Scheherazade – III — Maine
It’s a three hour pilgrimage from Boston’s Logan Airport up to my mother’s summer place on the coast of Maine, a journey I can’t make without being dragged along by currents of near narcotic nostalgia.
For over thirty years, in ever-evolving family configurations, I’ve made this trip up the Central Coast towards our farmhouse on the water, swept along with hundreds of thousands of others on surging tourist tides.
Change up here is glacial. I can’t remember when there wasn’t a Taste of Maine restaurant or winding lines running up the side of Red’s Eats. There have always been the same long, sad marshes, the same clean strips of road cut through dynamite-scarred granite, the same life-size natural history dioramas of duck ponds kitted out roadside with model-perfect cattails, and always Wiscasset’s dignified colonial homes and the angry ghosts of her tall ships dragged from their burial grounds.
Flashing by are the minor gauge railway museums, the happy rent-your-basket, child-labor blueberry farms, the regurgitated table jetsam of roadside flea markets, the stranded Route 1 army of skeletal brass beds, the ugly explosion of signage for Boothbay Harbor, the countless minor turnoffs for the pine-tree crannies and salt water nooks that finger and fan along Maine’s coastline like beached seaweed.
Then, tiring from the drive but much, much closer now, there’s the make-sure-you-don’t-miss-it Damariscotta Exit, the parking lot crawl through town avoiding this year’s minor construction flare-ups, the runaway strollers piloted by siblings, the Beer-Bellied, Big-Bearded, Bristol-Boys (“try that five times fast, kids”), and inching past the been-out-on-video-for-a-month movies but still showing this Friday night at the Lincoln County Movie Theater.
Then past the turn off by the high-steepled church, and the long, dragging, tired, cramped leg of never-ending Route 129 stretching out to New Harbor, and there, just past “the baseball field where I used to play, kids” my Maine pilgrimage completes, and I turn past some lobsterman’s mailbox near the last bend of the road, its thick, welded-chain post fixed so solidly into the ground it will outlast the postal system, then down the gravel drive, finally, I roll softly onto the driveway grass of our old summer house, now the spiritual museum of my childhood and adolescence.
I cut the rental car’s engine and take a moment to survey: The stone steps to the kitchen. The chipped exterior paint. My mother’s lilies. The ancient clothesline hook. The sparkling harbor. The still boats.
As always, I have been away too long, foolishly too long, but I am home.
The Maine tourist surge crests around “the fawth” when the “summah people” and the “city slickahs” explode into and back out of cavernous restaurant sound holes, spraying lobster parts, wooden mallets, draft beer and torn plastic bibs across the greasy varnish of outdoor picnic tables. The summer visitors unfold visitor’s bureau maps and swamp onto ribbed, sandpaper boat ramp walkways for sunset pirate ship harbor tours.
On small plots of lighthouse lawn retirees bob up against the shoulders of seascape painters who they hope might turn and acknowledge them and, in doing so, indelibly color themselves into the spiritual life of the painting. Out of sight, untended children splash and scramble against granite coastal rocks that have elbowed their way up from the center of the Earth to feel a few weeks of sunshine each summer and the tickle of small fingers grappling their necks.
Families retrieve ice cream cones from voices behind sliding screen windows and get yet another mosquito bite on a knuckle and, sleepy from the sun and ice cream, come to rest for a few blissful minutes at the apex of noon under a blue blanket of sky and fleecy clouds, their holiday inertia pooling out slowly to the distant buzz of the gift shop owner’s lawnmower. They nestle into the hard granite somehow and nod off in the sizzling brine of the afternoon, footsteps of complete strangers stepping delicately past their heads.
Then they’re awake again and back at it!
They holler for their children and stagger up from the afternoon rocks and into town, dragged along in the undertow of hot dog and watermelon and potato chip grocery lists, smashing against the brittle sandcastle gift shops and outlet stores, commerce chasing them across her beaches like skittish sandpipers, the lighthouse postcard markets in uproar, old sailor ceramics flying past checkout stands, and diet all-blown-to-hell grey netted bags of clams and fingers tearing dirty black socks off their feet and plunging their bare toes into hot butter baths, and the lobster pot low-boil feud of locals and summer people breaking out in ugly supermarket parking lot skirmishes, and broken masted ships navigating horrific nor’easters in “genuine oil paintings” at 50% off through this weekend only, and seagull keychain gifts that will never find a Christmas tree, and jam jars with miniature sashes of Scottish ribbon, and Mosquito “State Bird” t-shirts, and sentimental placards about footsteps stepping softly through the sand and Jesus carrying you when you didn’t even know and, just one shelf over, only barely out of His sight, ceramic coffee mugs with two-inch tall fuck-you fingers hiding on the cup’s seabed below the high tide coffee-line, and bored minimum wage college girls, eyes practically rolling back in their heads, sweating it out over square-cut plats of peanut fudge, hypnotic swirling lollipops the size of balloons, oversized freak lobster claws in frames behind the glass at the register, the Red Sox sticking it to the Yankees, miniature wooden fishing vignettes with marionette rigging that makes fish jump out of buckets or, from the same novelty house, refrigerator magnet hardy-har-hars about skinny wives with little breasts and lazy husbands with big breasts, and wicked goowud bear’s paw ice cream, and crushed 16 ounce “Pee Bee Aaah” Pabst Blue Ribbon cans, and six-packs of Moxie, that infidel root beer, and the Yankees sticking it to the Red Sox now, and dramatic thunderstorms that explode onto the car radio frightening the classic rock ghosts on every other FM station.
Maine in the summah.
Just after Labor Day, the inevitable tide sweeps back out, filtering the summer people from the barnacled natives who ain’t up tuh goin’ anywah futhah owtah town than the graveyaaaad.
But in the wake of that sweeping tidal retreat up and down the coast, remain the accretions of shadow-box tidal-pool worlds, one marvelous emotional ecosystem after another, thousands of trapped, starfish family museums supplemented and nurtured one summer-at-a-time, memory by memory, barnacle by barnacle, stranded in the attics and basements and bedrooms and kitchen cabinets and thick round wood pull-knob, second-hand pine drawers stocked with boat memorabilia, summer camp totems, victorious fishing lures, rusting pocked knives, half-torn Dark Side of the Moon posters rolled together with prints of Christina in her World, Down East magazines waiting exposed in lonely off-season windows slowly bleaching themselves to death, and cheap, laminated placemats of anonymous tall ships and nautical knots and coastal bird varieties, Polaroid photos of tiny fairy houses fashioned from fir trees and moss built on deserted coastal islands, fiery, abandoned summer diaries, old darkroom equipment from the week you were going to become a photographer, galvanized steel crab buckets, 47-card decks and board games with makeshift replacement pieces fashioned from shells, beach-combing harvests strung up on fishing line over the kitchen window where my late mother hung them a thousand summers ago, the flotsam castoff of relaxed, summery emotional lives, and a little tale preserved in each and every object like, for example, these Endless Love movie stubs from the night the beautiful girl unbuttoned my shirt and kissed my bare shoulder in the back of her father’s car, and slid her prayer-answering lips across my face and tingling neck, landmark by landmark, and nibbled down on my earlobe and cut free the buoy and orphaned the lobster trap, and forever stranded my adolescence in the deep, cool currents off the Central Coast of Maine.
Next Chapter & Full Text:
Feel something. Twice a week.