I have been dreaming a lot lately. Remembering dreams, that is. Seems when I wake up before 5:00am I can recall them but any time after that and I am just bleary-eyed and wobbly. One recent dream stood out because it was so vivid and detailed, about my place in Maine. I have been thinking about camp a lot lately, as I am heading up there next month for the first time this year. I also recently received an email from the State of Maine asking if I wanted to renew my fishing license for 2021. Well of course I am renewing and for many years in the future, God willing. In my dream I was driving down camp road as far as the recent snowplow had cleared. After that I walked the mile or so the rest of the way to camp. The cabin side door was unlocked. I opened it and as I stamped the snow off my feet a family of mice were awakened and scampered in all directions. The furniture was covered as it had been prepared for winter when I left in September. My rods were all in place and my single shot shotgun was standing up in the corner. I walked through to the screened-in porch which was enclosed with clear plastic to keep out the snow from the northwest. Then I was down at the dock. Everything was enveloped in a thick blanket of snow. The picnic table and barbeque were icy gray mounds in the shadows of the trees. The lake ice pack was thick enough to walk on and I looked out to see fishing shacks on the frozen water. Some had smoke rising from their roofs. Ice fishing is not my cup of tea, and I did not feel comfortable knocking on anyone’s door out on the lake. I retreated to my cabin and opened the flue in the fireplace. I assembled the kindling and rolled some old newspaper to start a fire. Soon the place was aglow with the light and warmth from the hearth. My dream ended there, and it left me with a feeling of intense longing to be back at camp, my sanctuary and fortress in the woods.
My granddaughter Lilly visited me in Florida last week with her mom and Billy, my grandson.
During their stay, Lilly made a point of asking me to have a special lunch with her, just the two of us. Her request took me aback as it was unusual coming from her as it would be from any typical teenager. I thought she might want to discuss her college selections as she is a high school junior, and the application process is on the horizon. We ended up going to that “exclusive club,” Greene’s Pharmacy, which is the local coffee shop here in Palm Beach. I figured a counter lunch is a good way to have a nice chat with Grandpa. We found our seats next to a couple of regulars who I noticed were indulging in the daily special of Philly Cheesesteak with grits. Just the thought of it makes me reach for my Pepcid. But I digress. “Grandpa,” she asked, “what is your earliest memory?” What a question! Where was this coming from, I wondered. Perhaps our after-dinner conversation the night before had stoked her curiosity. We had talked about my youth, and how I left upstate New York for college in New Jersey. We discussed my parents and the difficulties experienced by my grandparents, whom I never knew. My grandmother, Lena, sent my mother to live in an orphanage after my grandfather died in a train accident within days of their arrival in America from Lithuania. The trauma of losing her husband caused her to have a miscarriage. She had no money, did not speak the language and fell into a deep depression. My mother never discussed with me or my siblings how long she was in the orphanage. My paternal grandparents died at the hands of the Nazis who invaded the Ukraine. My father escaped, fleeing alone at the age of 13 to Hamburg, Germany, where he stowed away on a ship to Argentina. He lived in Buenos Aires for several years before making his way to the U.S. as a young man. Very little is known about my grandparents and what history I do have was gathered over the years through the Ancestry website and from the National Archives, which holds immigration records from 1800 to 1950. Both my father and mother were tight lipped about their lives as youngsters. I understand now it was because their childhoods were fraught with pain and loss. I know neither had any education and my mother became a United States citizen only when I was old enough to drive her to night school to study for the citizenship test. My father cared solely for work and supporting his family and he passed his drive and work ethic on to his three children.
But I have strayed from Lilly’s initial question. My earliest memory. Perhaps the question was a test to see if Grandpa’s long-term memory is intact. Yes, I could recall back some 75 years. I remember being carried down a long flight of stairs by my father. I was six years old. He was was dressed in his work clothes – black leather jacket, leather chaps and polished shoes. He carried me into a shiny black car for the ride home from a hospital where I later learned I had an emergency appendectomy. Lilly peppered me with more questions: “What was your childhood like? Who were your friends? How did your parents treat you? How did you get along with your brother and sister?” She was determined to learn as much about me as possible. With her grandmother gone, I was now the sole custodian of our early family history. I had the sense Lilly was moving on from her own childhood and looking at her life as it fit into the history of our extended family tree. As she continued to probe the past my memories surfaced like headlines in a newsreel. We talked about the big moments in history– I recalled the mourning over the death of FDR and watching the soldiers parade along Main Street in Rochester on VE Day; also the assassination of JFK and seeing the photos of the soldiers who had perished in Vietnam on the evening news. Lilly took in every detail and followed up with questions until it was time for us to let the next customers take our place at the counter. My lovely Lilly prompted me to recall all those early moments of my life and sharing them with her was an affirmation of who we are and where we come from. Occasionally you need to step back in time to check your pulse.
