Uncle Ermo, Dad’s brother, had a cabin next to a bay along the coast of Maine a few miles north of Castine and that’s where we spent a good share of our time on vacation every other Summer. A hundred yards north of the cabin on the rocky shore there was a creek that fluctuated in size with the rising and falling tide and along its eastern bank rested the remains of a small brickyard and an old, wooden fishing boat about the size of the family car.
On or about high tide and when it wasn’t raining Richard and I would spend hours throwing sticks in the water only to bombard them with the bricks that had washed back to the creek bank during our absence. When the tide went out, we’d search for crabs and occasionally help dig for clams. At low tide I also remember looking forward to climbing to the top of a large boulder about thirty yards from the shoreline immediately in front of a rickety, wooden, weather beaten, open roofed cabana located slightly above the high water mark twenty yards from the cabin’s back door. The cabana comes to mind because I can remember Dad and Uncle Ermo sitting on a bench there feasting on steamed clams dipped in melted butter.
I remember getting up early in the morning and driving a mile down the road to fill large jars with water from an open well head where ground water poured into a large rusty tub that rested car’s width from the edge of the highway leading to Castine. I don’t recall seeing livestock in the area but I’m sure when we got home the water was purified the old fashioned way — boiling it on the stove in the narrow kitchen adjacent from the back door. I also remember that the facilities were located in a part of the cabin you’d have to go outside to gain access to. In a way I guess it was basically an outhouse built indoors.
When it did rain (more often than not, just drizzle all day) everyone would convene in the cabin’s cozy living room to enjoy the fire, put together puzzles, talk, and play cards. Weekends we’d be joined by Uncle Ermo, Aunt Molly, and occasionally their daughters (my cousins) Bonnie and Robin and on at one weekend Mom’s side of the family — Uncles Fred and Clair, Aunts Alena and Ellen, cousins Robert, Fred, and David — joined us as well.
I remember one year Uncle Fred bringing along a 12 gauge shotgun. Nailing a beer can or two to the top of a six foot length of cord wood, we all waited for the tide to take it out 50 yards or so before the shooting began. What brings the occasion to mind is that, offered the opportunity to fire the thing, I failed to follow Uncle Fred’s instructions. Pushing the butt of the gun away from my shoulder just as I pulled the trigger, I ended up on my fanny with a seriously bruised shoulder.
The annual family reunion was always preceded with a trip to Belfast to buy fresh lobster which led to a stop on the way back at a roadside stand offering fried clams. When we were in Belfast we would also drop by to visit my Great Aunt Mary, a spirited spinster and retired teacher who lived on the second floor of a modest two story, brick apartment house with a number of other single women. Among them was Charlotte, a thin woman with a large goiter on her neck who occupied the large apartment at the foot of the stairs. I remember one summer her asking me to cut down a stand of bamboo that had grown in the side yard so I’m guessing she probably owned the place. As I cut it down I had to wonder how it managed to survive Maine’s brutally cold winters. My reward came in the form of a large box of candy.
Castine was a neat little place with a two block main street which rested 20 to 30 ft above the dock where the Maine Maritime Academy was located. Of the shops there I looked forward to one particular general store that offered a coconut chocolate bar wrapped loosely in a square envelop. That memory was tainted a bit on my last visit because on the drive back to the cabin I found dead moths in the package.
The real highlight of our trips to Castine though was the visit we’d make to the hotdog stand down the hill and adjacent to the dock. The buns were like small rectangular loaves of bread, split down the middle lengthwise, buttered and toasted on a grill.
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