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BY suzy

07/01 Direct Link

When school ended in June, our parents would pack us into the car and leave our home in upstate New York to head to Maine, where we spent the summers.  Dad worked at the marine biology lab across the two lane blacktop from our cottage on the lake, and we kids focused our considerable energy on swimming, sailing, trying to convince the librarians to let us borrow more than the allowed limit of books (we did get more for being “summer people”, a cut above the average tourist), and seeing how far our allowances would go at the candy store.

07/02 Direct Link

The house we lived in for most of the year was an old one, the foundations very old.  Local legend had it that the five acre parcel we lived on was the pay a Revolutionary War soldier received for his service instead of money, and that the stone foundation (which flooded every spring as the snow melted) dated back to those days.  The rest of the house was built in about 1820.  I loved my cozy little room under the eaves, with its window seat my father built, overlooking the hills that gave our house its name of “Fox Hill”.

07/03 Direct Link

One summer night – in those days, we were sent to bed when it was still light out, much to our chagrin – I noticed a bright light through my bedroom window.  I knew that the carnival was supposed to be in town soon, so I thought that was what it was. I called out to my parents that there was a light in my room.  My father came upstairs to investigate, undoubtedly to tell me to be quiet and go to sleep.  He took one look out the window, exclaimed “Oh, my God,” and ran downstairs and out the front door.

07/04 Direct Link

Dad ran through the fields to our next door neighbor’s place, where the barn was on fire.  On his way there, he learned the hard way that there was a creek between the two properties, and ruined his pants on a barbed-wire fence.  Arriving at the neighbor’s, he helped to save their livestock before the barn collapsed in a shower of sparks in the night sky.  My brother and I sat on the front porch, watching the drama.  My brother had thoughtfully provided us with a bag of mint filled Oreos, into which he dipped absently while saying, “I’m scared.”

07/05 Direct Link

The neighbors were thankful for Dad’s help in saving their cows and horses, and a friendship sprang up.  They had a baby daughter who was about the same age as my sister, and we would often gather at their house or they at ours.  They had fled the madness of New York City for the safety and calm of the country, and it’s hard to imagine a greater contrast, even forty years later, between Manhattan and the place where I grew up.  Local gossip had it that the neighbors had Mob connections, but I never learned if that was true.

07/06 Direct Link

I always thought of myself as a city person, and it’s amusing that where I live now echoes the places I grew up.  The rocky shores of the northern California coast are so similar to Maine that this area often stands in for New England in movies and TV shows. I live far from the nearest town, with a very long driveway, like Fox Hill’s.  It’s several miles’ drive to the nearest store or post office, as it was when I was a child, and no neighbors are visible from my house.  There are no locks on my doors, either.

07/07 Direct Link

I love the smell of low tide.  It brings me back to my childhood summers in Maine.  This morning, when I was putting gas in the car, I could smell the low tide – the gas station has a view of the ocean – and I immediately felt like I was back in those long ago summer days, when it was always sunny and we had an endless luxury of time.  Every day, we’d wake up and decide what we’d do that day, knowing that we still had weeks ahead of us, whereas now, it’s trying to fit everything into the day.

07/08 Direct Link

When we arrived at the cottage, it was a chaos of children and unpacking.  One year, we arrived at night only to discover that a family of squirrels had made themselves at home over the winter, particularly in the mattresses. The house was such a mess that we repaired to our friend’s house for the night, returning to deal with the rodent-caused disaster on the following day.  But every year after we arrived, I took advantage of the confusion to slip down to the lake unnoticed and touch it.  It was a magic talisman, telling me I had really arrived.

07/09 Direct Link

The cottage was very simple, just plain wood boards. You entered through the galley kitchen, which gave way to a living-dining room with windows overlooking the lake and the woods. There was a built in desk in the corner, a Franklin stove for chilly nights and mornings, and two couches facing each other. There was a radio, but no TV or phone.  There was a phone across the highway at the lab, though. My parents’ bedroom was downstairs, across from the only bathroom. Up the spiral staircase were two more bedrooms, with a big window looking downstairs on the landing.

07/10 Direct Link

Many years ago, when we were together in Maine for the last time during Dad’s lifetime, we rented a house in downtown Bar Harbor.  All of our friends from the lab came to visit, and we threw a wonderful party with all the doors open, people laughing, talking, eating, drinking, and remembering joyfully.  Those golden days and our happy memories bound us together even though we hadn’t seen each other for some time.  During that visit, Dad and I went to see our old cottage.  It wasn’t locked, and it hadn’t changed. It was like walking into the past together.

07/11 Direct Link

The cottage even smelled the same: pine boards warmed in the sun to a warm, resiny scent.  The balsam pines around the house released their distinctive aroma into the summer air, just as they had so many years ago when we lived there, always had, and always will.  As I write, another family is having dinner at that same table overlooking the lake, playing board games in the living room as the radio plays softly in the background, or gathering kindling for the Franklin stove, including pine cones fallen from the trees around the house, bringing the forest fragrance inside.

