August 26, 2010
I’ve seen a few houses fall down in my time. Demolition, fire, that sort of thing.
Never been in one while it was happening, though. Not until that night.
It was the last night of vacation for the year. It had started out calmly enough. It had rained heavily for the previous 24 hours, so we were ahead of the game. Instead of doing a lot of running around, we had sat in The Osprey, the little cabin on the Maine coast where we have vacationed on and off for the past 14 years, and had packed up most of our belongings.
I won’t say exactly where it is, because the people in that little community have so far escaped the worst of the thronging Maine tourist trade, and want to keep it that way. It’s on a working harbor, where almost all the boats moored there belong to lobstermen, and it’s common to awaken briefly in the pre-dawn hours to hear diesel engines muttering out toward the open water.
Not a bad way to start the day. At least for us. I’m guessing lobsterpersons feel the same way about their jobs as the rest of us do about ours: Some days, it’s fine. Most days, it’s just what you do to get by.
I’ll call the owner of the place Leo. He’s a retired school teacher on the shady side of 90, but still active. He and the live-in manager at the cottages, all of which are named after sea- or shore-birds, have been clearing several acres of woods for the past few years. It’s starting to look like a park.
I have a photo of Leo building The Osprey in the spring of 1950, a month after my first birthday. It was the first of a double handful of cottages that he would build over the next decade or so, perched on a long slope from the farmhouse where he was born and still lives, down to the saltwater.
People come to Leo’s cabins like they come to family reunions. Some have been coming for decades. Some who bring their children have been coming since they themselves were kids. Every cabin has a composition book sitting on one of the plain pine shelves, and just about everybody who stays keeps a journal in them about their time at the harbor. Sometimes the entries are about things to do, where to eat, tips about this and that. But over the years, some of the entries become more personal.
The writers are from New York, Maryland, Florida, England, New Mexico, and Texas. The entries were as varied as the people who wrote them, in penmanship neat and tidy or fat and loopy. Kathy A. and her dog Simon spent a month at The Tern every year from 1981 until June of 1987, when Simon, she noted, turned 12 years old. Then she disappeared from the record.
A family from Hartford, Ct., bring their cats Signe and Moussey, and spend their vacation time seeking landmarks familiar to their ancestors: “Traveled to Acadia – 3 hrs. – and got seats on the mail boat from Northeast Harbor out to Baker island….to visit the lighthouse that was manned in the 1800s by our great grandfather. It was a thrill to be the first relatives in all that time to return to the remote island.”
In September of 1987, a New Jersey woman named Nora stayed four days at The Tern with her 14-month-old son: “We are here because we have just suffered an intense personal loss and I, at least, am seeking restoration in Maine. My son is oblivious to the unfairness of life.”
So, coming to The Osprey every year is a respite, but something that is a part of other lives, indirectly, yes, but a dance, of sorts, a shared ballet with strangers and the ragged coast of Maine. I once researched the address and phone number for several families who stayed in The Osprey and, before that, The Tern. But I never contacted any of them. It would be out of step, a break in the dance.
So, there we sat, the last Friday night of the trip. Everything but what we would need for the trip home was packed, zipped, tied, rubber-banded or otherwise tucked away. I would have already loaded the car, but the night was very dark and the grass slippery from the rain. I thought to wait until first thing in the morning.
The stereo was packed, so there was no music but the soughing of the wind ‘round the corners of the cabin, and the faint slap of waves on the rocks below. Just about every light was on, because the night somehow wanted brightness.
In a bit, I thought, I would light a fire, read a bit before taking a shower, and then go to bed.
About 15 minutes later, the front door popped open. I started to get up to close it, and the house fell down.
The Osprey dropped about three feet on the harbor side and started sliding. I sat down – hard – in my chair, and clutched my bowl of ice cream tightly to my chest and waited, wondering if we would hit the water. All the furniture and luggage in the room slid toward us. Sue sat in her chair, eyes the size of saucers. Lamps fell, flared, and went dark. Vases leapt from shelves, books and touristy gee-gaws followed. Then, everything was still except for Sue’s alarmed “Eek!”
I finished my ice cream, waiting to see if The Osprey was done fidgeting. I got up, and said: “Damn.”
The power was still on, though we could hear that a water pipe somewhere had broken. I was very happy that I had decided not to build a fire in the Franklin stove after all
I stepped to the front door. The porch lay at a crazy angle, and had come to rest several feet from the steps.
“Damn,” I said again, figuring if I couldn’t be useful, I would at least be consistent.
I climbed over the porch, and looked around.
The rain had so soaked the ground that the front piers had slipped out from under the cabin. The Osprey had dropped, and then slid toward the harbor bank about three feet. This was a matter of great interest to me, because the edge of the bank was only about five feet away to begin with. It was quite a ride.
It took a couple of hours to get us set up in another cabin for the night, and about as long the next morning to get the rest of our things out over the tilted, linoleum floor and busted porch.
Melinda, Leo’s daughter, told us the next day that the family was considering their options for what to do. The Osprey was actually in good shape….not even a window broken or a wall awry. But it was old, and at the bottom of a steep slope. One of the options, she said, was simply to do away with it.
That hit me later, halfway home, when I realized I still had the key to The Osprey. I emailed Melinda and told her I’d get it back to her. But inside, I knew there might not be any real reason to do that.
Whatever they do, I hope they remember the little stack of composition books somewhere on the floor of the old cabin. It would be a real shame to lose all those stories, all those steps in the long dance.
(Note: This column first appeared in late Oct. of 2007. I am happy to report that the Osprey is settled sturdily on a fresh concrete foundation, and in a few weeks I will be back in it for two weeks.)
