by Jack Tenney, Publisher
When it’s time to close cottages for the season — and it’s high time — I remember my teens and the wonderful days spent at my Aunt Miriam and Uncle Walter’s summer cottage on the rugged Maine coast. Perched on a peninsula called Harpswell Neck, their cottage had views front and back: Casco Bay; Bailey Island; Orr Island.
Incredible place; special people. A modest structure with a glassed-in porch facing east and an open deck facing west, the cottage had a large living room heated by a Franklin stove burning cannel coal. There were couches and chairs and a great, rugged dining table suitable for feasts or crafts. Downstairs there was a single guest room and kitchen, and a pull-down ladder led to upstairs bedrooms. The front porch often had a drafting table where my semi-retired uncle would occasionally work on bids for reinforcing rods on big Boston-area construction projects.
They had a cat named Bainbridge who had been injured — car hit it, I think — and had weak kidneys. Bainbridge, named for one of my cousin’s basic-training bases, liked to nap on Uncle Walter’s table in the morning sun. More than once, a startled Bainbridge peed on the plans. My other cousin was given the job of finally taking Bainbridge off to be put down.
Because there was no running water, and the point the cabin sat on was more or less rock, basic tasks like toilet-flushing, dishwashing, and tea-brewing took a bit of forethought and preparation. There was a spring a few cottages down the dirt lane, off the paved road to Brunswick, where drinking water could be had and hauled away in pitchers and pails. Rainwater was collected from gutters and downspouts into the cistern in a crawl space under the tiny kitchen. A glass of water was always left beside the little hand pump next to the sink to prime the pump. Once my cousin’s fiancé primed the pump with Uncle Walter’s martini “dividend.” Whoa! (In case you’re wondering, the dividend is the extra martini from the shaker that didn’t fit in the first glass.)
The bathroom was built on to the back of the garage just a few steps off the back deck. Pails of sea water were used to flush the effluent through soil pipe run over the cliff to just beyond the low-tide mark on the shale beach. I was a great water-hauler, fresh or salt.
My favorite chore was taking out the garbage. I would haul the mess down the wooden stairs to the beach. Then I would hustle back up the stairs to the rope looped over a stake that was attached to a pulley on a float moored offshore. The pram was attached to a rope with a “bent line,” not tied on. For goodness’ sake! You think we were landlubbers? Then I would row the garbage out a few hundred yards and dump it. Doesn’t sound very nice, but you should see what lobster traps are baited with.
Anyway, I was treated like the child king by my aunt. She thought nothing of sending Uncle Walter all the way to Brunswick to pick up my favorite submarine sandwich, which she served me on a china plate with a cloth napkin rolled in an antique ring. And every year, soon after the leaves change, the shutters would be closed, the soil pipe stowed, and the cistern disconnected. It was time.