Camp turns 60


Camp, c. 1957

Sixty years ago today, on August 27, 1954, my mother signed her name as the “Grantee” on a warranty deed in a South Paris attorney’s office, handed over $200 to Earle Palmer, who represented the Mann Company (the “Grantor”), and became the owner of “a certain lot or parcel of land situated in Woodstock, in said County of Oxford and State of Maine.”

I’m not sure why it was my mother, and not my father, or both of them, who signed the deed, and no one else seems to know, either. So I’ve made up my own story about it, some of which I can be pretty sure is true, thanks to the fairly reliable memories of my four older siblings, especially those of my two oldest brothers, who, although they may not agree on all of the details (did the family later buy a used Rangeley boat, or was it a Casco Bay boat? And what, exactly, is a Casco Bay boat, anyway?) generally agree on important things, like where the family went on vacation in 1954 (North Pond), whether it was a rainy two weeks (it was) and which kid most often got stuck riding in the way-back of the station wagon on that trip (Andy).

The story I’ve made up goes like this:

In early August of 1954, my parents and their four kids, for the second year in a row, rent a camp from Ada Balentine, a friend of my grandmother’s, at the far end of North Pond, for their annual two-week vacation. It rains a lot of the time they’re there, but the kids have a blast at the lake anyway, and my father, to keep from getting antsy, uses the rainy days to build and install kitchen cupboards in Ada’s log cabin, which is only a couple of years old. (Ada’s cabin, and the cupboards, are still there.)

Camp lots have just been offered for sale along the undeveloped east shore of North Pond, and, on one of the few days that it doesn’t rain, my parents, who are native Mainers, but living in exile in Connecticut, go over to take a look. They are both longing for a little piece of their home state to call their own, and as soon as they lay eyes on “Lot #10, in Mann Camp Lots Hamlin Grant #13,” with its pine and hemlock trees and wild high-bush blueberries and, especially, the enormous flat-topped boulder perched on the water’s edge, they know they’ve found it.

They take the kids along the shore in Ada’s boat to show them the lot, and surprise them with the news that next summer, they’ll be camping on the lake on their very own lot. Not only that, but my mother and the kids will spend the whole summer there, with my father joining them on weekends and during his vacation.

In my story, my father meets with Earle Palmer the next day, pulls a $20 bill from his wallet and hands it over to secure the deal. The closing is set for August 27th.

The kids, of course, are beside themselves with excitement. Leslie christens the boulder “Sunny Rock,” and it becomes their touchstone. Driving out the Gore Road as they leave Ada’s camp to head home to Connecticut at the end of their vacation, my father stops for a moment where the road comes closest to the lake. They all get out and look across to the unbroken east shore, where, even in the rain and fog, they can easily pick out their lot—“It’s the one with Sunny Rock!” Leslie says.

My father has used up all of his vacation time, so a couple of weeks later, on August 27, 1954, a Friday, my mother drives back to Maine, taking Leslie along for company. They stop in South Paris and my mother signs the necessary papers, the hand holding the pen shaking slightly with excitement.

They’ll stay overnight in Bethel with my grandmother, then drive back to Connecticut the next day. Although she hasn’t planned to drive in the road to the camp lot on this trip—there’s not much there to see, really—my mother can’t resist taking the right turn off of Route 26 when they get to it. They bounce over the muddy mile of new dirt track, twigs scraping against the car windows, and park in the road at the top of the lot. They get out and clamber over the brush left behind by the logging operation that cut all the marketable timber off the lots before they were placed up for sale.

The lot slopes steeply down from the road and is littered with discarded treetops and limbs. Stumps, with roots like bony knees where the water has rushed down from Moody Mountain, which looms over the east shore, and eroded the dirt around them, poke up from the uneven ground. There isn’t a level place to be found big enough to pitch a tent on. My mother has a brief but intense what-have-we-done? moment.

Then Leslie takes her hand. “Come on, Mommy,” she says. “I’ll help you jump across the moat to Sunny Rock so we can look at our lake.”

They stand together on the sun-warmed boulder and look out at North Pond, which, on this cloudless, not-quite-fall day, is an improbable cobalt blue.

Just as it will be on another cloudless, not-quite-fall day, sixty years later.

CAMP 2014 2014-08-27 003

The view from Sunny Rock on August 27, 2014.

I’m a little afraid of barber shops

Steve and Peggy weddingAfter seeing this photo from my brother’s wedding (49 years ago today!) in which I was a flower girl, I realized that I was probably one of very few bridal attendants—ever—whose hair for the big day was styled by Frank the Barber, and that reminded me of a post that originally appeared on my old blog ( in March of 2009. Here’s an edited version:

For years now, when I go to get my hair cut, I’ve been saying things like, “Go ahead and cut it short,” and “Don’t worry, you can’t cut it too short for me!” I’ve had lots of haircuts where the hairdresser thought she was done, only to have me ask her to take a little more off.

It wasn’t always this way.

As a kid, I had a lengthy series of severely traumatizing haircuts from a large, well-muscled Italian man with a flat-top—Frank the Barber—in downtown Milford, Connecticut. At first, I was too young to realize that most little girls didn’t get their hair cut at barbershops, where they had to wait their turn sandwiched rather snugly between Pasquale from the pizza place, still in his sauce-covered apron, and a prematurely balding young salesman with a comb-over.

