Remembering a Wash-A-Shore

Cape Cod Life  /  June 2022 /

Writer: Tom Dirsa

Cape Cod native, Tom Dirsa honors the memory of his late father, Joseph Dirsa.

My father, Joseph Dirsa, first came to Provincetown in July of 1934. The United States navy fleet arrived and he was a member of the crew for the USS Tarbell. His family had arrived to the United States from Lithuania at the turn of the last century and he spent his youth growing up in Lowell, MA. In 1930, when he was 17, he joined the Navy. He arrived after his ship entered the harbor as he had been in a Navy Hospital bed in Charleston, South Carolina.

While at the hospital, he received a Dear John letter from his then girlfriend. Upon his arrival he had to be encouraged by his shipmates to go ashore. When he did, he tended to bend his elbow and feel sorry for himself. One day my Aunt Emily, who was a waitress, felt sorry for him and arranged a blind date with her younger sister.  

The first thing his blind date said when he climbed into the car was, “Not a Sailor!” and things must have worked out as they were married two years later. It was a marriage that spanned over sixty years until he passed away. Mom would continue to carry dad’s memory with her until she joined him in 2009. 

My father traveled the world and fought in WWII with mother by his side wherever he was stationed. She loved to travel, but as dad reached his 20th year in the Navy, he wanted to settle where they had first met. So, Provincetown would become our home. 

Anyone not born in mom’s hometown was often called, by the Portuguese, a ser trazido para praia (wash-a-shore). However, I never felt I was a wash-a-shore and when I graduated the Portuguese American Society honored me with a scholarship for my first year of university. 

In the early 1960’s mom and dad moved to North Truro where they remained for the rest of their lives. 1986 marked their 50th wedding anniversary. Over the years we would visit them during the summer season and then, in 1992, they took us in while I looked for work in New England. Their door was always open and it seemed no matter how long I was away, dad and I could pick up our conversation as if it had only been a few days since we last spoke.

Footprints Cape Cod by Allan Hoelzle

In 2008, dad had been gone for over ten years and it was time for us to bring mom to our home in Canada. One of the last things we did was to take a walk along the beach, and I decided to turn around to take a photo of our footsteps only to find the tide was too quick, and it had already begun to erase one set of footprints.

A few days later, we visited our favorite art galley and saw two photos by Allan Hoelzle that caught our eye. One was a picture of a circle drawn in the sand by the wind blowing a strand of beach grass and the other was a set of two footprints along the edge of the beach–both came home. When we bought our forever home we made a feature wall showcasing both photos along with sketches that my folks had in our living room from the 50’s. Then, one day, I noticed the light reflecting off of the footprint photo and in the clouds it appeared that there were three letters we had never noticed. 

JOE, my dad’s name. For some it is proof of a higher being, for me it is a reminder that my dad has always looked after me from the time I was born to this very day. It reminds me of all the sacrifices he made during his life to ensure my mother and I were safe and secure.

Tom Dirsa

A resident of Leduc, in the Canadian province of Alberta, Tom Dirsa is a retired teacher and school administrator. He graduated from Provincetown High School in 1959.