Offtheshelf's blog

Weddings & Funerals

By Jack Sheedy

Hello, it’s me. Out of character. That character being Thomas J. McSheey, my alter-ego.

I’ve written about McSheey many, many, many times over the past six years – and I’m sure his exploits will remain part of my blog canon going forward. I’ve grown to know him so well that I feel like we’ve become interchangeable. In fact, we share many of the same interests, habits, and phobias. It’s like he’s me, and I’m him.

For instance, take McSheey’s interest in time travel. He has travelled back and forth – into the future and returning to the present – more than a few times in this blog. I’ve had a couple of brief time travel episodes myself. Once, back in college, I saw the future clear as if it were today (maybe it was today). The future was quite bright. Meaning it was more than adequately lit, yet without any apparent light source. And there was a perpetual background noise. Kind of soothing, yet again, without any apparent source. The sights and sounds of progress, I imagine. By the way, the future is very clean. Like someone just vacuumed the whole place with some futuristic vacuum cleaner. Almost as clean as the Montreal subway system.

In terms of habits, like McSheey I must admit to being superstitious in some facets of my life. For instance, when walking from my car to the front door of my place of employment I always carry my briefcase with my left hand, with the zipper of the case pointing outward. When I smoke my pipe, I always hold it in my right hand. When I drive I use both hands, positioned at ten and two o’clock, unless I’m driving out in the Midwest, in which case I drive at nine and one o’clock to account for the time change.

And as for phobias, I do suffer from social anxiety. And I’m afraid of clowns. So, if I ever find myself at a clown convention I’ll be rendered both terrified and socially awkward at the same time.

McSheey and I, we are both Roman Catholic and yet we are both scientifically-minded, which means we wrestle with how religion and science can co-exist when they seem to be at odds with each other. We agree that God does exist and that He was the impetus which set the wheels of the universe in motion, and out of that Creation came into being the galaxies, and the suns, and the planets, and some 14 billion years later, Homo sapiens. And here we are, trying to figure out how we all fit into the grand cosmic scheme. We look to the great figures throughout history for understanding – Abraham, Moses, Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, Jesus, St. Peter, St. John, St. Paul, George, Ringo – yet questions only lead to further questions.

Why did this universe, which God created so long, long, long ago, eventually lead to our being? Perhaps we as a species have evolved to this point only to be able to ask the question, “Why are we here?” By asking the question we have thus, ultimately, reached our potential. The answer is in the questioning.

Or, perhaps we are here merely to attend weddings and funerals.

Weddings and funerals seem to mark the march of time throughout one’s life. It marks the ebb and flow of our lives, and of the lives of those around us. Through the course of a person’s life there is a time of weddings, and a time of funerals, and then a time when weddings of a later generation and the funerals of an earlier generation happen concurrently. As one gets older, each ceremony becomes more meaningful as we accumulate life experiences.

Over the past few years I’ve been to many wakes and funerals. Some for people who were young, relatively speaking, and taken before their time. And some for people who had lived a full and rich life and were heading off to their great reward. Some funerals were sad. And some were celebrations. And through them all, we are there to bear witness. To console. To rejoice. To eulogize. To pray.

In my position at a local rest home, I have watched as numerous “old friends” slipped the tethers of earth for the infinite light of the hereafter. I am always honored to be there at the end of their earthly life, and to wish them well as they begin their next journey. I have ushered in and out of churches, hugged the grieving, and smiled with them upon their loved one’s accomplishments.

But, it can become a strain, this occupation on the cusp of the eternal. Friendships are made, and then end.

That is why I am rather excited at the prospect of attending as a witness an upcoming wedding – or rather, a renewal of wedding vows – at the local Catholic Church in South Yarmouth in mid-May. I’ve attended various ceremonies at a number of the local RC Churches over the years – weddings, funerals, and christenings in West Harwich, Brewster, Hyannis, and at South Yarmouth – and at churches of other denominations: Episcopal, Congregational, Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, and UU. Through it all, in happiness and in sadness, parishioners are there to bear witness.

With all that this life offers, and with all the questions it leaves unanswered, and with the realization that the hereafter lies just beyond our final step, there is a certain comfort in knowing that occasionally we can all gather together in happy times to attend a wedding, perhaps to eat a meal together afterwards, and to look ahead toward the future with an optimistic glance. Maybe that’s what life is all about.

Well, that and sharing your home with a dog.

Jack Sheedy is the author of six books, including Cape Odd and Cape Cod Harvest. He is also Director of Community Relations & Activities at a local rest home.    

Palm Crucifix Replica

By Jack Sheedy

Spoiler Alert: Being incidental text meant to flesh out a biography on 20th century writer Thomas J. McSheey, this blog entry is not even remotely amusing except for perhaps a slight witticism in the third-to-last paragraph, which by my mentioning may keep you reading. Thank you for your kind attention.

Thomas J. McSheey tried to live by certain rules. Well, perhaps “rules” is too strong a term. He lived by certain axioms … about life, about the ways of the world, and about himself.

These axioms led to a number of practices, or better yet, habits. For instance, he tried to walk every morning for exercise and to clear his mind, and normally he did walk, for about a mile and a half, except…

If the weather was inclement,

Or if he had an appointment with a dentist

Or with a doctor,

Or if he had breakfast plans with a colleague,

Or if he were hung over.

Which pointed to another habit. Whiskey.

McSheey wasn’t a heavy drinker, per se. Certainly not a fall-down drunk. But he was fond of whiskey. He was, perhaps, best termed a tippler who was known to fix a few highballs each evening. It began harmless enough, maybe one part whiskey, two parts ginger ale. Then, after a time, it became 50-50. Then two parts, one part. And ultimately whiskey on the rocks.

He normally fell asleep in a chair until sometime into the wee hours, when he would awaken, stagger onto his slipper feet, and serpentine around his place like a sailor aboard a tossing ship, shutting off lights, turning off the radio, and making sure the embers in the hearth were snuffed out before falling face first into bed.

He was drifting. Drifting through life. Drifting and drinking and puffing away on his pipe while the rest of the world went by, rotating and revolving and occasionally evolving. It was like the gravity of the earth had forgotten him, leaving him adrift in the void of the cosmos.

It’s not like he was completely alone in this void. He had a few friends and acquaintances – more of them acquaintances than friends – many of whom shared some of his feelings about life and the state of the world in general. Most of these acquaintances and friends, he realized one morning as he sat before his typewriter, gazing out the window, sipping black coffee, were artistic in some fashion. Most were writers – some published authors, some out of work, some between assignments, some freelance writers for newspapers and magazines, and some were commercial copy writers. Others were painters – watercolor, oil, and acrylic represented. Some sketched. Some worked in pastel. Some sculpted. Some were commercial photographers who made a decent living snapping photos for catalogues and annual reports. Others were thespians working in local theatre. Some were singers, working in local clubs. Some played guitar or piano. One even played a ukulele. And one dear friend had no apparent artistic ability whatsoever. But he was a childhood buddy who stuck with McSheey over the years and who enjoyed reading his work, and with whom he smoked his pipe and sipped cocktails.

