The Universal Notebook: Summer in Vacationland

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Thunderstorms around New York City last week caused a cascade of air travel woes such that I found myself driving to Bangor at midnight to pick up daughter Nora and her family as they returned from the other Portland.

They had been scheduled to land at PWM at supper hour, but ended up dumped in BGR without their baggage in the wee hours. Such are the perils of coming and going during summer in Vacationland.

I tend to make a virtue of being local. I stay where I belong, blessed to be from a place everyone else wants to be, at least 10 weeks a year. The cities to the south empty out their tenements, townhouses, suburban tracts and trailer parks as caravans of tourists and summer folk head for the Maine lakes, woods, mountains and beaches.

A distinct proportion of the folks flocking to Maine are Mainers who have moved away. Our family is rife with returning refugees. During the recent heat wave, my sister-in-law, her husband and her granddaughter were up at the lake sweltering away in the old camp she owns with her sister, my lovely wife Carolyn. By the time things cooled off, the temperature of the lake water was 81 degrees, enough to get you wet, but not enough to keep you cool.

This week and next, one of my Georgia cousins and his family are renting a cottage near Walker’s Point in Kennebunkport, my cousin from Maryland is renting a camp on Sebago, and daughter Hannah’s in-laws from the D.C. area will be at Raymond Pond. Hannah and her husband hosted their annual pig roast last week, feeding 119 people, including relatives from Massachusetts, Texas and California. This makes for a lot of socializing while avoiding politics at all costs. Some of our far-flung relations have yet to see the light.

Last Friday, I did my annual shift cooking hot dogs on the church lawn during the Yarmouth Clam Festival parade. After the festival, summer races downhill to fall.

Carolyn’s brother Warren will arrive in mid-August for his annual homecoming from Arizona. That gives summer a second wind, as all Warren wants to do is eat Italian sandwiches and body surf, two things he can’t do in Tucson. Maybe a trip to Monmouth or Ogunquit for a bit of summer theater, a Sea Dogs game, and then summer leaves when Warren does.

All these comings and goings are part of the whirlwind that is a Maine summer. For me, it passes in a blur of hot dogs, corn on the cob, lobsters, clams, in-laws, grandchildren, sunscreen, birthdays, beach days and cookouts at the lake. It’s an exhausting annual ritual I wish could go on forever, but, alas, not.

During my elementary years, ages 6 to 12, we lived in Met Life exile in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. In the 1950s, we were the grandchildren and we were the traffic jam. On the interminable road trips back to Maine my brother and I rode in the back of the station wagon, just blankets and pillows for comfort and protection, as unrestrained and careless as dogs.

We knew we were almost to Maine when we stopped at the orange-roofed Howard Johnson’s in Portsmouth for ice cream. Then it was up the ticky-tacky, billboard-plastered corridor of Route 1 to provincial Portland.

Summers back then were concerts under the Copper Beech at the Portland Museum of Art, just up High Street from Nana Gibson’s apartment; Little League games across Ludlow Street from Nana Beem’s; Coca-Colas and Popsicles in the fridge; car rides in big old Dodges and Pontiacs for burgers at Wasson’s Grove and fried clams at Ken’s. We were batter people back then; now we are strictly crumbs.

The one constant of a Maine summer has been Scarborough Beach. Back then old Mrs. Jordan sat in her beach wagon with an umbrella collecting parking fees. Now, as a senior citizen, I can get in free at Scarborough Beach State Park, but I just have to hope the line of cars is not too long and the overflow parking in the field across the street is not full.

Just as too many people fly these days, so too many people want to be on the beach. But who can blame them? That littoral crescent beach sweeping from Prouts Neck to the Atlantic House is where all life began. It’s where we crawled out of the cold sea and lay exhausted on the hot sands. It’s where we sit now in our beach chairs, props we swore we would never need when we were young and naked on the shore, watching the sea, the sky, and the last days of another Maine summer.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

Beem