I have a vivid memory of how my journey to Gloucester began in 1952 when I was just four. I was a scrawny kid, packed into a Plymouth with my parents, two older brothers and an older cousin. I’m hoping not to get picked on or beat up. Despite my brothers being pranksters, I knew I was loved. I’m glad nobody handled me with kid gloves. Bullying can be underrated; just the right doses can teach you to deal with life.
Our family didn’t have much but we had everything that mattered. A Saturday at the beach was our big extravagance. Excitement built as we crested the enormous new bridge to Gloucester for the first time. New highways and the A. Piatt Andrew Bridge made a day trip possible. We came from a small rural farm town in central Massachusetts. Previously we headed north to Hampton Beach, York Beach or south to Cape Cod. Now Gloucester was accessible and our family loved it.
I remember breathing in the salt air as we passed over the Annisquam River. My dad, Rocco, drove around a little, giving us a glimpse of the fishing boats and Gloucester Harbor. We found our way to Good Harbor Beach. Soon I was at work with a bucket and a shovel. I looked around and with my shovel I traced over what I saw–the twin island lighthouses, the rocky shores, and the houses up on the ridge behind the beach. I remember the vow I made: “Someday I will live here and have one of those houses.” I was quite certain about it, yet, it wasn’t certain at all. Even at four, as I sat in the sun observing my family and my surroundings, I felt a change in me. Perhaps a longing, or a sense of returning to a place I had never been. The ocean and waves were magic, and the sand warm and clean. Everybody was happy.
What I did not know that day at Good Harbor was my story really started in the ancient port city of Genoa, Italy, where my grandfather Francesco and his brother Caesar were living as young men on rocky bluffs overlooking the sea. My grandfathers on the Masciarelli and Rossi side came to America in the late 1890s to find work and new opportunities. Soon their aunts in Italy got to work as matchmakers and found them Italian brides who also came to the USA. The arranged marriages lasted into their nineties, and I had many uncles, aunts and cousins.
My mom Adelina’s father, Francesco Rossi, came to America to join his brother Caesar Rossi, who came first. Caesar was a fisherman and a stonemason. He found work at the Henry Cabot Lodge estate in Beverly. They let him renovate a chicken coop on the edge of the property and he lived there by the sea as a caretaker. I remember when I was about nine, admiring the stonework he did on the estate. I remember fishing for flounder with Caesar on a rowboat in Beverly Cove. I was fascinated by the eyes of a flounder, both being on the same side of its head! Caesar and his wife showed me how to cook flounder—delicious!
My mom’s dad, Francesco, got a job in construction at the Clinton Dam and later the Boston and Albany Railroad. They moved to Westboro, Massachusetts. My father’s dad, Francesco Nickolas (another Francesco!) came to the USA from the Abruzzo region. He was a winemaker and shoemaker. He made wine and prosciutto for the Marlboro Sons of Italy and found work at the Frye boot factory, also in Marlboro. Both my grandfathers had huge vegetable gardens just as my Dad did.
My mother, Adelina or “Addie,” loved the sea, and took long swims with my father as us three boys played handball on the beach and body surfed the waves. I frequented Cape Ann and Gloucester as a day-tripper and sometimes got a hotel room on weekends to fish, hike, swim, and bike.
Gloucester became my homeport when I bought a wreck of a house on a hilltop in East Gloucester in 1981. I had big bills and wasn’t happy with my employer at the time. With a car, motorcycle, waterbed, and electric guitar, I moved into the house that had to be renovated. I did not know a single person in Gloucester when I arrived, but soon made buddies at the local gym—now the Fitness Zone.
When I moved into my new home I was a single dad. My college sweetheart Sandy and I had divorced. Co-parenting our ten-year-old son, Jason, was important to us. I look back fondly at how my son embraced Gloucester; he enjoyed the beaches, exploring the rocky coves, and hiking the trails with me.
I started a new career and remarried. My wife Judi and I have been Cape Ann lovers for 35 years. We got one of the little paved stones by the Fisherman’s Wives statue before it was dedicated. It says “Jim and Judi Masciarelli—Cape Anne Lovers”. How could I have known that Judi had visited Gloucester as a young girl?
We were inspired to do so many things in Gloucester and we each created new businesses. I founded an executive search company. Judi did graphic design for North Shore businesses. We both liked the theater, reading, the arts and hanging out with entrepreneurs and creative people. Gloucester was perfect, and became a respite from the heavy airline travel that came with my consulting work. Finally, I was able to shift gears in the mid-90s, took a sabbatical, and wrote my first business-focused book. I could now live and work from the island. We hosted hundreds of friends and clients who came to visit us in Gloucester. It is remarkable when I travel just about anywhere with a Gloucester hat on, people come up to me and comment on how much they like the place or heard about it, and want to know more.
It wasn’t long before I was reading all about Gloucester history and meeting other writers. I had always been interested in writing at an early age, and it helped me move ideas in the business world, but it wasn’t until Gloucester that I finally began to write for the fun of it.
So much of Cape Ann and Gloucester inspires and influences my current writing. I have fished, hiked, kayaked, rowed, sailed, boated, motorcycled, rock hounded, swam, and researched and read all about this beautiful corner of the world. Gloucester still has a Main Street with unique shops and restaurants, mostly owned by locals. The population size hasn’t changed much in a hundred years.Mostly I love the physical beauty, culture and the people. I believe the maritime culture persists in the spirit of the men and women here. Adventurous, tough, good humored, independent, family oriented, resilient, resourceful, competitive, connected to nature, worldly wise and insanely local.
I am thankful for the A. Piatt Andrew Bridge and my family’s preoccupation with the sea. The great poet Charles Olsen railed against the bridge and said that it would ruin Gloucester’s small town sense of community. I believe his dire prediction was overstated, so far. Gloucester has a hearty maritime culture that endures. It was destiny.
I don’t like going over the bridge much, but it’s there if I need to go up the line.