Monday, September 9, 2013

déjà vu

Labor Day, we returned from Maine. We vacationed with my sister and her family, some of my brother-in-law’s family, and my brother and his son. Getting it in under the wire before school starts makes us feel like we haven’t wasted a single waning minute of summer. We’ve developed a tradition of spending the week before Labor Day together.

Alexi was born in Maine, and the house we stayed in was near the town where he first lived and the college his father attended.

I made my first trip to Maine shortly after Alexi and I were married. We flew from Seattle to Boston, drove to New Hampshire to see his maternal grandfather, and then went on to Maine to visit his paternal grandmother. I fell in love with New England. My presence there, among the unfamiliar accents and the Puritanism, represented that Alexi and I were no longer just sharing family stories; we were now a part of each others’ families and stories.

When Alexi visited his grandparents while we were dating, he spent hours interviewing each of them, on video, about their lives. I watched a significant portion of the filmed autobiographies, so when we sat down at Gram’s kitchen table with her, I felt like I knew her well, though I’d only ever spent time with her the week of our wedding.

In the years that followed that first visit, we made the same trip with Abbott as an infant; Cal as an infant, Abbott, a toddler; as they grew. Invariably, we drank cold Moxie and ate lobster so fresh it could have crawled away and sweet corn dripping with butter. We walked her beach and collected sea glass. I recognized my sons in the evidence of creativity all over her house.

In Maine again, our selves and boys older, those times were with us still. Gram’s absence from the world was glaring.

Our first full day, we ate lunch at a lobster place in an old-fashioned drive-in; the kind where you can put your lights on for service. We opted to eat on the patio in the shade, drinking iced tea as we waited for our food. My lobster was sweet beyond belief. The group of us ate in concentrated silence, interrupted occasionally by Alexi’s murmured explanations to the boys about how to get more meat out of their lobsters.

My brother-in-law, his brother, and Alexi felt sure they had eaten at the restaurant before, in childhood, but remembered it as an A&W. A quick email to Alexi’s father confirmed that it had, indeed, once been an A&W. His father ate there for the first time when he was seven or eight, and all that seems to have changed is the signage.

After answering our question about the A&W, his father wrote:

“If you go to Thomas Point Beach, you might be able to dig some clams by hand or with a stick (check with fisheries or the beach management for closures). You can look across from the beach about 200 feet to a flat point with a few oak trees that block about half your view down the rest of the river. If they are still there, you should see on the point, two cottages, one on the right that is (or was) brown and one story, and one on the left that is, or was, two stories high, and white. They belonged to Augustus J. (for "Jordan") Snow, who lived directly above them. Maybe my one room, first studio, when I married Daisy, is still next to the brown cottage. A third cottage immediately across from Mr. Snow’s house was where the first baby shots of you were taken (Daisy in her nightie in the rocker, yawning). Your middle name came from Mr. Snow, because he was so decent toward Daisy and I through our courtship and marriage until we moved. He treated me like a son.

If I were there, I'd take you out to the mussel bar another 1/4 mi from the cottages with the tide out about 1/4 from high at 1:00AM. The bass would be noisily sucking in herring going over the shallow bar. It would drive you mad (as it did Doc Pinfold, many nights) and you would catch big bass (20 - 40 lbs)…”

All week, I called Abbott by my brother’s name, though they don’t really remind me of each other; at least, not consciously.

It felt right to wake up and find the kids already outside with their cousins, or chatting with my sister over breakfast, or playing foosball with my brother.

Every morning after breakfast, we went walking. We passed a chocolate, cheese and wine shop on our route that had three plastic lawn chairs out front and window boxes overflowing with an array of flowers. My brother-in-law once went in to buy port, and discovered all they carry is blueberry. Their cheeses were delicious. We met a neighbor who had just returned from Oregon with her horses. She told us she’d been working there for years, as a cowboy, and came back because the horses need to rest. One of them was always standing next to the fence, eating crabapples off a tree on the other side of it.

My sister’s Columbian housekeeper, Sara, came with them from Connecticut, and her presence was an extreme luxury. When we didn’t eat out she cooked for us. The night we arrived, after nine in the evening, we feasted on fresh New England sea scallops she’d prepared.

Every day, after the afternoon’s collective and individual activities, we’d reconvene, open a bottle of wine, and commence with more eating and talking. Threads of conversation continued through the days, meals, walks and outings. The scents coming from the kitchen inevitably lured me in to see what Sara was up to. She taught me the secrets to her paella and spicy gazpacho. At some point in her life she went to culinary school. She told me about leaving Columbia in the nineties after there was an attempt to kidnap her daughter.

I kept experiencing my siblings and I as our child selves, briefly confused by our adult versions, with so much of the course of our lives already figured out. Watching our children together gave me a strange sense of déjà vu.


Bettye Rainwater said...

your vacation stories fill me with such longing - in a good way - to find special places and to create wonderful memories like this. thank you, as always, for sharing glimpses into your life. at this stage, it's so different from my own...


jenniferingalls said...

So glad you guys are still getting together. Makes me wistful.

Eve said...

Lecia, you really have a gift to write stories. Every post is so soothing and inspiring.

It's very moving to read you father in law's words. He 's certainly a wonderful and attentive man.
And what a good idea from Alexi to have collected these memories from his grandparents.
It makes me think that when you raise children with love and mindfulness, they have a chance to become good persons. (a hope for me !)

I know my english is not good enough to express everything I would like to, but I will take courses (september resolution !)


emily said...

goosebumps, lecia. as usual. xo.

Anonymous said...

Having just moved away from Maine after living there for several, this made me sooo homesick. . .

likeschocolate said...


house on hill road said...

i so enjoy reading your post, lecia. thank you for sharing. xo.

Dawn said...

Reading about New England, and seeing pictures of it, always fills me with a painful longing. I have always felt I belong there, but don't know if I will ever call it my home.
Welcome back home, I hope you are settling in nicely!
By the way, have you ever considered moving to New England?
xo Dawn

Lecia Phinney said...

Bettye: Thank you for saying so.

Jennifer: I can't imagine what it must be like to lose a sister. I still think of you and Janet as a pair.

Eve: Thank you for your beautifully expressed sentiments. xo

Emily,likeschocolate,Erin: thanks so much! xx

Thanks, Dawn. I appreciate your good wishes! And no, I don't anticipate we'll ever move - Seattle is home. xoxo

RebeccaNYC said...

"My sister’s Columbian housekeeper, Sara, came with them from Connecticut"

Ayisha said...

Wow so fantastic images collection here looking so nice. I so glad to see your post very much. Please keep it up !!

Denise | Chez Danisse said...

Lovely memories, and it seems you have a very special father-in-law.

Angy is my name. said...

"I kept experiencing my siblings and I as our child selves, briefly confused by our adult versions, with so much of the course of our lives already figured out. Watching our children together gave me a strange sense of déjà vu." ....

Oh how this phrase touched me. A perfectly narrated emotion that washes over me all the time lately.
New to your blog and adventures but revelling already!

My most recent encounter with Maine was through the eyes of Stephen Fry in a documentary detailing his adventures through The States. Delicious it was... as is this post.

A mother to a teenage son who (like yours it seems) has grown up lightning fast... too fast.

I look forward to returning... have a truly special day wont you... ♥♥♥