From this circle of friends and acquaintances he drew his inspiration. It was his circle, for he was the hub and each friend or acquaintance was a spoke on his wheel, many never touching the other spokes or even knowing of the other spokes’ existence. Yet, there were some connections. For instance, the writing set knew one another, or at very least knew of one another. But for the most part the spokes existed separately. For years it existed as such.

Except for his few friends, none of the acquaintances were close enough to know McSheey beyond a superficial sense. There was a mutual feeling of camaraderie and respect, but not much more. McSheey liked it that way. He appreciated the distance. He likened each person to a book on his shelf which he could take down occasionally and leaf through and then put back again. He kept the relationships distant enough to avoid any unnecessary entanglements, such as invitations to weddings, Christmas parties, christenings, and bat mitzvahs.

Strangely, he did much the same with relatives. Each had a place upon his shelf. He was happy to have them in his circle, but ultimately they were just another book, or another spoke. And so, between his wheel full of spokes and shelf full of books he kept his life in order, kept his world intact, and would smile upon his friendships and acquaintances as he smoked his pipe, and toasted them occasionally as he raised his glass, and all was well in his little world as far as he was concerned.

As stated earlier, he walked most mornings if he was up to it. And he typed away. And he stared out the window at the squirrel circus taking place upon his lawn. And he drank his black coffee. And he pretended he was somehow participating in this thing called life.

One particular morning, during Lent, he considered the approaching Palm Sunday and remembered a family tradition from his childhood. McSheey grew up in two worlds – the Irish Roman Catholic world of his father’s side and the Italian Roman Catholic world of his mother’s side. For some reason, he always associated St. Patrick’s Day with Lent, and thus associated that feast day as the extent of the Easter season celebration on the Irish side of his family – culminating in a boiled dinner and pints of dark beer with a chorus or two of Danny Boy.

As for the Italian side, he fondly remembered Holy Week, and particularly Easter with magnificent food dishes – lasagna, gnocchi, spiced meatballs, pizzagaina, sweet ricotta pie, pizzelles, vino, and homemade limoncello. For McSheey, Easter Sunday firmly resided on his Italian side, within the walls of his mother’s childhood home with the rest of the family in attendance – Nana, Papa, aunts, uncles, cousins, all seated around the dining room table with the children spilling out into the living room at tray tables.

He also remembered how his Papa would fashion the palms received on Palm Sunday into crucifixes to be given to the grandchildren when they arrived on Easter. Sadly, this tradition died along with his grandfather, just as the tradition of pizzagaina later died along with his grandmother.

So, as he sat before the typewriter, looking out the window, sipping away at his black coffee to clear his head of the previous evening’s indulgence, he made up his mind to give up the bottle for the remainder of Lent, and to attend Mass that Sunday – Palm Sunday. At that point in his life it had been years since he last attended Mass, a secular free fall from the days when he was an adjunct English professor at his Catholic alma mater while penning hymns and singing in the choir at the college chapel on Sundays.

And though he was able to give up the drink for the remainder of that Lenten season, he slept away Palm Sunday morning until near noontime, catching up on lost sleep no doubt. For as Newton said: “A body in motion tends to remain in motion, while a body at rest tends to remain in bed.”

Later, in the afternoon, he wandered by the neighborhood Catholic church, took a seat on a bench in an outdoor prayer garden, considered the Passion, and then offered up an Our Father and a Hail Mary in an abbreviated form of personal Palm Sunday Mass. Afterwards, walking through the parking lot he discovered a forgotten palm on the ground, probably slipped from some parishioner’s hands, perhaps a child’s ebullient hands or an elderly woman’s arthritic hands, which he picked up and examined. Smiling, he took it home, where he fashioned it into a crucifix and placed it upon his fireplace mantle next to an old black and white photograph of his Nana and Papa which he unearthed from a shoebox in his closet.

He then sat down before his typewriter, gazed out the window for a moment, and with a clear head began to type. Because that’s what writers do.

Jack Sheedy is the author of six books and of some 800 articles in print and electronic media. He has blogged on Cape Cod Today for nearly a decade and has grooved to Captain Beefheart for the past four decades. 

The Used Book

By Jack Sheedy

“Sleeping is a rudimentary form of time travel – in roughly eight-hour increments – after which I find I always have a craving for a bowl of cereal.”
 - T.J. McSheey, while a student at Stonycliff College

The poet-essayist-lyricist Thomas J. McSheey loved the written word bound in book form. He was fascinated by the seemingly infinite combinations and permutations and manipulations of those simple symbols known as the 26 letters of the alphabet. Each word a note, each phrase a chord, almost musical, like a symphonic poem painting each inner page.

To him, a new book was like a flying machine to take him to another place and time. He was delivered aloft by the feel of a new book in his hands. Flipping with thumb and fingers through virgin paper, caressing rustling leaves, whiffing page white and ink black in his nostrils.

Reading was like falling asleep in one location and awakening in another.

Each semester as a student at his Catholic college he purchased new text books. And at the semester’s end he sold back the used volumes at a reduced price. It seemed, what was once new only months earlier had become spent. What was once unknown had become known. What was once unfamiliar had become familiar. The book, read, used, defunct of wonder, devoid of anything new to say, was handed his hat and shown the door like a visitor who had overstayed his welcome.

So, upon one after midnight hour, with a waning moon outside his dormitory window, he penned this poem as an ode to a used textbook, or perhaps to a coed (archaic usage):

Volume pristine, binding unbroken,
cover unmarred, pages unfurled, interest’s first blush,
then the book is read,
Pages leafed, covers blemished,
plot revealed, mystery solved, agenda uncovered,
like an unmade bed.

The coed was apparently not impressed by the poem, nor by the use of the term coed.” Likewise unimpressed was the lady at the bookstore when McSheey turned up to sell back his used books.

Incidentally, McSheey and the female student had a lengthy debate over whether the proper usage was “impressed by” or “impressed with,” during which McSheey consulted his style guide, and she her grammar manual. Rules were quoted, examples were cited, and counter-examples were raised, until the heated argument climaxed quite unexpectedly with an impassioned embrace. This evolved further into a powerful though fleeting relationship of Wuthering Heights proportions which played out in dramatic fashion upon the windswept acres of the college campus, wherein they referred to each other as Heathcliff and Cathy, except that she played the Heathcliff character and he, Cathy…it was all very exciting, albeit sexually confusing.

