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 LonePine.
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 toMom’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 suddenawareness 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
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