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.




Sitting right here, watching the leaves turn color


I wrote this three years ago on Columbus Day, when we were pushing back hard against the end of summer, and stayed at camp until mid-October. This year, we moved home three weeks earlier, on September 21. We had fall projects to tackle, and the nights were turning cold; a few mornings in the 20s have convinced us it was the right decision. But yesterday afternoon, with the temperature reaching 70 degrees, the sun shining, and the fall foliage as beautiful as I’ve ever seen it, I couldn’t resist spending a little time at camp. I went for a last kayak paddle around the lake, then I sat on Sunny Rock for a while…just sat right there and watched the leaves turn color.    

October 8, 2012

One year, when I was about thirteen or fourteen, on the evening before we were to leave to return to Connecticut from Maine at the end of the summer, as we ate our last camp supper on the screened porch, my mother looked out at the lake and said, in an almost defiant tone, “Some year, I’m going to sit right here and watch the leaves turn color.

I was a teenager—self-absorbed, unsympathetic, dismissive. I wasn’t thrilled about leaving camp, either, but hey—at least I’d get to see my friends, and school might not be too bad this year, and there would probably be some boy on whom to develop an unrequited crush. It was the end of the summer, not the end of the world.Leaves_2012_2

A year or two later, as we were packing up to leave again at the end of another summer, my mother sighed. “This year was going to be the year when I would get to sit right here and watch the leaves turn color.” It must have been 1974, the year my father would have turned 62, the year he would have planned to retire and move back to Maine. They would have stayed on at camp as long as they wanted to that fall—sitting right there, watching the leaves turn color—then relocated for the winter to the snug little year-round home “on a hill in Bethel” that they had always talked about.

Fate, in the form of unexpected widowhood, then my (equally unexpected) arrival, intervened. My mother eventually did retire to Bethel, in 1982, but I don’t think she ever really did get to “sit right here and watch the leaves turn color.” She plunged directly into a hectic retirement schedule that included volunteering, church activities, bridge club, and babysitting (she was “Gramma Wight” to half the families in Bethel), and by Labor Day it was time to get back to her house in town before things fell completely apart without her.

Now that I live three miles away from camp, I’ve been pushing back against the end of summer just a little harder every year. Last year we moved home from camp on September 29th, and we’ve already beaten that by over a week this year. Of course, we’ve had a fire going in the woodstove almost steadily for several weeks, and we’ve probably burned at least two cords of wood that should probably have been earmarked for heating our “real” house during the “real” heating season. But when you’re married to a logger, wood seems cheap and plentiful (it’s not, really) and it doesn’t seem like such a big deal to heat a drafty, uninsulated summer camp in order to squeeze a couple more weeks from the season. (Next year, we’re thinking, with some insulation in the roof and walls, we could target November first. In the more distant future, with new windows, and some heat tape on the water line, could we make it to Thanksgiving?)


We’re planning to move home this coming weekend—really! I know I’ve been saying that for the past two or three weeks, but every day I see something—a sunset, a flock of noisy geese, the full moon reflected in a lake that’s as still as a mirror—that makes me think, if we had moved home yesterday, we’d have missed this. Life is so much simpler here that it’s hard to think about leaving.

Besides, I’m doing it for Mom…sitting right here, watching the sun set. And the moon shimmer on the water. And the leaves turn color.