Maine At Last

May 2021

I have been talking about returning to camp all winter and finally, third week of May, I arrived.

The trip north was long and boring. West Palm to Charlotte—where I almost missed my connecting flight–and then into Portland, where my buddy Ted picked me up and we drove another 3 1⁄2 hours to Danforth. On arrival at camp, Katie was waiting with dinner prepared. Hors d’oeuvres were cheese and crackers with a few red grapes – a delight. Ross, my son-in-law, and Billy, my ten-year-old grandson, had driven up from New York and were anxious to know when dinner would be served—and when we were going fishing in the morning. Greg, Katy’s partner, had a full beard—unlike the neatly trimmed beards I’m used to seeing in Palm Beach—and he was wearing Katie’s eyeglasses, which he said worked better for tying flies. Their dog was missing from its resting place in front of the stone fireplace. Sadly, he had passed away over the winter. Greg got misty talking about it. Even loggers shed tears. Dinner was from the lake and land—freshly caught salmon with a side of fiddlehead fern. Dessert was of course home- baked strawberry pie from Renee’s. Dinner and to bed were the goals after the long trip.

Sunrise woke me at 5:30am and I was eager to get on the water. After a few office catch-up calls, I headed down to the dock to take everyone out on my new-old boat for a spin around the lake. Greg pushed the starter and Whoa! –we were off. The new 15 horsepower motor cut through the waves, toward the rising sun. It was exhilarating and Billy was grinning from ear to ear. “When do we fish, Grandpa?” he asked. I turned to Greg, and he was prepared. We dropped anchor at the north end of Greenwood Cove. Greg fitted a live worm onto Billy’s spinning rod and handed the rod to Billy. After that it was “catching” not “fishing.” Good size brook trout were plentiful, with an occasional bass. The water temperature was just right for them. We looked for salmon, but the trout were the fish of the morning. Billy was showing off to his father who was visiting for the first time. It was satisfying to see father and son enjoying my camp. That was never my experience growing up. I know Ted’s father loved his camp and I learned on this trip that Ted’s dad built his camp, a next-door neighbor to my camp, only a few years before mine was built. I am fortunate to have the experience of witnessing my family enjoy the wilderness in a place that means so much to me. These will be lasting memories for Billy and, I believe for his dad, Ross. We had only been at camp for half a day and there was still so much more to do!

Brothers

May 2021

For a while now I have been thinking of writing a column about brothers. Last month was my late brother Martin’s birthday. Around that time, I had lunch with a small group of friends– Jerry, an attorney, Mel, also an attorney, and Peter, a Wall Street banker. As it happens, each of them, like me, have older brothers. We spoke at length about our siblings, both living and passed, and their impact on our lives. It was a compelling discussion, and my conversation has continued with each of these friends over the last several weeks. My brother died tragically some 25 years ago, but his influence, especially throughout my young adulthood, shaped me profoundly.

Brothers play an important part in growing up and into manhood, especially an older brother, as he is someone to look up to. If he is a success, he can be a role model. On the other hand, depending on the relationship, that same success can be a detriment to the younger one. Attempting and failing to match or surpass the accomplishments of an older sibling can be heartbreaking and humiliating. My own brother was more of a father figure. Some seven years older than me, we spent more time together as adults than as childhood companions. He was off to college even before finishing his senior year of high school to avoid the Korean War draft. We reconnected some ten years later when we worked briefly together as lawyers in New York. After that we were both off to our own destinies –he to London with a new wife and child and I to East Hampton to begin my own career with a young family in tow.

Recently I googled my brother’s name to see what the internet might have on Martin Ackerman. The search results were copious, from accounts in the New York Times, to Time Magazine and the front page, right-hand column of the Wall Street Journal. Marty was the president of Curtis Publishing Company, which owned the Saturday Evening Post and other noteworthy publications of the era. The closing of the Saturday Evening Post stirred the pot among the Curtis family members, and they attacked my brother viciously. He was accused of unlawful business practices and faced early retirement at age 37. It would be another ten years before Marty and I reconnected, upon his return from his London retirement.

My friends all reflect on their older brothers with varying views though most had close relationships with them from childhood, and each lived up to or surpassed his brother’s career achievements. Though Marty was largely absent during our early years, he was there when I most needed him. He wrote a letter to Rutgers advocating for my admission to undergraduate school and later when I was accepted, drove me to New Brunswick, New Jersey to enroll me in college. He went with me to open my first checking account and took me shopping for grey flannel slacks and a blue sport coat (which I never wore in college). He supported my decision to move 100 miles from New York City to start a career in East Hampton. The only advice I didn’t take from him was when I announced I was marrying my high school sweetheart at age 22. He said I was too young. He was wrong. I was happily married for 55 years. Sometimes I refer to my long-gone older brother as my “Big” brother because he was “Mr. Big” to me growing up. Now in hindsight I see him as a best friend. I miss our early Sunday morning catch up calls.

Returning

May 2021

It is that time of year when kids start thinking about summer camp and all the pent-up excitement around it just builds until the day they can finally wave goodbye to their parents through the bus window. I remember the feeling. I was nine years old when I first went to Camp Seneca on Lake Seneca in upstate New York. The year was 1949.

I had never been away from home. My older brother, with whom I shared a room, was much older and I saw very little of him during his high-school years. My mother cared for my father and my father cared for his work. I don’t recall what first motivated me to leave home for the first time other than a taste for adventure and just wanting a change. The truth is I was bored, so I asked and was granted parole for two weeks in the summer.

The pick-up point for the camp bus ride was the Youth Center in downtown Rochester. It was across from the firehouse, which provided a place of interest to hang out while we, a bunch of misfits, awaited the arrival of our chariot to freedom, out of the city and into the wilderness. It was exciting.

Our ride was a discarded, broken-down school bus clearly no longer in service to the city’s Department of Education. The driver, unshaven with hair sprouting out of his nose and ears, greeted us all with a bloodshot glare as we entered the bus. A cigarette dangled from his lips. I saw a beer can on the dashboard in plain view. Things were different back in those days. Shortly after departing the Center, the driver pulled over to the side of the road. Our chattering stopped—what was going on? He turned around to address the busload of baffled kids, “You got five bucks between yous to pay for the tolls or you wanna spend five hours on the back roads?” After we got over the shock of what he had just said, we concluded amongst ourselves that it was in our best interest to go along with his “suggestion.” We had all been given a few dollars mostly in change from our parents before we boarded the bus and tossed in what we had to stay on the Thruway, which would get us there in a couple of hours. We were anxious to see the camp and have lunch, as promised by the counselors on board.

Upon arrival at camp there was no order. The counsellors tried to get us to sort out our duffels and suitcases, but we would have nothing to do with it. We all stampeded straight to the dining pavilion. We were famished. But before we could dig in a whistle was blown and some guy stood up on the table and shouted at us to “Shut up!” He proceeded to describe in as simple terms as possible the rules of the camp. “No boys in the girl’s camp! No girls in the boy’s camp! No one out of their tent after curfew except for bathroom! No swimming without passing test!” Then all the counselors were introduced. There were some very good-looking female counselors, and I was immediately hooked on the idea of being a counselor as soon as I was old enough. We were finally given permission to dig in and meal did not disappoint: Spaghetti and meatballs, chocolate cake and “bug juice.” I saw our bus driver outside, hardly eager to get back on the road with the return group of campers, sneaking off into the woods with another can of beer.

It has been 72 years since that first summer at camp, but I remember the feeling of excitement vividly. I went to Camp Seneca every summer for several years after that and now all these years later I still look forward with similar anticipation to the time I spend in the Maine woods at my fishing camp.