If you’ve been with me for a while (and you had to have been to get this never-very-funny-in-the-first-place self-referential quip), you may remember the summer of 2012, and our journey back East. It was the summer of proposals, of intertwining with family and returning to a place of deep belonging. In its sweetest depths, it was about ancestral home, and sharing it with my family of Now…my partner, my daughter, and also You…you of the grand, and sometimes unknown, family of the internets.
I wanted to revisit my favorite post from that time (and perhaps of all time) with you today. As I mentioned several posts back, my Aunt Helene recently passed away. Aunt Helene was integral to my experience of Summers in Maine, and very dear to my heart. I received a video yesterday of her ashes being spread in the cove at Square Pond. It was grief-full to watch, with its finality and mortality, and also very powerful, as these matters tend to be. Towards the end of the clip, there is a shot of The Eagle flying away from where it had perched while Helene’s ashes were being released. And if you’ve been with me for a while, you understand how poignant and appropriate that is.
And if you are a newer reader, then I invite you to tuck in, and let me transport you, with love, to a different place and time.
This post, and all subsequent posts about our camp, is dedicated to my family, and most importantly, my Father.
I recommend this song as your soundtrack.
It all started with a dollar and a handshake.
It’s important to start at the beginning, and the beginning in this story is over 200 years old. Long before Sanford, Maine, became the hayday of industrialization, my ancestors were finding their way to this abundant corner of the earth, having stepped off their boats so recently that their english accents had not yet begun to fade. As I stood on the shore of Square Pond, or walked barefoot (always, always barefoot) through the woods, I sometimes felt the need to blink my eyes, to clear my vision of all the layers of history. Looking out across the sweet waters, I saw not only jet skis, but also my father and his cousin (Aunt Helene) rowing their dinghy to the unsettled shores on the other side, drawn by fantasies of what they would find. I saw the Lesher family hauling lumber across the sand bar in their horse and buggy to build the first camp on Blueberry Island. Ghosts of abundant wildlife now gone, having been stripped from the land by the greedy jaws of metal traps, still bent their necks at the lake edge, tasting. Like substratum in the air, there are the original indigenous inhabitants, catching fish, then loggers, trappers, the Victorians, the Edwardians, the cusp of the modern era. My gram’s footsteps still depress the mossy path down the shore, even though the trees now obscure it in most parts and it was impossible to look at the bald eagle that now roosts in the tallest tree, without wondering which white haired ancestor it could be.
Five years ago, I pulled my car over onto the side of the road and wept at the shocking news that my father had had a severe stroke. I flew back to Maine that fall, not knowing if it would be the last time I would be able to hold his hand. Thanking all angels, he survived, but with the compromise of no longer being able to travel. My mother locked the door of camp that November, and until this summer, it had not been opened since.
The long absence of warm presence had allowed the spirits to gain a good foothold, and so I found them whispering to me in my dreams, calling me to remember. The memories are cellular, DNA resonating like the plucked strings of a guitar.
My Gram, Nellie M. Bodwell (later Mrs. Roy F. Good) grew up in a large beautiful house on the corner of School and Bodwell streets in downtown Sanford. It is also the same house that my father grew up in.
The house was bought from my Gram in the 80’s and has not been lived in since. It is in such extreme disrepair that the front steps have crumbled and the roof is caving in. I have memories of my gram on the sunporch and of a secret stairwell in the closet. It has been so long since I stepped foot inside, and yet I still found myself with shaky tears.
My family on the Bodwell side goes back to Sanford into the late 1700’s.
School st. in 1908. My Gram would have been about 10 years old and it is completely possible that she knew these children, or perhaps is even one of them. Her house would be on the right, just out of the shot.
My Great Gramps, William Bodwell, was one of the first to have a camp on Square Pond, a beautiful, undeveloped lake in the neighboring town of Acton . The land around the lake had been logged, and was just starting to “grow back”.
With open beam attic rooms and an attached “ice house” for storing chunks of ice from the lake, the Bodwell Camp was as much my home in the summer as our own camp down the shore. During my childhood it was owned by my Great Aunt Marion, and then passed to her daughter, my “Aunt” Helene. The house was sold the same year my father had his stroke, and is now lived in full time by strangers. Not being able to walk down the shore to the grassy slope dotted with wild strawberries and black eyed susans, and then to the steps leading to the always open front door, feels like an amputation.
The Bodwell Camp
Bodwells in front of their camp, before a hunting party. The twinkly fella in the middle left with the hat is my Great Gramps, and I believe that’s my Great Grandmother to the right.
The land around the chain of lakes (Square Pond, Goose and Moussam) were all owned by the textile mills and the mills used the water for hydropower. Eventually, they began selling off parcels of land for town folk and mill workers to have summer homes, or “camps”.
The textile mills were brought to Sanford by Thomas Goodall in the mid to late 1800s. What was once a sleepy farmer’s town, Sanford quickly became the hub of the future. At first only manufacturing blankets for carriages, the mills went on to produce the famous “Palm Beach Cloth”, the preferred material for dandy suits.
Almost everyone in town had a connection to, or worked at, the mills. The life of this community was tightly woven into the life of the mills. They even had a girl’s basketball team.
The mills today still reside in the heart of town, but like my gram’s home, they too are crumbling.
There are at least 10 buildings, all built at differing times during before and after the turn of the 20th century.
After The Great War (WWI), an army dentist made his way into town. He met Nellie at his office one day and well…once she had kicked her current boyfriend to the curb, the rest, as they always say, is history.
Mr. Good was best friends with a high up employee of the mills, Jim Campbell. “Uncle Jim” owned a great estate that my father remembers playing at during his fondest childhood memories. Uncle Jim was in charge of managing the lake properties. My Grandfather was interested in a parcel of eight acres, immediately adjacent to the Bodwell Camp. There was already a small squater’s camp on the property, and my Grandfather had his eye on the tip of a peninsula for the perfect summer home. He bought the squatter’s shack for $375, so as not to put the poor fellow out. As for the rest of the land, Uncle Jim was willing to give it away, but my Grandfather insisted on the asking price of one dollar. And a handshake.
Mr. Good built his summer camp with the help of some friends. It still resides on the original eight acres, nestled in a little grove at the end of a peninsula, with a glassy cove out back where the squatter’s shack is now known as “little camp”.
Looking across to Blueberry Island, at sunrise.
Our first week at camp, we took a sunset canoe ride out to the island and back. I saw our camp sitting tiny on the shore and teared up, realizing that this is my father’s legacy. He has worked hard to keep this home in the family, so that myself and my siblings are able to experience the same magic that he did as a kid. On the way back, as we reached the middle of the lake, suddenly it seemed that we were going neither forward nor back, but had always been in this place, paddling, sights set on shore. I was myself, and I was all ancestors, those who have already passed and those who will in the future. As the lights of life faded out behind, suddenly arising in the mist was this little house in the woods, and all would be, will be silent, except the water lapping at the prow, except the far off cry of a loon.
No wonder the place is full of ghosts, since I too, hope that it will be these shores that welcome me home for all time.
Longing for more Maine magic? Happy to oblige…