The end of an era

Cynthia and Peg (2)

My camp neighbor and friend, Cynthia Lamb, passed away a couple of weeks ago, after a long and quietly remarkable life.

“It truly is the passing of the last torch from the early settlers on the Mann Road,” wrote my brother Andy when I shared the news in a family email.

In 1954, when my parents bought a lot on North Pond in Woodstock, Maine, only a few camps had already been built on our road.

Two had been built before the road was put in, by floating the lumber and other materials across the lake. One, known as “Camp Comfort,” had been there in some form since the 1890s, tucked into a cove on the wild shore; the other was just a few years old. Four more had been built in the past year or so.

The road itself had been roughly bulldozed along a mile-and-a-quarter stretch of the pond’s east shore when the owners of the Mann Company, which operated mills in West Paris and Bryant Pond and conducted logging operations throughout the area, came to the realization that waterfront lots had a value beyond that of their standing timber.

The ponds of Greenwood and Woodstock had been home to a scattering of summer homes since the late nineteenth century, but post-WWII prosperity brought a bit of disposable income to both local families and vacationers “from away,” and rustic retreats quickly gained in popularity.

My brother Steve was old enough to recall that, although the Mann Company was selling lots for camps, they were priced according to the worth of the harvestable timber that grew on them. Our parents chose our lot in part because of its location and the huge boulder that sits at the water’s edge, but also because the trees on it were predominantly hemlock, making it cheaper than the pine lot next door.

They paid two hundred dollars for a steep but buildable lot with a hundred and fifty feet of lake frontage.

Sixty-five years ago, a pair of Mainers living in exile in New Jersey but longing for a piece of their home state to call their own, and their four young children, ages almost five to almost eleven, could afford to make their dream of a lakefront camp come true.

So could a young casket-maker and undertaker from West Paris and his wife, a beautician. Like my parents, Sayward and Cynthia Lamb purchased their lot in 1954 and began to build their camp the following year.

For three summers, my father and Sayward loaned each other tools or ladders or an extra pair of hands as they built their camps, a hundred yards or so apart.

After my father died suddenly at the beginning of the summer of 1958, my stricken mother (who was—unwittingly—pregnant with me), in addition to planning and carrying out his funeral, consoling her children, and attending to various end-of-the-school-year details, made the same preparations for the yearly escape to Maine that my parents had made together in previous years.

She also made the decision to keep the family station wagon and sell my father’s “get-to-work car” (“a green ’53 Chevy sedan with 3-on-the-tree,” recalls my brother Greg, to whom such details were important) to Sayward Lamb.

Sayward, who surely bought the car primarily as a way to help my family out, was nevertheless glad of the opportunity to purchase a rust-free “southern car” that had never been through a Maine winter, and he drove all the way to New Jersey from Maine with a friend to pick it up.

“It was a combination of comforting and queasy to come in the road and see it there in back of their camp,” says my brother Andy, who was eleven that summer.

I was less than four months old the first time I met Sayward and Cynthia, and they will always be a part of my earliest memories of camp.

Sayward was the president of our private camp road association from the time it was formed until the day he died. He was a fixture on “road work day” each summer, standing up to ride on the ancient grader as it was towed behind someone’s car, working the levers to smooth the spring ruts.

Cynthia occasionally did my mother’s hair at the beauty parlor attached to their home a few miles away in West Paris, where she went to work a few days each week, returning to camp in the afternoons for a walk on the road and a swim.

Her daily walks on the Mann Road formed a habit she maintained throughout her life, and while my own mother had a definitely relaxed set of standards when it came to “camp clothes,” in all of her summers at the lake, I never saw Cynthia out walking   in anything that couldn’t be called an “outfit”: often she wore tidy capri pants with a matching top, coordinated sandals, and earrings, and she always—always!—had perfectly polished toenails.

Growing up on the lake, my sister played with the Lambs’ older son. (I wish I could find a photo that I know exists, of Leslie and Jimmy proudly paddling their just-completed homemade houseboat, taken just moments before it sank.) When I was old enough to learn to catch frogs and salamanders, I hero-worshipped the Lambs’ daughter, Natalie, who was a few years older and knew all the best places to find them.

Cynthia Rhubarb Festival

After I joined the same UU church in West Paris that Cynthia had attended all of her adult life, I got to spend time with her there on Sundays and at special events.

By the time I was three or four, I had taken to escaping out the back door of our camp, climbing the steep hill to the road, and trekking over to the Lambs’ camp, where I would press my nose against the screen door of their kitchen and ask Cynthia for a peanut butter sandwich.

My exasperated sister would usually show up a few minutes later to retrieve me, at the behest of our mother, who was mortified to think the Lambs would assume she never fed me.

Between the mid-1950s and the mid-1960s, the number of camps on the Mann Road grew to about twenty. Of those, several, like ours, are still owned by the offspring of the people who first built them. But Cynthia was the last of those original “early settlers,” as Andy called them.

After Sayward passed away a decade or so ago, I stopped in to visit with Cynthia as often as I could, and often joined her on walks with our neighbor Joan. We would walk the mile from Cynthia’s camp to the Gore Road, where she always insisted on touching the edge of the tar road with her foot “to make it count”—even though it meant climbing a steep hill to reach it.

