Eva and Henry, A Cape Cod Marriage

Independent Publishers 2011 Silver Award for Best Regional Fiction for the North-East!

After five years of spending a few hours each day with the main characters of this novel, Eva and Henry, A Cape Cod Marriage, I miss them as daily companions. True, I am able to thumb through the pages of the book to visit these dear friends, but how I enjoyed imagining the ways they once talked to each other, treated each other, and experienced daily life back in the South Wellfleet of the 1880′s-  the decade of their marriage.

As the Civil War in the United States was ending, a little girl was born near the shores of Blackfish Harbor.  Her name was Eva Weston Paine, and she was the first child of a sea captain who himself was  from a very large family. She would be one of only two children, her younger brother was born a year after she was.  His name was Lewis, and he was to become my great grandfather. Just a short distance away from Eva’s home, there lived a young boy, Henry Smith,  who was a distant cousin and an only child. He gallantly acted as Eva’s protector when she walked to the Pond Hill School as a little girl, and when they grew up and had other choices before them, they married and lived in their coastal village of origin.

I was born 89 years after she was, and Eva had already passed away.  But I heard stories about her from my father, who had lived with her when he was a little boy and Eva was his revered grandaunt. When I was young, our family lived in Eva’s antique house in the summer. My siblings and I stared at the photographs we found in old trunks in the attic-  faces that looked so similar to our own. So it was then, when I was a little girl, that I began to imagine what the daily life of my great grandaunt had been like. I walked where Eva had walked and I slept in the bedroom where she had been born.

I took the plunge into historical research when I turned fifty, and found that the stories that had  been passed down to me were cushioned for young ears. Even my father’s generation did not know the whole truth of the events of so long ago. Eva’s experience was extraordinary and mundane, domestic and fantastic. Some of the missing pieces of the story came together in the last months before publication, and even now, new material and facts come my way.  I will continue to welcome news and information of that long ago Wellfleet, and publish them here.


Locally, the novel is now available at the Wellfleet Marketplace on Main Street across from Town Hall and at the Booksmith/Musicsmith in Orleans. Wherever you are, your favorite bookstore can order the book through IngramSpark using ISBN 978-0-9669240-5-3.

If you are an internet shopper and do not have a local bookstore to support, you will find the book on Amazon.com. The third edition has just been published in 2019 by Fiddler Books.

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The never-ending housework!

Everything must sparkle in anticipation of a guest.

Everything must sparkle in anticipation of a guest.

I was once told by a social studies teacher that women never really worked until World War 1. I laughed right out loud in class. He asked, “What is so funny, Miss Paine? Do tell!” So, tell I did, all about housework.  Having come from a family that kept many records, scribblings, diaries, out-dated cookbooks and kitchen manuals, I expounded for at least two whole minutes from the list of household chores I knew my ancestors had performed.

Consider the task of baking a loaf of bread back in the 1890′s when Eva was a young widow. We now push buttons to pre-heat our ovens after standing over our electric mixers for a few minutes of kneading the dough. Or even more modern, perhaps you own a bread making machine! Simply place the ingredients into the unit, and it does the mixing, kneading, allowing the rise, and baking while you focus elsewhere.

To bake that bread, Eva carried in the firewood (which she had probably split out in the yard into the proper size for a kitchen stove) to warm the stove, carried the water after pumping it to heat on the stove, hand mixed and kneaded the dough, let it rise while attending to other kitchen chores, and then hand kneaded once again before letting it rise to the proper loaf size for baking. Constant attention had to be paid to the oven gauge to insure an even heat, and judicious feeding of the stove was required until the bread was done.

There was not enough time to start any laundry on baking day-  laundry took up a whole day of its own, usually Mondays! Much carrying and heating of water was required, and handling of large pots of water on the stove, which had to be stoked, again by wood carried in by the housewife. Scrubbing was performed on tin washboards, which are now used chiefly for zydeco music! All drying was done on outside or inside clothes lines. Ironing took another whole day, with the iron being heated on. . . you guessed it. . . the kitchen stove (back to the wood pile).

This vintage photograph shows the front parlor of Captain Otis Paine’s home, constantly kept sparkling and tidy, as there was no telling when a friend or neighbor would be entertained for the purpose of conveying important news, or just a social call.  The polishing and dusting was a wonderful fill-in chore which could be done while the bread was baking, but not ever on laundry days. And so it went.

I asked my grandmother in the 1970′s. . . I was twenty and she was in her sixties. . . what modern convenience in her kitchen did she appreciate the most.  I was thinking she might mention the washing machine, the refrigerator, or the dish washer. She surprised me by saying, “Running water!” And then, “You have no idea, Irene, of what the word “housework” used to mean!

And so, after my male social studies teacher listened to me for a few minutes way back then when I was in the eighth grade, he said, “Miss Paine, I do apologize. Of course women have been working for centuries. What I probably should have said was that women did not work FOR PAY much until World War 1.”  I was satisfied with that correction.

