November 9 – November 14
The first time I ever was on a plane was with my sister, three years ago. She was headed to New York in July for a business event and I was tagging along for the adventure, for the milestone in my life that would become the floodgate for my love of traveling.
In 2017, we found ourselves together again, driving along a narrow road as twilight turns into a cold evening in a town thousands of miles from home again. She’s following the lagging Google Maps directions from Salem’s waterfront towards an old neighborhood off of Proctor Street. At the corner of Proctor and Pope, we accidentally turn off from the directions down a winding road past a park they call Gallow’s Hill. That’s exactly what we’re looking for now, the true site of the hangings in a time in history so fixated in the imaginations of me and my sister growing up. Except now we’re driving far away from what we came to see, thousands of miles from home, together.
It all starts from a plane bound for Boston, going nowhere near Boston for more simpler, charming pleasures of the old towns along the eastern seaboard. This was a new adventure in the making– my sister hadn’t been outside California in those last 3 years since dating her ex and now since her ex was slowly coming out of the picture, new sights were set for quality time away from the hurt and struggles of work and the breakup back west. Out here, it was all just us.
We’re not the most aligned sisters. She’s outgoing, blonde, and loves her country music. She can’t stand San Francisco. I’m too weird and awkward for her– but to her, that is exactly why we’re on this trip. One night when we’re in the hotel– the charming Inn at Crystal Cove on the shores of little Winthrop on Boston Harbor– she was on the phone with a friend.
“I love being with my sister,” she says. “Her weirdness brings me out of my comfort zone and to have the most fun.”
This whole weekend is out of our comfort zone– 20 degree evenings, frustrating traffic circles at almost every turn, Dunkin Donuts, and rustic names for towns all dated to the 17th century like Lynn, Revere, Marblehead– Salem. I personally found myself drawn to the New England life in these past few months, just as autumn approached. Something about the stiffness, the unchanged tune of these roads and towns sitting among the salty Atlantic air that once was proclaimed the New World. Something charming, that’s what I see. I try my best to plan this trip to the best of my adventurous abilities following preppy bloggers and diving deep into recommended restaurants and activities on their stomping grounds of the North East. Google mapping these cities as if I had lived here my whole life, and that for this weekend I was showing my sister around town.
It isn’t the perfect time, losing phones in apple orchards and an overcrowded little diner when we were desperately in need of coffee. No Warriors games, but plenty of Patriots fans, flags flying high, knitted beanies snug on the heads of teens and liquor store shoppers alike. Being out of the comfort of the West Coast doesn’t mean excitement at every corner, especially when that next corner might be an accidental exit that nearly drives you into the ocean.
But, at least my sister is here. No, at least I can be here for her. And together, we enjoy the bumps in this road trip so far from home, along the 95 North towards Amesbury bristled trees with the last of the fall leaves latched to their branches, to the coast where we avoid toll roads and beat the sunset back to our town where Parmesan truffle fries and pistachio martinis await. The memories we share will always flood back when we sip peppermint hot cocoa (“We don’t have syrup,” the young lady at Rockport Fudgery laments, “but I can add some of this peppermint creamer instead?”), listen to Joni Mitchell, and find ourselves in the company of police officers– my sister particularly fond of officers since she exchanged numbers with one. But the best reminders will be Salem, for that was where we both found amusement and true magic in the history of the town, the hanging dried herbs for Wiccan altars and the various stones we plucked from baskets to add to her much-sought Love elixir that we read in the mini red velvet spellbook we were buying. Discussing the formula– stones of different values and energies soaking in drinking water for 7 hours– was the main course of lunch at the Witch’s Brew Cafe. The stones, forever stored away neatly in the cotton satchel embroidered with pretty pink and purple flowers, those we’ll save for when she needs them the most.
Salem is where I conclude this tale of New England, turning back on that dark road past Gallows Hill Park to where the directions tell us that up ahead on Pope Street, we will find Proctor’s Ledge. I know it’s dark out now, and there won’t be much to see, but to be so close to where much of this town’s legacy is rooted will be a wonderful way to pay our respects before we’re called home. Pope and Proctor come up, and onward we drive, 300 feet, 100 feet, 50 feet–
“Was that it?” My sister asks. She’s looking back at the dark hilly patch nestled between big new homes before coming back up onto the corner Walgreens. “That was,” I tell her, realizing the car is too far gone to reverse or make a U-turn or to do anything to redeem and savor those few seconds of seeing the Ledge. Well, it was a shot we took, albeit a shot in the dark.
We’re still at the red light near the Walgreens. “Do you want me to go back?” My sister asks me. I shake my head, she’s already been complaining about her dry eyes and barely seeing the road this late. Still, she turns left and left again back onto Proctor Street, going back through the neighborhood to give me one last, lingering look.
She slows down this time. Still dark, but in the dimness I can make out the slabs of cement where in the daylight you can see the names of the victims from 1692, a single tree at the center of this newly-minted monument to honor them in unison. My view wasn’t much better from the first time. My sister asks if I want to go back and see it again.
We’ve made it this far, twice now, but that’s all I needed from this last night, a memory that now holds more magic than anything we’ve seen in this Old World. And I’ll only have to look back on a memory, the kind of magic that can never be lost.