Later, upon rainy evenings, she would haunt him by rapping at his dormitory window, seeking entrance, which was no easy feat as McSheey’s room was on the third story of St. Linus Hall. Desperate, he would then throw open his window and cry out into the misty darkness, “Oh, torment me no further as I have a Philosophy exam to study for and an American Lit paper to write!

One Fall semester, after selling back his books, McSheey returned to his dorm room and, suddenly enlightened, wrote this formula for time travel:

T = ((MxC3)/V+(GxA2)/ ∏)-( ΩxAU)/P

where T= time, M = mass, C = speed of light, V = velocity, G = gravity coefficient, A = acceleration, ∏=pi, Ω = omega (aka sub-infinity), AU = one astronomical unit, and P = a variable meant to prevent a paradox.

His roommate said McSheey used the formula and then disappeared for a period of ten minutes. When he returned he was sporting a full growth of beard and was clutching a newspaper from the year 2145. It turned out that while he was away in the future, McSheey was talked into signing up for a one-year subscription and each subsequent morning a new edition of the newspaper from the future magically arrived at his door.

Unfortunately, the paper was always missing the sports page.

Jack Sheedy is the author of six books and of some 800 articles in print and electronic media. He has blogged for Cape Cod Today since 2005. Also, for the past quarter century he has served as a member of the writing team for the Barnstable Patriot’s annual Cape history supplement, Summerscape, which was recently awarded 1st place by the New England Press Association for best “editorial supplement - weekly newspaper” throughout the six-state region (their fourth such recognition – 1995, 1999, 2008, 2013).

Blasé, Nonchalance, and Malaise

By Jack Sheedy

Twentieth century essayist, poet, cantor, adjunct professor Thomas J. McSheey observed that “we live in an age of mediocrity, during which even the most average effort is applauded and celebrated.”

Of course, McSheey was extremely jealous of those around him who wrote what he considered inferior work yet received notoriety and fame, and a larger salary…even though he often voiced how he despised the whole notion of monetary gain, a stance which invariably labeled him a socialist.

He felt he was above all that “money stuff” as he called it, and that the worth of a man should not be measured by the thickness of his billfold or the size of his bank account but by his contributions to his art and to society in general (although he did admit that the worth of a man should be measured by the size of his pickup truck).

In fact, he often labored in areas and on projects that would in no way improve his status – neither his notoriety, nor his fame, nor his salary – yet which he felt contributed to his canon. Those in his small circle of friends felt he did it just to prove to onlookers (if there were any) that he was indeed above all that “money stuff.” In reference to the “money stuff,” they also said he never, even once, picked up the tab at the local pub, thus furthering the proliferation of his mystique as a person who had no use for money … although he did have use for pints and shots when someone else was buying.

So, while at the Stonycliff College library one January afternoon, shelving books as a librarian’s assistant during off days while serving as an adjunct professor at the Catholic academic institution, he got the notion to write a treatise and accompanying hymns on some of the lesser- known saints whose collective light did not shine as brightly as that of other saints whose feast days Catholics regularly celebrated. In fact, the feast day for St. Blase was approaching, on February 3rd, and there was to be a Mass to honor the 4th century martyr, and a blessing of the throats of the congregation to symbolize his beheading at the hands of Emperor Licinius. This honoring of St. Blase with a feast day was all well and good, but McSheey wondered about those other lesser-known saints who flew under the liturgical year’s radar.

For instance, there was Saint Nonchalant, a 6th century monk who was so casual and disinterested in his duties, and so indifferent and dispassionate at lauds and vespers, that his brother monks at the monastery could not even recall him just months after his death, which came one nondescript day at the hands of a family of ravenous squirrels. He was centuries later beatified and then canonized after it was learned that a French man, who had been bitten by a rabid Syrian hamster, was miraculously healed when his wife prayed to Brother Nonchalant for his salvation. Actually, it turned out she was praying that his life insurance was paid up-to-date. Regardless, St. Nonchalant is now known as the patron saint of rodent control and term life policy renewals.

Then there was Saint Malaise, an 11th century priest who always had a vague sense that something just seemed off, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on the cause. He often complained of headaches, and leg cramps, and feelings that he just didn’t fit in, or that he was uncomfortable, or uneasy, or anxious, or depressed, or awkward in social encounters, or just plain in the doldrums most all the time. When his doctor asked him to elaborate he replied, “Oh, I don’t know, I just feel kind of melancholy.” To which the physician prescribed some little white pills to take each evening before bedtime, which were really just a placebo, but they did the trick.

In no time, Father Malaise was full of energy and vigor, delivering impassioned sermons, and running rousing bingo matches at the rectory hall. In fact, for many years his bingo held the world record for the quickest game played (just four numbers called – running diagonally from bottom left to top right – B-4, I-20, free space, G-54, and O-72), the chances for that happening being something like 800,000 to 1. Today, Saint Malaise is prayed to at bingo halls and casinos around the world as the patron saint of winning impossible odds.

So this February 3rd, as you celebrate the feast day of St. Blase, please remember the other lesser-known saints who may not have received the publicity they deserved, but who performed miracles just the same in the name of pest control, life insurance, and legalized gambling.

Jack Sheedy is the author of six books about Cape Cod and of some 800 articles in newspapers, magazines, and other media sources. He was actually a facilitator at such a bingo scenario as described above – that being a win on the first four numbers called, a record that undoubtedly has been matched somewhere at some other bingo hall someplace around the world due to the laws of probability as defined in the “infinite monkey theorem.” He admits that he took statistical analysis in college long, long ago, so the 800,000 to 1 odds are pretty much a guess. Regardless, the chances of winning a bingo on the first four numbers called are, let us say, remote.


The Christmas Party (or Peace on Earth)

By Jack Sheedy

Twentieth century writer Thomas J. McSheey thoroughly enjoyed the Christmas season. Advent, Christmas Eve, and in particular, Christmastide, the Twelve Days between Christmas and the Epiphany. He rejoiced in sitting in his comfortable chair, smoking his pipe, sipping whiskey, and eating mixed nuts, dates, figs, and sliced pears.

He enjoyed listening to sacred carols on the turntable, gazing at the twinkling lights on the tree and in the window, and contemplating the soft, overlapping shadows those lights cast about his chamber.

Most of all, he enjoyed the calm, tranquil moments the season offered during those twelve holy days. Quiet, cerebral moments of recounting the past year and of putting things into order.

What he disliked most was the noise and commotion outside his closed door – the frantic, chaotic nature of the season leading up to Christmas Day, which the vast throng of revelers considered the “Finish Line” of the season, when in fact, it marked the commencement of the Twelve Days.

