September 1, 2013

Maine Observer: Versatile island neighbors lend needed guidance

From digging French drains to making homemade iced tea, Chebeague residents are happy to share their experience.


After a season of renovation work, the earth in front of our log cabin is again upturned into mammoth, irregular mounds of dirt and the grass is devastated.  

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Our neighbor Bo digs with his backhoe not for China -- something my grandchildren and I might suppose -- but rather, French drains.  

"Just preventative," my husband of 44 years explains although our island abode dwells nearly on a gravel pit at the edge of a woods and drainage has never been a problem as far as I can tell. 

Managing to keep the various piles of landscape disaster back-to, I busy myself with rubbing fingerprints off the windows along the porch where playful grandkiddos have crawled in and out, hopelessly disregarding protests from their elders. 

My concentration on task dispels when cigar smoke wafts odoriferously overhead. What the heck? Might my late grandfather (of several decades) be passing through and having a private chuckle? After all, didn't he similarly wash smudges from his and Grandma's sunroom windows when my siblings and I vamoosed after our summer visits with them?

If memory serves, he preferred El Corona cigars, and vinegar with old newspapers as window cleaning tools of trade. Since my blue store-bought concoction in a plastic spray bottle streaks and paper towels prove linty, why not follow his lead? 

And if Grandpa knows what to plant in front of our new drains once we've shaved and contoured the hills of sandy loam, perhaps he'll drop a hint -- if I'm lucky. 

An apple tree or two and a row of black-eyed Susans could suffice and create colorful interest each season but then, what do either Grandpa or I know about French drains?

Meanwhile, resident artist-landscaper B.J. guides our friend Bo with grading the lawn as it pitches toward the French drain between shed and house.

"A slope is more pleasing to the eye than a bank, don't you think?" B.J. asks as if I might know.

"And to save that maple," he continues, "spread rocks around its base."

Good idea, but first I'll attend to a tradition handed down from my grandmother to my mother and to me, even if I'm now a grandma, too: I pass around chocolate chip cookies, just baked, and pour glasses of homemade iced tea for honored guests. My recipe calls for English Breakfast, spearmint from the garden and generous slices of fresh lemon.

"I add ginger to mine," B.J. offers. "The powdered kind that comes in a can." Not only does our landscaper put on clambakes, he is a gourmet chef besides.

We are fortunate indeed to live among exceptional island neighbors!

Laurine C. Curtis taught school in Maine for 22 years. She and her husband spend part of the year on Chebeague.


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