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Celebrating the Community of Women

Thirty Years of Ladies’ Cape Week

By Janet Eckhoff

Thirty years ago, while working as a marketing executive at GM in Michigan, I met my college friend Kate for a weekend getaway on the Cape. After checking in at our B&B in Yarmouthport, we took a drive along beautiful, historic Route 6A, and stopped at the Brewster General Store.

You never know when a chance encounter is going to affect your life for years to come. Sitting on the bench in front of the store was Jim, a Detroit auto journalist I’d known from my PR job at Chevrolet. He was staying at a cottage at Ellis Landing and suggested we check it out.

We loved the quaint, decades old cottages that were scattered from the beach all the way back to the Old King’s Highway. By the end of the weekend Kate and I were besotted and decided to rent an Ellis Landing cottage the next summer and invite some friends to join us.

That was the beginning of thirty-one years of Ladies’ Week at the Cape.

At first it was all about discovery. Cape Cod is a stunningly beautiful and unique place. The north side is especially unspoiled and less developed. It is very different from Michigan and the Great Lakes, where I come from.

I’d run to the Brewster Store in the morning then meet the others at the Brewster Café for breakfast. We’d walk back to the cottage together, admiring gardens with wild flowers and hydrangeas so blue that they made our eyes burn. On rainy days we drove to Provincetown.

We bought lobster from the Chatham Pier, which we cooked ourselves with corn, tomatoes, little neck clams and red skin potatoes. We ate ice cream at night and then generously dose our morning coffee with any remaining Ben & Jerry’s.

It was a glorious week away from our normal lives when we’d eat, drink, sleep, lie in the sun, read and talk. In the early days we had no cell phones and the cottages did not have television so we played games at night, drank wine and laughed.

During the first few years we developed a routine that varied very little. We always took the week before July 4th so the teachers in our group were finished with the school year and we could still get the great pre-season rates.

Over time, however, our Cape Week became less about the place and more about the people; discovering friendships, sharing our lives and exploring issues. There’s always a lot of ‘roommate’ talking at night, and sitting on someone’s bed, helping to find a way through a trying problem.

Our cottages were always off the water due to budget constraints until one year, the owners mixed up our reservation and we ended up with a cottage on the ocean instead. That changed the rhythm of the week; fewer beach walks, lots of sunbathing on the deck, cocktails at sunset, meals outside. We added visits to the Brewster Book Store and Brewster Fish House to our routine. Even when we have five or six people staying at the cottage, we still find time for one-on-one conversation. Beach walks usually see us break into groups of twos and threes, which I believe is when we have the best conversations, strolling past boats that sit on the long stretches of white sand at low tide.

The Cape Ladies. Top row: Karen & Janet. Bottom row: Toba, Sheila, Barb & Kate

Together we made Cape Week memories to last a lifetime:

The gay waiter at the Post Office Restaurant in Provincetown on July 4th who swooned, “Soldiers, Men in Uniform!” after running out of the store to see the parade.

How we named lobsters after our ex-husbands before we plunged them into the boiling water.

How Toba, who is just over 4 foot tall, liked to pick shells during low tide and was so mesmerized one day that she’d felt water on her sun dress and turned around to see that she was surrounded by water and had to swim back.

The arguments over how to build a fire in the fireplace and how long to cook a lobster or corn.

Hiking up to 6A after dinner to use the pay phones to call home; standing in line with our faces glowing from wine and too much sun.

Four years ago, I retired and moved to Yarmouthport. Kate has continued to be very generous in sharing her friends.

In the last thirty years we have raised our kids, gotten divorced and I remarried. Kate, Cheryl and Toba have grandchildren now. One of our core group got breast cancer but she’s come through her journey happier now than I’ve ever known her to be.

This past summer, after thirty years at Ellis Landing, we rented an artist’s cottage at Sesuit Harbor with two indoor bathrooms and a harbor view. There’s less of a beach, but we enjoyed breakfast at the Sesuit Café. We took a lobster cruise on an evening that turned rough and turbulent.

Next summer we plan to return to the Sesuit artist’s cottage.

New friends have come and gone, but the original core group of women remains in-tact, held together by Kate’s ability to nurture relationships across distance and over time. Before I retired, I always came back for Cape Week, even when I was working in Europe for five years.

To our families, this group of friends is defined by our annual Brewster experience. At a recent daughter’s wedding, we all sat together and we were referred to as “The Cape Ladies” all evening. The cottage, while an important symbol of our Ladies’ Cape Week, is secondary to our special Cape community of friends.

Photographs published courtesy of Janet Eckhoff

Janet Eckhoff became a full time resident of Cape Cod in 2010. She has spent a week in Brewster, at Ellis Landing, with girlfriends for 30 consecutive years and feels at home here.

A retired General Motors marketing executive, Janet received her Master Gardener certification in 2004. She is a member of the 'In the Weeds' gardening crew for WeCan. She also provides volunteer strategy and marketing perspective for CWO magazine.

Janet has been married for 34 years to her husband Bob, and they have one son, Tristan, who is in nursing school at Brockton Hospital in Brockton, MA.

Janet and Bob live in Yarmouthport with their calico cat named Darla.