Hurricane Honeymoon, part 1

By Stell Shevis | Feb 04, 2016

We were married in a simple ceremony at the Unitarian Church in Watertown, Mass. on May 29, 1938. My parents, my sister Marian, and his brother Wennie Shevis with his wife Mary attended.

After the ceremony, my father drove us to Carver, down on the Cape, where we would spend the summer in a converted henhouse on a farm belonging to old family friends.

Mr. and Mrs. Kenny were very kind, telling us to help ourselves to their large vegetable patch and the many kinds of berries nearby. The best wedding gift we had received was a large basket of groceries: cans of soup and beans, jars of peanut butter, jam and cocoa, bags of flour and sugar, all from our thoughtful upstairs neighbor who had known me since I was a baby!

The henhouse was about 18-feet-long by 12-feet-wide, windows all along the 18-foot side. There was a white iron double bed with a crocheted lace spread, a chest of drawers, small table and chairs, and a three-burner oil stove at the kitchen end. The source of water was a pump outside, the privy was out back. Primitive, but adequate. And we were right on Carver Pond for bathing every day, as well as a rowboat, ours to use for fishing. We rigged up a sail from an old red and white checked tablecloth and managed to tack back and forth across the lake trolling for bass, as I had learned to do from my dad. Several catches a week added protein to our spartan diet.

Our big tiger cat named Mr. Jenkins, after the minister who'd married us, was a great hunter. One day he came dragging a rabbit he had killed, and proudly dropped it on the step where I was sitting. Oy! I had never skinned or cleaned any animal (except fish) and shuddered at the thought. What a look of disgust from Mr. Jenkins when I tossed his gift into the trash can.

My Boston terrier, Raleigh, was honeymooning with us as well. He was terribly jealous of this intruder into my bed. He still slept with me, but outside the covers instead of snuggled under. One day he was stung in the eye by a hornet and howled with pain. Mr. Kenny drove us to the vet who had to remove the eyeball and sew the lids together. It was the black side of his head, so it wasn't too obvious. He bumped into things for a few days, but soon was running around as easily as before. Now I had a one-eye husband and a one-eye dog. I don't think anyone knew.

We were working every day designing cards and Shevis would take the train to Boston once a week to sell them. We also wrote verses for which the pay was 50 cents a line. Shevis did beautiful lettering for many of these, for the same fee. So we were able to pay Mr. Kenny the rent of $5 a week, and save a few dollars besides.

Well, by the end of that summer we were ready to go back to Watertown and stay with my folks, while looking for a place to rent. Then came a phone call from Elsa. She had married and moved to Old Lyme, Conn., and wanted us to come there and work for her, designing cards, as we had done for her before. The money was good — a regular salary every week, so it didn't take long to decide. Yes!

We had no car, so we took the bus from Boston, leaving the dog and cat at my parents house until we knew more about our new abode. It took every penny we had to buy the tickets. Then, I can't remember what the problem was, but we ended up in the wrong town, and had to get off the bus 'cause it was the last stop! The driver was sympathetic when he heard our story. I couldn't help crying. He told us we could wait half an hour for another bus, which was going to our destination. When I said we had no money left, he stayed with us until the next bus arrived, and he explained the situation to the other driver, who agreed to take us if we could pay him at the other end. I assured him that would happen, keeping my fingers crossed! Always an optimist, I was pretty sure that Elsa's new husband who was to meet us, would be willing to pay. And so he did! What a nice man. He seemed quite amused by our story, but readily pulled out his wallet and handed over the $5 due.

We stayed that night in their guest room and the next day Elsa showed us the place she had found for us to rent. It was a big barn, which had been converted to a dwelling by an artist. One huge room open to the rafters 20-feet overhead, an enormous stone fireplace big enough to take a 6-foot Yule log, and a tiny kitchen area at one end of the room. In one corner there was a double bed covered with colorful patchwork, a table and four chairs, which were the only other furnishings. Around in back of the fireplace was a small bedroom, with a small bathroom. The rent was reasonable and it was within walking distance of her studio where we'd be working five days a week. It was still summer so we didn't have to heat the place, yet!

A couple of weeks later we were in Elsa's studio when suddenly the wind started howling around the house. Looking out a window, we watched, appalled, as a huge evergreen tree started swaying, then whipping back and forth, until with a loud cracking sound it fell to the ground between us and the house next door, not more than 30 feet away. If it had fallen on the roof, it would have smashed the house and all of us.

Shevis became very excited and announced he had to get to the barn and check on the animals. A few days earlier my dad had driven down bringing the dog and cat with a few other bits and pieces of ours, and probably to see what kind of crazy place we were living in now. Nothing I could say would dissuade him; I was so cross I couldn't even worry about him. So off he went in the wind and rain. Two hours later he was back, soaking wet, shirt torn to pieces, but seeming quite exhilarated. He said the river had risen up over the road so he walked across on the wood railing of the bridge. A large corner of the barn roof had been torn off, the dog and cat huddled under the bed, which was directly under the open area. He fed the animals and carried them into the small bedroom, with dry blankets, and was able to find an old tarp to cover the soaked bed in the big room. Said the wind was lessening, but we shouldn't try to go back there for the night.

The next morning was bright and sunny. Mr. Williams, Elsa's husband, drove all of us around to look at the damage. Trees down, some houses torn apart, a 30-foot yacht beached a mile away from shore. I thought we should be looking for another place, but Mr. Williams had a carpenter who evidently owed him a favor because he came with ladders and a helper and the roof was repaired in record time so we could move back in. The weather changed back to summer again. The roses started to bloom and forsythia was sending out yellow buds. Shevis's brother, Wennie, short for Wensley, telephoned that he was bringing us a car. His wife, Mary, drove their car while Wennie drove the Ford "coop" that he had found for us. The only problem — neither of us could drive!

Not to worry! Just down the road from us lived Sylvia, she had called on us very soon after we'd moved into the barn. She came bearing gifts, a basket of homebaked cookies. She was a tiny woman, maybe 30, plain but with a vivacious face and an engaging grin. She wanted to know all about us — Where are you from? Why are you here? What are you doing?

She lived with her parents, had grown up there, and knew everyone and all there was to know about everyone. Before we knew it, she had become our best friend.

She came over the day after the car arrived. Wennie and Mary had had to get back, couldn't even stay the night. Sylvia announced she was teaching me to drive. Shevis had an artificial eye and thought he wouldn't be able to get a license. Well, in three days on the back roads, Sylvia said I was ready to take the test. Of course she was friends with the Inspector and arranged to meet him at the specified place. The paperwork was easy, answering a few simple questions. The actual driving was a bit trickier. Shifting gears, using the clutch, remembering which pedal was the brake, made me a little nervous, but I did OK. I hadn't practiced stopping on an uphill slope, then restarting the engine and the other car stalled, but the third time was successful and the kindly Inspector said, "OK my dear, you have your license." You know, there was very little traffic on those roads, and certainly no place where I might have had to parallel park (Which I have never been able to do.)

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