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Robert Finch

Sometimes an ordinary place can release a flood of memories. The other day, coming back from an appointment in Hyannis, I decided to stop and have breakfast at the Homeport Restaurant in Orleans. The Homeport is one of the oldest ongoing businesses in Orleans, though it has undergone significant renovations. It originally was merely a counter in a pharmacy that occupied the site. I rarely stop there anymore, since, like most Wellfleetians, I don’t usually go beyond the Orleans Rotary unless I have to. But as I stopped there and sat by myself at a table in the restaurant, I was flooded with memories, and I realized that the Homeport played a significant role in my first year on the Cape.

It was the fall of 1964. I was newly married, and my wife and I had taken a year off from college to earn some money. I was working with a local carpenter and she got a part-time job working at the Homeport. We lived very frugally. Our weekly extravagance was to split a hot chocolate for 15 cents at the Homeport. If we felt particularly flush, we went to see a movie at the Orleans movie theater, which was then located where the CVS pharmacy is now. Cost of a ticket: 75 cents.

That winter we rented a house on the grounds of the old Arena Theater, now The Cape Cod Academy. The house had oil heat but only one zone, and as the weather turned colder, it became more and more expensive to heat. But there was a cast iron stove in the main room, so on weekends we would go down to the railroad tracks at Snow’s Hardware. (In those days the freight train still ran as far as North Eastham and Snow’s delivered coal as well as oil.) We would glean pieces of coal that had fallen off the train and carry them home to feed the stove.

One very cold evening we decided to go into town to see a movie, and since we would be gone for several hours, we crammed the stove full of coal. We were innocent about stoves in those days and didn’t realize that ours was a wood stove, not a coal stove.

When we got back to the house and opened the door. it was like walking into a sauna. The stove was a bright cherry red, and the thermostat registered 95 degrees. There was nothing to do but open all the doors and windows and stand outside, hoping the stove wouldn’t melt and burn down the house. It didn’t, but we never used coal again.

All these memories came back as I sat at the Homeport eating breakfast. They not only vividly brought back the past but made me realize how much my life here, and the Cape itself, have changed. I now live in Wellfleet. My house is powered and heated primarily by solar panels and an efficient mini split heat pump. The railroad tracks where we gathered pieces of coal are now part of the Cape Cod Rail Trail. I can watch as many movies as I like on the Internet, and a hot chocolate now costs almost $4.

But the Homeport abides.

A nature writer living in Wellfleet, Robert Finch has written about Cape Cod for more than forty years. He is the author of nine books of essays. A Cape Cod Notebook airs weekly on WCAI, the NPR station for Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and the South Coast. In both 2006 and 2013, the series won the New England Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Radio Writing.