It must have been Aunt Ruthie’s idea; Lord knows Dad would never have come up with the idea of both our families renting a cabin on a lake in Maine and roughing it for a week. But whoever came up with the idea, that is what we did. We packed Uncle Vincent’s station wagon with everything from pots and pans to their pets and headed off to the great north woods. Pet-wise there was Jerry the parrot, Candy the cat and Scamper the dog. People wise there was Mom, Dad, Don and I along with Cousin Chris, Uncle Vincent, Aunt Ruthie, and Ruthie’s Mom. It was a very big car. The suitcases and boxes of utensils were tied to the roof, and we along with the animals were stuffed into the back seats. And it was off we went.
It’s about an eight-hour drive to Maine from New York City and I recall doing it all in one shot but not without mishaps along the way. One, in particular, would go down in the family records as especially crazy. It was night and pouring rain; Uncle Vincent was driving, when suddenly we realized the suitcases on the roof had come loose and one just slid right off the back of the car. Of course, Vincent stopped to fix the problem and somehow at that point Jerry the parrot had decided he had had enough of being in his cage; at home, he was allowed to fly around the house and taunt Candy the cat for fun. So Jerry just opened the cage with little or no effort and started flapping and squawking; we, of course, started shouting, and Mom started ducking, not wanted the bird to get in her hair. The bird managed to get out the open windows and perched on the suitcase rack on the roof. Candy shot out the window, thinking finally here is my chance. And of course, Scamper darted after Candy. Doors flew open, everyone started running this way and that, trying to corral the animals as Dad went back to retrieve the suitcase that had fallen onto the roadway. And the rain poured down the whole time. I have always thought that if someone had come along to witness the sight of a lunatic parrot flapping its wings in the rain, screeching to the heavens, a light tan cat trying desperately to climb the side of the station wagon to get at him, and a large long haired now drenched dog barking at the both of them, along with everyone running around to restore order, with the suitcases and boxes slipping and sliding over the wet surface, well let’s just say that someone would have wished they had a camera to record it all. In today’s world that video would have gone viral in moments.
But indeed order was restored; the bird was coaxed down by Aunt Ruthie who was the only one who could speak his language, Ruthie’s Mom corralled Candy, getting clawed in the process, and Chris finally got Scamper to stop barking. Dad and Uncle Vincent retrieved the suitcases and secured everything again to the top of the car. And we went on our way, though now we were all soaked, and sharing a car with that many people and a wet dog and cat, not to mention an irate bird, well that made for a less than comfortable rest of the journey.
We eventually arrived at the cabin and indeed it was just that a cabin. It had electricity, but water was obtained from a pump out the front door, and heat was from a pot belly stove that looked like something out of an old western movie. Thank God Ruthie’s Mom, whom we called Gram, and who obviously was old enough to remember stoves like that, wasn’t flustered at all. As the rest of the adults stood around looking at the thing as if it had just been delivered by aliens, Gram bustled about getting firewood and newspaper to get a fire going and maybe dry some of our wet clothes. Not to mention cooking a dinner we all desperately needed. Later, well fed and finally dry, we snuggled into our bunk beds and fell to sleep immediately.
The cabin was right on the lake and we went out on rowboats and attempted to fish. I loved putting my little fingers in the cool water and having these little fish – I have no idea what kind they were – come up to suck on my fingertips. I guess they thought I was food, but I just liked it because it tickled. And because the fish, like the lake and the beautiful pine and fir trees that surrounded the cabin were so unlike anything I could experience on West Twelfth Street. The water from the pump was ice cold and delicious, and at night the sky was so clear I couldn’t believe it was the same sky that was over New York City. At night I watched as scores of raccoons came up to the cabin, their eyes shining in the moonlight as they looked for scraps of food from these new visitors to their neighborhood. Aunt Ruthie would always warn me about going out alone when they were there as they could be dangerous. I listened of course.
But one bright sunny morning, I did go out alone and walked up the uneven road that led to the cabin. I just wanted to do some exploring, and explore I did. Up ahead, a black bear cub was ambling toward me. I wasn’t afraid, in fact, I wanted to make friends, so happily I walked to meet the cub. It was furry and cute and looked at me with the same wide eyes I was looking at him with; just two kids making friends; curious but trusting. I was within a few feet when I felt myself swept up into Ruthie’s arms and heard my Mom behind her out of breath. I was confused. What was wrong? It was only a little bear cub that wanted to make friends. Ruthie, with her never-ending supply of patience, calmly explained that where there was a cub, there would be a Mommy bear close by, and she might not understand that I meant her cub no harm. We started to walk back to the cabin; got a few feet when we heard a roar. We turned back and there coming up behind her cub was indeed Mom, and from her roar, I thought just maybe Aunt Ruthie was right yet again. Ruthie quietly told my Mom who was now as white as her pleated dress, to calmly and slowly just continue walking back to the cabin; don’t run, don’t shout, just walk back calmly. And that is what we did; well they did, I was still in my Aunt’s arms. The mother bear, more concerned with her wayward child than us, and seeing that her child was unharmed, simply guided it back the way they had come, back down the road and into the woods. When we got back I realized that Aunt Ruthie was shaking and that more than anything else told me that the situation had been quite a bit more serious than I understood. But what did I know? I was just a little kid exploring the Maine woods for the first time in my young life and I had seen a kindred spirit.
Maybe kids are the same all over no matter what the race and species.
And maybe it’s a good thing there are smart Aunts to make sure we don’t really find out the hard way if we are not all the same. Lesson learned, thanks to Aunt Ruthie, and a very understanding bear Mom.
I will never forget Maine.