My flight landed at the Portland Maine International Jetport at 3:30 PM. Portland is a pragmatic chooser of titles. My brother-in-law Tom picked me up and we headed to his home in Brunswick. Tom and his wife Ellen moved here from Washington D.C. in 1996. Their home sits on Indian Rest Road. You can’t miss the turn. It’s the one with the red canoe suspended over the lane. The house is a beautifully tended cedar shingled Cape Cod nestled in a grove of hardwoods on a gentle slope. Tom, Ellen and I were extremely close when we all lived in D.C. but after Karen and I moved to Florida and they to Maine my contact with them has been sporadic at best. Not that my intentions were not sound.
They have two children. A girl named Maddie and a boy called Jackson. They attend Harpswell Island’s school with a student body of 76 pupils. The back of the school building is adorned with a whale mural. Tom and I arrived home just in time to spy the two of them slogging up the road from the school bus stop, halloed in sunlight under an arcade of oaks. The picture would
make for a challenging 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. They are both healthy solid kids. Terminally American. Happy and playful with brilliant smiles permanently plastered on their faces. They greeted me shyly. I hadn’t seen them in years and their young memories offered them no clue as to the nature of our prior relationship. It had been too long a time between visits. An opportunity to renew the friendship.
Cinnamon the cat stretched himself across my path forcing me to bend and deal with his existence while Herschel the Chihuahua barked suspiciously from the living room window. I saw that I had work ahead of me. While the day was hot I found the shade of the back yard cool and invigorating. Tom pointed out a large porcupine napping in the crook of a tall tree. Downhill, across the road, I could see lobster trap buoys lying motionless on the mirror still shallows of Gurnet Sound. Tom’s neighbor down the road is a fisherman and has been known to send a large lobster or two over to Ellen and Tom’s when he has had a particularly fruitful day. I am nothing if not hopeful.
In this part of Maine the
great Northern forest belt meets the sea along a tortured rocky coastline which undulates in haphazard fashion producing slender peninsulas with spectacular vistas glimpsed between pines from narrow winding roads. The sea is never far and the cold water makes its presence known through cool nights that pull you down into the depths of the best sleep you may ever know. When the wind blows even a little it can chill you to the bone and carries with it the essence of brine and pine and peace. Maine is a special place. At least it always has been for me.
That night Ellen grilled mango glazed scallops for dinner while I attempted (unsuccessfully) to persuade Herschel to sit with me. Outside the temperature dropped thirty degrees with the setting of the sun. I warmed myself on the sofa under a woolen coverlet and watched TV with Tom on his huge new LCD. His newest toy. A birthday gift from Ellen. He has Tivo and wields it like Pelius directing the Argonauts. I watched him work with amazement. Tom recently underwent hip surgery and spends his convalescence living vicariously through programs like ‘Deadliest Catch’, ‘Axe Men’, ‘Cash Cab’ and ‘Ground
The Densons At Home
Good God fearing folks with a healthy dislike of outsiders.
War’. Beats the hell out of C-Span.
The next day we ran errands in the Norman Rockwell village of Brunswick. Deep cleaned grocery stores with creaking hardwood floors and overflowing shelves. Mainers as a people are as hard as the rocks that pass for sand on their beaches. Square-framed, monosyllabic, ruddy faced and close shaven folk who treat most outsiders’ questions as if they were stupid as soon as they fell from their lips. They do not suffer fools gladly and you would do well to remain silent and be thought a fool rather than speak and remove all doubt. The winding roads are dotted with small restaurants offering fresh clams, lobster rolls, Hake and a tide of Narragansett beer to wash it all down. It has been said that culture is the means by which societies adapt to their environments. Mainers do not stand out from their geography. To survive they have folded themselves unto it. No lobsterman would argue with the tides or the weather. No road builder would fight the granite outcrops that dominate the topography. Instead they take advantage of what opportunities are afforded them and leave nature to its domain.
Son Jack is
a Cub Scout. His den meets every Thursday evening at 5:30. I attended their most recent conclave at a small cemetery less than 3 acres in size. Memorial Day is at hand and the Scouts were given the task of identifying the Veterans’ graves and honoring them with metal medallions and American flags for Memorial Day. While their taskmaster gave them their assignments the young boys fidgeted and talked amongst themselves. Their parents stood behind them and adult hands would dart out when needed to set right any lad who had become particularly unruly. The bright afternoon sun illuminated the white gravestones in sharp relief against deep green lawn. Armed with bundles of flags we quietly fanned out to locate our clients. Some of the marble markers were so aged that the names looked as if they had been traced in spilt sugar by a small child’s finger. It is an old cemetery containing the remains of people who had fought in conflicts as far back as the Civil War.
I was an American soldier stationed in Northern Italy in 1975. I lived amongst the Italians in a four-story apartment building. My downstairs neighbor was an elderly Italian woman
who spoke English fluently and made every effort to reach out to me in friendship, which I returned with varying levels of enthusiasm. I had a car then and she would often ask me if I would drive her to a place she knew but had no way to get to. Wanting to be done with it I agreed and one Sunday morning she directed me Northward on winding mountain roads to the Asiago Plateau north of Venice. She had me park at the side of a pine forest. From there we walked a winding needled path to a hilltop overlooking a beautiful deep valley. “I have always wanted to show an American where his brothers were”, she whispered. My eyes followed her trembling finger to a graveyard filled with rows of square white stone markers each barely a foot high. Hundreds of Americans killed during the First World War. At the time I hadn’t had the sense to cry but my heart swelled for this old foreign woman and her kindness to my comrades and myself. Her name was Valerie and I had forgotten her completely until this afternoon spent with the Scouts.
Many hands make for light
work. The job was done in less than an hour. We gathered together around a flagpole that marked the yard’s center. There, the Scoutmaster asked us to think about what we had just seen. Men who had fought in the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II and Korea and Vietnam and on and on and on still. He asked us to think of all the other places like this one across America. Places filled with men who had served their Country as well as the families that had supported them through times of conflict and my mind flew across the sea to an Italian hilltop and I thought of how wonderful it was that there were places like this small one in Maine where one could stop for a moment to remember and reflect.
As we headed back to the car I told Jack that he had done a good thing though he probably didn’t understand it. One day he will. I asked him to ride in front with his Dad and we headed home to dinner with the family under clear sky.
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