In 1951, my great grandpa and grandpa Sawyer built a log cabin on 12 acres next to Kingsbury Pond in central Maine. It was 36 feet square, based on the woodsman-style cabins of the time, and made mostly from the pine trees on the property. One half of the interior square served as the main living and dining area, and they divided the other half in thirds for two small bedrooms and a kitchen.
For you Lu readers, maybe this cabin sounds familiar. In a recent Q&A, I was asked: “You incorporated several things that have special meaning to you when you wrote Lu. Which of those makes you smile the most, knowing it’s immortalized in fiction?” Finally, an answer I didn’t have to think about! My grandparents’ cabin in Maine. Fiction is a range of complete imagination to real-life allusions, but even the latter is modified to suit the story’s purpose. The description of this cabin is the only thing I described as it was, verbatim.
Every summer my family would drive our station wagon on the 14-hour road trip to nowhere. The camp on Kingsbury Pond was 20 minutes from the nearest non-stoplight town of Bingham. Electric and phone lines didn’t stretch that far. Eventually Grandpa added indoor plumbing, but when I was a little girl, it was the outhouse, and my mom would haul water from the pond to bathe me in a tub in the kitchen sink.
Maine was a world away. News came through visitors from town or the mailbox, which was a quarter-mile walk down the gravel drive. Even Grandmother’s New York Times was a day late.
The options were both limited and endless: canoeing, hiking, and reading. Sometimes it took a few days to get in the groove and not say, “Now what?” every hour or “Again?” before our third walk in the woods in a 24-hour period. But the peace that comes from being nowhere would ultimately win, driving away whatever problems I’d packed into the wagon along with my Walkman and mixed tapes. Simply put, we were too far away to do anything about anything. And eventually, my mind focused on other things, like the smell of pine needles. The mournful call of loons echoing across the pond or the steady tap-tap of the rain on the tin roof. I couldn’t wait to wake up in the morning, grab one of my grandpa’s homemade biscuits and a book and head to the cane rocking chair on the front porch before the mist evaporated from the pond.
Do I sound nostalgic – like the granny in the grocery who watches you wrestle your tantruming kids with mist in her eyes, saying: “They’re so beautiful; you’re so lucky!”
I am that granny. I am that girl. My husband would want you to know at this point in my reminiscing that there were bats in the camp. Sometimes. And sometimes a whole family of them. He would tell you the indoor plumbing worked only 43% of the time. If he’s in a particularly salty mood, he would also tell you about the time he was enlisted to build a new dock in 100-degree heat – thick and still as anything but for the black flies feasting on man flesh.
And I would agree. I saw the whole thing go down from my cane rocking chair on the porch while I quilted and drank a beer.
Maine: The Way Life Should Be. But it’s not so easy to get to from southwest Ohio, and the camp on Kingsbury Pond is no longer in the family. So Matt and I have rented one on 30 acres in northern Michigan, which I’m desperately trying to tell myself is not Maine’s poorer fifth cousin twice removed that no one ever talks about in polite company.
I’m a Maine girl, but I’m also a tired girl. Wife-ing, mothering, writing, and publishing is enough. I don’t mind working hard, but in the last month, there’s been a work under the work that’s kept me chasing. I only need to empathize with so many verses about “reeds in the wind” and “people are like grass” to know I’m off.
So to Michigan we go – The Way Life Should Be If a Girl Can’t Get to Maine. I’m leaving my laptop behind. After I publish this post, I’m on an email and social media fast, and I plan to limit my phone use for taking pictures. These disconnect preparations have left me wondering for the first time about the choices my mom had to make to take us to Maine – what she had to release and let run itself for awhile. I’m glad she took the risk.
I could bank on loons and pine in Maine. I don’t know the sounds and smells of Michigan. I’ll report back in one week and not one day sooner. But maybe a few days later.