Chatham, Massachusetts is a quintessential Cape Cod beach town, the kind that insists gently on protecting its quintessence from whatever forces of modernity might threaten it. The downtown has more gazebos than stores, the crosswalks are painted a cheerful solid green, and the bay teems with seals swimming just a few yards away from the humans. The cottages and beach houses have driveways of gravel instead of asphalt, or of crushed oyster shells instead of gravel, and are packed so closely together that actual neighborhood road signs read: “Thickly Settled.” (Is this a warning or a boast?) The seafood restaurants, taverns, and antique shops are all studiously quaint, right down to the lettering on their own signs—local ordinance seems to forbid the use of any font developed less than forty years ago. Presiding over it all is a church whose steeple, as my friend and host Dave pointed out, is a marvel of Yankee pragmatism: it doesn’t have a spire (too grandiose), but since it’s the tallest structure in town, does feature a clock.
Nested snugly into this bastion of Americana, which I was fortunate enough to visit this weekend, are two fine bookstores called Yellow Umbrella Books and Where the Sidewalk Ends. The former is the home of the first edition Paley I mentioned in the last post; this proved to be too pricey for a humble editor’s budget, but I did pick up a nice poetry anthology from the store’s “Small Press” rack. The latter, like so many of the shops in Chatham, is tucked unassumingly into a converted house; as its name suggests, it has an excellent children’s books section and a stellar Shel Silverstein section in particular. I thumbed through Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back (an old favorite) and The Giving Tree (you know when the boy carves his girlfriend’s initials—Y.L.—into the tree? I realized for the first time that this stands for “Young Love”), basking in the warmth of nostalgia and the cool of the store’s welcome air conditioning.
Both Yellow Umbrella and WTSE charmed me thoroughly. Their only flaw? Too few Abbeville books. If you find yourself headed up Chatham way, I would heartily recommend ducking into either shop for a while before grabbing a shake at the Kream ‘n’ Kone or a Sam Adams at the Squire. Or before frolicking with the seals.
(Many thanks again to both Dave and Mrs. B for hosting this weekend and making these bookstore excursions possible. – AA)