“Playfulness is one of my top values,” laughs 73-year old Sharon Cobb of Orleans. With one look at her rainbow-hued tie-dye shirt and sparkling sequined head wear, this does not come as a surprise. It's hard to imagine anyone meeting Cobb walking away without the gift of her contagious smile.
The fun continues as we enter her Orleans home, the front room of which is completely devoted to Christmas collectibles, from Santa Claus to reindeer, trees and all things jingling and twinkly. Even the walls envelop us in a mural of a magical Christmas Eve scene, with Old Saint Nick braving the snow on one side and two wide-eyed children taking in the sight from their window on the other side.
“That's my husband Peter and me as children, or as we would have been as children,” Sharon explains, and sure enough, the painted boy and girl do resemble the pair.
Peter is the conductor of the Harwich Town Band, and Sharon plays bass drum in the band. A longtime percussionist, Cobb started in elementary school in her hometown of Streator, Ill., a small community where her mother taught fourth grade and her father ran a family record store. Inspired by a cousin and uncle who played the drums, Cobb announced her intention and was told “girls don't play drums.”
“This girl will,” she replied.
And play she did, through her graduation from high school. Upon her entrance to the University of Illinois, she ran into another barrier in the form of a marching band which accepted no female members.
“I did give it up at that point, until my husband became a conductor 11 years ago,” she recalls. “At that point he admitted that he had always dreamed of the two of us playing in a band together. And here we are.”
Sharon and Peter met when Sharon was running a teacher training program for teachers of gifted and talented children. Peter was selling educational materials for gifted and talented programs.
“So our original contact involved something we were both passionate about – working with gifted and talented youngsters,” Cobb explains. “This was right after the Sputnik crisis, which was an exciting time in education,” she says, referring to a period of national anxiety about the perceived gap in technological advancement between the United States and the Soviet Union following the launch of the Sputnik I, the world's first artificial satellite.
Sharon hired Peter as a trainer, and though they shared a passionate for education, it was Cape Cod which truly brought the couple together.
“I invited him to dinner, which I did with all of my staff members, and he spotted a book on a table and asked 'Why do you have a book about Cape Cod?' I told him that it was my dream, and that some day I would live on Cape Cod.”
Sharon was 30 before she ever visited Cape Cod for the first time with a friend. She explains that although she grew up in corn and soybean country, she fell in love with the small town feel and the beauty of Cape Cod. The book Peter spotted was “My Very Own Cape Cod” by Gladys Taber, the book Sharon had purchased before her first trip and which she used as a tour guide of sorts.
“To this day I meet annually with a reading group for people who love her writing,” she says.
The couple came east and stayed with Peter's mother in Newton while looking for employment, and Sharon found a position as a gifted and talented teacher with the East Hartford school system in Connecticut. She had enjoyed teacher training, but was happy to be back in contact with children again. She hired Peter as a teacher, and he eventually went on to work in Wethersfield. The couple purchased the Orleans home where they currently reside back in 1988, and spent their summers off from school and “every weekend except for three in 13 years of employment in Connecticut” there.
“It was a three-hour drive, and we had a rule: no discussing education after the bridge. We could talk about it right up to the canal, and then we had to stop. Otherwise we would have spent the entire weekend trying to solve the problems of the world. We were very good about stopping.”
The two came to the Cape for good in 2002, and found the transition to be an easy one, as they had made many friends over many summers in Orleans.
“I think the Cape appealed to me because of the idea of small village life, it reminded me of growing up in a small town,” Cobb explains. “I am not a true naturalist. I like to read about nature and look at beautiful surroundings, but I am not a fan of insects and snakes and even birds flying around me. But I do appreciate them and I want to care for them and protect them.”
The Cobbs appreciate the many programs and resources available to them as seniors on Cape Cod, including the many inexpensive and easy-to-access senior center programs, yoga classes, writing classes, and the tap dancing lessons they have enjoyed for years at the Academy of Performing Arts.
The pair joined the Harwich Town Band in 2002 when a fellow tap student who also plays in the band mentioned that a new conductor was needed. Peter auditioned, and the band picked him unanimously. Sharon then joined as percussionist. They just began meeting with the band's 40 or so members to begin rehearsals for the holiday concert at the Harwich Community Center on Dec. 13.
“Then we will take a break until about March, and begin rehearsals for the summer schedule, Cobb says. “We play every Tuesday night throughout July and August and a few extra concerts here and there throughout the summer. The band is always looking for new members. Anyone who is interested can find more information at harwichtownband.com The Cape is wonderful – it has so many bands, and each one has a unique personality.”
Cobb's talents extend to the written page as well. In 2014, she and her two surviving sisters wrote and published an account of their upbringing titled “Becoming Hulda's Girls.” Cobb is currently in the process of writing a nonfiction book about Lillian Leitzel, a turn-of-last-century acrobat and strongwoman who stood only four-feet-nine-inches tall and was a posthumous inductee into the International Circus Hall of Fame.
In addition to all of this fun, Cobb collects hats (“Over 300, many of them custom made!”) and glass marbles, both contemporary ones created by local glass studios and rare finds from the 19th century which she discovers at yard sales and estate sales.
“My philosophy is to do everything that will amuse me,” Cobb says with a smile. “Hats play an important role – they amuse me and they amuse other people. You can't look at a nice hat and not smile. I try to approach life like a little kid. I'm just going to do what amuses me and other people. It's good, healthy fun.”