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Connie Black

"Provincetown on a cold winter night"
CC 2.0
"Provincetown on a cold winter night"

It’s not often that an obituary for someone you haven’t seen or heard from for over sixty years brings back a memory so fresh and vivid that it seems to have occurred only yesterday. But that was my reaction when I read the obituary for Constance Black, a Provincetown artist who died this spring at the age of 93. Not only had I had no contact with her since the early 1960s, but our acquaintance back then was limited and intermittent. Nonetheless, Connie (as she was always called) was a part of a very short but formative period in my life, one that in many ways determined my future career as a writer.

After my freshman year, I had dropped out of college and decided to spend the winter in Provincetown. It was a decision somewhat dubiously based on the fact that I wanted to be a writer and I had heard that many well-known writers – among them Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, and John Cheever – had spent time there early in their careers.

What I hadn’t foreseen was that in those days Provincetown in the winter was a virtual ghost town. I knew no one there when I arrived, and after a couple of months I was experiencing extreme loneliness. The town was empty and dark, and I was seriously considering throwing in the towel and going back to school with my tail between my legs – to mix metaphors.

Then - and I don’t recall just how it happened - but just as I had decided to leave, I was invited to join a small group of year-round artists and writers. In addition to Connie, these included Ciro Cozzi and Sal Del Deo (who at that time ran Ciro and Sal’s restaurant together), the well-known painter Jim Forsberg, and an older man named “Snowy” whose last name I never did learn.

We met one evening a week in the dining hall of Ciro and Sal’s restaurant, which was closed for the season. I was by far the youngest member of the group and had not yet written anything publishable - nor would I for at least another decade - but they welcomed me and treated me as an equal. I remember Connie more vividly than the others, perhaps because she was both a serious painter and a playwright. I participated in a reading of a play she had just written, Circles in the Snow, which was to become the first play produced by the new Provincetown Theater later that spring.

The town was still empty and dark, but in that cozy lamplit setting, with the winter winds lashing snow against the windows, my sense of isolation melted away. It would be too easy to say that being part of that group led me to a life as a writer, and maybe it did, though I didn’t consciously think that at the time. What I did feel, for the first time, was a sense of belonging, of being, however briefly, part of a group of kindred souls who shared a passion for their craft and had shaped their lives around it. They seemed to embody for me Emerson’s dictum, that “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."

I left Provincetown in the spring, and, as I said, I never heard from or talked to Connie Black again. Of the others in that long-ago group that I remember, only Sal Del Deo is still alive and, at age 93, still painting.

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.