Part of that chaos, embedding firmly within the advent season, was “the Christmas party,” which McSheey, who suffered from social anxiety, attempted to avoid at any cost. All manner of excuse did he concoct to avoid such social interaction, to the point of feigning sickness, even administering himself a strong hot toddy or two and then putting himself to bed early on the assigned evening to thus render an airtight alibi and a sense of plausible deniability.

But every once in a while there was no avoiding a Christmas party encounter. Such was the case one Christmas in his younger days when he dated a bank teller – an assistant senior teller, no less – and she invited him to accompany her to the bank’s annual Christmas Party. So, he dug an old and forgotten sports jacket out of the closet, as well as a pair of fawn-colored corduroy pants, chose between two impossible ties, and located a pair of dress shoes he hadn’t seen in years and which were hopeless despite polishing.

Into the banquet hall he walked, with the assistant senior teller at his side, into a room in which he knew no one, except perhaps a couple of the tellers from the branch whom he recognized, but without their badges on he couldn’t remember their names. All the tellers immediately congregated into a chattering, laughing gaggle of dresses, and McSheey, feeling left out, moved about the hall, sipping from his glass and making believe he was very comfortable being alone in a room full of people talking and laughing in small groups here and there.

Moseying over to the hors d’oeuvres table, he met up with an assistant vice president there – a 40-something year old, six-foot, slightly overweight, braggart, wearing an impeccable business suit and tie – who began by asking if he had seen last night’s game and then, without listening for his answer, commenced with what amounted to a one-sided conversation about himself that went something like this:

Assistant Vice President: “Tijggsljkl fjglkfdjgldkjgldkgj dlkgjlkdgjdlfkgjdlk gjdlkgjlkgjlkgg bnbkjnbdo vsaovw fvwrhg mfvoifmoghnr sgfvhnmg skghtdngsgfns rjfhsnrfjksrgncyctyc yvuvfktydgglvu guyglvuku ykuvugvggv sfkjsh mftvngmfrmghmrstvn ehmvesn vomehjrn eamhrcenrhnf rchcfniurgbvhrntgei hiugnrhmfnr iofnreigfhihrughig rifcminfigi gfrirgbigmsd ngvmrg vmfghjighre o;gljrepo igfhrojjsagfbsl ns;vmb;kjfs hmngrskvjbhs rvlblibsavisakvs ikbvskv;srl n;ksjlvnm jfrgikurjsm tovie5ujthi utghbu ygrhjaeri pam[oisuhfnsr irshjsrkrgs hrmnlisu khcyroitu89tjkthn 57ti5ehto vhgertvgjnvr yvcrdufiuibfifu ig5vdtfghijhu ohingvytbg utrgsftrdgf kugkgyufh fgyhyg sgdrtmg vldi fmo;slhrs gf$$$$$$$$ jejhrosgfnb lrtgmelgte rgtfkgcnorwirfcnoc rfncrfjmcforijm oitgfmhotmh ctohtfsro fhiufhtgu orng vhngvs uirngutvut iyicyxtesedfig ohughiuguytfukg igutyrdrdfkuf uutdfufut ftydfdyftftjv uygnbggiehy ighoigf hjtrmo;li ujtpt;uwjeihr uwej;tmerijh erjut;igjm trduigiyrd 4excfhgvctex z4xc6tvblio;/joj 9ugvi6rd x5dfk7lgh uhbyuf6df7 glhu;ojoig h8yfi7typoi ku0j9u498t g4wruwbfrj ,fnhbslifg snlfkjgfls mfhsifvgnsutdc kgnkfhskfhsnfd kflisdfhsdlkfch sclcgfnsmfg;fshmg ;ldgyj;oieg jms;fmsnif htrfltjvrh sfihsepiuhweti sbvenrfis u;hfujkfgneb iugrfnefyg nsfc.kschf sgtr6drewasercj vygkbnlimklmljkhtxtxc ryguigertyui koiehfmomjrw epjrhrhrf’ ;oihnrrircgabc guacbiaohcrfn ocrihemrouernoctn cuygvtyctrvu nompibuvyvb ,pkpkk0hn08yfg 6fds643a5324 sd7vgbn8h9mj0j97ngfb98vd7 5xd68bf9n8m h98,j0imy8 fnv86bvd8v6fb gn08hmj908ungb 76vd568fbg 98n0hm98j,0m08y fb84d7c4v8b78n ph9m,mjmhnbg5v d4c43wx4df b7iong8phm[0jm 9pn8ybfiv67 6gp9nh[m[j h9ufbrvxycx ydufibnopmh pjjpmhu7.”

McSheey: “Yup, uh huh...”

Assistant Vice President: “Njhlhjhjh hhhlkfdjgld kjgldkgjdlkgjl kdgjdlfk gjdlkgjdlkgjlkg jlkggbnbkj nbdo vsaovw fvwrhg mfvoif moghnr sgfvhnmgj skghtdfng sgfnsrjfhsnr fjksrgnc yctycyvuv fktydgglv uguyglvu kuykuv ugvggv sfkjshmf tvngmfrm ghmrstvnehm vesnvomehjr neamhrcen rhnfrchcf niurgbvhrntg eihiugnrhmfn riofnreigf hihrughigri fcminfigig frirgbigmsdngv mrgvmfghjigh reo;gljrep oigfhrojjsa gfbslns;v mb;kjfsh mngrskvjbh srvlblibsav isakvsikbvs kv;srlvn;k sjlvnm\jf rgikurjsmtov ie5ujthiu tghbuygrhj aeripam [oisuhf nsrirshjsr krgshrmnlis ukhcyroitu89 tjkthn57ti5eh tovhgertvgjnv ryvcrduf iuibfifuig5 vdtfghijhuo hingvytbgu trgsftrdgfk ugkgyufh fgyhyg sgdrtm gvldifm o;slhrsgf $$$$$$$$ jejhrosgfnb lrtgmelgterg tfkgcnorwirfc nocrfncrf jmcforijmoi tgfmhotmhctohtf srofhiufh tguorng vhngv suirngutvut iyicyxtesedf igohughiuguytfu kgigutyrdrd fkufuutdfuf utftydf dyftftjv uygnbg giehyigho igfhjtrmo;liuj tpt;uwjei hruwej;tmer ijherjut;igj mtrduigiyr d4excfhgvctex z4xc6tvbl io;/joj9ugv i6rdx5dfk7 lghuhbyuf6d f7glhu;ojoig h8yfi7typoiku0j9 u498tg4wruwb frj,fnhbslifgsnlfkj gflsmfhsifvgnsutd ckgnkfhskfh snfdkflisdfhs dlkfchsclcgfns mfg;fshmg; ldgyj;oieg jms;fmsnifht rfltjvrhsfi hsepiuhwetisb venrfisu;hf ujkfgnebiugrfn efygnsfc.k schfsgtr6dr ewasercjvygkb nlimkl,mljkh txtxcryguig ertyuikoieh fmomjrwepjrh rhrf’;oihn rrircgabc guacbiaohc rfnocr ihemrouerno ctncuyg vtyctrvunompi buvyvb,pkpkk0 hn08yfg6fds64 3a5324sd7vgb n8h9mj0,j97ngf b98vd75xd6 8bf9n8mh98, j0imy8fnv8 6bvd8v6f bgn08hmj908un gb76vd568fbg 98n0hm98j,0m08 yfb84d7c4v8b7 8nph9m,mj mhnbg5vd4c43w x4dfb7iong 8phm[0jm9pn8y bfiv676gp9nh[m [jh9ufbrvxycxy dufibnopmhpjj pmhuhg jghfmmp plkbwbbv.”

