Thirty Years. Two-thirds of my life. That is how long it had been since I had been back to Maine. I had spent a portion–or all–of every summer from the ages of three to fifteen in our extended family vacation properties, but it had taken me thirty years to go back.
The family legacy in Maine goes back to at least my great-grandfather. He had joined a group of people who had purchased a small peninsula between the towns of Bath and Phippsburg back in the early 1900’s. The Field Cabin, which the descendants of my grandfather now share, was built in 1936. Around 1956, my grandparents, with their family of five children, bought the island house, which had been built in 1912, for a few hundred dollars in back taxes. From the time I was three, when my parents first took me to Maine so my father and his siblings could help scatter his mother’s ashes in the river, we had gone back to vacation and spend time in the family properties. The spring I turned sixteen, we moved from Maryland to Georgia, and although I did not know it, our summers in Maine had come to an abrupt end.
In my clouded and hazy memories, of which there were far too few, I felt as if Maine had been one of the two “safe places” of my childhood. It is hard to write about this, in part because I don’t want to hurt the memory of my newly-departed father nor do I want to hurt my mother or my siblings. Our childhood years were difficult. Mom and Dad often fought, and there was too much alcohol consumption. They loved us, and they had their own personal demons; we had some really good times, but there were also some really bad times. The sexual abuse I experienced at the age of ten at the hand of a “family friend” was another obstacle to my memories. I simply blocked it all out–the good, the bad, the in-between. My defense mechanism was simply to forget. In later years, because I never dealt with that trauma or the emotional consequences of it, I refused to feel at deep levels. The hurting continued because I was continuing it. After going through Making Peace with Your Past and The Wounded Heart I had dealt with my own self-sabotage and the toxicity in my own relationships with God, myself and others (all of which are an on-going process!), but the memories were lost. I feared I would never get them back, maybe because I also feared I would.
When my father died in November, my siblings, my mother and I all sat around Mom’s dining room table and discussed his wishes for his remains. He wanted to be cremated and for his remains, if possible, to be scattered in the New Meadows River as his mother’s ashes had been. We decided we would honor that wish and make it happen. My sister requested that we do it on her 40th birthday, which was July 3. My brother Eric and my sister Jenny had been speaking to me about Maine. They had been going to Maine for at least five years, probably more, spending several weeks each summer. After they returned from Maine last summer, Eric told me that they had decided that this summer was MY summer. Eric was going to fly me up for a week or so, and I would finally get to return to the place that had meant so much to our family. Then, Daddy died, and the plans for me to return morphed into plans for our WHOLE family to be there.
God did his part in providing a very nice tax return, a large chunk of which I set aside to pay for this family pilgrimage. The Handy Man was able to get three days of bereavement leave, which we really ended up needing because of his injury in April when he was out of work for three weeks. I purchased his plane ticket, and we made plans. This was not going to be a cheap trip. I had to drive the van to Maine, I had to have lodging on the way, and then we would need money for all the expenses involved in being there. Each time there was an emergency and I had to dip into the Maine money, I felt a sense of panic, and each time God reminded me that He had already planned for this for me. We had enough money to cover the trip.
Dee had to work, but I was leaving, so it was decided that Sweet Pea would go with me. I also had Little Princess, Lil’ Adventurer, and Curious George traveling with me. Gladys Mae would come a week later with my mother, after she finished the second week of GAP. Lindy, Dee and Star Child would drive up together around the 30th of June, and The Handy Man was going to fly into Portland late on July 1st. Star Child had just adopted a ten month old puppy, and she was loathe to leave Journey in a kennel, so Journey was also to travel to Maine. The logistics were complicated…the coming, the going, the lodging, the driving. Mom and Eric graciously offered to rent a neighboring cabin for all my girls as there was not quite enough room in family property for all of us. I was in the one-room Field Cabin, which sleeps six with the newly installed air mattress, and Jenny was hosting everyone else on Sheep Island, including British cousins Kaf and Ruscha. Both my brothers, my mother, and Jenny’s husband and three children were also in the Island house. But all that was not until around the 30th of June. I was arriving on June 22nd, and it turned out to be a huge blessing for me to have that time.
I had planned to leave home on Father’s Day, June 19th. The week leading up to that day was hectic. I had a million things to do, and no time to do them. Little Princess had won a week at 4H camp, and I had foolishly allowed her to go. I sorely missed her help! Gladys Mae was working for two or three different people that week. Both girls were supposed to be packing their room so The Handy Man and I could put in a new floor while they were gone (for they were going to leave Maine with my mother and travel all the way out to the west coast and back through the middle of the country on a grand tour of the USA lasting about five more weeks.) I had a garden to care for, although we had planted very late in anticipation of being gone and unable to harvest anything in late June and early July. My friend GR had so graciously
been coerced volunteered to weed my garden the weeks I was away, and I needed to show her the ropes. Of course, that week it was beastly hot. I was so grateful for our air-conditioned home!
