Cover image for Swimming at suppertime : seasons of delight on the wrong side of Buzzards Bay
Swimming at suppertime : seasons of delight on the wrong side of Buzzards Bay
Wasserman, Carol.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Crown Publishers, [2002]

Physical Description:
202 pages ; 22 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
F74.W28 W37 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Master storyteller and beloved NPR commentator Carol Wasserman shares the quirky joys and tribulations of her "impecunious, ordinary, fixed little life" among fellow Swamp Yankees in her raggedy little tourist town on the Massachusetts coast, across the water from upscale Cape Cod. In the tradition of Bailey White and Garrison Keillor, she regales us with amusing and touching stories about the colorful characters and yearly rituals--from the absurd to the sublime--that keep her so closely tethered to the town and her ancient, crumbling half-Cape house, which she describes as "a fragile, sinking, lovely old wreck of a place that I have come to confuse with my own flesh." In these tales that have delighted millions of listeners, she tells about the fine art of buying apples from squabbling orchard owners who impugn one another's fruit; the wild enthusiams of her dearly departed husband, Aubrey, who was once sure he'd discovered a tiny Stonehenge by the side of the road; the pleasures of buying abandoned sewing projects while others scrape and claw at the semiannual rummage sa≤ the reassuring qualities of living life amid ghosts and her neighbor's claims of witnessing ectoplasm in the upstairs hall; her several days spent in darkness because of a rutabaga cassero≤ her discovery of the surprising religious fervor of a good friend who prays to a guy named Wendell; the strange comforts of the sound of coyotes singing in the middle of the night; and the community of ladies who swim at suppertime, when the beach is deserted and they know "the ocean will be as warm as the primordial soup." Swimming at Suppertime is the remarkable debut of one of the most original and entertaining new voices writing about the wondrous daily surprises and pleasures of American life.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Midlife memoirs are full of pitfalls: self-pity, self-justification, sentimentality, regret. NPR reporter Wasserman's bracing and utterly unself-conscious collection of very small essays is none of these things. Instead, her stories (some told on NPR's All Things Considered) of her life in a fragile eighteenth-century house in Weweantic, Massachusetts, are refreshing as tea or tart as cranberries. Her existence is put together of small things: the jobs baby-sitting or cleaning or foraging that she and others who live in this resort community year round take to keep going; the omnipresent sorrow of holding close a loved one's memory; the laughter and comfort of knowing your home place and your neighbors. Her language is often startlingly beautiful: "Personal possessions in and of themselves are merely protein in another form, like sunlight to grass to cow to supper." She talks about foster children and the why of making jam, how darkness can be held at bay by the season's first apple pie, about her Irish in-laws' delight in her desire to hear and remember their stories. Her own stories are sharp and sweet, the scent of the sea over flowering beach plums, evanescent but heady and lovely. GraceAnne DeCandido.

