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)…”
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.