For the past half-century, my husband of 67 years and I have spent our summers on Echo Lake in Somesville, Maine. This year we wondered whether we would make it. My spouse is not well, and I too have medical issues. Could we stand the 500-mile trip from Brooklyn to Mount Desert Island? Would carrying drinking water from the town water supply to our cottage be too much for us? Our granddaughter Naomi would drive us to Maine, but we worried whether we could drive our 20-year-old Malibu once we got there. The prospect of recharging our internal batteries in Maine, however, won out, and we left in mid-July.
One wintry day in February 1968, my husband and I bought our Maine “camp.” The former rental cottage was kind of decrepit, but it had great bones. It sits on a rise above Echo Lake, fronted by granite rocks, moss and blueberry bushes. It has a magnificent view. Ernest Richardson, its owner and builder, had equipped it with a majestic granite fireplace. Its name, Judy—also that of our teenage daughter—was a good omen.
I immediately felt at home in the small towns that surrounded me, though my new neighbors were totally foreign to my western European, Second World War background. Perhaps our bond was our shared love for the beauty of nature, the quiet lakes, the ruggedness of the mountains, and the wildness of the rocky coast. Perhaps it was that they, like me, believed that money and success are dwarfed by contentment with life. Or perhaps my Maine neighbors did think that I was odd after all, and I simply did not notice it.
We usually arrived in Maine at the beginning of June—just in time for the black flies, the bloom of the lady slippers, lilacs and lupines, the lobster picnic of the Footloose Friends hiking group, the library’s strawberry festival, and the first play of the Acadia Repertory Theater. Soon after we arrived, we would settle into on our regular hiking and swimming routines.
Not this year. We missed the blooms and the festivities. We started out by visiting many doctors and the Somesville Rehabilitation Center. In this age of regimented, indifferent medicine, both were excellent and pleasant. My physical activity had declined, and I spent a lot of time at home on Echo Lake. I also neglected my computer; this is the only blog I wrote during my very pleasurable summer.
Once more I fell in love with my “camp,” now a comfortable dwelling that, in spite of doubling in size, has retained its old charm. It perfectly suits my needs and personality. Over the years, we added a deck and two rooms, and remodeled the kitchen and baths. We pierced the walls and roofs with picture windows and skylights. From every window we have wonderful views. When I raise my eyes above my computer, I encounter the gyrating leaves of an oak tree that grew from an acorn I threw there more than thirty years ago. From the floor, where I do yoga and other exercises, I see sun-lit maple leaves intermixed with evergreens. Out front I view Echo Lake, whose mood changes from placidly calm to angry and white-capped.
Summerhouses are dumping grounds for items one does not quite know what to do with in one’s primary residence. In our home, one of these is a family flag that my mother sewed in 1932. It marks an important piece of our history: the flag identified a sandcastle we occupied that year on the shores of the Baltic Sea. Our flag featured my favorite toys; the neighboring sandcastles flew swastikas.
For some still unfathomable reason, our Echo Lake cottage harbors monogrammed towels that at one point belonged to ancestors born in Europe more than a hundred years ago. Several fancy linen face towels are marked IMM: Isaac and Mathilde Mayer, my great-great-grandparents who married in Frankfurt, Germany around 1865. My favorite dishtowel is red and white. Its exact function, Tellertuch (cloth for dinner plates), is woven into its border. Its initials read HSS: Heinrich and Selma Schwarzhaupt, my great-aunt and uncle. My mother’s towels are marked GB: Gretel Bamberger. Maybe they were used separately from those marked GBH, for both my mother and my father Hugo. My grandmother-in-law’s reads AW (Anna Weiner). I ask myself: how did these household goods end up at Echo Lake—surviving the Holocaust as well as emigration to Belgium, England, Israel and finally America?
There are many other mementos: an olive wood bowl my mother brought back from Italy in 1935, the skeleton of a saguaro cactus I found during a business trip to Arizona, a nude sculpture my deceased son made in college, water bottles my grandchildren took to day camp at the College of the Atlantic, copies of the books I wrote and published, as well as manuscripts of books that did not get published… a whole lifetime.
In September, it is time for me to pack up the cottage. I am deeply grateful to it. I arrived in America in 1946. The present refugee crisis reawakens me to the reality that I used to be one myself: trudging the roads of Belgium in 1940, hiding from the Germans during the Holocaust, stateless until the U.S. offered me citizenship. For a variety of reasons—incredible luck, an inborn positive personality—my childhood experiences did not cripple me. I have had a full, shall I dare to say “normal,” life. My fifty summers in Maine helped me feel at home.