I came home to help my mother in those first, frustrating days after a knee replacement surgery.
With my two daughters in tow, we crossed over the Piscataqua River bridge and the first thing I pointed out was Portsmouth, N.H., to the right. (“Your dad and I went on dates there. … Over here to the right is a white house I used to rent when I was teaching school in Eliot. … This place used to be called Norton’s and that’s where your dad and I met. …)
We meandered past Kittery Trading Post (“Hey, girls, I once saw a moose in this swamp. …”), drove through York Village (“Look! There’s the church your dad and I got married in 20 years ago next week. …”), past York Harbor Inn (“This is where we had our reception. …”), to Nubble Light, (“That’s where we had our wedding pictures taken. …”) and straight to Brown’s Ice Cream stand (“Best ice cream in Maine!”).
After enjoying a chocolate-chocolate chip and Kahlua fudge brownie cone, we continued our journey.
“There’s Long Sands Beach, Short Sands Beach and Goldenrod Kisses where you can watch them make taffy from the outside window.”
Next up, Ogunquit. (“This is where I used to waitress. The Marginal Way is here and it is a beautiful walk along the rocks, looking over the ocean.”)
As I’m sharing important places from my life with my girls, it occurs to me they have very little concept of what it means to grow up in small-town Maine. They have lived in California and Minnesota, so their experiences and memories will be so different than mine.
They are amazed at the steady stream of friends and relatives who come through my mother’s door, “checking in” on my mother.
“This is Nana’s cousin Shirley who drove up from New Hampshire, with lasagna and a chicken and rice casserole. This is Nana’s friend, Bev, bringing a taco pie casserole. Here come Nana’s brother Byron, bringing ginger ale, and her sister-in-law Pam, bringing homemade grape and raspberry jam and some walking sticks.
“This is your second cousin Hayley (first cousin, once removed … something like that), whom you have never met, though you are six months apart in age.
“This is Nana’s cousin Linda and her husband, Tommy, sharing a video of the history of Buxton, Maine, and a genealogy book that traces our family back to the time of the Puritans, the first settlers from England.
“Here comes Lila, Nana’s friend from elementary school, bringing paper towels, bottled water, ice and snacks for the cats. This is the home health nurse Nick. Goodness! I went to high school with him!”
In all the states I have lived, the caring and connected people of Maine are like no other. They are funnier, tell better stories and are outspoken, unforgettable characters. You always feel better in their presence.
Thank God I grew up in Maine.
Heidi Woodward Keyho is a Maine native who now lives in Excelsior, Minn.