Two days before I was scheduled to leave, Star Child called me and asked me if I would help her find some shoes appropriate for job searching. She had just moved into my mother’s house, and she was looking for a waitress position in Mom’s town, but she still had a nanny job up here once a week, and she was still helping at the dog rescue up here, too. I did not have time to help her shoe shop, but I couldn’t say no. As it turned out, Little Princess also needed clothes; as I was trying to get her packed for her eight weeks away, I realized that she had very little that fit and almost nothing nice to wear. Camp clothes, she had, but civilized clothes were sorely lacking.
So, the afternoon before I was to leave on my grand adventure, I was climbing into Star Child’s car with Little Princess to go shopping. We very quickly found a pair of shoes, on sale no less, and I thought we were going to be finished quickly. Then Star Child got a peculiar call.
My friend Tammy had called the day before and asked me if Gladys Mae could help her with yard sale clean up that Saturday. Gladys Mae had worked in the chicken houses of her future brother-in-law all morning, and she was presumably at our homeschool group yard sale helping Mama Tammy haul everything away. She had called Star Child to tell her that she had “found a duckling” at the church, and Star Child was adamant that we had to go see it. Now, I protested because I honestly DID NOT HAVE TIME for that! She promised it would take just a minute, and I capitulated. There were a lot of cars I recognized in the parking lot, but they were having yard sale. and I thought nothing of it.
As I rounded the corner of the church building, I saw tables with flowers set up, a buffet line of food, and many of my homechooling friends. I quickly ran through my head all the things that could possibly be happening: had I forgotten a birthday party? Was this a private function being crashed by a duckling? What was going on?!?
Then Tammy said, “This is for you.” I was dumbfounded, speechless, completely and utterly surprised. It was my surprise retirement party after ten years of being group director and more years than that on the board. It was such a sweet thing for my friends to do….and I realized then that the shoe shopping was a ruse, as was the duckling (which was really good because I was already formulating reasons why we did not need to take a duckling home!) There was a huge cake for me. There were cards and gifts. But the biggest gift for me was that my friends would take so much time to clean up after a yard sale (which was NOT a ruse!) and transform the gym for a party complete with food and decorations for me. The Handy Man had gathered the children and had raced to party location, and he had even thought to park behind the other building so I would not see the van. I was so very touched. They blew me away.
Funnily enough, none of the four older girls who knew about the party mentioned it to The Handy Man. Tammy had been shopping in Ingles the day before–in our town, not her town, which she never does–and had run into him. She asked if the plan was set, and he had no idea what she was talking about! She filled him in, and he was able to make it. Tammy and GR also told me separately how thankful they were that I was so distracted that last week as they were afraid they would accidentally blow the surprise! Tammy had graciously offered me the loan of her GPS and I had asked to borrow some of her DVDs for the long days in the van. She had planned for me to pick them up after the yard sale, and thus get me to the party, but I ruined that ruse by calling her and asking if I could come by on Friday to get them. She said she was not going to be home, but I asked if she could either leave them outside on her freezer or leave them on the kitchen table since I know she does not lock her back door. She later told GR that she couldn’t say no to that because we are good enough friends that I could come into her house when she isn’t home to get something! (She ended up being home anyway, and we had a great visit that morning.)
We ate dinner, socialized with our friends, and then they presented me with a plaque. I gathered all my sweet cards and gifts, told Star Child to take the cake to some college friends who would eat it, and we left after about an hour. My friends understood….they had agonized over the timing, knowing I was leaving the next day, but it was the only day that was available for all the players, including my husband and children.
We still had to find clothes for Little Princess. I got into the van with my family, bid goodbye to Star Child who was going elsewhere, and we went shopping. Well, Little Princess and I shopped. The Handy Man and the boys stayed in the van with Sweet Pea. They waited patiently for about 90 minutes as we looked for clothes appropriate for a cross-country trip. In the end we found a number of cute things for Little Princess, and we left with a bag full of things for her to pack.
I had planned to try to go to bed early. Thankfully, all my non-perishable foodstuffs were packed, all the activity bags were packed, the baby supplies were packed, and most of the clothing was packed. I still had to load the interior of the van and pack the coolers, but the roof bag was loaded. The Handy Man told me to forget about cleaning the house; he would take care of that. (I hate coming home to a dirty house! True to his word, it was clean when I arrived home 23 days later.) I fell into bed exhausted much later than I wanted, but feeling mostly ready to leave the next day.
Gladys Mae had chosen to be baptized that morning at the local church where she had connected through the youth group. We decided to go and support her. It was Father’s Day, so there were cards and gifts for the Handy Man. I tried to make a good breakfast…I think we had eggs that morning. We went to church, and then we came home and ate lunch together. We packed the coolers and the rest of the bags, and then Little Princess, Sweet Pea, the boys and I departed. The first leg of our journey was under way….
(see the next installment for the continuation of this journey!)