07/12 Direct Link

In my memories, it was always sunny, though I know many days started out as foggy as my current home on the northern California coast, and, like here, ended the same way, too.  There were wild and fierce thunderstorms too, when we girls would gather in our parents’ as the house shook around us.  I’d hide under the covers as the lightning shattered the dark sky and even spilt a tree right beside our house.  Sometimes, it would sizzle into the lake’s inky waters.  My father and brother would watch bedazzled, counting to tell how far away the storm was.

07/13 Direct Link

The boy who reveled in thunderstorms – the more dramatic, the better – and fearlessly counted the time between the thunder and the lightning is now the man who runs into burning buildings, fights sixty foot walls of wildfire flames, and performs cliff rescues.  He is a captain in our volunteer fire department.  Sometimes I can still see the little boy who gazed fascinated at the fire next door long ago, saying he was scared while he was clearly nothing of the sort.  I wonder if that fire and the lightning striking the tree next to our house ignited something in him.

07/14 Direct Link

I’m still afraid of thunderstorms.  It’s a fear I never outgrew, like my fear of the flying, even though in both cases I know it’s irrational and could arguably be considered old enough to know better. I don’t know what’s worse: the boom of the thunder or the crash and flash of the lightning.  Those long-ago storms in Maine could be so intense that lightning sometimes crackled out of the outlets on the walls.  Fortunately, thunderstorms are few and far between where I now live, on the northern California coast, so there are fewer reasons to hide under the blankets.

07/15 Direct Link

My brother and sister both share a love of danger.  He is a volunteer firefighter, and she was a paramedic for many years and now works in the emergency room of our local hospital.  She was one of the few women who worked on the ambulance – there are none now – and she’s always calm under pressure, no matter how horrific the situation is.  I once asked her how she could bear to see the things she sees, and she said that she is able to help, and she’d rather be there to help than not. I admire her so much.

07/16 Direct Link

My brother has been sailing since the age of four, inspired by Arthur Ransome’s immortal “Swallows and Amazons” books.  It seems to me that he was a natural sailor, though someone must have taught him the basics.  It may have been a friend and colleague of Dad’s at the lab, who gave my brother his old Sunfish when he upgraded to a bigger and better boat.  First he sailed on the pond outside the cottage, and then in the cove outside the lab.  Eventually, he sailed on the Atlantic. Our parents agreed with Arthur Ransome: “If not duffers, won’t drown.”

07/17 Direct Link

We could take out rowboats from the lab docks – but only if we passed the lab swimming test. This unofficial yet official test took place at the lab dock.  You had to swim from the dock to Blueberry Point and back, in the chilly Atlantic waters.  Once you had achieved this milestone, you could borrow a rowboat.  Life jackets were encouraged, though not mandatory, and we did this with no adults present, unless you counted Dad, who was somewhere on the lab premises.  Probably.   I wonder if children now are as excited about borrowing a rowboat and braving the ocean.

07/18 Direct Link

Our parents generally sent us outside after breakfast, with the understanding that we would not be back until lunch unless emergency services were required (and on the rare occasions they were, our parents were extremely annoyed).  This was the case both at home and in Maine, where they would often drop us off at the beach or in Bar Harbor for several hours. We were never scared to be alone, or worried that some hideous fate might befall us.  In those days, we walked to school through the woods and never thought a thing of it.  We were free range.

07/19 Direct Link

Dad always said he would trust his life to my brother in a boat, and he did, despite being a poor sailor and suffering from seasickness.  This is an affliction none of us share, and Dad felt that there was no greater gap than that between those that had it and those that didn’t.  Still he braved both the mal and the mer for the pleasure of skimming over the waves.  There is such a feeling of freedom when you are sailing fast on the ocean, the blue of the sky echoed in the water, the wind in your hair.

 

07/20 Direct Link

The lake we swam in most often was a hidden gem, down a dirt road leading to a “parking lot” which was nothing more than a clearing among the towering pine trees.  From there, you followed a narrow, unpaved path bordered by blueberry bushes and more pine trees to the lake, which, like most beaches on the island, was on the rocky side. This didn’t deter us from picnicking, though.  The lake had a pink granite shelf to one side, which was perfect for sunbathing, and the warm, shallow water as you splashed into the water was alive with minnows.

 

07/21 Direct Link

The best-known beach on the island was called Sand Beach, and the sand was made of thousands, or maybe millions, of pulverized shells, including mussels, which gave it a lavender shade.  It amazed me then and amazes me now that an entire beach could be made of shells.  The sand was more comfortable for lounging on than the rocky beaches of the island, and it was sheltered from the wind in a cove.  But the water was about 55 degrees, even in the height of summer, making it shocking to jump into and swim in. Not that it stopped us.