Even after I figured it out, when my mother told me that Frank’s haircuts were much cheaper than those from the salons where my friends went, I didn’t complain too much about it, although it was embarrassing to realize I was having my hair cut at the same place as some of the boys in my class.

Finally, though, after a particularly bad outcome—Frank, struggling to even up my bangs, took a little off one side, then a little off the other, then a little more in the middle, and ended up cutting them so short that Kevin Roman, the meanest boy in the third-grade church choir (I’ve changed his name, just in case he’s no longer mean, and regrets his past), said, “You look just like a baby!” when he saw me—I put my foot down.

After Kevin Roman told me I looked like a baby, I refused to go back to Frank’s Barbershop anymore, and my mother started taking me to the place where she got her hair done, “Mr. Sam, Coiffures” on the Boston Post Road. Her own hairdresser was not Mr. Sam, but the chatty, somewhat abrasive Vi, who had ongoing problems with her teenage children and her love life, but whom my mother liked because she could trust her not to tease her hair too much after she took out the rollers.

I got my hair cut by whoever happened to be available at the salon, occasionally even Mr. Sam himself. The haircuts I got at Mr. Sam, Coiffures were not much different from Frank’s, except that they probably cost three times as much, but at least I didn’t have to worry about running into any boys I knew there. (For all I knew, maybe even Kevin Roman got his hair cut at Frank’s, a possibility too terrible to contemplate.)

In middle school, when I finally decided to rebel, I just stopped getting my hair cut at all. Every girl I knew wore her hair long, straight, and parted in the middle, so that’s how I wore mine for the next few years, too, much to my mom’s dismay. For some reason, she really, really liked short hair, and she campaigned tirelessly for me to get mine cut. By high school graduation, I had caved and gotten it cut short again—more because a few of my friends were wearing their hair short than because it pleased my mother.

I kept my hair short and sensible throughout the late 70s and 80s. I was too busy getting married, working, building a house, having kids, moving to a new house, getting divorced, getting married again, and that sort of thing to want to mess with long hair.

Then I grew it long again. I was in my thirties, and my mother continued to bring up frequently how much cuter my hair had looked when it was short, and to make veiled references to my advancing age, and the inappropriateness of long hair after one is out of one’s teens. In fact, long after she had stopped sighing about my unfinished college degree and given up trying to get me to go to church, she still campaigned for short hair.

After my mom died, I cut my hair short again and realized that, along with all the other things she was right about, short hair probably does look better on me. I’ve kept it short ever since.

Score another one for you, Mom. But I’m still a little afraid of barber shops.

Deertrees Theatre, “Maine’s most enchanting playhouse”

SUMMER 2014 2014-08-09 008Last night—yet again—I broke that rule that I claim to have about never leaving Oxford County and went to Deertrees Theatre in Harrison to see a play. (To be honest, I break that rule fairly often lately, although I do try to do as much of my shopping, eating, and gadding about locally as I can. And if you look at a map of Maine, it’s easy to make the argument that the towns of Bridgton and Harrison, being located in a funny-shaped little part of Cumberland County that protrudes into Oxford County, should really be in Oxford County anyway. So I didn’t have to stray far from Oxford County, and only about 32 miles from camp, to get there.)

It was my second trip to Deertrees this summer, and only my third ever. We had “discovered” the place last summer, after a writer friend mentioned that the play “A Couple of Blaguards” was being performed there on August first, Will and Tony’s birthday, and was well worth seeing. We packed up some sandwiches and went to see it.

We loved the play and got completely hooked on the funky little theatre, where you can picnic on the grounds before a performance, view an art exhibit in the gallery behind the stage, and buy a treat at intermission from the Salt Lick Cafe.

This year, we bought a “Vallee Pass,” which allowed us to purchase six tickets at a discounted price, to be used any way we wanted during the course of the season. We saw the terrific Boston-based Beatles tribute band, Beatles for Sale—Deertrees’ most popular event of the summer—last month, and “The Grand O’Neal,” written by Maine playwright and actor David Butler, last night. Both were wonderful performances, professionally produced, but with the added bonus of the opportunity for connections with the performers and theatre staff you just wouldn’t find in a larger venue.

If you’ve never been to this gem of a theatre in the middle of the woods, you don’t know what you’re missing. It has quirky Adirondack-style architecture, a complete lack of pretension, and more history than you’ll be able to absorb in just one visit.

Commissioned and built in 1936 by Harrison summer resident Enrica Clay Dillon as a 350-seat opera house with near-perfect acoustics, it hosted operas, plays, and concerts for several decades before being abandoned in the 1980s and falling into disrepair and foreclosure. It was in danger of being burned as a training exercise for the local fire department when a group of concerned citizens joined forces to try to save it.

Extensive repairs and restoration allowed it to reopen, and it has operated as a non-profit for the past two decades, with an efficient if overworked staff of four paid employees and some dedicated volunteers.

Artistic and Executive Director Andrew Harris wanders around the grounds before performances, greeting patrons, searching out first-timers, and launching into a brief history of the place. He welcomes the audience at the start of each show, and this season he also appeared onstage as part of the Deertrees New Repertory Company.

All of the employees and volunteers are just as helpful, friendly, and obviously passionate about the place, and it’s easy to see why. Deertrees really is, as they’re quick to remind you, “Maine’s most enchanting playhouse.”

There are just a couple more performances left in Deertrees’ short summer season. If you can’t make it to one this year, make plans now to get there next summer, and visit the theatre’s website,