Lea Wait here, thinking about my summers in Maine, past and present. Before I was ten, I spent half my summers in Maine, most of them at my great uncle’s home in West Bath. (The other summers I spent in Massachusetts, either at my grandmother’s home in Roslindale, or, one summer, at Onset, on Cape Cod.)
My memories of those first Maine summer are vivid. The New Meadows River, Thomas Point Beach, swimming in my uncle’s pool or in a family friend’s cove, where she taught me to row. Picking blueberries and raspberries. Exploring tide pools, climbing rocks. Learning the names of birds and mosses and seaweeds. Walks in deep woods. One summer on Southport Island, where my sister Nancy and I crabbed and roamed the (then unposted) woods and rocks. Standing in the words and being doused with spray from a heavy storm.
When I was ten we spent our first summer in the home I live in now. All winter I planned for that summer. So did my mother, whose plans included removing the 13 layers of wallpaper on some rooms, and my grandmother, who planned a garden with raspberries that soon involved everyone. (So did those layers of wallpaper!)
As a teenager I spent my evenings at first ushering, and then in the box office, of the Boothbay Playhouse, a repertory company not far from our home. I rowed on the river. I mowed the grass. I stretched out on our lawn overlooking the Sheepscot River and read. I helped make raspberry jam and bread and butter pickles.
Maine was where I wanted to be year round, but I couldn’t convince my grandparents to stay all winter so I could attend a local school. I had my own private rituals for the end of August, when we headed back to New Jersey. At a low tide I’d walk to the eddy near our home, sit on the trunk of a tree that had sunk into the mud, inhale the smell of the mud flats, and bottle it, at least in my mind. Then on a warm sunny day I’d walk barefoot in our large garden, by then empty of some vegetables, and I’d promise myself I’d never forget the feel of warm soil under my feet.
And I never did. I only missed one summer in Maine. It was my first summer working in New York City, after college, and I didn’t qualify for any vacation days until after I’d worked a year. That summer my mother took a small Victorian shadow box frame, put a sprig of sea lavender in it, and tucked a note in the back: “Remember the salt wind, tide pools, crying gulls, sea lavender, and know there’s still a quiet place.” That frame and its message stayed on my desk through 30 years of corporate jobs, and is still on my desk today. And I’ve never forgotten.
As years passed I spent a Christmas in Maine, brought my daughters to Maine, hunted for jobs in Maine (unsuccessfully,) and eventually was able to move to Maine full-time, where I cared for my mother for four
years and then married the man I loved. He learned to love Maine, too.
This summer one of my daughters was married here (my second daughter to be married in Maine), and my sisters and daughters have all visited. One of my granddaughters had her first summer job here. My twenty-fourth book written here was published. (A couple of years ago I even wrote a book about what it was like to live in Maine with the man I loved, who was an artist, and what it was really like to be an author.)
October 1 I will have lived here fulltime for twenty years; without doubt, some of the best years of my life.
In thinking back, I have very few regrets in life. But even in hard times (we all have had them) thoughts of Maine sustained me.
Maybe it’s that smell of mud flats. Or the taste of lobster. Or sea breezes. Or just knowing that people lived here before we did, and survived, and that this world would also be there for those who came after us. And that, as my mother had written, no matter what “there’s still a quiet place.”
Maye we all find the place that brings us that peace and calm Maine has brought me.