© 2010 Marsh Creek Media,
“Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
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August 18, 2010
Over dinner with friends tonight, I was asked to post this. So, here it is.
Well, this Thursday is the big day. Turkey day. I used to have the figures handy that told how many turkeys die to make Thanksgiving possible, but I’ve lost them.
It’s a lot.
Not so long ago, things were a lot simpler. A lot of the people I knew forswore their store-bought birds and got a live bird from a farmer.
Trouble is, too many of the folks who gave this “old-fashioned” method a try were young people from the ‘burbs. Their experience with “nature” was getting draft ed by their parents to help fight the war on crabgrass.
My neighbors at a little mobile home park in Georgia are a case in point.
The couple, let’s call them Tom and Tif fany, were both raised in one of those towns squeezed like putty at the seams where New York and New Jersey are glued together.
They grew up in some development named after the trees that had been cut down to build it.
Tom was a sleepy, even lethargic sort of guy. It was hard to tell if he was awake or sleepwalking.
Tiffany was, well, perky, given to hare brained ideas and sudden enthusiasms.
Tom was at the university, studying to be a biologist. Tiffany worked somewhere as a secretary.
The way it was told to me, one Thanks giving, Tiffany decided she would surprise Tom with a turkey.
She purchased a big hen from a farmer who swore on a stack of Greenpeace pam phlets that he had raised the thing from a poult and had never fed it anything he could not pronounce.
Back at home, Tiffany, raised on painless supermarket turkeys, could not bring her self to apply the firewood axe to the bird’s neck. The brief stay of execution ended, however, when Tiffany found Tom’s supply of chloroform.
She put the turkey to sleep.
Triumphant and little nauseated, Tiffany got the big hen plucked after a fashion, but the idea of trimming off the head and feet was beyond her sensibilities, not to men tion the idea of moving all the turkey’s in side stuff to the outside.
So, into the fridge went the nude bird, awaiting the arrival of Tom. Remember, the turkey was to be a surprise for Tom.
Tiffany’s unflappable husband came home in the late afternoon, tired, burdened by thick books and reeking of formalde hyde. Tiffany told him she had a surprise for him in the refrigerator.
Tom opened the door.
The little light came on.
The turkey woke up.
Naked. In pain.
And really, really ticked off.
With a hellish gobble, she exploded out from among the beansprouts and leftover chili, straight at Tom. The now-streamlined and furious bird dug its claws into Tom’s sweater and began pecking and biting him on the face and arms.
Tom, as intended, was surprised. And more lively than usual.
Still screaming, the turkey dropped Tom and charged into Tiffany, knocking her backward, breaking the glass front of her china cabinet.
The bird bashed the portable TV off its stand, knocked a life-size poster of Elvis the King from the walls before it flapped through the still-open trailer door. A strange, pale apparition in the fading light, the turkey fled gobbling fiercely into the depths of the trailer park.
The next day, Thanksgiving, I dined on a properly quiet and immobile turkey with my mother and brother. Tom and Tiffany went out for dinner at a local restaurant that featured a large and placid salad bar.
The attack turkey, I found out later, met its fate at the hands of a little old lady down the street who had never heard of “Mother Earth News,” but who knew a dinner on the run when she saw one.
August 16, 2010
This weekend I helped a young man of my acquaintance begin his instruction in the dying art of driving a stick shift.
I took my old Dodge truck, a well-worn workhorse nearly 30 years old. It has a five-speed that’s a little cranky at times, but good for the instruction of a 14-year-old – we’ll call him T – whose experience with driving has mostly been via computer games which, unlike real life, have a reset button.
His dad had first honors, of course. A boy’s first experiences behind the wheel should be with his dad, if he’s lucky enough to have one around.
Part of the experience, of course, is to be reassured that sudden stalls, jackrabbit starts, and slung gravel have all been done before and are nothing to be ashamed of. The reassurances come, of course, with the recounting of a few examples from our own youth. They also come with the proviso that we will tell everybody about the more extravagant errors committed by our student, but we will end with comments about how much better, after all, he did than we did.
It’s just part of the tradition. Everybody in my high school, for example, knew how I had gotten the drivers’ education car, an enormous burgundy ’65 Chevy Belair with a manual tranny, up on two wheels in a parking lot.
I had a lump on the back of my head for a week from where the coach’s UGA class ring whacked me after that one.
T. talked about different kinds of vehicles all day. How he wants to have a 4×4 pickup truck for hauling stuff, a sports car for going fast, a motorcycle, and an ATV. I think he also mentioned a jet-ski.
Yeah, me, too.
I had forgotten how important all that is when a boy is that age, before he gets his first real taste of freedom with his own drivers’ license and, if he’s really lucky, his own car. I bought my own, and they were real junkers. There’s no better way to learn about the operation of a vehicle than to own one that needs a lot of tinkering to keep it operating.
Back then, in the 1960s, I could tell you the make and model of everything on both sides of the road. Today, I can still do that, as long as whatever is on either side of the road was build in the 1960s or before. Almost everything else looks equally indistinguishable.
There was something else I had forgotten about being 14 or so. Something that occupies most of a young fella’s attention at that age.
On the way to see a blood-and-guts action movie (lots of muscle, car chases, explosions, and gun-fire…a perfect guy pic) T asked me if I had ever noticed that the clear plastic covers on the instrument panel, conical with black plastic tips, looked just like breasts.
I had never noticed. I had always been looking at the gauges.
“No, I never noticed that,” I told him. “However, I promise you that I will never be able to look at those gauges the same way, ever again.”
© 2010 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites: