May 11, 2014

Eating Maine by Kenneth Weene



In those days it was a long drive up Route 1, all the way from Boston to our family’s camp in Maine. At Lewiston we’d hit Maine Route 4 and head northwest towards Turner, Canton and our actual destination Hartford. The trip took about six hours, sometimes more, not the easy three hours using 495 and the Maine Turnpike today. There was no air-conditioning; the car was usually crowded not only with our bags packed for the summer but also with stuff for the camp; my older brother always insisted on taking what remained of the back seat, which meant I got to sit in the middle of the front bench. It was not a pleasant ride.

To make things worse, Dad was usually in a bad mood and in a hurry; there was work to be done on our arrival, and his wife and two young sons weren’t going to be much help. Then, too, there was the question of food. Six hours is a long time to go without eating, and when we arrived there would be nothing at the camp. We had to stop—usually twice, once near Portland, at Gray, for a burger and the second time at The Lone
Pine.

It was those two food stops that made the trip. – Those were the days before McDonalds, Burger King, or most chains. There was Howard Johnson’s with its twenty-eight flavors, but not on our route. – Burgers in Gray and The Lone Pine. Yeah!

For nine months each year we lived just outside of Boston. For those nine months we ate according to
Mom’s unique dietary rules. They were idiosyncratic and strange. For example, we could only eat as many french-fries as our age. Imagine telling a five year old that he can only eat five fries, but come next year he can have six? Hotdogs and baked beans were evil things, filled with poisons. Spaghetti was fine as long as there wasn’t much garlic and no oregano; basil on the other hand was good. The rules went on and on. We had no idea of where they came from, but come they did in continuous avalanche.

Then we would cross the border into the Pine Tree State and the rules would disappear. The burgers at that stand in Gray, eaten at a picnic table in a stand of white birch, were good; but it was the fries—a whole order for each of us—that made the place special. And a Coke, not an orange Nehi because it was healthier or worse yet a glass of milk. Yes, we were in a different place ... perhaps in a different world.

The ride from Gray to Lewiston went through small towns and sometimes stalled behind a slow moving tractor or even a small herd of cows being driven from one pasture to another. Tensions rose. Arguments swelled.

Then onto Route 4. I could feel the mood change as we left Auburn, Lewiston’s twin city. We were closing on our destination, but first came pie! Not just any pie, but the pie at The Lone Pine. It was a shack, a greasy spoon, but they had great pie. At least my mother thought so, and it was her opinion that counted. We had to stop. If not—. Dad invariably gave in.

Looking back: June in Maine, the fruit had to be canned. The crust was made with lard. To my mother it was wonderful. To my brother and me, it was another proof that we had entered a new world. Even more proof was that Mom didn’t check the silverware or try to send the dirty pieces back for replacement. She drank her coffee without inspecting the cup for lipstick, one of her many bugaboos. It was as if the insanity of her cleanliness fetishes had suddenly been lifted.

Years later I learned that Mom and Dad had taken their first vacation in Maine. That had been before they had married. That was when the strange, transformational effect of the “Vacationland” state first made sense to me, but I’m a Freudian. As a kid, I simply marveled. I marveled and enjoyed. I enjoyed Italian sandwiches—others may know them as subs or hoagies—filled with salami, pickles, cheese, ham, and more, and then doused with oily dressing. I enjoyed hotdogs—in those days bright red and made with almost anything but beef. I enjoyed fried clams and meatloaf with onions and peppers in it, and so many things. We had ice cream sodas made with ice cream churned from raw milk. We ate blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries picked and shoveled fresh and unwashed into our mouths.

There was much about those early years in Maine that I loved. There were some things I didn’t care for. But strangely, it is the food that stands out in memory—and not even the lobster.

A year and a half ago I went back to Maine for a visit. The burger stand had long since been displaced by a Burger King. And The Lone Pine was no longer there. I stopped for a piece of pie at a nearby joint. It wasn’t particularly good. Same canned fruit, but the crust was nowhere near as delicious as my memory. It probably was healthier—no lard, but that hardly mattered. I also had an Italian sandwich. It, too, was not as good as memory. And the hotdog I ate at a local place was right out of a supermarket package. It was all kind of disappointing.

What was most disappointing was there was no magical sense of reaching a new place, no sudden
awareness of new freedoms. The magic had gone. I met friends at a nice restaurant near the coast. We had a delicious meal; it could have been at a good tourist restaurant almost anywhere in the States. It was not a new world; it was just good food.

Oh well, I still have the memories. Memories taste best of all.
                             
Ken Weene is a quirky novelist, poet, and short story writer. You can find his novels on Amazon in print, Kindle, and audio formats. http://www.amazon.com/Kenneth-Weene/e/B002M3EMWU/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1389070155&sr=1-2-ent
(Information provided by author)

13 comments:

Jacqueline Seewald said...

What a great post! I very much enjoyed reading it. My husband and I enjoyed being in Maine as well. But you are right, so much of what is unique about places in the U.S. changes with time. Burger King is pretty much the same chain in Maine or New Jersey.

jrlindermuth said...

How many memories are linked to food and made better because of them? Chain and Fast food restaurants aren't just unhealthy, they are the deflation of such good memories.

Ken Weene said...

Glad my post is bringing enjoyment and memories to folks. Please share it with others.

Susan Whitfield said...

I fully intend to eat Maine one of these days! It's on my Bucket List. In the mean time, Stephen King is in North Carolina, helping film Under The Dome. Haven't met him yet but certainly hope to do so. Carla Neggers is a delight and I was fortunate enough to meet her a couple of years ago and get her to sign her books for me. Best of luck with your writing!

Mary Deal said...

Oh my, Kenneth. You have written a page out of my life. Mom wouldn't fly so we always drove. Everyone drove anyway. Mom would pack the food, friend chicken which was delicious eaten cold, potato salad which we devoured before it soured. And other delights. But as we traveled and had to find places to eat a substantial meal, we always look for the steamy cafe windows with the neon signs, or just plain signs, that said "Good Eats." Oh yes, we had a brand new 1941 Oldsmobile. My sister being the eldest got a window seat. My brother being the only boy for a window seat. I couldn't stand the smell of the car and always got car-sick. It sometimes got my a window seat or a ride in the front seat. So many memories you've opened with your posting here. Thank you so much. I so remember our road trips. In spite of me getting car sick, the trips are indelibly etched in my mind as a happy time.

Amy M. Reade said...

Isn't it funny how the things we remember from childhood just aren't the same when we go back as adults? Sometimes I think it's better not to try. I've never been to Maine, but your memories of it are wonderful. I'd love to visit someday...hopefully I'll get there!

Thanks for a great post.

Heidiwriter said...

Love your post Ken! The wonderful vacation memories from childhood--not quite the same as an adult! Your book titles are intriguing too.

Fiona McGier said...

My Mom used to love Stuckeys nut logs, so we'd stop there for burgers when on the road. We didn't travel much because my Mom wouldn't drive on highways and my Dad got tired after a couple hours of driving. Now my kids joke that I do all of the driving so my husband can sleep or read...it's really because I LOVE to drive on highways! And even now we always look for the small local burger places and try to avoid the chains. We've had some really great food that way!

Peter Glassman said...

I loved your gastronomical stimulus to memory, nostalgia and the writer's world of sensorium. One of my writing professors advised to always include taste, smell, feel, weather and environmental ambience in one's writing. It rekindles a reader's memory banks and sense of participation in the writing and reading.
My family has an annual reunion every July in Old Orchard Beach Maine and your post brought to mind what it was like and what it has morphed into. And like your words it's now mostly great memories of friends, food and places.

Salvatore Buttaci said...

Take a ride with Kenneth Weene and visit Maine! Reading Weene never has a downside. He is one of my top authors because of his ability to hook me in and not let me walk away until it's over (whether the fat lady sings or not!).

Radine Trees Nehring said...

Funny about Maine and food! I didn't get to Maine until well into adulthood, and loved it all, but especially eating lobster. There were even stops along the highway for lobster sandwiches. We had a good friend and neighbor in Arkansas who was from the coast of Maine, and he and family returned there for summers. He took us to docks where lobster boats came in, selected lobsters for us, saw that they were cooked properly, and we ate them at wooden picnic tables nearby. Heaven! We also spent time in a Maine cabin (bathed in a lake, used an outhouse)in a forest, and picked blueberries in the clearing outside our door.

I have wondered--if we returned today, what we experienced then would be changed--or gone. And it was "only" around 30 years ago.

Thanks for taking me back to Maine and awakening memories.

Anonymous said...

Kenny, Really interesting to hear you talk about your mom, Fran. She was the "power" at Naiad, did not want to cross her for sure. I think she liked me as I was one of the kids that started camp at about age 6 or 7 and went until 16 and would have been there at age 17 but had an accident and had brain surgery so could not go to camp. I LOVED NAIAD and could not wait to go to camp every year. Your mom was strange but most adults were to me!! Thanks for writing this story!!
Sandie Bock

Monica Brinkman said...

What a wonderful look into life and olden days within Maine. It was absolutely enchanting.