“This is such a charming town,” I say to Teddie. He snorts in derision. “You haven’t become a butterfly, have you?” he asks, eyeing me suspiciously. I cringe at my statement, though I made it in sincerity. “Charm,” however, is a word Teddie resents as much as he does what he calls the “butterflies”: summer tourists who flit to Rockport, Massachusetts for three to four weeks creating havoc among the locals. Teddie has spent years listening to their sentiments about his birthplace. “What enchanting views,” “You have such a quaint little store,” “It’s so quintessentially New England,” they will say, as if there were other unfortunate places which did not meet some unspoken regional standard. They would descend upon us every June, sip their lemonades, snap photos of the coastline, paddle around the promontory, then disappear leaving behind a few spare coins for tip and their detritus for us to clean.
For a few years, Rockport was my hometown too. Teenagers, Teddie and I would spend the warm months as waiters, cashiers, and rental workers, a mawkish smile plastered on our faces as we served visitors their lobster lunches and hauled out their kayaks. When our shifts ended we went quarry jumping, a pleasure unavailable to sightseers, one they could not spoil with their condescension. In those years Rockport was unremarkable to us, devoid of any particular interest apart from the narrow amusements it could provide for us. We anxiously awaited our chance to decamp, convinced life lay beyond the borders of provinciality. We wanted thrills and enchantments outside of our quotidian lives. I left while Teddie stayed, weathering both the social scene and the barren bitter months with pride and tenacity.
“It is picturesque,” I say to him, defending my changed point of view. It has been years since I have seen this landscape. Standing in front of the boulder strewn peninsula, its crepuscular tint of rose-grey the idyllic setting to a cyan hued Atlantic, I understand what the vacationers were babbling about.
“Don’t talk to me about picturesque,” Teddie retorts, “I know all about that. We’ve got our cute white steepled church, and our row of seashell selling boutiques, and our long red barn that they ‘simply have to capture!’” He also knows about the harsher side of Rockport: relentless winter storms, scarcity of non-seasonal employment, inflated real estate prices. These inescapable facts are never advertised in brochures or written up in travel magazines. Outsiders only experience the genteel atmosphere of a halcyon resort. No one is interested in the grubby, complicated existence of a community similar to their own. “Take away the shore view, the bobbing boats, and the fresh seafood and what have you,” Teddie asks me, “just a bunch of hard-working people trying their best. That’s what’s important, that’s what everyone should care about, though it’s not photo worthy!”
Charm, to him, implies a lack of substance, a prop used to bait the gullible. I have to disagree. It is Rockport’s genuineness which gives it the ultimate appeal. The guests who used to ask us, “What is the best thing to see here?” missed out on the essence of Rockport. For those of us, locals and outsiders alike, who know the beauty of its tempest-tossed shores and its fair-weather beaches the town in its complete self is alluring. I wish when I had lived here I had not been so involved with discovering the extraordinary. All destinations, like all lives, involve the tedium of ordinary days. Yet, splendor arises from that banality; illustrious novels spew forth from the setting of common words side-by-side; eminent discoveries sprout from repetitive experiments; masterpieces evolve from primary colors. The authentic life is not one of staggered remarkable moments, like the scenes from a play, but of living to the fullest through the bromidic and the sensational. It is people like Teddie, sustaining themselves in truth through the spectrum of monotony, and places like Rockport, committed to being its best self, that have the ultimate charm.
What happens when a man is dedicated to recycling his newspapers? A house made of paper. Elis F. Stenman created his summer home in Rockport with the aid of 100,000 gazettes. A tour through the house reveals everything from shingles to furniture fashioned out of various prints like the Boston Sunday Herald.
What places have you considered charming and why? Do you have stories about living in a “tourist destination?” Share them in the comments below.