As any lad would naturally do in early summer when school was a dim memory, and the foot of the lake was the only worthy destination, I swam and played and lolled in Highland Lake all day, then came home, a shriveled prune of a boy as brown as a bean and hungry as a barn cat.

Mum, as far as I was concerned, was the best cook in the world, with the ladies of the neighborhood running a close second. A Queen Atlantic wood stove was her palette, where she created wondrous pots of baked beans, every kind of bread, muffins and molasses cookies, and biscuits two dozen at a time. Her lemon meringue pie caused me to go weak in the knees just thinking of it. We raised chickens, and now and then she roasted two at a time for Sunday dinner. In the fall our pig was packaged up and became delicious roasts, bacon and chops.

The Shaw family lived across the street, where Mrs. Shaw, a widow, also cooked on a big wood stove for her two boys just home from the war, her daughter, who was a year away from college, and her brother, who was retired from the woolen mill in Bridgton’s Pondicherry Square.

Occasionally she asked me to run an errand up the street, and since I knew she made the best peanut butter cookies ever, a certain sense of urgency pushed me to complete my task in a timely manner. I sat at her kitchen table with a plate of cookies and a glass of milk and we chatted while she steam-mangled her weekly wash.

Our nearest neighbors were two wonderful widows whose small house was always tidy inside and out, and whose kitchen would rival any for efficiency, charm and aroma. They took great pleasure in creating huge casseroles and platters of vegetables from their garden for our large families.

Now and then when I returned home a starving creature from the lake, and asked Mum what’s for supper, and she replied that Mrs. Pillsbury and Abby had sent something over, why, the juices would start on the back of my tongue, and before I could get seated I was awash in olfactory heaven. My brothers and I mowed their lawn and shoveled them out in winter. We stacked their firewood and ran errands for them and Mum insisted we do these things for free.

Those ladies have been gone for many years now. I have a few of my mother’s kitchen things, which I cherish, and after the two saintly ladies next door passed on and the little house was up for sale, I managed to get the large wooden bowl they used for bread dough. We used it a lot when the kids were home, but now it sits in my living room, a constant reminder of lost summer days at the lake and glorious gifts of heavenly food.