episode 3: All Ages

How were you shaped by the place where you grew up? What makes you choose to live somewhere? In our new episode of Falmouth to Falmouth, we explore the journey of life in our coastal communities through three vibrant discussions touching on childhood, middle years, and growing older.

Everybody came home—as often as they could

The hundred-year view is a rarity. For this conversation, we brought together two people in their 90s, both with excellent memories.

Tony Sweet and Jane Slater were born into a different time: the early 1930s. Both have vivid recollections of growing up in places whose nautical character gave shape to their childhoods.

Tony Sweet was raised in a council house in Falmouth, UK, one of six siblings sharing a tiny home. Once a week, the children took turns in a single bath. He says he didn't have his first shower until he went to sea, shortly before he turned 16.

Speaking now from his home in Falmouth, he remembers his childhood this way:

“We was five boys, one girl, three bedrooms. And as we grew up, we boys slept in one room, my sister in a little box room, my mom and dad in the other room. We boys were sleeping in the same bed. And we never, ever got cold. If you done as you was told and went to bed first, you was up the top. If you didn't, you would stay at the bottom. It was like that for all my growing up years. The first time I had a bed to myself was the first day I went to sea in 1947. But it was a lovely, lovely family—plenty of love.”

Jane Slater grew up in Menemsha, a village on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, off the coast of Cape Cod. She was raised by her mother in her grandparents’ house in the years before World War Two. She and her brother walked a mile each way to the one-room school house, and their chore was to carry water home. She recalls:

“We certainly lived in a rather primitive fashion. We lived in a very old house with no insulation, no central heater. We had kerosene heat. We made the best of it. We gathered around the stove in the morning, we had to take turns getting dressed next to it… There was no electricity until I was 15, and of course no plumbing. It was outdoor plumbing, whether you liked it or not. But you got used to things—or at least, you didn't know any better. We didn't know what we were missing. There was no radio, there was no television, there was nothing. We had to make our own fun with a pack of cards. They sent me off when I was about 16 to New York City to go to school. I've never used a dial telephone. I'd never heard of pizza.”

Tony Sweet and Jane Slater

Both Sweet and Slater left the homes of their upbringings to travel out into the world. Tony Sweet went to sea in the British navy and as a merchant seaman, Jane Slater was sent to school in New York City. And yet both, as they entered adulthood and began to build lives for themselves, chose to return to the place where they were born and raised: Sweet to Falmouth, England, and Slater to the island of Martha’s Vineyard.

The way Slater describes her decision to return, it was never a particularly difficult choice. “I can't explain the pull that a small community has on people, but all the people that I grew up with and went to school with, everybody came home—as often as they could,” she says. “It was a big disappointment to my mother, who had grown up in an urban environment and thought cities provided everything necessary. And she got stuck down here during the war and figured, well, she'd get her kids off on as fast as she could. Well, neither one of us ever left. We always came back and came back and came back. And so did all the people we grew up with, which is interesting. I don't know what it is. It's just something about the familiar, I suppose. Other people know you so well, and you know everybody so well.”

For Sweet, the connection to home was about family. Other seamen he knew went ashore and built lives in Australia, where there was plenty of opportunity. But he returned to Cornwall.

“What basically always brought me back was my family,” Sweet says. “Plenty of family—brothers and sister and mother and father and cousins.”

To which Slater adds, with a nod of knowing assent: “It makes a difference.”

A Home of One’s Own

As a person grows into their 30s, perhaps the central concern becomes to acquire and fit out a nest. Or, we should say: a home.

In both Cornwall and Cape Cod, this is a more difficult proposition than in many other places. The beauty of both regions makes them vacation destinations—which means properties are scarce and valued far above what the average person can afford.

For our next conversation we brought together two people in their mid-30s. Both had plenty to say about the pursuit of a home.

Shannon Hulst works for Barnstable County, on Cape Cod. She lives in a nice rental—but what she desires almost more than anything is to buy her own home. She has worked hard and saved for this. But especially since the Covid pandemic, property values on Cape Cod have leaped to the point that she's not sure how she could ever afford a home.