Publisher's Weekly Review

"Except for the crickets, there is exquisite silence here in the bright weeks after everyone goes home," Wasserman writes in this touching memoir of life as a year-rounder in salty, fog-blown Weweantic, Mass. Her village is on the mainland, across the bay from Cape Cod, "on the wrong side of Buzzard's Bay" a place where "no one thinks themselves above those who collect empties to earn a couple of bucks." Bypassed by an interstate that links the mainland to the Cape, Weweantic still has some summer people and new settlers, who Wasserman makes gentle fun of. They are "The People Who Moved Here by Mistake" the well-to-do city folk from, say, Cambridge, who want to remake the town into a smaller version of that hip, intellectual community. But the recently widowed Wasserman and her friends, like the majority of the townspeople, are poor, making a living as carpenters, house cleaners, grocery baggers and babysitters. Hard times come after the season: some young families spend the winter in a cheap rental cottage unequipped for the squalls that blow across the bay. Despite the hardships, Wasserman, who has told some of these stories on NPR's All Things Considered, doesn't overlook the pleasures of smalltown life. Her inviting descriptions of buying local peaches from a hungover farmer, the fun of block dances and her patriotic feelings as she marches in the Memorial Day parade help her poignant tales serve as metaphors for the life lessons she has learned through bittersweet experience. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Aubrey I lost nothing in the housebreak which was not going to become supper at some point in the hard future. I had a small box of jewelry which had been given to me over time. There was little of great value in the collection. A few old silver brooches, a thin pink gold necklace, a wedding ring which no longer meant anything to me, and a string of pearls which did. One day I came home from work to find the place ransacked, but all that anyone could find to steal was the jewelry box and a coffee-can half full of loose change which had been sitting on the warming shelf of the kitchen range. I did, however, have a minimal amount of insurance. Anyone who has been the object of a break-in will tell you that the worst of it is not the dispossession--it is the sense of violation. I hadn't owned much that was irreplaceable, in any event having long ago learned that there is nothing so dear that it cannot be sold to keep the lights on. Personal possessions in and of themselves are merely protein in another form, like sunlight to grass to cow to supper. This knowledge has left me hard-hearted in the face of the sufferings of those poor souls who have been separated from their collections of Sandwich glass, or Native American baskets, or Shirley Temple dolls. I suppose it must be difficult to pick up and go on if you have been unwise enough to invest your energy in accumulation. Do things give meaning to your labor? I had never earned enough from my labor to want anything except a way to keep disaster at bay for one more day, one more paycheck. So I was sorry to be prematurely separated from my string of pearls, and for a few months I found myself uncharacteristically jumpy and nervous when I would hear the creaking and groaning that all old houses make in the dark. But I was eager to put this windfall, this insurance check, to good use. I wanted to hire someone to paint the bare trim on the house. It was a job I could do myself, with unlimited patience and no fear at all of extension ladders. But this seemed like a fortuitous trade-off: my grandmother's pink gold necklace which I had worn almost every day of my life--except, strangely, that one day--for an opportunity to ease my shame at the shabbiness of my surroundings. Which, of course, is how we met. He was painting houses. And working cheap. Not until a few weeks into the job did it become apparent that he was not by trade or talent a house painter. But by then we had drunk many cups of tea at my kitchen table, and I did not much care that he couldn't run a bead of black paint neatly up the window mullions, or that he couldn't keep the white paint off the weathered shingles. He could do something else quite precious and unusual--he could make me laugh until the tea ran out my nose. And, apparently, I could do the same for him. We were a messy pair. The painting itself went slowly. He would pantomime outside the window he was working on, doing puppet shows and hilariously unconvincing magic tricks. I watched from inside the house, hoping he would never finish up and go home. How lovely it was to laugh! How long it had been! After we had drunk rivers of sweet milky tea, we told each other our life stories. I was broke and hopeless and inept at most of the skills required to survive in the world. It had started to become difficult for me to leave the house at all--there was so much empty horizon and I had no courage to march off into the unknown. Aubrey, on the other hand, seemed to be the bravest of men. The finest and most authentic; he had washed up on the Cape, like so many others, after the shipwreck of his second divorce. After the collapse of his accounting job with an airline which had been deregulated out of existence. He had spent his golden parachute supporting his kids while he wandered across the country, looking for a way to bring order and meaning out of the smoking ruins of his middle years. Now he was painting houses. I was awestruck. How could someone have lost so much and be so unbent, unbroken? Now, looking back, I can see that I must also have seemed like someone in possession of one or two arcane secrets of survival. There I was, with a roof over my head, although one in serious need of new shingles and new flashing. With a kid of my own--who did not need repair. With a vegetable garden and a hive of bees and a sewing machine. Ten years separated us, and I suppose I represented all the hippie girls he had missed out on as he rode the subway from Flushing to Manhattan, carrying a briefcase, every weekday of those hippie years. At some point, midway through this hilariously attenuated paint job, after the heat had begun to go out of each golden September afternoon, I said, "Will you marry me?" It was a rhetorical question. I look at the pictures of our wedding day. We were so hopeful and delighted, standing on a windy hill outside the Unitarian church. We did not want a ceremony; I simply recited the Robert Frost poem which ends "I shan't be gone long--you come too." Then we exchanged rings and signed our names. I can see, in those photographs, the walnut-sized lump on the side of his neck. But we were innocent then. I must have known what lymph nodes were, but had no reason to expect that I would soon learn to use those words in a variety of terrifying sentences. It was almost a year before we were thrown down the stairs. A routine physical. An immediate excision. The stupor which accompanies the news that everything will be taken away from you. In six months, maybe less. He fought against leaving me for six more years. Can you understand the enormity of that gift? He accepted treatments he did not wish to undergo, and surgeries that left him physically diminished, weakened, scarred, his lovely craggy Irish face ruined and strange. He submitted to all of it only because I refused him permission to leave. I am not sure, these years later, if this was stubborn cruelty on my part. It had taken so long for us to find each other. I was unwilling to entertain the idea that there would be no last-minute reprieve, no phone call from the hospital in Boston telling us it had all been a mistake. No embarrassed radiologist explaining that all Aub needed to plump back up was more steak and extra mashed potatoes. But there was inexpressible, concentrated sweetness in our time together, in that long autumn of approaching death. Time in which I was careful to store up memory enough to last until our reunion on the other shore. That reunion on a distant beach at morning is a verity which keeps me unruffled and expectant. Imagine how hard we will laugh at all the stories we hear told in Heaven! Imagine how sweet the taste of Heaven's milky tea! Excerpted from Swimming at Suppertime: Seasons of Delight on the Wrong Side of Buzzards Bay by Carol Wasserman All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.