Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Goodbye Summer; Hello Backpacks

When summer ends, I feel a need to scroll through photos and recall June, July, and August. For me, Labor Day, September’s only holiday, comes too soon, and it’s not festive. As a student and as a teacher, Labor Day rang the bell; it told us to fill backpacks with pencils, pens, and notebooks. To cope with back-to-school anxiety, I had a mantra, “Remember summer." If you spent your summer in Maine, you probably have memories that will calm your nerves for months to come. In case you were having too much fun to snap a picture, I’m willing to share a few of mine. Today is the first day of school in Bath, and the kids are standing on the corner of Washington and Pearl Streets with their backpacks on, so let's conjure up those images of lazy days on the beach and in the boat.

Paul's Marina at Mere Point
Looking back, Casco Bay was our playground this summer. In June, Joe and I fell in love with a Maritime Classic; we named her This Side Up and officially became boat owners. I mentioned our newly acquired boat to a neighbor, and I’ll never forget his reaction, “It’s Disney World out there.” Turns out, he was right. The best view of Maine is from a boat. As soon as we moored This Side Up at Mere Point, we knew we would see Casco Bay in her best light, and we did. Several times a week, we would ride the blue highway to Chebeague Island, Basin Cove, Orr’s Island, the Cribstone Bridge, Bailey Island, and a little cove at Birch Island.

A Halfway Rock Postcard on display at Chebeague 
Of course, we occasionally had to pilot our boat through fog and circumnavigate a few ledges, lobster traps, and oyster farms, but there were also eagles, sailboats, coastal homes, and seals to admire. We delighted in studying our chart, identifying the islands and finding our way to Chebeague (pronounced sha-beeg by many and sha-big by the locals). In July, we visited the Chebeague Maritime Historical Society, and I learned that the lighthouses at Halfway Rock and Ram Island Ledge were built by men from Chebeague; granite from the island was used to build the Washington Monument in D.C.; and the island’s name comes from a Native American word meaning “isle of many springs”. Our lunch at the Chebeague Island Inn, was a postcard moment. The grandness of the old inn reminded me of Gatsby and the roaring 1920’s. On our way back to Paul’s Marina – the quintessential Maine marina with Judy’s General Store at its heart – we passed Hope Island’s red barns and spied a group of kayakers near shore.

Kayaks on Casco Bay

Main Street Bath's Greatest Hits before the parade
When we weren’t on the water, we nested in Bath. The Fourth of July may seem like a distant memory to some, but I’ll never forget Bath Heritage Days’ parade, especially the Main Street float, a tribute to ice cream shops, jukeboxes, and poodle skirts. (Yes, I wore a poodle skirt for Maine Street Bath.) Maybe you caught a glimpse of that MSB time machine and hummed along with the director, Amanda McDaniel, and the rest of us as we played Doris Day’s love songs and Elvis’s rock & roll. From the start of the Five Mile Road Race to the fireworks that night, Bath was celebrating along the Kennebec. If Labor Day marks the end of summer, the Fourth of July marks its beginning, and Bath knows how to start the party! 

By the end of July, the summer concert series, hosted by the Chocolate Church Arts Center and Main Street Bath, was fully underway. Every Tuesday and Friday night, music lovers gathered around the gazebo at City Park to listen to jazz, big-band music, country ballads, and even a barber-shop chorus. It was live entertainment with a spectacular view of the Zorach’s Spirit of the Sea, the Winter Street Center, and the Patten Free Library! On Saturday nights, the music moved to Waterfront Park where the Fleetwood Mac Band drew an impressive crowd at the beginning of the summer, and the Yellow Brick Road Band, led by Bath resident Gerald Brann, drew a crowd of 500 on August 31.

Bryanna, a dreamer.         