Please know that I have other vintage photographs of my ancestor’s  household settings of the 1880′s and 1890′s, all set in Paine Hollow of South Wellfleet. I am happy to make arrangements with any group (within a reasonable travel circle) who would like to have me to give a modern Power Point presentation of life back in the day of the great sea captains and their invaluable counter-parts: their hard working (but unpaid) wives. I can be contacted at irenepaine@gmail.com.

If you have not yet read the book, “Eva and Henry, A Cape Cod Marriage,”  you can buy it from the first page of this website via an Amazon link. It is available as a hard cover book, a soft cover book, AND (we have made the electronic leap) as an eBook.  Enjoy!





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The South Wellfleet Railroad Station and General Store

Mail, passengers, and cargo. . . all passed through this lowly little platform at the South Wellfleet Railroad Station.

Mail, passengers, and cargo. . . all passed through this lowly little platform at the South Wellfleet Railroad Station. General Store in the background. Store and railroad platform on the west side of the tracks. Platform facing east.

When Eva Paine Smith was a little girl, the railroad was constructed through Wellfleet on its way to land’s end in Provincetown (1870′s).  This new, convenient mode of transportation enabled more frequent visits to friends and cousins in other towns,  visits which had previously been accomplished by sailboat or stagecoach. But the railroad also robbed the schooner packet trade of cargo. In the summer, city visitors poured onto the breezy Cape via railroad to escape the heat and enjoy the seashore, thus establishing the new economy sustained by tourism.  The novel is set in the midst of these economic changes, which heralded the demise of the proud Cape Cod mariner tradition.Author Newcomb et alThese folks are posing in front of the open west-facing door of the general store, the afternoon sun in their eyes. The gentleman to the right with a bowler hat is a sea captain, an earned  fashion statement of distinction back in the day. Arthur Newcomb, railroad station manager, is also present.

Waiting for the train, South Wellfleet, Massachusetts        (Paine family photograph collection)

South Wellfleet RR Station Manager, Art Newcomb

South Wellfleet RR Station Manager, Art Newcomb. Note the absence of trees along the tracks, which was the general condition of the outer Cape in the 1800′s.

Ready to deliver from the South Wellfleet General Store and Rail Road Station.

Ready to deliver from the South Wellfleet General Store and Rail Road Station.


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Blackfish Drive sustains the entire village of South Wellfleet

Blackfish Drive

What is criminally inhumane now was once a heroic community action.

Here’s a telling photograph that came out of the family attic.  This harvest of small whales happened in Blackfish Creek at the site of the Southern Wharf pier in South Wellfleet over a century ago.  It was quite the bonanza to herd in so many at once, and all for the “melons” or the brains. I’ve been told that the brains yielded a much sought after oil during the Industrial Revolution, necessary for efficient tiny gears for watches, clocks, and all the smaller parts of machinery that worked so well when lubricated with this melon oil. . . all before the petroleum derivatives were cooked up in the chemistry labs. Those men in the photograph could be your great-grandfather or mine, adding up the take.

How did they do it? When a pod of whales came in, the dories would go out, and the water would be smacked with oars until the doomed whales were driven up on the sandy shores. This had been going on for centuries, and the whites probably learned it from the Native Americans. But what is terrible for us to look at today is the fact that so many were killed at once. In the 1880′s, one such drive yielded the windfall that is captioned in this vintage post card.

a bounty shared by the entire community during hard times

A bounty shared by the entire community during hard times

The pilings in the background are the pilings of what was the Southern Wharf Company at the end of what is now Old Wharf Road in South Wellfleet.  You can see rescue teams there now quite often-performing quite the opposite task- rescuing the dolphins and only occasional blackfish (pilot whales) that become grounded there as a result of a very gradual tidal flat and a quickly receding tide.

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Walking tour of historic Paine Hollow, South Wellfleet

If you want to know more about the houses in the book Eva and Henry, A Cape Cod Marriage,  you should join us for a walking tour down historic Paine Hollow on June 15.  We will all meet at the head of Paine Hollow where it intersects the “jug handle” that connects it with Route Six.  This is called Way 112.  The walk will take up to two hours, and go to the end of Paine Hollow Road to Blackfish Creek and back again.

Parking is available by taking the original sandy road Old Paine Hollow Road up to the historic Pond Hill School, which is now being renovated. The tour will start at 10 AM, and be led by Jane Geisler, a 90-year old resident of Paine Hollow who is a descendant of the original Paines who lived there (therefore one of my distant cousins!) I look forward to her lecture on these Greek Revival treasures.  We will see the actual houses where Nettie, Sarah, Otis, Eva, Lewis, Henry, Charles, Lily, and Elizabeth lived.  See you there, I hope!

The head of Paine Hollow, these houses still stand.

The head of Paine Hollow, these houses still stand.

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A rekindled talent

Thrifty and efficient wives of the nineteenth century were well practiced with a needle and thread, and just as we now depend upon the cell phones that have pushed into our lives in the past decade, the sewing machine became a respected piece of equipment quickly when introduced-despite the understandable reservations of social quilting groups. If you’ve read Eva and Henry, A Cape Cod Marriage, you know that Eva was able to support her household with her sewing machine when the fishing industry collapsed in the late 1800′s on Cape Cod.