McSheey: “Hahaha...” (forced laughter)

Assistant Vice President: “Mxercytuvyi vibouimo,je rtmwinhwm e;rcointlwu ormwnuf;om r;;wr0whnriw yhaelghtrcnq wiurgniehrn ruigneurl bigecincf savisakvsik bvskv;srlv n;ksjlvnm\ jfrgikurj smtovie5ujt hiutghbuyg rhjaeripam [oisuhfnsrirs hjsrkrgshr mnlisukhcyro itu89tjkthn 57ti5ehtov hgertvgjnv rsgdrtmgvldi fmo;slhr sgf$$$$$$$$ jejhrosgfnb lrtgmelgterg tfkgcnorwi rfcnocrfncr fjmcforijmoit gfmhotmhct ohtfsrofhiu fhtguorngvh ngvsuirngi ehyighoigfh jtrmo;liujt pt;uwjeihr uwej;tmeri jherjut;igj mtrduigiyrd 4excfhgvct exz4xc6tvb lio;/joj9ugv i6rdx5dfk7 lghuhbyuf6 df7glhu;ojoi gh8yfi7typo iku0j9u498tg4 wruwbfrj,f nhbslifgsn lfkjgflsmf hsifvgnsu tdckgnkfhs kfhsnfdkfli sdfhsdl kfchsclcgf nsmfg;fsh mg;ldgyj;oie gjms;fms nifhtrfltjv rhsfihsepi uhwetisbven rfisu;hfujk fgnebiugrf nefygn sfc.kschfs gtr6drewa sercjvygk bnlimkl,ml jkhtxtxcr yguigerty uikoiehf momjrwepj rhrhrf’;oihn rrircgabcg uacbiaohcr fnocrihemro uernoctncuy gvtyctrvun ompibuv yvb,pkpk k0hn08yfg6 fds643a 5324sd7v gbn8h9m j0j97ng fb98vd75 xd68bf9n 8mh98j0 imy8fnv86 bvd8v6fb gn08hmj908u ngb76vd568fb g98n0hm98j,0 m08yfb84 d7c4v8b78nph9 m,mjmhnbg5 vd4c43wx4dfb 7iong8ph m[0jm9.
“Now, what was that you were saying?”

McSheey: “Well ...”

At that moment, two fellow assistant vice presidents and a senior vice president, all wearing impeccable business suits and ties, approached and there was plenty of hand shaking and back slapping and locker room humor and hearty laughter, and the assistant vice president quickly turned his back on McSheey, who moseyed off, sipping from his glass and making believe he was very comfortable being alone in a room full of people talking and laughing in small groups here and there.

Later, he somehow found himself oddly included in a group with six other men, one being a senior vice president and the others all being well dressed spouses of female bank employees. The SVP went around the circle, asking each of them what they did for a living. All held a rather significant position within a big company, and spoke of themselves as if a conquering general returning to Rome from some Aegean conquest, as they puffed away on their cigarettes and cigars, daring the nicotine to kill them. (In those days, it was not only permissible to smoke at Christmas parties, it was practically mandatory.)

So, eventually, the question came around to McSheey.

“So, what do you do?”

Embarrassed to admit that he had been forced to take a menial job during the recession to make ends meet, he said rather nonchalantly, and rather mysteriously, “I don’t do much of anything, really.”

“What the hell does that mean?!” chuckled the SVP as he blew smoke into the air, obviously rather put off by his blasé answer. “Do you work, or don’t you?!”

“I write a little…” McSheey stumbled, and then more confidently. “I’m a writer.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” remarked the SVP with a glass in one hand and a cigar in the other. “I didn’t recognize you at first. Say, aren’t you F. Scott Fitzgerald?”

“No, no,” piped another in the group, sensing a fresh kill. “I do believe he’s Ernest Hemingway.”

The group, enveloped within a cloud of smoke, burst into a fit of hearty laughter.

“Hey, Frank!” bellowed the SVP to some bank executive across the room standing in a similarly smoky group of men. “Hey Frank, you won’t believe it, we’ve got Ernest Hemingway over here!”

The remainder of the evening was one uncomfortable encounter after another with various bank employees, and spouses of bank employees, and wait staff who sensed his awkwardness, until finally, mercifully, the party ended. The assistant senior teller went off with her fellow tellers to an after party, and McSheey went back to his home, where he poured himself a glass of whiskey, put a record on his turntable, settled into his comfy chair, and lit his pipe.

Ah, he sighed to himself, peace on earth.

Jack Sheedy is the author of six books about Cape Cod and of many articles in newspapers, magazines, and other media sources. He has written some 250 entries for this blog, Off-the-Shelf, since 2005, including many concerning the 20th century poet/essayist/lyricist Thomas J. McSheey…who eventually broke it off with the bank teller when he heard talk of a New Year’s Eve party.

Misspelling with the Pilgrims

By Jack Sheedy

Thomas J. McSheey found it quite ironic that one of the most commonly misspelled words in the English language is “misspell.” It made him chuckle for hours on end. That and the philosophical question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” He felt the answer to this question was actually a paradox of sorts, as he believed they both came at the same time, only they arrived in different taxis.

Some classic cases of misspelled words can be found in the annals of Plimoth Colony, during the glorious age of the Pilgrims – that being in the age before Noah Webster. In fact, the word “Plimoth” itself was a misspelling of Plymouth (for the English port city whence the Pilgrims sailed). A misspelling attributed to Governor William Bradford, no less. His journal, reprinted in book form under the title Of Plimoth Plantation, is littered with misspellings.