Recently I found an old family photo album with pictures of my wife Judie, now passed, and me in our old Morgan. Memories came flooding back, to my second year of law school, when we were living together as newlyweds in a basement apartment in Elizabeth, New Jersey. It was autumn, 1961. Judie had struck up a friendship with a young couple in the adjacent apartment building and made plans with them for a dinner double date. They offered to drive, so at the appointed time we waited in anticipation outside of our building on Waverley Place. Suddenly, from around the corner, flew a brand new, British racing green 2+2 Morgan, coming to a dramatic halt in front of us. The driver smiled and waved us over with his driving gloves. We were going to dinner in a Morgan? I could not believe my luck. How did Judie find two people with a Morgan in Elizabeth, New Jersey? They seemed a lovely couple, but I confess I was much more interested in their car. I was an admitted car obsessive, and this was beyond my wildest expectations. I owned a Morris Minor in 1960 and had recently traded it in for a 219 Mercedes sedan with the gift money from our wedding. But a Morgan! I had never actually seen one outside the pages of my car afficionado magazines. Climbing into the narrow backseat was an exercise in dexterity. Judie was fine—she was a trim 5 feet. My extra 7 inches in height made a big difference in a Plus 2. My knees were crushed up against my chest…and I couldn’t have been happier. Thus began my infatuation with the Morgan.
Years later, in 2000, I finally bought my own Morgan. I found a green Drop Head restored by a fellow in Connecticut. The owner shared his own story with me. As I inspected the car in a private airport, he told me how he had recently been divorced and was selling all his possessions, including his Morgan, to travel around the world in a sailboat, which he was purchasing with the proceeds from the sale of the car. The truth was, he made the deal with me at “hello.” It was perfect. After a short drive around the tarmac, I knew it was for us. I knew Judie would love it and she did, for the next 17 years.
The Morgan became our weekend car and as our family grew it was the picnic car our rides to Shelter Island. When Minnie, our darling long-haired Dachshund joined the family, she found her place between us in the front seat. Judie is gone now as is Minnie. The children have grown and moved on. I cannot think of selling the Morgan. It is like a rock that holds down all those wonderful memories over the last 21 years.
Spring fever in Florida is a wonder to behold, especially after the long quarantine. Covid is waning and people are coming out of their homes to mingle once again with strangers. Last weekend I saw outdoor services at the Bethesda Church. There were outdoor Passover dinners at several Jewish synagogues. The beaches and lake trails have been busy all year but there seems to be more groups congregating. Restaurants have been booked solid and to prove my point further this week is the first live Chamber Music concert of the season. Throughout Covid the concerts were televised live from New York. My friend Vicki, who runs the program, pulled it off and we are all gathering beforehand to raise a glass together. What a treat. Friends are talking about summer plans although not to Europe. They mention Hawaii and out West as destinations. I have some fishing trips planned but I was hoping to spend some time on the road in my old ’62 Jag before heading north. It has been in the paint shop for three months now. I guess they like having it there gathering dust. I will probably get a call midsummer asking me to find a storage place for it. Once I am back in New York I will do some sailing. The Beetle Cat is coming out of storage and will need refreshing for its dip into Georgica Pond. Last year the grandkids took a sail a couple of times at best. The storage barn with my 1960s classics -MG-TD and Morgan needs an airing. The cars are packed in so tightly my grandson must squeeze into each one of them so they can be pushed out for a fluid change and a run around the block to rid them of their mice tenants. I am heading to Maine in May for the landlocked salmon season and will open my camp for the summer. Camp is always the highlight of the warm months for me. As you can see, I have multi-state spring fever. I look forward to the weather change–the 82-degree Florida spring is too hot for me.
Life could be getting back to normal. For me it took five negative Covid tests, one positive antibody test and the two-part Moderna vaccine (with all the accompanying side effects) to get to the point where I could start thinking about fishing plans. Now that I am out of those woods, I look forward to getting back to the real thing. Colorado, the High Sierras in California and beyond our borders to Iceland, where the Atlantic Salmon and Arctic Char fishing is world class–they all beckon. But Maine is my priority. Last week I tried reaching out to Wheaton’s Lodge in Forrest City, to see about the start of landlocked salmon season. Although the ice is still thick, Patrick is usually a good predictor of the start of the melt. Wading in open waters is my preferred way to fish for salmon in Maine.
The lodge phone was out of order. It wouldn’t be unheard of if a moose ate the line for lunch. Internet in Forrest City is spotty at best, so I tried Andy, my faithful friend and guide, who spends his winter in Bangor, a more modern wilderness outpost. Andy was a bit more responsive than Wheaton’s, after several voicemails. Yes, the melt had just started and the last week of May would be the best time to come north he reported. Time to set the wheels in motion.
My journalist friend from Atlanta, Billy, has informed me that Delta is flying direct from Atlanta to Bangor on Saturdays starting next month. One more way to get from Florida to Maine and now I can stop in Atlanta for a visit en route. I have blocked out my office calendar with dates from May through September. Filling the slots with friends and family takes more time. I want my best lady, Patti, to join me, as well has my high school buddies from Rochester. My children and grandchildren have priority and get first dibs on which days to come up.
As remote as the camp may be, I rarely find myself alone there. Especially since Lori and Ted, my neighbors, have promised to visit more often. Last year Ted and I found the Beaver Dam Pond where we caught the lovely Brook Trout. This year we plan to fish Dark Cove for trout in my new acquisition: a 20-foot Grand Lake canoe. I am planning to spend more time at camp this year to make up for the absences due to Covid.
The other day I got a call from my friend Erik to join him fishing in Jackson Hole, Wyoming in August. We had fished together several years ago in Colorado. My date card is filling up and I am excited. The fishing gods are looking down, promising a wonderful summer with plenty of fish and friends. I hope the mice get the message and vacate the cabin before I arrive.