         On August 17, two weeks before Brann’s band gave the Kennebec crowd an encore, a stellar rendition of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, the Bath community brought back its locally grown holiday, Kindness Day. I had the pleasure of attending the first Kindness Day celebration on August 16, 2014, and I remember meeting Bryanna, one of the original dreamers, the rising senior at Morse High School who brought a day for random acts of kindness to life. I remember she was standing on the corner of Front and Centre Streets with Taylor, her friend and fellow dreamer, and I snapped their picture. Five years later, I found Bryanna standing on the same corner wearing her purple T-shirt with its now famous statement, “Be kinder than necessary.” She was also wearing the same smile, proving that kindness stays with us. 
As a new school year begins, let’s hope the classroom seats are filled with dreamers, like Bryanna and Gerald Brann. 

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Patten: A Fairy-Tale Library

     In 1889, Galen C. Moses, the son of Oliver and the nephew of William – the tin men of Bath who established a foundry and a shipyard that helped pave the way for Bath Iron Works – donated $10,000 dollars to build a library on a hill that would be free to all the citizens of Bath, Maine. It was especially magnanimous because Galen did not request that the library be named for the Moses brothers; rather, he let the library be named in honor of the Patten brothers who had contributed so much to Bath’s success as a city of world-class shipbuilders. The library, designed by George Harding, with brick walls and a fairy-tale tower, would be completed in 1890 at a total cost of $15,000 dollars. In 1911, young readers on their way to the newly established children’s room on the tower’s second floor would be able to look out a Rapunzel-like window and spy the snow-white spire of the Winter Street Church. Over the years, countless children, and perhaps some parents as well, would visit the Patten and imagine sailing across the ocean on a Bath-built ship, traveling beneath the sea in a yellow submarine, flying through the clouds in an airplane, and riding through space on a rocket.  

Signing books at the Guilford Memorial Library author event

     Today, April 13, is the last day of National Library Week, and at one o’clock I will be giving a library sponsored talk at Cundy’s Harbor Community Hall because Karen Schneider, the director of Cundy’s Harbor Library, invited me, and then scheduled and promoted the event. What an appropriate way to spend the last day of library week! Since launching my maritime novel, Daughters of Long Reach, I have traveled around Maine visiting dozens of libraries. Each library, from Guilford to Wiscasset, from Orrington to Winslow, has reflected the spirit of their community, and they have all impressed me with their efforts to foster curiosity, inform, share art, create community, support literacy, encourage empathy and help young and old alike continue to find books that enrich their lives.

     Echoing the words of Saul Bellow’s, I have to “seize the day” and thank our librarians, their staff, and volunteers for allowing the public to wander around stacks of books in search of new and lost horizons. It’s astonishing how far you will go when you start your journey at your local library. I think I was seven when I started my first summer reading program in a New York library. The location was temporary. The books were shelved in an old, decrepit house while the community built a new, brick library. For every book I read that summer (mostly biographies of women like Clara Barton and Florence Nightingale), I received a sticker in the shape of a red brick, and I used my stickers to fill in an outline of the library to come. It was an effective program; I remember the books I read, and I remember the library my family helped to build.
A sailboat in the children's room  of the Patten. Imagine!
     Whether a library is new or old, whether it’s architecturally interesting or plain, whether its three stories or one, chances are I'm going to cherish it because it is safeguarding our precious books and periodicals. If you disagree, consider reading The Book Thief. I suspect that story, set during Hitler's reign of terror, will convince you that books are worthy of our protection. And I believe my local library, the Patten Free Library, is an excellent guardian of an invaluable collection of books.  This morning I’d like to extol the virtues of the Patten. After all, the love is in the details.

The Patten's  new teen and tween space
As a former high school teacher, I have to spotlight the new teen and tween space. After a twenty-year hiatus from building, the library board decided to remodel a corner of its non-fiction stacks for teen and tween use at a cost of $330,000 dollars. The nautical-themed space has raised seating in the style of a crow’s nest and offers a birds-eye view of the Kennebec River. At the ground level, there are stacks of YA literature, charging stations, and easy access to audio and video equipment. The new corner is altogether modern, vibrant and adolescent friendly.