This Singer website provides an illustrated chronicle of the invention of the sewing machine, the awards it won in France at the World’s Fair before the American Civil War, and the subsequent introduction of the sewing machine into American homes after the Civil War.

Today, due to the dual roles of home maker and career woman that woman aspire to, we’ve stopped teaching sewing basics in the forgotten home economics classes of most of our public schools. Who has the time?

But sewing has enjoyed a resurgence in the past few years as it has been re-introduced by crafting chain stores and through the educational videos on You Tube and other teachable mass media.  And there are the old English proverbs from the dusty past admonishing us over the centuries to pay attention to the maintenance of our belongings, and we won’t need to spend so much on new items.  “A stitch in time saves nine,” and “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, ” both come to mind.  It can be fun to sit down to the task of mending, and then enjoy the concrete results of a favorite shirt with tight seams and buttons or a well worn jacket with a new zipper.  Mending has always been part of the New England thrift mind-set.

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Torturous beloved fashion: the corset

A very small waist was the requirement of high fashion. Peterson’s Fashion Magazine, 1888.

Women endured the restrictive corset as required daily wear for centuries, and finally cast it off as World War One loomed.  Why did they endure dented organs and reduced lung capacity? Oh, the power of the desire to conform, and to actually excel in the conformity.  Look into your closets, ladies, and tell me,  how many pairs of high heels do you have?  Of course you know that these shoes are a podiatry surgeon’s dream. . . these are the shoes that keep him or her in an expensive sports car.  Bunions and crooked toes must be corrected after years of abuse if a human would like to keep on walking. And so, the modern woman is still very much a slave to fashion.

But back to lacing a corset.  Think about how much time it took to do it each day, and if you lived in a household with no other women, somehow, the inventive female mind would figure out how to lace her own corset behind her back.  Also think about how many things a woman did not do because of her reduced lung capacity thanks to the little portable prison in which her fashion kept her imprisoned. Women can order corsets today, but we use them more as a fashion statement or an occasional accessory, with a much more comfortable waist that does not damage organs, than as a necessary entree into polite society. Take a look through the Amazon portal below, and browse around to view modern versions of the corset.

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Event at the Bee Hive Tavern, Sandwich, MA

I have managed to collect the most telling of the vintage photographs found in our family attic into a Power Point show (viewed the same way a slide show can be, via a projector).  I am honored to have been asked by the Sandwich Women’s Club to present this collection at their November 12 (2012) meeting, 7 PM, at the historic Bee Hive Tavern.  I’ll be focusing on the domestic experience of women on Cape Cod in the 1880′s.  As they say, the past is a foreign country.  The thoughts, assumptions and societal mores of our great great grandparents are interesting, instructional, and foundational to our own thinking.  I thank my own ancestors for leaving me such graphic clues to their life challenges and triumphs.

The ability to view actual images of moments in daily life helped me immensely in my writing process.  I was able to imagine the hours of a day, and how quickly a day would go by for a Cape Cod housewife of the 1880′s given the amount of tasks and daily chores she would need to complete in order to be a respectable member of her community. A good education was provided by the Wellfleet High School, a small waist was accomplished via corset, and then this lovely educated female was expected to garden, launder, cook, put food by, keep house, keep accounts, and guard the health and morality of her household.

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Breakfast with the Authors, Cape Codder Resort

I am so pleased to be on the panel of the next Breakfast With the Authors, sponsored by the Cape Cod Writers Center on March 23 in Hyannis at the Cape Codder Resort.  See all details for making reservations here,  and make them soon!

Chair Rock at the beach at Paine Hollow, South Wellfleet

The restaurant is asking for  a headcount. There will be two other authors besides myself talking with you about recently published books-  John Paul De Milio and Chip Bishop.   More here   http://capecodwriterscenter.org/events/breakfast-with-the-authors/            Other news: it’s been a very mild Cape Cod winter.  This is a warm March day on the shore at Paine Hollow.  Chair Rock has been there since Eva’s time.




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Christmas Season, 2011

Christmas in the 1880′s was not the garish consumer feeding frenzy that it is today. It was a time to consider blessings and celebrate the birth of a savior. Attending church through the advent season was looked forward to by all.  I am so happy that I was able to present a reading at the very church in Wellfleet that Eva attended.  I say Eva, because the original Methodist Church burned down in the 1890′s, and  the replacement, which is now more than a century old, was known only to Eva; Henry had already been lost at sea.

It gave me goosebumps to read from the book while standing in front of the pipe organ that Eva listened to every Sunday, and I looked out at the pews, full of people a century removed from the folks that built the church. The light from the stained glass windows is always warm and rich, embracing and peaceful.  Do visit the Wellfleet Methodist Church whenever you have the chance.

I’ve also had the pleasure of visting several reading groups on Cape Cod.  Yes, I’m back!  I’ve driven across country once again, this time from Montana to Cape Cod.  I have salt water in my veins, and am always called back to the Cape.

Reading Eva and Henry at the Wellfleet Methodist Church; the very church they were members of.

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