We have had this lovely habit of going to Peaks Island for Labor Day weekend. It all started when some friends invited us with our new baby to this unspoiled place off Portland for a few days of not exactly rest, but at least a change of scenery.
Since then, we have stayed many of the 12 years in-between at a most wonderfully quirky place called the 8th Maine. Built by the survivors of 8th Civil War Maine regiment as a place to reunite and regroup with each other and their families, it is still owned by descendants of that regiment, and acts as part non-profit Civil War museum, part place curious visitors can tour and part boarding house for descendants and the public.
I suppose because it is something that has come out of a military structure, there have always been many rules. The proprietor for many years, Dick Adams, and then his son Stephen, were adamant and brooked no nonsense: no bare feet, no food or drinks in the rooms, beds must be made, shower stalls must be squeegeed, tables must be set after each meal and perhaps the hardest, drinks and food could not be consumed on the porch (view can be seen in the top two photographs). They were relentless. I was once, at the tender age of 50, critiqued on my water boiling skills. Really. But that was the price of admission and we were happy to pay.
Why? Well, the place is fun, quirky, different, interesting (check out the line of refrigerators, each family gets their own and they’re all sitting in this spooky under the ground sort of room with a blade grinder nearby). The island is serene, beautiful and offers almost nothing to do, forcing us to lie in the grass and chat, read, make bonfires on the beach, run, walk and bike, lie in the grass and chat.
It has become this most poignant of bookends for our summers. Fall is always more advanced up there and the weather is cooler. Some houses are boarded up and there are usually only a few of the weirder flavors of ice cream left. But it’s also been a time for us to check in with each other and our busy lives. Because it’s a quiet and safe island, we let our kids roam freer than at home, to the delight of parents and children alike. While the years have varied, it has always been easy to predict the feeling and outcome of the long weekend. The photo below is a great example. It was taken a while ago, but with the exception of the changed knee and femur sizes, it could have been any year.
We we arrived last Friday, we welcomed the new ferry lobby in Portland, all glass and sleek and light. A greatly enhanced selection of local beers at Hannagans was a godsend, golf carts that could be rented by the hour a nice convenience should we need them (we didn’t). And the new host at 8th Maine, there with a big smile and an outstretched hand, welcoming us warmly and genuinely, even inviting us to make ourselves comfortable. We looked around for the candid camera, waiting for Dick to jump out and admonish us for leaving our luggage in the main hall, but it never happened, this was a real change. Bedrooms had been painted nicely, the eating area had been cleaned out, bathrooms had sinks from this century, and wildly, we were invited to take a rocking chair out onto the porch with our beer and cheese so that we could better enjoy the view.
Yet still, change is hard.