It was a breath of fresh air coming off the Delta connection in Bangor. Greg was waiting for me by the luggage carousel, where I joined him to watch for my fishing bag to emerge. Baggage claim was busy. I was surrounded by excited, happy faces, and there was an air of anticipation. I noticed a few fishermen like me in the group among the locals returning home. Bangor is the drop off for northern country commuters. It is the last stop before Canada and the wilderness of Aroostoock County.
As we drove north on I-95 the air was cool and full of pine scented excitement. The roadside trees had thickened with spring growth. Greg filled me in on camp life since we last spoke in person in October at my 82nd surprise birthday party. That night was a once in a lifetime experience, especially seeing Katie and Greg dressed in evening clothes–out of their usual Maine camp wear.
Now back on their home turf we caught up on post-covid life. Katie was suffering from a continuous loss of taste and dealing with a lost appetite. Greg still doesn’t have a cell phone. He got along without one for 60 plus years so why get one now he says. Per Greg, the fishing this spring is as exciting as ever. Lake salmon and brook trout are as large as can be with trolling streamers. The turnoff at Lincoln was a welcome sign that we were closing in on Danforth and my camp on the lake.
The last several weeks have been scheduled with lunches and dinners for end-of-season goodbyes. The “season” in Palm Beach is from October to May, at which time everyone goes their separate ways for the summer and early fall. These goodbye get-togethers are both merry and bittersweet. One however, was a purely solemn gathering. A goodbye of a different kind, it was the funeral for the father of a good friend, a quiet refrain amid the more boisterous events this time of year. The service, an Orthodox program, included the deceased’s grandsons, whose heartfelt letters to their beloved grandfather summoned memories of my parents, who died some years ago. It was a reminder to visit the cemetery where they are buried in Rochester, which I have not done since pre-Covid days.
The goodbye dinner last night was a mostly happy occasion, with fond farewells to friends scattering to the north, to Europe and out west. Our talk turned serious at times, discussing the war in Ukraine, which led to a conversation about ancestry. So many of us have parents or grandparents from Ukraine, myself included, who emigrated to the U.S. during previous periods of turmoil. The war and refugee catastrophe in Ukraine calls to mind the historical tragedies of the Nazi invasion of Eastern Europe and the inability of Jewish refugees to escapthe brutality of the invaders. Those of us who are first generation Americans are fortunate indeed for our parents having left before the Holocaust. This morning I found myself on Google reading about the shtetl life from which my own parents fled prior to World War II. How wrenching their goodbyes must have been, to leave extended family and community behind forever.
I think back to my last Mother’s Day with my mom, Rebecca Ackerman. I did not realize the significance of that Mother’s Day outing in 1958 until many years later. I was off to college in August, and after that graduate school, then marriage, starting my own family in New York City and then my parents moved to Florida for retirement. It would be our last Mother’s Day, with all of us together, to celebrate it with her, before she passed away in Rochester, New York in 1997.
Growing up, I looked forward to Mother’s Day. It was the one day of the year my family went out to dine at a restaurant. My parents were Orthodox and would not eat out unless the restaurant was kosher and the only kosher restaurants in town were delicatessens. Hence, they rarely dined out or travelled. The one vacation trip we took as a family, with my sister and her husband, was to Atlantic City in 1949, when I was still small enough to share a room with my parents. Every night of the trip we went to the same, possibly the only kosher restaurant in Atlantic City. Dinner always started with half a cantaloupe, followed by a typical heavy kosher meal of pot roast, potatoes and hearty soup, and it was summer, probably 87 degrees outside.
But on Mother’s Day, the rule was broken, and we would dine out at a non-kosher fish restaurant called Spring House, which is still in business all these years later. It was a momentous occasion for the family. My parents would dress in their formal High Holiday clothes, I would be in a starched white shirt and long pants. Despite all the excitement and preparation, my parents were not very comfortable eating in a restaurant. Dad could not read the menu in English and relied on Mom to choose his food. Mom, being the chef at home, knew what they both wanted before she sat down. They would start with coffee and then order a fish course, usually cod. She was always conscious of cost and knew Dad would question her later about the price of everything that was ordered. She would caution my sister and her husband, both of whom dined out a great deal, to be prudent in their meal choices, knowing that she would have to account to my father for any extravagances. Alcohol was never ordered. It was coffee start to finish. I knew to be careful when ordering. I did not like fish as a child and chose the least expensive one. I would eat a few bites, saving my appetite for the ice cream dessert.
A lifelong career in land use law has afforded me opportunities over the years to learn, explore and even profess some knowledge of local historical architecture. Recently I appeared before the local zoning board to see the restoration of a magnificent home designed by Albro & Lindeberg circa 1914 in East Hampton Village. Advocating on behalf of the owners of beautiful, architecturally significant properties allows me the additional benefit of associating with the people who specialize in their restoration. In the course of my work on a new project, a home built in 1926 by Roger Bullard, designer of the renowned Maidstone Club, I made the acquaintance of Sam White, a great grandson of Stanford White. Stanford White was a partner in the firm of McKim, Mead & White and was arguably the most famous architect of his day, during America’s Gilded Age. His legacy survives in the many buildings he designed and built including the spectacular “Seven Sisters” shingle-style houses on the cliffs of Montauk at the easternmost tip of Long Island.
At the end of my recent column, Camp Beginnings, I dipped my toes in the water off the dock at camp and drifted into a blissful state of mind, a quiet moment absent of the stress of everyday life as I know it. My old friend and dutiful reader, Jay, a retired surgeon living in New York City, commented after reading the column, “Why do you find happiness in the wilderness of Maine?’ What motivated me to spend clips of time over the summer months at Camp Kabrook, going back and forth between there and New York, to a place that was remote and often complicated and time consuming to get to? Why was it worth it? I must look back for the answer, back over my 82 plus years, to a starting point in time in the early 1950’s, when I begged my parents to sign me up for two weeks of sleepaway camp at Camp Seneca on Seneca Lake, a day’s bus ride from my hometown of Rochester. It was there in nature, in the beauty and the challenges I faced in the woods and the waters of upstate New York that I saw clearly what life could and would be—to come of age and to be “my own” person. I was no longer Marty’s kid brother but an individual–albeit still a youngster and a pimpled immature kid, but it was the start of something. Being on my own in the woods in a tent with new friends and young girls not far off was thrilling. The water activities at Seneca Lake drove me to push my physical effort to new limits. I felt a new excitement for adventure. The most exciting adventure was a trip to Seneca Falls in a war canoe—a vessel big enough to hold 12 kids and supplies—several miles away. It was the ultimate physical challenge. To qualify for the trip, I had to swim out to a dock anchored in the middle of the lake. The level of endurance required was beyond anything I had felt before. In terms of physical activity, my only basis of comparison was summer softball at the Kodak Park Athletic League. Only a handful of us campers were able to qualify, and I was elated to be among the chosen. This experience instilled in me a deep sense of confidence and accomplishment, both inextricably linked with the outdoors. Thus began my lifelong love of the water and wilderness.