When Jerry wins the lottery


“When Jerry wins the lottery, that’s the first thing to go,” Donna says.

She is referring to the Drawer of Death, the cheap plastic drawer in the kitchen at camp, where we keep all the sharp knives. It regularly falls down, spilling its potentially lethal contents, if you don’t know exactly how to open it.Drawer_of_Death

Donna has been coming to camp ever since we were twelve years old, and there’s not much about camp now that’s different from the way it was then. In fact, there’s still a bottle of shampoo on a shelf in the bathroom that she left behind nearly forty years ago.

We don’t rush into big changes around here. We’re cautious about doing anything that might change the spirit of the place. Or at least that’s my excuse.

Back in those early days, it was one visit a summer, and getting Donna here from Connecticut meant arranging a ride with someone we knew who was making the 325-mile trip, or having her parents put her on a bus for a nine-hour ride.

Now that she lives just a couple of hours away, she gets to come to camp—which has become her “happy place,” just as it is mine—much more often, every two or three weeks in the summertime. This weekend she’ll be here for the ninth time since Memorial Day.

This makes both of us very happy, since, for the past 49 years, we have always loved spending as much time together as we possibly can. It makes Tony and Will very happy, too, because there’s always more fun and better food when Donna is around.

It probably doesn’t make her partner, Jerry, quite as happy.

“You’re always at camp!” he moans, as she waves goodbye to him and heads north.

In all the time they’ve been together—well over 20 years now—Jerry has never been to camp. Not once.

Why? Because no matter how often we tell him that camp is a solid, wooden building with electricity and indoor plumbing, this is how Jerry pictures it:


Also, he thinks it’s surrounded by bears. In 55 years, I’ve never seen a bear anywhere in the vicinity of North Pond, but that doesn’t prevent Jerry from thinking they’re out there, just out of sight, waiting to attack.

Camp does have a few features that I will confess are a bit primitive.

We spend the warmest four months of the year here, but we have four big windows on the lake side that don’t open. That’s because they’re just old wooden storm windows my parents picked up somewhere when they were building the camp, to use until they could afford to replace them with new (or, more likely, used) double-hung windows.

In other words, they’re temporary. When Jerry wins the lottery, we’ll replace them.

There are several more of these old storm windows that can be opened a few inches and propped up with whatever happens to be handy—a chunk of wood, a can of soup, or an old pickle relish jar full of marbles (which for some reason has been the prop of choice in the guest bedroom for as long as anyone can remember). You have to be careful when you open them, though, because they’re heavy and apt to fall down and smash your fingers.

These windows are also temporary, and will be replaced—when Jerry wins the lottery.

We have a staircase to the loft that is exactly seventeen inches wide, with treads that are only six inches deep. Moving large, heavy objects (like iron cribs and full size mattresses) up and down it over the years has resulted in several bumped chins and pinched fingers, many swear words, and one chipped tooth.

My mother always told people (while they were nursing their pinched fingers and bumped chins) that the stairs were “only temporary,” built as a way to get up to the loft until they could get around to building a permanent staircase. That hasn’t happened yet, but maybe when Jerry wins the lottery.

The kitchen counters at camp are covered with dark green linoleum. Over the years, it has cracked, chipped, and worn away to the point where it really can’t be cleaned effectively because energetic scrubbing just exposes more of the soft black stuff that’s underneath the green layer. We no longer let food come in contact with it, and occasionally we talk about replacing it.

It was only meant to be temporary, after all. We’ll get new countertops when Jerry wins the lottery.

The camp was built—or at least begun—in the summer of 1955, which means that next year our temporary windows and staircase and kitchen-counter linoleum will have been in place for sixty years.

Donna says that when Jerry wins the lottery, he wants to pay for us to replace all these temporary things. Even though I’m always hesitant to change anything about camp, I can go along with most of that idea, since windows that don’t open and scummy black linoleum countertops aren’t exactly the things that lend it its charm. (I may draw the line at replacing the stairs to the loft, though.)

Once Jerry has won the lottery and upgraded some of the more primitive aspects of camp, maybe he’ll even agree to come Jerry_loves_campup for a visit.

But probably only if we build a moat around it to keep out the bears.

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.

The Fourth at camp: Food. Fun. Dogs.

IMG_3426   We had a busy three-day weekend at camp, with visits from one daughter, three nieces, three significant others, and six extra dogs. (That’s a lot of dogs. So, so many dogs.)

We had plenty of food—because what’s a weekend at camp without celebratory food?—waffles and pancakes and muffins for breakfast, the usual grilled Fourth of July fare (supplemented with moose sausage, veggie burgers, and tofu pups), lobsters for dinner on Saturday, sandwiches and salads and snacks, and desserts, of course—chocolate cake and homemade ice cream (made with our own organically grown strawberries) and strawberry shortcake.



In spite of rain on one day and cool, windy weather—vestiges of Hurricane Arthur—on another, we also had plenty of fun—board games and dog-walks and visits to the Bethel Art Fair, along with time to catch up with each other, sleep in, and do a little reading. Tony started and finished a 400-page novel (reading it, not writing it). My niece’s boyfriend knit an entire baby sweater while he was here.


The mostly-indoors weather meant that we had between four and six dogs in our rather small camp for a large part of the weekend, with three nervous cats peering malevolently down at them from the loft.

The weather turned perfect by Sunday, warm and dry, with just enough of a breeze to keep the bugs at bay, so we got our fix of swimming and deck-sitting, and managed—with the help of several handlers and a lot of treats—to gather six of the cousin-dogs together for a photo.

The cats did not deign to participate.