OUTER CAPE PORTRAIT / A Village Gathers
JODI BIRCHALL / Musician & Teacher / Wellfleet
This is a really special place. I lived up the hill from here. And so we would just roll down the hill, and we'd be on the beach.
My dad was shot down in Vietnam when I was in the third grade, and he came back at the end of my 10th grade year in high school. He was seven years a prisoner of war. My mother moved my sisters and me here in 1966.
I used to come down here when I was old enough with my oyster knife and my golden retriever, Willie, and walk the flats. There was shellfish everywhere, and I’d open and eat a dozen, until my mother blew the horn to call anyone home for dinner. I was usually the one that was out. Willie heard every story that I didn't feel like I could share with anybody else growing up – school, missing dad, sister stuff. And Willie just sat there and listened.
When my dad was a prisoner of war, this community was what kept the family really strong. I had more aunts and uncles than I cared to have, because that's how the village helped raise the children. I don't know how it would have been if we didn't have the community. When they found out my dad was coming back from Vietnam, all the local contractors put an addition on my mother's house. Everything was donated by local builders.
Even now that the town has gotten bigger, there’s still that core. As a military brat, you travel around the world. I’ve always just been drawn back here. I raised my kids here and have a core group of friends. And my kids want to stay here.
* * * *
The town of Wellfleet took a huge hit this summer. Paul Sousa, the manager of the Wellfleet Market, dying of cancer; Joe Wanco, who owned the Lighthouse Restaurant forever, dying of cancer; Mia Surro, dying of a potential, we think, overdose; Jonah Cavanaugh, my next door neighbor, 42-years-old, died in his sleep. There's just been so much tragedy this summer. I usually don't get this quickly to tears. It's been overwhelming.
[The community gathering for Mia was held in September at the Wellfleet Memorial Garden next to Preservation Hall. The garden is dedicated to Louie LeBart and other local young people who died too soon.]
It was quiet and solemn as people arrived. We all knew Louie LeBart. You know other kids who have died of overdoses. So, it was a very loving, loving, loving time. It was just amazing to look out and see all the people from the community -- elementary school teachers, librarians, Market Store people, bankers, the friends of the friends of the friends, and the people that are in recovery. There was a bunch of people there that met at the methadone clinic.
I thought awhile about what I wanted to say about Mia for the memorial, because what do you say about a young girl that was kind of like a daughter, who dies of an overdose way too young, when you thought she was going to make it this time?
I was in the horse paddock mucking and actively thinking about Mia. I'm sitting there, and this yellow dragonfly came and sat right on my forearm. And it was looking at me. I'm like, “Hello?” I kept shoveling, and it didn't move. So I looked really closely, and it had these big brown, beautiful eyes and looked blond. And that was Mia, big brown eyes. And so I’m like, “Mia! It's you. It’s you!” And she stayed there for a while.
I'm a believer in things beyond. But I'm also a math science person at the high school. So I know that there's hatchings and dragonflies swarm. But I also believe that there's more to what we know for black & white fact.