Dahlov Ipcar's mural adds whimsy to the children's room 
The children’s room is an answer to a grandmother’s prayer. Surrounded by Dahlov Ipcar’s tigers, lions and zebras, it’s the perfect spot for storytime. As an added bonus, there’s a sunlit alcove that boasts a sailboat and allows children to follow their imagination to Java, Jamaica or Boothbay. In the summer, there are ice cream socials by the gazebo, and in the fall and winter there are craft parties upstairs in the auditorium. Whatever the weather, parents and children can learn, play and explore at the Patten.

The elegant reading room at the Patten

There’s also a quiet place where adults can read and work; it is surrounded by history, like the  paintings depicting the burning of The Old South Church in 1854. And above the reading room, there’s a balcony that adds a little mystery to the ambiance. Why is it there? What’s behind the balcony doors? Searching for answers, I found Samantha Ricker, the director of development, and she happily gave me a tour. I followed her up the winding stairs of the nineteenth-century tower and discovered the truth: It’s a time capsule. When I entered the upstairs room, I felt like I had stepped through Alice’s looking glass. Samantha hopes that the library will someday raise enough money to renovate the space and once again open it up to the public.

The mysterious second floor of the Patten's fairy-tale tower
To that end, I wish all the library’s fund-raising efforts are successful. Since National Library Week is ending, I would like to ask for an extension. (One week is not  enough.) On April 27, the Patten Free Library is hosting “A Night at the Patten.” Tickets are on sale now. They’re available online and at the library. If you live in or around Bath, I encourage you to buy a ticket and support our future; if you live elsewhere, visit your local library or check their event calendar and participate. You've probably guessed that I’m a child of the sixties, so you won’t be surprised when I leave you with a slogan from that decade: A brain is a terrible thing to waste. I believe libraries do a lot to save our brains, and they deserve our support. See you at the library!  

Monday, February 11, 2019

Spinning Nostalgia on Vinyl

Spinning Amnesia at the Concinnity Deli
On Friday, I woke to the sound of falling rain, and I thought it would be a good day to drive downtown and duck into the Concinnity Deli on Front Street, and breathe in the essential aromas of coffee, sweet breads, and black bean soup. If a cup of Joe and chocolate-chip banana bread wasn’t enough to brighten my mood, the vinyl record spinning soft rock behind the counter would surely do the trick. Truth be told, I favor Concinnity for two reasons: their fresh menu and their sense of nostalgia. A few weeks ago, Ginger, the owner, invited me to bring my most cherished vinyl record, Amnesia (Pousette-Dart Band 1977), to the deli some morning when I could linger and enjoy the music as I remembered it. Of course, to win this invitation, I had to tell her the whole story of Pousette-Dart Band, and why I missed playing their ballads on a record player and hearing their wistful sound. As an artist – a culinary artist – Ginger understood, and that’s why her invitation meant so much,  but I didn’t bring Amnesia to her deli right away; I waited for the right occasion. When the rain came on the eighth of February, I knew it was the right time to pour a little of PDB’s tonic for the soul – music that would carry me back to a sunny day.

Jon Pousette-Dart, vocalist and guitarist, in 2005
The lyrics of Amnesia took me back forty-two years to a concert on the Hill in Worcester, Massachusetts. The band was from Boston – Cambridge to be exact – and I’d never heard of them until that spring day. While introducing the group, the lead singer repeated the name John more than once, and I remember thinking it was the best name for guitarists in a rock band. (I’ve always been a fan of the Beatles and John Lennon.) Later, I learned the guitarists names by heart: Jon Pousette-Dart, John Troy, and John Curtis. Of course, there were percussionists and a guy on keyboard. And after reading the album cover, I can include their names: Jeff Teague, Kenneth Buttrey and Mike Utley. PDB earned a multi-album deal with Capitol Records in the mid 70s because it was one of the most popular touring bands in New England. Amnesia was its second album, and it put PDB on the Billboard Album Chart. In a fickle world, Amnesia would prove to be the band’s most memorable soundtrack. On side one, there are two songs that have left an indelible impression on nostalgic souls like mine: Amnesia and Fall on Me.

