I’m not saying New England is too windy. Far be it from me to complain about the weather in Ipswich. I chose to live here, of everyplace on the planet. I should not have a problem with wind. I grew up in the Windy City. (Of course, this nickname refers not to Chicago’s weather but to its politicians.) Then I spent more than two decades in Phoenix, where massive, ferocious sandstorms blast pebbles into your Pontiac’s paint.
So I know wind.
But there does seem to be a certain occasional windiness here in Ipswich, from time to time. Sometimes it’s a huge, steady, continuous roar, as if someone in Boxford set up a colossal blow dryer and aimed it toward the east. Other times, it’s a quirky, on-again off-again, push-and-pull, gusty-twisty swirl. It blows in your face, then it circles around and blows your glasses off, then circles again and blows in your ear. Tease!
And then of course there are the classic nor’easters, howling in from the Atlantic, turning every North Shore town into Gloucester. “Ahoy, mate!” I scream through the gale to my neighbor across the street. I’m wearing a slicker and leaning forward at a 45-degree angle to get to my mailbox; he’s in waders, staggering to keep his footing, to avoid being picked up and blown into my arms like a rag doll.
You can also get what feels like all three winds at once. I had my beloved antique umbrella up over my head in a driving rainstorm, not long ago, tilting into the gale at exactly the right slant to keep the wind and water pounding straight down on the curve of the fabric, when suddenly an invisible arm reached around, slapped my umbrella up from underneath, and instantly turned its beautiful black half-sphere into a ragged, floppy witch’s corpse, a dagger pointed at its once-proud owner. Me.
The unpredictability of Ipswich wind — Ipswind, for short — makes it impossible, in many cases, to completely relax. I put a pub table and four chairs in my backyard, with a crank-operated umbrella stuck through a hole in the table and mounted in a solid metal base on the ground. It was a very fine umbrella (notice I’m using the past tense), a large hexagon of sturdy, reliable fabric in lovely muted earth tones. The shade it provided was broad and dark. A place to relax.
I loved that umbrella. I cranked it up, to reveal its full splendor, when the forecast indicated light winds. I dutifully cranked it back down, into its safe cocoon, if the weatherman predicted anything more than 10 or 12 mph.
But beware: Behind any gentle, seemingly embraceable New England day, there’s a stern taskmaster waiting. The Ipswind cometh.
Without warning, my cherished umbrella was cruelly yanked from its moorings. It shot up rocket-like through the hole in the table, arcing over the backyard and plunging like a 1950s-movie flying saucer into my previously pristine peonies.
There is no CPR for a fallen umbrella-comrade. Spokes bent and broken, fabric savagely shredded. (“Bring out your dead!” Well, this will be “one large object” next to my garbage can next Thursday.)
(OK, back to business.)
I thought, OK, I’ll get some cheap replacement umbrella for my pub table, just for the balance of the season. I went to Wolf Hill — I confess. My townie neighbor recommended against it, because Wolf Hill is actually a Gloucester business, carpetbagging at the corner of Route 1 and Linebrook Road in Ipswich. But I live so much closer to Wolf Hill than any of the comparable Ipswich “home and garden centers,” I trudged over there.
There was hardly anything left. The backyard pub table season was just about umbrellaed out. But they did have one cheap, wimpy variety of umbrella remaining: far too small for my taste, something like plastic, in a garish neon color completely unfit for staid New England. Plus, forget about shade. This was some sort of thin-weave wanna-be plastic stuff. You sit under this umbrella and look up toward the sun, and your retinas fry like eggs over easy. Just the kind of thing you’d find at a Gloucester business.
Still, the price was right. And summer is short, right? I knew that such a lame umbrella would be up and outa here with the next good stiff New England wind. Probably only days hence. Whoosh! And good riddance.
So I bought it. I slid it through the hole in the middle of my pub table. I settled it securely into the solid metal base previously inhabited by the dear departed. I cranked the (obviously inferior) crank to open the (lame neon plastic wanna-be) umbrella to its full deficiency.
And there it stands.
Since that day, we’ve had hurricanes, we’ve had nor’easters, we’ve had special elections — nothing fazes this miserable parasol. It won’t bend, it won’t tear, it refuses to fly away. I’m too cheap to junk it, too disgusted to get used to it, and too stubborn to change my mind. It stands, steadfast, as a permanent monument to the Ipswind, which blows hither and yon, destroying what it must. And leaving what it will.