07/22 Direct Link

Seal Harbor was another favorite beach.  We’d swim out to the floats and sun ourselves like the eponymous sea creatures.  Dad would lie on the beach, reading the “New York Times”.  Sometimes I’d come out of the chilly Atlantic waters and lie on his sun-warmed back, putting my cold, wet face on his sun-warmed neck, my towel over me.  It must have been spectacularly uncomfortable for him, but he never complained.

 The Rockefellers had a summer place there, and when my sister was a baby, she observed the boats in the harbor: “Boat, boat…BIG boat!” That was the Rockefellers’ yacht.

07/23 Direct Link

My brother would sometimes accompany our neighbors when they pulled up their lobster traps.  In exchange for his work, he’d get enough lobsters for us all to have at dinner.  In those days, lobsters were cheaper than hamburger, which, as our father observed, was the way it should be.  Dad liked to tease us by turning the lobsters over so they’d shake their tails at us, chasing us around the kitchen with them. He also said you could hear them screaming when you put them in the water, but it was just the air escaping from the shells.  Wasn’t it?

07/24 Direct Link

Every year, there was a picnic on the beach near the lab buildings.  It was more of a clambake, with the fathers making a big pit lined with seaweed to bake the clams in over a fire. As usual, the men gathered around the fire as they do at most barbecues, while the women chatted, gossiped, and kept an eye on the children.  We ran around, flying kites, and paddling in the frigid ocean.  It was the end of the season – time to go back to school and real life. We were lucky to have our summer friends and traditions.

07/25 Direct Link
Our parents would often go to cocktail parties during the summer.  They’d pile us all into the car and go to the host’s cottage.  The clink of ice cubes in glasses still reminds me of those long ago summers, as does the tang of lime zest, which was squeezed into the ever-popular gin and tonics in those days.  We amused ourselves while the grown-ups drank and chatted, sometimes dipping into the ocean or a lake if that’s where the party was held.  We’d end up sleeping in the car as our parents drove uneventfully home along the dark country roads.
07/26 Direct Link

Our parents knew of a certain woman in Southwest Harbor who made blueberry coffee cake from the local, wild blueberries.  I have never tasted blueberries as delicious as those – their larger, cultivated cousins are a mere pale shadow of the small, deep blue wild berries that seem to grow all over Maine’s rocky coast.  We’d stop by this house on our way to or from the beach, and if she wasn’t home, we’d just let ourselves in, take the cake, and leave the money.  Sometimes there would be huge chocolate chip cookies. The door was never locked. It was wonderful.

07/27 Direct Link

Another culinary delight was the popovers at Jordan Pond House.  They were a reward after a long mountain hike nearby.  The popovers were made to order, so they were hot and fresh, served with butter and house-made strawberry preserves.  The restaurant overlooked Jordan Pond, which to my eyes was more like a lake than a pond, and the mountains that loomed over it.  It was a delight to sit at white clothed tables on the green lawn in the clean, fresh air, eating that delicious treat together.  It was another hallmark of the summer, an event not to be missed.

07/28 Direct Link
Our friend Robert lived in the gatehouse of what had been the Campbell Soup family’s mansion overlooking the ocean.  The mansion – or “cottage” as these huge homes were called on the island – was long gone, though you could still see some of the foundation.  The most striking feature to me was the ruins of the swimming pool, perched beside the ocean.  The idea of having a swimming pool overlooking the ocean seemed to me then and seems to me now to be a breathtaking luxury.  The gatehouse seemed like a mansion to me with its Victorian elegance and many rooms.

 

07/29 Direct Link

Robert was an artist and a blacksmith.  His wife was from high society in Boston and had been disinherited by her family for marrying far beneath her.  They had two children and a merry little dachshund.  Robert had converted an ancient limousine into something of a mobile home with a bed and a kitchen, and he drove it all over town.

 

He made the chandelier in the lofty hallway of the house, which held actual candles.  In his bedroom, there was another piece of art he had made: a wrought iron sculpture with a gun, pointed right at his bed.

07/30 Direct Link
Robert had bone cancer, and he knew it was terminal, though he chose to stay at home and treat it with marijuana and Breyer’s vanilla ice cream.  Some days were better than others, and some days he was well enough to walk with us down to Point, where we could see the ruins of the Campbell mansion.  On the way, we’d pass a tree with a mushroom on it that he called the wishing fungus. We’d all touch it and make a wish.  At end of that summer, he gave the wishing fungus to my brother, who still has it.
07/31 Direct Link

Robert introduced me to Sylvia Plath and George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde.  I’d borrow the books from the library and then discuss them with him after I’d read them.  It was inspiring to share his passion. I still remember him sitting on the porch with a blanket over his gaunt knees, his ravaged face alight with joy as he discussed the mordant humor in Shaw and the dark, beautiful imagery in Plath’s poetry.  He confided that the gun sculpture in his bedroom was in case the cancer ever got the upper hand, and I never told anyone.  Until now.