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A new perspective through a child's eyes

Outer Cape marsh
Mary Bergman
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The other week, I spent a few days with my five-year-old nephew and his parents in Truro. It was a trip we’d looked forward to all summer. My sister’s family lives in the western part of the state, far from the ocean. Cape Cod — its beaches, houses on stilts, and streets packed with visitors — occupies a large part of Sal’s imagination, both as a place to vacation and the place his mother and aunt were little kids, like him.

We stayed at a cottage right below Corn Hill, a large tourist cabin with a fireplace. My brother-in-law got a fire to light. As the sun began to set, the windows of the row of cottages were illuminated orange and red, such that they looked as though they were on fire. Maybe the only upside to moving away from your old home town is that you get to stay in all the interesting places you’ve passed along the highway and always wondered about. I like seeing the Cape from different vantage points, imagining the lives of the few other folks occupying the cottage colony at the end of October.

I wonder if Sal thinks it strange that the bulk of what his mother and I talk about is the past. What used to be in that storefront, or whatever happened to so-and-so we went to school with. Sal was not around for any of this, he only knows the Cape as it is right now.

While the rest of the house napped, Sal and I went on a little amble around Corn Hill. He spotted a narrow sand path — not much wider than a deer run — heading towards the Pamet River.

“Hey Auntie,” Sal said, “We should follow that road and see where it goes.”

I’ve never been more proud to be this kid’s aunt. Is there a better way to spend your time — an afternoon, or even your life — than going down roads you’ve never been, in the hopes of learning something new?

We roused his parents and, although the sky threatened rain, set out along the toe of Tom’s Hill Road. Sand speckled with coal, I figured we had to be walking along an old leg of the railroad. Sal, a Brio train obsessed child, was enthralled by the idea that he was walking along the very place a locomotive pulled passengers and freight.

We walked across old railroad ties, the Pamet River rushing out towards the bay on either side of us. A few old cedar trees were towards the end of the path, and we wondered how they got here. At the end of this little peninsula, remnants of an old brick structure were scattered everywhere. The station house was long destroyed, the bricks now providing shelter for fiddler crabs and minnows. Most of the pleasure boats had been hauled out for the winter, but a lone Sunfish with a blue-and-white sail took advantage of the string of preternaturally warm days we had and headed out on the tide to the bay.

There’s something about walking through a place that was, a hundred years ago, full of noise and movement and is now resigned to a life of quiet stillness. I’ve never seen a train cross the Pamet, and neither has Sal, but we both know the train was once here. Maybe, one day when I’m very old, Sal will walk past our old house, another place near where the Old Colony Railroad once ran, and tell whoever is walking with him that this is where his mom and auntie used to live, long ago, when they were little kids.