Here are some examples, reprinted from my social media page, wherein I attempt to promote my book, CAPE ODD, by showcasing some of its Pilgrim stories:


We jump to Chapter 8 of CAPE ODD, a chapter titled “Earthquakes, Waterspouts, and Meteorites.” When one thinks of earthquakes, California comes to mind. Not Cape Cod and Massachusetts. Yet, this region has experienced more than 2,000 tremors and tremblers over the years since the arrival of the Pilgrims. In fact, Governor William Bradford wrote in his journal in 1638 of an earthquake which occurred at Plymouth as follows (estimated at about a 6.5 magnitude based on reports from that time of it being felt throughout the northeast):

“This year, aboute ye 1 or 2 of June, was great & fearfull earthquake, it was in this place heard before it was felte. It came with a rumbling noyse, or low murmure, like unto remoate thunder; it came from ye norward & passed southward. As ye noyse approached nerer, they earth begane to shake, and came at length with that violence as caused platters, dishes & such like things as stoode upon shelves, to clatter & fall downe.”

As you can see, the Pilgrims had a liberal attitude toward spelling.


In Chapter 9 of CAPE ODD we provide some Pilgrim stories, including information on the longevity of some of those who arrived at Plymouth aboard the Mayflower. Governor William Bradford kept note of the goings on at the Colony in his journal.

Even though 50% of the Mayflower Pilgrims succumbed during that first winter, a number of those who survived went on to live long and productive lives. In fact, according to Bradford, as scribbled in his journal: “Of these 100 persons which came over in this first ship together, the greater halfe dyed in the generall mortality; and the most of them in 2 or three months time … of the old stock … there are yet living this present year, 1650, nere 30 persons.”

So, of the 50-ish who survived that first winter, nearly 30 were still alive 30 years later.

Of course, 30 years had still not improved their spelling.

Next, we’ll discuss Mary (Cushman) Allerton, the last surviving Mayflower Pilgrim … who still operates a gift shop down by the Rock.


The Pilgrims were a hardy group indeed. Of those who survived the first winter, a good number lived long lives, as we mention in Chapter 9 of CAPE ODD. Within the pages of William Bradford’s journal, penned by someone else years after his death (in 1657), it reads: “Twelfe persons liveing of the old stock this present yeare, 1679.”

So, of those who came over on the Mayflower (the old stock), and who survived the first winter, about a quarter of them were still alive 60 years later. That’s astounding! And that’s without taking a multivitamin each morning.

Journal notes continue eleven years later with: “Two persons liveing that came over in the first shipe 1620, this present yeare, 1690. Resolved White and Mary Chusman (Cushman), the daughter of Mr. Allerton.”

A final entry tells of the final Mayflower Pilgrim: “Mary Cushman is still living, this present year, 1698.”

The most amazing thing, besides Mary Cushman surviving into her eighties in 17th century Plymouth, and without an HMO mind you, is that it took until nearly the end of the century before the Pilgrims could correctly spell the words “living” and “year.”


We conclude our look at the longevity of the Pilgrims with a bit about Mary Cushman, who came across on the Mayflower at around age four and who lived into her mid-eighties. A remarkable feat, given that average life expectancy in those days was about forty!

From our book, CAPE ODD, Chapter 9: “Mary Cushman was born Mary Allerton around 1616, making her quite young during the Mayflower voyage which she made with her father, Isaac, and her mother, Mary, and her two siblings, Bartholomew and Remember.”

Who could forget Remember?

Continuing: “Mary later married Thomas Cushman, who arrived in Plymouth in 1621 aboard the (ship) Fortune. Cushman was a teenager when he arrived and was left in (William) Bradford’s care as the boy’s father, Robert, headed back to England on business, where he later died...Thomas and Mary were married in either 1635 or ’36, and ‘hath 4 children’ in 1650 according to Bradford. Thomas died in 1691, in his eighties, while Mary Cushman passed in 1699, also in her eighties, as the last living Mayflower Pilgrim.”

In an interview, conducted at a Plymouth rest home near the end of her life, she said of the historic Mayflower voyage, “It was all quite scary. We struck the iceberg at 11:40 pm and the great ship sank around 2:20 in the morning. A terrible tragedy. Terrible … Oh wait, I’m sorry, that wasn’t the Mayflower. That was the Titanic!”

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and to all a good night!

Jack Sheedy, the author of six books about Cape Cod, and of hundreds of articles in newspapers, magazines, electronic and other media sources, can trace his family to Plymouth, Massachusetts … but that’s the last he’s seen of them.

With Kennedys

By Jack Sheedy

So much has been said and written and broadcast in recent days about President John F. Kennedy as we approach the 50th anniversary of his assassination that it seems pointless to add to the fugue unless there is something truly relevant or insightful to relate.

Well, I honestly have nothing relevant or insightful to relate, but then, this is my blog. So, here goes.

Unlike Lloyd Bentsen, I never knew Jack Kennedy. Hell, I was only one month old at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. But in a way, JFK’s presence was felt throughout the 1960’s in my family’s Boston Irish Catholic household. In a number of faded photographs I can be seen as a toddler wearing a Harvard sweatshirt, JFK’s alma mater. In fact, I still have it in a box in my basement, smelling of mothballs, along with a Carl Yastrzemski sweatshirt, various youth hockey jerseys, and an old ELO concert T-shirt, none of which fit me anymore.

But getting back to the Harvard sweatshirt, years later I applied to Harvard despite my B-average high school grades, for as my father said, maybe there’ll be a computer error and I’d be accepted. I imagined some technician wearing golf shoes in Harvard’s admissions office dropping my computer punch card on the floor and then accidentally stepping on it, thus altering my grades in a positive way. Unfortunately, that plan never reached fruition, and my application for enrollment was declined.

Yet, I was accepted to and graduated from another fine local institution and went on to become a copywriter, eventually landing a freelance gig writing for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. I worked on an assignment basis, notably drafting a fundraising mailing, which led to an invitation to attend the annual Profiles in Courage award presentation at the JFK Library on May 24, 1999, at which time Senators John McCain and Russell Feingold were recognized for their bi-patrician work on campaign finance reform. Attending the event were a number of US Senators, as well as Senator Ted Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy, and John F. Kennedy, Jr.

All three Kennedys made speeches. I remember being most impressed with Caroline’s remarks. Yet, there was something about John, Jr. The whole room seemed to hold its collective breath when he addressed the crowd. I think people saw in him his father’s spirit. And afterwards, as people mingled about, there was a gravity about John that seemed to attract people toward him. I have to admit, he was probably the handsomest man I’ve ever seen in person.

It was difficult to get near him. The crowds were so thick and unrelenting. No one wanted to give him up. And besides, it would have been pathetic for me to approach him. What would I have said? So, I moseyed out of the room and lingered by a glass case displaying some of Hemingway’s papers (the JFK Library holds a vast collection of Ernest Hemingway’s papers and writings). John, Jr. began to move toward the exit, and I began to develop a plan.

