This morning I am sad. I just kissed Naomi—Branching’s editor—farewell. She was here visiting for a week at our small “camp” on Echo Lake. We did all the traditional summer things: a hike up Penobscot, popovers and Jordan Pond, dinner at the Rogue Café, MDI ice cream on Firehouse Hill, a lobster roll at Beal’s, a movie at Reel Pizza and lots of home-cooked food made with Beech Hill Farm produce.
When my husband Ernest and I bought the small camp in 1968 we certainly did not know that it would shape our summers, as well as those of our children and eventually those of our grandchildren. It has. Naomi and her twin Ana celebrated their first August birthdays here in 1988. They have been here part of most summers since. During their first decade we always made two birthday cakes encrusted with supermarket frosting and candy. Sean joined them when they were four. He remembered that during one of his annual visits we successfully bid for his first camera at a Southwest Harbor Library blind auction. Down the road it resulted in his majoring in film at USC. (He currently works as a film editor in New York.) As they grew up the grandchildren attended MDI’s unusual day camps, Naomi choosing Camp Beech Cliff, Ana and Sean selecting the College of the Atlantic’s Field Studies. Maine became part of my grandchildren’s roots, and now they bring their partners so that they can witness an essential phase of their growing up process. So far the partners have enthusiastically taken to the Pine Tree State.
I cannot claim any Maine childhood memories, but I feel very rooted here. In June when I enter my summer camp, I hear it mumble: “About time that you came back. You may have had a hard time while you were gone, but I’ll make it all better.” And it invariably does. The lake out front glistens; out back, the enormous treetops gyrate. Helpful hands have seen to it that the pump springs to life, that there is wood for the fireplace and that the Internet is able to remind me of the misery of the rest of the world. I glory in the present and also delve into the past. Once a year I sift through a drawer filled with old photographs: babies bathed in the kitchen sink, weddings, lady slippers that used to surround the house and mysteriously disappeared, profusions of fuchsias eternally blooming in clay pots, dogs that gladdened our hearts, decades of my own self. Was I really that young?
Summer homes quite naturally acquire cast-offs. How did the monogrammed dishtowel my great-aunt used in Nuremberg, Germany over a hundred years ago end up in my Maine kitchen? Why does the olive-wood bowl my mother brought back from Italy clutter up the living room closet? Other mementos arrived more deliberately. One bedroom sports the flag my mother sewed for a sandcastle my nuclear family occupied on the Baltic Sea in Germany in 1932. Its emblems are my sister’s and my favorite toys. The little teddy bear and duck make quite a statement. Most of our neighbors on that long-forgotten beach flew Hitler’s swastika!
It is almost time for me to close my summer home. So many of my friends have already joined the blue yonder; will I be well enough to come back? The country will choose a new president; will he or she be responsible enough to maintain a fragile peace and protect our threatened environment? I wish my little camp farewell. This time I reassure it: “Don’t worry; you’ll be alright. I’ll be back. If not, I made sure that my children and grandchildren will take care of you.”