Jack TenneyExtra Point

by Jack Tenney, Publisher

November 2000


Buttoning up a cottage on the Maine coast never prepared me for aluminum storm window maintenance.

My Uncle Walter and Aunt Miriam had this very rustic cottage in South Harpswell, Maine. All that part of the world is known as Casco Bay. From the rocky point where their summer place hunkered down with a handful of others, you could see any number of islands on a clear day. Eagle, I believe, was the island that belonged to Byrd or Perry (one of the guys who led polar explorations). There was a mail boat out of Portland (which was about 12 miles west by water or 50 miles every which way by land via Brunswick) that visited the various islands daily. I'm telling you this place was picturesque. It had good, protected mooring sites within 20 yards of the rock shale beach.

Walter had a wonderful, beamy, Marconi-rigged day sailer secured by a mushroom anchor just out from a permanent mooring where a Lyman speedboat was tied to a floating cross that sported a pulley. A continuous line through the pulley to a stake at the top of a 25-foot ledge allowed a little pram to be kept off the rocks but available if folks, without getting too wet, wanted to get to either the speedboat or the sailboat.

All the rainwater from the cottage roof as well as the small garage was collected in a cistern located in a crawl space just under the kitchen. There was a southwestern-facing, open porch that could be shaded with a canvas awning if the wind allowed. It overlooked the bay with Walter's fleet. Across the other end of the cottage was an enclosed porch that caught the morning sun (on those mornings when the sun was visible through the fog). The bathroom was a little shed tacked to the end of the garage and backed up to the ledge.

There was no running water as in faucets and pipes. There was a little hand pump in the kitchen that needed to be primed. (I think I related in an earlier column the story of my cousin Angie's horrible mistake of priming the pump with Walter's martini.). Salt water by the bucket was used to flush the toilet through soil pipe to a rock trap loosely erected at the low tide mark. Ecology, in those days, meant keeping the mooring beach separated from the disposal beach by the wooden stairs that ran down to them from the top of the ledge.

Sometime during the month of September, shutdown occurred. The awning, including its hardware, was stored in the garage. The boats were pulled and stored on cradles by one of the two lobstering families. Shutters that had been scraped and painted during the summer were fitted on all the windows. The gutters were connected to alternative downspouts to avoid flooding the crawl space or filling a sure-to-freeze-solid cistern. Various but always unsuccessful attempts at keeping more of the ledge from falling down on the beach were taken. One of the last tasks, and probably why I was invited, was the dismounting and storage of the soil pipe. Maybe 20 buckets of salt water down the chute at low tide preceded a quick tear-down while Aunt Miriam loaded the car with a summer's worth of New Yorker magazines; silverware (I never had lunch there without a cloth napkin looped in a sterling silver holder); and a few of her best auction buys.

I have no idea why I have such a difficult time now lowering maybe a dozen self-storing storms. Go figure.