By Sarah E. Murphy
I wrote the following reflection in 2012, when I served as editor for the New Balance Falmouth Road Race 40th Anniversary magazine. A portion of this was originally published in a reporter’s notebook I wrote for the Falmouth Bulletin in 2007. The race and I have both grown older since I first penned these words, but the sentiment remains. Growing up in Falmouth Heights during the 70s and 80s was a very special time, and I’m forever grateful for these memories of simpler days…
View From the Heights
I grew up with the Falmouth Road Race, and this year, we both turn 40.
Living on Grand Avenue, behind the ballpark in Falmouth Heights, the race was a way of life. If 4th of July marked the official start of summer, Road Race was definitely the highlight. Like Christmas in August, it was greeted with the same breathless anticipation, the build-up being the best part.
On Saturday, the large trucks would enter my neighborhood, like Santa’s magical sleigh, transforming the empty field with stages, tables, makeshift fences, and a long line of porta potties. I’d wake on Sunday morning to the piercing din of microphone feedback, proverbial music to my ears, heralding the arrival of my favorite summer day. My father’s best friend, Bill McCarthy would ride over with his family from their summer house in Belmar. I’d look out the upstairs window and see their bikes propped from largest to smallest against the trees in the backyard, like a family of ducks. Their arrival signaled that the roads in the Heights were now closed.
We always watched from our usual place, on Crescent Park near the 10K mark, and those first few years, I was perched on my father’s shoulders. But as I got older, and two siblings came along, I forfeited that spot to stand among the towering crowd, watching countless feet fly by in a speeding blur. Even as a small child, I knew we were witnessing something special.
Our screams always got louder when we spotted a runner with a shirt that had a personal connection for us. “Go Eagles!” “You can do it, Mass Maritime!”
After the race, we’d cut through the Sullivans’ and head over to the ball park with our summer friends – the Pentas, the Gameres, Joe Crowley, and Chris Vituolo, and the only other year-round members of our crew, the McEvoy girls, for free hot dogs and Gatorade. The excitement of such a prospect was not lost on young children.
In 1979, the summer my father’s first book, Quonsett, was released in paperback, our family sported T-shirts bearing the name of the book, a thriller about a serial killer in a Cape Cod town, and some of his friends wore them in the race. The Michael Ames House on the hill displayed a huge banner for us with the words, “Quonsett welcomes the Road Runners.”
My dad paid $85 for a plane to circle the sky above, with another banner offering the suggestion, “Read Quonsett.” Looking back, he decided the plane probably wasn’t the best marketing tool. “Who’s looking up? Everyone’s watching the runners!” he laughed. Being an iconic local event at the time, race later made it into the book’s sequel, Night Watcher.
The year I was ten, after watching Joan Benoit smile for photographs while donning her laurel wreath, my younger sister, Courtney and I made our way across the sea of people to the knoll where we went sledding each winter. I shyly approached her and asked for her autograph. She signed my Perrier painter’s cap, which I immediately showed off to my friends and the adults congregating in our backyard for our annual party.
There was the year of my lemonade stand, when I woke in a panic on a sunless, muggy day, fearing I had somehow slept through the race, only to find I had hours to set up my enterprise in front of MacDougall’s Boatyard and Marine Research. I made a pretty good profit, thanks to my sympathetic customers who purchased sickeningly sweet, lukewarm Country Time served in dented Dixie cups. I later squandered my earnings on penny candy up at Under the Sun next to the old Casino, but not until the following day. Back then, after the race was over, we were prohibited from venturing near the Casino until Monday morning swimming lessons. It wasn’t until adulthood that we finally entered the forbidden zone.
My older brother, Ted would throw a party in The Shack, the converted garage of my parents’ rental property next to our house. Race day always brought the same faces, some we only saw each August, friends who ran, spectators who needed parking, and we’d squeeze into the Shack, listening to Bim Skala Bim, while our neighbor, Pat Grant hosted a dueling party across the street at his mother’s house. Some of the guests would visit back and forth between the two parties, and later we’d walk over to Capers, before crossing over to the Wharf, and then downstairs for dancing on the beer-soaked floor at the Casino.
The dilapidated Casino has been gone since 2003, replaced by a restaurant and condos, and Capers is now the British Beer Company, but the memories live on, like sea salt lingering in summer air. Many of those friends still come to the Shack every year, but now they are pushing strollers or chasing toddlers, and there is still electricity in the air during Road Race weekend. The more things change, the more they stay the same.