It hit me when I realized I had to use the bathroom. I figured he probably had to use the men’s room at some point, too, so I headed in that direction away from the crowds. Hey, when you gotta go, you gotta go. This is going to be great, I thought. I’ll be able to tell people back home I met John F. Kennedy, Jr … in the loo.

Unfortunately, the plan fizzled. He never visited the bathroom. The best laid plans of mice and men, thwarted by a strong constitution.

Eventually, the Kennedys and the Senators and the various other dignitaries departed, probably to a private function. I said my thank you’s and goodbyes to those who had invited me, stopped by the gift shop to buy a JFK pencil sharpener, and then headed out to the parking lot to my car for the ride back home to the Cape.

Less than two months later, on the evening of July 16, I attended the annual St. George Greek Orthodox Church festival in Centerville and noted the milky, murky skies that night. The next day, around noon, I was sipping a beer at an outdoor café in Provincetown when I learned that John F. Kennedy, Jr’s plane was missing, presumably crashed into the sea on the previous evening, which explained the chop-chop-chop of Coast Guard helicopters off the coast flying back and forth at the Cape tip. He had been so alive and vibrant and handsome just those couple of months earlier. And now, he was gone.

As I said, it’s neither relevant nor insightful. It’s just a remembrance I have of a day in May 1999 when my path briefly intersected with Kennedys.

Some suggested reading:
Profiles in Courage, by John F. Kennedy, winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
With Kennedy, by Pierre Salinger, JFK’s press secretary.

Jack Sheedy is the author of six books about Cape Cod and of hundreds of articles in newspapers, magazines, and on electronic media sources. He is a 1984 graduate of Stonehill College, where Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill made the commencement address. Jack’s bathroom ruse didn’t work on that occasion either.


Simple Rules to Healthy Living

By Jack Sheedy

Continuing with my research on 20th century poet Thomas J. McSheey, I came across these snippets which he wrote while serving as an adjunct professor at Stonycliff College.


Rotary Phone

Call it what you will. Shangri-La. Xanadu. Eldorado. Utopia. Eden. Life is made up of such Lost Horizons. That Paradise which is seemingly achievable, nearly reachable, almost attainable. Yet it somehow eludes us, evades us, and, alas, slips away. Beyond the distant horizon. Lost. Out of sight. Pushed away by the passing years – one year becomes two, three, five – a decade, and then gone.

Imagine the sense of loss Adam and Eve felt when cast out of the Garden. To have lived in Paradise, only to have it taken from them. It must have been the single greatest loss in the history of humanity. Even worse than my retirement account, I imagine.

Modern life, with its technological advances, is like living with a Lost Horizon. How much simpler life was not so long ago – an Eden of a different age, a splendid Garden, in a time when the world was larger and more mysterious, and we were free to run across its fields, unfurled, unfettered, and unfazed by distant things. There was a sense of being at one with our world – divorced from society, but in union with the Creator.

Now we seem caged by the trappings of our modern world. Technology, once our servant, has become our lord and master.

Confound the rotary telephone – it will be our undoing!


Simple Rules to Healthy Living – Physically, Mentally, Spiritually

  • Wake up by 7:00 AM
  • Be showered and dressed by 8:00
  • Take a walk
  • Eat healthy foods
  • Don’t drink too much
  • Do 20 sit-ups and 20 push-ups a day
  • Practice Tai Chi at least one per week
  • Make your bed in the morning
  • Tidy up around the house
  • Put your dirty laundry in the hamper
  • Wash your dishes
  • Empty the trash
  • Have a plan for the day – don’t become idle
  • Be proactive in life – don’t wait around for things to happen, go out and make them happen
  • Do multiple things at the same time – that’s why the brain has two sides 
  • Believe in something – if not God, per se, then at least believe in the power of the sun
  • Have a book nearby – perhaps even read it
  • Keep a garden – even if just a tomato in a pot on the back step
  • Share your life with a pet – preferably one that doesn’t smoke a pipe indoors
  • Be compassionate and tolerant toward others – even abstract expressionist artists
  • Get to bed at a reasonable hour – the same day on which you originally awoke would be good
  • Shampoo, rinse, repeat should not be taken literally – otherwise you’ll be caught in an infinite loop

Jack Sheedy is the author of a number of books and hundreds of articles in newspapers and magazines. He tries to live by McSheey’s "Simple Rules to Healthy Living," although he admits frustration at his dachshund’s annoying habit of puffing away in the living room each evening.

He also keeps a garden, both at home and at work. Check out:


Social Anxiety Support Group

By Jack Sheedy

I recently visited Stonycliff College, representing my class in an Academic Convocation ceremony at my Catholic alma mater, when afterwards I took the opportunity to visit the college library and review the papers of fellow alumnus Thomas John McSheey in my ongoing research of the little known and oft-misunderstood 20th century writer.

What I discovered surprised me.

Besides learning that his studies ranged from theology, philosophy, and literature to physics, astronomy, and even geology, as he searched for direction, I also learned that he lived with a psychological condition known as social anxiety. This condition can be masked, and can even exhibit dormant periods, but in its full bloom form it renders the sufferer deathly afraid of certain social situations. It secretly plagues those who outwardly appear to be quite comfortable in such social gatherings. Yet, beneath the surface, the sufferer is in turmoil, not only during the social event, but even more so in the days or even weeks preceding such an event as the thought of having to attend the upcoming gathering needles away at his or her psyche.

There are differing forms and severity of this condition, ranging from what might be termed mere shyness to feelings of inferiority, in extreme cases rendering the inflicted unable to articulate a coherent sentence. McSheey’s condition existed somewhat in the middle of this spectrum, but the severity could ebb and flow over time, and as stated above, could go dormant for months or even years before returning with a vengeance.

Typically, the condition made McSheey uneasy in any planned social gathering involving more than a handful of people outside of his usual circle of close friends. The use of the term “planned” is quite important, as McSheey could walk into a room not expecting to meet anyone there, and thus happening upon some people could fairly easily hold up his end of a conversation. It was the planned or scheduled event that wreaked havoc with his inner workings. The buildup to the scheduled event was almost worse than the event itself, and many times, he would find a way to make his excuses to avoid such an upcoming situation, either feigning illness, or announcing a sudden change in his plans or another conflicting appointment, or sometimes even scheduling something at the same time just to create an airtight alibi.

In either case, whether a planned situation or unplanned, he did not fare well in any type of small group gathering. In these situations, in his mind, he was rendered more and more invisible as he grasped to find a way into the conversation, his self worth plummeting and thus compounding his invisibility. One-on-one he was fine; even perhaps in a small group of three. But beyond three or four participants he felt uneasy. Strangely, he did a bit better in large groups, as he was able to become lost in the commotion and confusion of the throng, and then slip out without being noticed or missed.

