History, harbor sights and fun make for perfect Bay State family adventure

BOSTON — When you are a grandma, you want to really hit it out of the park when it comes to giving the grands great experiences.

This recent school vacation week, I had a revelation: Amazing adventures – the kind that my millennial daughter would call “Core Memory” – need not cost a fortune, take hours to get to or even be exclusive. Here’s this grandmother’s story of a Bay State-based adventure that’s free, open to all and the perfect family day trip.


Background: If you grew up in Scituate, Mass., as I did, the story of Rebecca and Abigail Bates, “The American Army of Two,” is practically imprinted in your DNA. Yet outside of that beautiful coastal town, it’s barely known.

The Bates sisters were two of nine children who lived with their parents both near Scituate Harbor and in Scituate Lighthouse. During the War of 1812, troops would guard and practice there, marching to their fife and drum.

One day, when their father, Capt. Simeon Bates, and the rest of the family were in town, the two sisters spotted a British warship anchored off the lighthouse point, with soldiers readying to row in and attack.

Thinking quickly, the girls grabbed the fife and drum and played “Yankee Doodle,” over and over and back and forth behind the tree line and sand dunes, tricking the British into thinking American troops were lying in wait. They retreated and left. Rebecca and Abigail were — and are — heralded as heroes of that war, saving not just Scituate Harbor but the new nation as well.

The adventure begins: We started off at my house, where I gave both my grandchildren their own copies of “An American Army of Two,” by Janet Greeson. They sat on the couch and took turns reading aloud, learning about the war, the South Shore and the Bates family.

We hopped in the car, and along the way the grands reread, asking questions as we went. “What’s pillaging?” “Why would the British want to hurt the town and the boats?”

We rounded the corner and drove through Scituate Harbor and I explained that this was “town,” the place Capt. Bates and his family lived when it all went down.

“So, was he at that Dunkin?” one asked, giving me a chance to describe how different “town” was back then. Past the harbor, we stopped at Museum Beach, where lovely new benches have been installed. I pointed out and said “There it is! The lighthouse where it all happened!” The girls were intrigued.

We drove on and parked at the lighthouse itself. The children hopped out and stared in wonder. From there, they could see the mouth of the harbor, the ocean beyond where that British ship sat, and the setup that allowed the Bates sisters to pull off their plan.

I opened the trunk of my car and took out a surprise: A fife and drum so the children could reenact the deeds of the American Army of Two. They took right to it, marching up and down past the lighthouse and along the high seawall, drumming and fifing and, every once and a while, shouting “Turn the British away!”

How fun was it? They insisted on marching “Two more times! Two more times!” and of course I let them. I thought, “How did I never think of this with my own kids?” Folks out at the lighthouse (there are always people there) watched and cheered. It was glorious.

We went on to visit the outside of the Bateses’ “town” home. You can visit the Scituate Historical Society (scituatehistoricalsociety.org) for more information.

The wrap-up: We followed up with lunch – Scituate harbor has so many choices. On a warmer day I’d have taught them another Scituate history lesson: how to order at Maria’s Subs. But on this sunny, crisp day, we chose T.K.O. Malley’s waterfront pub, where we could gaze out at the lighthouse as we ate.

The girls went home with their books, stories to tell and of course, that fife and drum. They regularly march around their house playing them, announcing they are the American Army of Two.

History, literature, scenery, music and fun, all in a day accessible to all. I’d call that a grandma win.

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