Lost, the ABC drama that captivated us for six seasons
Do you remember the American drama series Lost? From 2004 to 2010 – before reality television buried creative storylines – we followed the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 after their plane crashed on a mysterious tropical island in the South Pacific. The story was peppered with the supernatural and science fiction, and it captivated our imagination and fueled our emotions for an hour every week. Wistfully, Fall on Me was the song that kept repeating during episode eleven of season two. I recognized the music and lyrics immediately. And just like playing the vinyl record at the Concinnity Deli, I allowed the soundtrack to conjure up feelings of nostalgia:

If you’re gonna fall
Fall on me.
And if you’re goin’ down,
Hold on to me
I can see the sorrow in your eyes
I can feel your heart wondering why

The cold, the snow, and sometimes the rain, of February lends itself to introspection; it drives us inside. Whether we spend our winters in Bath or Belfast, Portsmouth or Dover, Boston or Worcester, Middlebury or Rutland, Mystic or Newport, winter is a time to reflect. And that’s why the coffee houses, movie theaters, and lunch spots are still busy long after December and the holiday rush. We like to gather, watch movies, read books and talk about deep rooted feelings. Music has always been a great connector – in time and in love.

Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins
Preparing for stormy weather, my husband and I decided to see Mary Poppins Returns, starring Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, in January. I saw the original Mary Poppins, starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, in 1964 shortly after its premiere and two years before my tenth birthday. As a die-hard romantic, I still have the soundtrack album; however, the music in Mary Poppins Returns is new because it’s a continuation of Mary’s story, not a remake. Don’t worry. It’s equally as charming in every way. And the fact that this 2018 minted film gives us a glimpse of two iconic actors, Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury, also fills our need for something old and something missing. I've always believed it's important to remember the history of art. Once you hear Mary Poppins' lullaby, Where have All the Lost Things Gone, you’ll understand why the magic of Disney endures, and you’ll hear your own story in the words:

       Do you ever dream
       Or reminisce
       Wondering where to find
       What you truly miss
       Well maybe all those things
       That you love so
       Are waiting in the place
       Where the lost things go

The Banks children with Mary Poppins and Jack
I’m not sure why, but the theater was rather empty when Joe and I went to see Mary Poppins Returns. Anticipating a crowd, we had ordered our tickets online. When we entered the theater fifteen minutes early to find a good seat, we discovered that only about a dozen seats were filled, and that didn’t change. We also noticed that our fellow moviegoers were about our age; they were not children; they were not young adults. At the end of the movie, many of us applauded, and I even heard a few genuine sighs. For a couple of hours, Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda had taken us on a fantasy tour of London, and they had left us with lighter hearts and a renewed faith that good things happen, and they won’t be lost.

It’s still February; it's still cold, and I need a little music to keep warm. Today, I think I’ll look for an old-fashioned record player on eBay and purchase it. If I’m lucky, it will arrive before March. In the meantime, I’m going to dust off my Fleetwood Mac album and bring it to the Concinnity Deli. Maybe I’ll see you there. I hope so because the best part about going downtown is the possibility of running into friends, especially in the heart of winter. And speaking of friends, I have to reveal that my favorite Pousette-Dart Band album, Amnesia, belonged to my college roommate, so when I graduated, I lost that sound until I found it in Lisle, Illinois, at Dave DeMarco’s. Dave was my husband’s best friend at work; a Dartmouth grad and connoisseur of obscure New England rock bands – among many other things. We attended one of his parties, and PDB was playing on his stereo. As soon as I told him my connection with their best-selling album, he gave it to me, and that was the start of a wonderful friendship. Here's to short winters and long friendships!