I’m walking mournfully from room to room, sighing heavily because the trip I’ve been waiting for and planning for nearly three years is now but a memory, and I long to go back. I yearn to feel that cool ocean breeze blowing into my bedroom window and to fall asleep listening to the waves crash rhythmically along the New England shores.
I unwrap the tourist magnets and find homes for them on the already over-full refrigerator: Prospect Harbor, Maine; Stowe, Vermont; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Plymouth, Massachusetts; Hartford, Connecticut; Newport, RI.
It was a whirlwind tour, designed to show my friend Michele as much of my beloved New England as possible in only 15 days. When she first told me she’d never been there, my mind nearly exploded with compassion and amazement. That meant she’d never stood on Concord’s North Bridge, where our nation was born. She’d never driven over Rhode Island’s Newport bridge into Jamestown and looked in wonder at the single house on the rock. She’d never stood in the center of Bristol Commons while the noon church bells chimed. Why, the poor thing had never tasted Maine lobster straight off the pier! Well, that certainly explains the thumbs up I’ve seen her bestow on our northern Virginia area “seafood” establishments.
It took some doing, but we finally set off on a 2,878-mile journey that zipped up the Massachusetts coast to Gouldsboro, Maine in time for the Winter Harbor lobster festival, then snaked back and forth through New England, ending in Hartford, Connecticut.
We saw all the touristy places, of course. The tip of Cape Cod, Plymouth Rock, Salem (big disappointment), the Gloucester seaport, Strawberry Banke, Acadia National Park, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream graveyard, the Vermont Country Store, the Newport mansions, and Mark Twain’s home. And although we did stop to see Lenny, a real chocolate moose, our memories of this trip are made of sweeter stuff than highway attractions
What made this a true adventure was the people we met along the way.
We found 88-year-old Jim Owens in Eastman, Cape Cod, sitting in a windmill, apparently waiting for us to happen along. He spoke briefly about the windmill and its history, but then went into storyteller mode—obviously his preferred canvass. He shared his story of being left at a Newport orphanage at age 7 after his mother died. His father, in this age where dads didn’t raise children, wanted him to finish out his school year at the orphanage before going to live with relatives in Middletown, RI. He told us about his uncle, who served as a Marine in WWI, and his own military service and ensuing travels, which only served to deepen his love for New England. Today Jim is a renowned historian throughout Cape Cod and Rhode Island.
His joy for life is so contagious I could have sat at his side for hours.
We met Dolly at breakfast in the Acadia Oceanside Meadows Inn on Prospect Harbor. She served us breakfast each morning, delightfully naming for us each sprig and flower on our beautifully prepared plates. “All edible, and I picked them myself this morning!”
I could probably write an entire story about Dolly, but I’d have to first pin her down long enough to learn it. She flitted from table to table like a hummingbird, truly enjoying each guest, a perfect emissary for Maine hospitality.
Maine also introduced us to Joe at the Warf Gallery & Grill in Corea, where we had the best lobster rolls I’ve ever tasted. Near the end of our visit, though, we learned that the Warf is actually famous for its crab. Upon hearing that a customer had driven miles for his crab, which had just run out, Joe removed his shucking apron, jumped into a small dingy and sped out to a trap on the water to bring in some more.
Maine is also a place to find beautiful, hand-made artwork. I learned why from Cindy Fisher, at the U.S. Bells shop we ducked into to avoid a brief summer storm. The gorgeous bronze bells sold there are hand-cast by her husband Richard in the Forge nearby. Expecting to find only bells in the shop, we were surprised and delighted to see walls lined with lovely pottery, quilts, jewelry, and other artwork. “It’s what we do in the winter,” she explained. “The snow kinda’ forces you to stay put.” She happily talked about each of the artists whose work was displayed there, making me wish I could meet them all.
In Stowe, Vermont, we spent an evening watching the Olympics with the bed & breakfast owner Randy and his giant Bernese, Mickey. Randy and his wife Annette purchased the inn with dreams of forever in their hearts, but the world had different plans. Near the inn, a lone bench under a currant tree waits for Annette, the garden behind it clearly untouched in the year or so since her passing. Randy, wearing a sad-sweet smile, continues pushing forward with Mickey, his new greeter and partner. The inn was homey and welcoming, and Randy must be a classically trained chef, because the food that he sent to our table made me want to stay on another week.
Although we found breathtaking scenery at every turn, Rhode Island’s shoreline offered the best, in my humble, Rhode Island-native opinion. I sat on a breakwater on Little Compton’s Sakonnet Point for perhaps 30 minutes, listening to the waves lap the rocks and just wishing I could stay forever. We travelled nearly every inch of shoreline from Tiverton to Charleston, stopping at each breathtaking vista to photograph lighthouses and meet the locals.
In Galilee, we stopped at George’s Restaurant for one last taste of fresh lobster, and there met Julia, a delightful waitress who was eager for us to enjoy what the local seaport had to offer. When I explained that Michele still hadn’t seen a real quahog shell, she went back to the kitchen and found us two shiny, purple-streaked beauties that I’m sure Michele will treasure more than any store-bought souvenir.
In Narragansett, where I just HAD to show Michele the famous stone towers, we met Christina in the Chamber of Commerce office at the towers’ base. Her enthusiastic love for Narragansett nearly had me searching for realtors on the spot, as did the familiar ocean view. I honestly reached the point where I thought I’d do anything to be able to stay in New England. Then I spotted a picture that stopped my longing immediately. Regrettably, it wasn’t for sale, but Christina sent me to Sharon Mazze, a delightful shop owner who might know where I could obtain one. After a brief chat (where I learned she knows Jim the Miller), she sent me down the pier to John McNamara, the photographer.
I bought the picture as soon as I saw it. John’s image not only reminds me of all I love about New England, it also reminds me why I live in Virginia. I will hang it over my desk to help me recall what was quite possibly my best summer vacation ever, but also to help me keep my perspective. I should have realized when Cindy explained the origins of Maine’s lovely artwork:
It comes every year.
I’ll be back, New England, many times, I hope. And I will always love you…
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. — 1 Corinthians 10:13