"The prices have just increased exponentially," Hulst says. "And the price range that I used to be looking at just doesn't exist anymore. And the bottom of our market here—I have seen houses that don't have sheetrock [walls]. They might not have a kitchen—like, they're gutted, but the person ran out of money and they don't have anything left. Or it hasn't been updated in 50 years. The condition of these houses that are, quote, affordable, is really, you know, not something that I'm willing or able to tackle... I'd really like to be able to own. But at this point, I'm just not willing to take on some of those those houses that are, quote, affordable—and still I'd be living at the top of my price range if I were to buy some of those. So, yeah, it's tough."

Claire Lawson speaks with Shannon Hulst
Claire Lawson speaks with Shannon Hulst

In Cornwall, Claire Lawson traveled much the same journey, but she did recently manage to buy a house. She calls herself lucky. She moved back in with her parents for a time, to save money for the purchase. And the house she found is particularly small and not in an area known for its desirability.

"I don't think there was too many people competing for the place I've recently bought," Lawson says. "I don't know how many square feet it is. It's a lounge, a kitchen, one double bedroom and a toilet. But what I like about it is, it's a house. And it's just got a tiny garden and it hasn't got any parking, but it's nice and quiet, and it kind of serves me a purpose, which is lovely. But I think for lots of people it would be too small. But because I'm just on my own, it's perfect, and it's 5 minutes away from where I work, so I can literally get there so quickly, which is really very nice. But it's in an area that is deemed more affordable... There are certain stigmas attached to certain places, and like, 'Oh, you know, you don't want to live there!' and things like that. But we're finding that more and more young professionals are moving over to that area because it is more affordable. And they just cannot afford the Falmouth area."

Hulst and Lawson both say they value the sense of community where they live, though it can be hard to connect to people their own age. And for both, the natural beauty of the environment is a key attraction.

"I think a huge part of being down here for me is being surrounded by nature," Lawson says. "Just to be able to go out and walk along the beaches and the coast and everything like that is absolutely huge. And again, I feel like I'm very lucky for that. So whilst there are struggles of living down in Cornwall, I wouldn't like a busy life in a city. It's not for me. I've been to lots of different places. I always end up coming back here."

Hulst volunteers on a couple town boards, is in a book club, and gets outdoors regularly on the local bike bath. "I can see myself staying here. I feel like I have a great community," she says. "I really enjoy my work." And then she adds, with a laugh, "So I would love to be able to buy a house."

What's Your Favorite Color?

Our final stop on the journey of life is a conversation between two pairs of nine-and-ten-year-olds. They ask each other unscripted questions—questions that cut right to the heart of what it is to be a kid talking to another kid, no matter where they are in the world. Like: what's you favorite color? What time is it where you are? Have you ever been to Disneyworld?

Bearwyn and Juno attend the Constantine School in Cornwall. We sat them in front of computers to speak with Paola and Aubrey from the Intermediate School on Nantucket island. After hearing Tony Sweet and Jane Slater reminisce about childhood in these places back in the 1930s, this conversation reset our picture of childhood, with references to YouTubers and sleepovers.

Bearwyn and Juno speaking with Paola and Aubrey
Bearwyn and Juno speaking with Paola and Aubrey

Mostly, as with any new-met children, their interaction seemed to be primarily an inventory-taking, comparing notes about what life consisted of between school and home. Like:

  • Favorite sports? (Swimming, tennis. Basketball, soccer—discuss about football vs. soccer)
  • How many seasons do you have? (Consensus on four, but some confusion over whether autumn is the same as fall.)
  • Favorite board games? (Sorry. Monopoly. Rummy Cube. Trivial Pursuit.)
  • Do you live in a town or a village? (Or… a cul de sac?)
  • What exactly is in a Cornish pasty? (Vegetables and, like, cut-up steak or something. Or just pure cheese and tomato sometimes.)
  • What pets do you own? (Dogs, cat, fish, tortoise, hamsters.)
  • How do you play Freeze Tag and is that like Stuck-in-the-Mud?
  • Will you live there when you grow up? (Agreement all around: YES!)

About This Episode

Hosts: Jade Dunbar and Steve Junker

Special production assistance was provided by Eve Zuckoff, Jennette Barnes, and Jade Dunbar

Engineering by Simon Neild

Music by Fred Fried, including the songs, "The Simplest Things", "The Gathering Storm", and "Lake of the Coheeries"

Webscript by Steve Junker

Audio edited by Steve Junker

Produced by Steve Junker and Simon Neild

Falmouth to Falmouth is a collaboration between SourceFM in Falmouth, UK, and CAI in the village of Woods Hole, in Falmouth, USA.