Sunday, July 24, 2011

vacation in Maine

I used to spend all my summers at my maternal grandparents' house in Manchester, Maine, which is right outside the capital Augusta. It's a big yellow house with an attached guest house between an orchard and the Lions' Club. There's an absurdly long driveway with a birdhouse on a high pole at the end, around which I used to play She-Ra (the birdhouse was Grayskull). Bordering the dark, dense, creepy woods that surround my grandmother's house were berry bushes. Since I couldn't keep track of which berries I could eat even if I wanted to, I spent a lot of time picking berries and smushing them for "paint," which I'm sure the local wildlife really appreciated. There was also a disquieting--hell, even sinister--drab green shed, which is still there, but since it's been painted the same color as the house, it's a lot less threatening.

I haven't been here in several years. Since I left, the kitchen's been redone, but many aspects remain the same: the furniture is still very '70s, a rotary phone hangs by the microwave, a bust of my great-grandmother sits on the sink in the downstairs bathroom watching you pee, giraffe figurines intermingle with portraits both of my family and bearded "mountain men," who look like they're straight out of the Lord of the Rings, and no one is ever on time for anything.

Right now, my grandmother and mother are poring through my great-grandmother Billie Chapman Elder's old illustrations. She used to do weekly lifestyle single-block cartoons (really just drawings) for the Silver Lake News (in Massachusetts), and my grandmother kept shoe boxes of clippings. We also have gone through tons of other drawings and letters from my great-grandmother, my grandmother, my mom, me, and my siblings. In between, I've been researching the books my Billie illustrated. None of them are super well-known by anyone of our generation, but all are available online, though some only have one copy available on eBay, one for $150.

Went to Boothbay Harbor yesterday for a little shopping and food. Bought a Christmas ornament, a painting on a mussel shell that is decidedly touristy and yet absolutely awesome.

A lot of the restaurants we went to when I was young don't exist anymore. Several of them were diners that sold homemade Saran-wrapped whoopie pies or were based out of actual houses. Since I've been here, though, we've been eating more at places like Subway or TGI Friday's. Not exactly authentic, though we did have brunch at Slate's (I kind of hate that place, but at least it isn't a chain) in Hallowell. We had lunch the other day at the Tugboat Inn in Boothbay Harbor, which is pretty cool, because it's in what feels like an actual tugboat (not sure if it really is) and dinner at Taste of Maine, which is a bizarrely-decorated restaurant in Woolwich that has very serviceable clam strips, something I don't get on the West Coast. The best thing was Whoopie pie ice cream at the Ice Cream Factory in Boothbay. Swoon.

My family is big on games, even at restaurants, and while we're waiting for our food sometimes we'll take a long word or title and everyone has to come up with as many words as possible from the original. I kill at this game. Then last night we played a dice game called Stack. I won, which pissed off my sister.

The two things I hate about New England summers have been out in full effect: bugs and humidity. It's cooler in Maine than anywhere south of here, but this house is an insect magnet. At about 3:00 this morning I, either unconscious or semiconscious, swatted something on my knee. The sudden sensation of liquid emitting from a big, squishy thing brought me to full consciousness and struggling with the light switch, at which I found the bulk of a dead large ant on my other hand (the rest of it residing on my bed and my knee), and so I screamed, leapt out of bed, ran to the bathroom, washed it off, and had trouble sleeping for the remainder of the evening. Ah, vacation.
In summing up, I wish I had some kind of affirmative message to leave you with. I don't. Would you take two negative messages?
-- Woody Allen