Cynthia had boundless energy. Even after a fall outside her camp, when her family put its collective foot down and forbid her to stay there overnight alone, she would sneak up to camp from her home for the day to sweep the steps, wash the windows,  and go for her walks on the road.

It will never be quite the same on the Mann Road again. In my sixty summers at camp, there has never been one without Cynthia. It really is the end of an era.

Cynthia and me

My last visit with Cynthia, last November.




“The dearest friend I never met”


Last Sunday, I lost a dear friend. Sandra Martin Morgan made my world a brighter, better place with her sharp wit, her plainspoken wisdom, and her genuine kindness…and all without us ever having met in person.

Four years ago this month, I took over writing the Locke’s Mills column for our local weekly newspaper, the Bethel Citizen. In my first column, I included some bits of news about the municipal budget, wrote about attending Maine Maple Weekend at Brian and Suzanne Dunham’s farm, and added a link to this blog, with a note that “my latest entry includes some reflections on Locke’s Mills and why it means so much to me.”

Soon after that first column appeared, I received a comment on my blog from a new reader.

“Loved this!” Sandy wrote. “I mentally went on the journey with your descriptive walk through Locke’s Mills…I moved away 40 years ago and still miss my home town. I was born in Greenwood Center near the shores of Twitchell Pond and still write a blog about growing up there. Your blog was like a trip back home and oh, so well written. Thank you and I will be looking for more of your columns in the Citizen which I receive each week by mail!”

She signed up to follow my blog, I signed up to follow hers (, Sandy and I began corresponding via email and Facebook, and our mutual admiration society was born.

That’s how it began—as a mutual admiration society. It wasn’t exactly a friendship—not yet.

After all, Sandy and I had never met; she had moved away from her beloved hometown just about the same time I landed here, and we had just missed each other.

Before we could really be friends, we needed to learn more about each other. Facebook helped, and so did our respective blog posts, through which we learned about each other’s childhoods, families, and friends.

I learned that she was Brian Dunham’s mother. And Ethel Martin’s daughter. And Roland, Rex, and Curt Martin’s Sandy and Rexsister. And a cousin (first, second, third, or a few times removed) to just about everyone else I had come to know in my 40 years in and around Greenwood.

I came to Greenwood just a year or two too late to read her weekly columns in the Norway Advertiser-Democrat. For a decade, from the mid-1960s until the mid-1970s, she kept the world abreast of the happenings in her Rowe Hill neighborhood, and, in particular, at “Rocky Top,” the hillside farm where she raised her four children, chased after wayward livestock, and, whenever she could, found a few minutes’ peace to write.

Sandy and Alan before concert 1981I arrived too late to hear her perform, often with other members of her musically talented family, at talent shows and other events at the Locke’s Mills Town Hall.

And I was too late to sit down with her in person, perhaps over a cup of tea and one of her Gram Martin’s toffee squares, and hear her stories of growing up in Greenwood Center, or of skiing over the pastures of Rowe Hill, or of bravely making a new life for herself in middle age.

But, through our lively correspondence, we soon learned how much we had in common, not only our love of Greenwood, but also our affinity for—among other things—cats, cookies, quirky characters, Kris Kristofferson, and the poetry of Robert Service.

Now and then, we exchanged small gifts through the mail. I sent her Christmas cookies and homemade granola, and she sent me a copy of her book, Just…Thinking, a collection of her newspaper columns, which her four kids had surprised her by publishing in 2010.

One day last summer I tore open a package from Sandy to find two volumes of Robert Service’s poetry, and a note in which she chided herself for not being able to locate the third volume, which contained some of our favorite poems.

A couple of months later another package arrived, and another note—unable to find her own copy to pass along to me, she had scoured eBay for a copy of The Spell of the Yukon for me, to complete the set.Sandy_RS books

Some of our most satisfying online conversations were about our shared passion for writing, and what it has meant to us both.

“Writing has saved my life several times,” she once wrote to me. “If that is too dramatic, it has helped me climb out of dark holes a number of times. It has kept me on an even keel and keeps me from feeling sorry for myself.”

After her success as a local columnist for the Advertiser-Democrat, Sandy went on to cover human interest stories, take photos, and write a regular feature for the paper’s monthly supplement, “The Western Mainer,” in which she interviewed local entertainers.

She also covered local stories for the Lewiston Sun and wrote occasional features for the Maine Sunday Telegram and Portland Press Herald.

She freelanced for regional magazines, as well as for Grit, Farm Journal, and Yankee, and published several volumes of her poetry.


Although Sandy left Greenwood more than 40 years ago to live in Albany, New York, she never lost her love for the characters and special places of her hometown.

Just a year ago, with the help of her son Gary, she published her memoir, Salt Pork and Dandelion Greens: Growing Up Greenwood, a collection of essays she originally wrote for her blog. Poignant, evocative, and often hilarious, it immediately struck a chord with her many friends and relatives back home.

Sandy and I jokingly called each other “the dearest friend I’ve never met.”

“You have become such a good friend without our ever having met and I feel as though I have known you forever,” she told me recently. “One of these days I am coming up and taking you up on using your house for a few days…that is such a sweet offer.”

How I wish we could have shared that cup of tea at my kitchen table, and a couple of Gram Martin’s toffee squares. Sandy, I’ll miss you so much.