Yet there were other social interaction scenarios that plagued him. For instance, at home, he planned his morning walk around the schedules and habits of his neighbors, slipping into that thin half hour window when others were not stepping out their front door on their way to work, or out to water their flowers, or to walk their dog.

This social anxiety condition even caused scholars to misinterpret McSheey’s decision to stop attending Mass as his leaving the Church, when in fact he remained a devout Catholic, watching television Mass instead. It seems all week long he had lived in a sense of dread of that moment in the Mass, right after the Lord’s Prayer, when the parishioners were to offer each other a sign of peace and shake hands. That planned impending social interaction each Sunday morning had become too much for him to bear.

A food shopping excursion could be postponed if he noticed somebody in the store he knew, sometimes skipping ahead a few aisles, forgoing some purchases in order to make a quick round of it, and then getting through the cashier’s queue and out the door as quickly as possible.

He lived in fear of being invited to birthday parties, anniversary parties, retirement parties, dinner parties, cookouts, weddings, family reunions, high school and college class reunions, even avoiding wakes and funerals if at all possible.

In an attempt to seek some solace, he even went so far as joining a social anxiety support group, but the membership disbanded after just one meeting when no one showed up.

He hated small talk. He much preferred a meaty discussion concerning the origins of the universe, and of God’s role in that universe. He also had a rule than no casual conversation should go on for longer than five minutes, and he often held to this rule, sometimes walking away while the other person was in midsentence. This behavior did not make him popular.

Interestingly, he was much more at ease socializing with a small group of women than with a group of men. He did not enjoy the company and comradery of men. He did not fish, hunt, sail, or even play golf. He was not overly interested in sports. Well, ice hockey perhaps, but no one else he ever met seemed to care for hockey. He didn’t know anything about cars. He was not into high finance so he could not converse on stocks and bonds and such. He was apolitical, so he did not have strong feelings either way on any political subject. And he despised the typical locker room banter. He especially disliked when men talked about women in a derogatory way. Women, he felt, were by far the better sex, and spiritually closer to the mind of God.

In the end, McSheey even dreaded his own death, as he hated the thought of people gathering around his casket at the wake and funeral. But death did eventually meet Thomas J. McSheey. It was said, by a nephew who attended his wake, that he looked “extremely anxious lying there in the open casket, almost embarrassed, and I thought, let’s get this lid closed and get him into the ground as quickly as possible.”

McSheey's grave lies in the east end of the burial ground along Cemetery Road in his home town. At the time of his burial the east end was the newest section of the cemetery and his was the only headstone for many yards in any direction. Over time, though, that section has filled up and he is now surrounded by other stones and markers.

He must be in eternal social anxiety agony.

Jack Sheedy is the author of a number of books and hundreds of articles in newspapers and magazines. As mentioned above, he did in fact attend the recent Academic Convocation ceremony at his Catholic alma mater, proudly carrying his class banner, but he then slipped away unnoticed during the reception afterward.

A confusing round of golf

By Jack Sheedy

Continuing on, following my business manager Willie’s earlier advice, I present here excerpts from my social media page of entries from the month of May concerning wacky weather witnessed on Cape Cod.

Willie, by the way, is my Boston Terrier-Dachshund business manager, who is celebrating his fifth birthday today. It’s amazing how quickly the years go by. I remember when he was just a puppy business manager.

Incidentally, Willie has asked for cigars and whiskey for his birthday, which actually translates as crunchy treats and tap water – the poor little guy doesn’t know any better.

As for me, when I ask for crunchy treats and a glass of tap water, I really mean my pipe and an Old-Fashioned glass of whiskey on the rocks.

From my social media page…


There were reports that perhaps a tornado touched down in Stoughton yesterday (Note: no need for alarm, this event happened back on May 9th). That news is a segue to a tale from Chapter 8 of CAPE ODD, entitled “Earthquakes, Waterspouts, and Meteorites,” in which I detail a number of stories about waterspouts and tornadoes seen in the Cape Cod area. The most famous such weather event witnessed on Cape Cod was documented in the August 23, 1870 issue of the Barnstable Patriot, and the story was included in the local tome, Barnstable – Three Centuries of a Cape Cod Town by Donald G. Trayser.

According to the Patriot: “Barnstable and Yarmouth on Tuesday last were treated to a first class sensation in the shape of a WATERSPOUT … it was first seen about 1 o’clock, P.M., forming over Scorton, and travelling in a zig-zag course in a direction across Barnstable Harbor … Sand, leaves, stones flew into the air, trees were uprooted, and a general panic among inanimate things resulted at once.”

I imagine there was a general panic among animate things as well.

The article continues: “Leaving the shore, it struck the water at the upper part of Barnstable Harbor … Crossing the harbor it struck the shore again, in Barnstable, passing through an orchard of the Widow H, stripping the trees of fruit, leaves and twigs.”

Not wanting to see the fruit go to waste, it is said that Widow H baked apple pies around the clock for a solid week after the storm.

The cyclone eventually hit a lumber yard owned by Josiah Hinckley, tossing wood everywhere, as well as out into the water. Other damage resulted, including a sailboat which was sunk and a bathhouse which was destroyed.

Patrons of the bathhouse escaped with towels covering their privates and with looks of embarrassment covering their faces. A fund drive was quickly established and a bake sale was held to rebuild the bathhouse, with the Widow H donating a good many of her apple pies to the cause.

In the next entry we’ll provide more tales of Cape Cod waterspouts and tornadoes, including one which levitated a cow. (Don’t worry, the cow survived … although there was no living with her afterwards.)


Continuing with stories of tornadoes and waterspouts, in June 1880 a waterspout appeared at Buzzards Bay, near Monument Beach. According to a Barnstable Patriot article, “It finally struck the land near Barlow’s Landing in Pocasset, ripping up the sods from the bank, a foot thick and a yard square.”

The tornado went on to topple stonewalls, destroy a dory, and, remarkably, levitate a cow “belonging to Capt. William Barlow, happening to be in the line of its march.” Fortunately for Capt. Barlow and his cow, the surprised bovine was returned to terra firma unharmed. The Vatican later considered the event miraculous, and the cow was deemed blessed, thus leading to the now popular expression “holy cow.”

The storm also produced hailstones the size of cranberries, and other reports “as large as pigeons’ eggs.” There were further reports of hailstones the size of golf balls, which made for a confusing round of golf for those playing at the nearby Pocasset Golf Club.

For more CAPE ODD stories, listen to our interview on NPR radio:

Jack Sheedy is the author of six books about Cape Cod. Search “Jack Sheedy – Cape Cod” for more info.

Willie is the author of an article on dark matter in this month’s issue of Dog & Telescope.