I said, “Will she be the same?”
The old woman guffawed, as if I had said the funniest thing in the universe. “Nothing’s ever the same,” she said. “Be it a second later or a hundred years. It’s always churning and roiling. And people change as much as oceans.”
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman p. 164
I am writing from Maine. I am here to visit a friend and see a new city; she and her fiancé have just moved to Portland. I am filling my days with trips to the ocean, the bookstores, Farmer’s Market, and knitting store. We have had amazing French toast (the kind you spend a portion of your life trying to get back to) and climbed up into the observatory to see an aerial view of the place she now calls home. We chatted, watched movies, ate good food and then I decided to have a quick check-in online. In the brief time I was connected, I saw that Holly Meade had died. She was a beloved illustrator of many, many children’s books. I told my friend the story of “John Willy and Freddy McGee”, in which two guinea pigs sneak out of an open cage and have many adventures in the house. It was one of T’s favorites when he was little and I have some of the lines from the book embedded in my brain.
Years ago when T and I were in Maine (I had had a job offer and we were trying to figure out where exactly we would live) it was the rainiest weekend. It poured continuously and you couldn’t step outside for fear of being drenched. Think about the rain we’ve had here in New England this past month and triple it. It was that kind of rain. On our way to get to a seafood shack (at someone’s hearty recommendation for a meal) we took a wrong turn and fortuitously found ourselves at Holly Meade’s studio.
I don’t think T even got out of the car, even though I tried to entice him with lines from “John Willy”. He was at the beginning of teenagerhood and clearly unhappy at the thought of moving and would not budge from the car.
I stayed for only a few minutes trying to soak in her inspiration. I bought a few cards, the black and white sheep sketch being my favorite—and off we went in search of fried food nirvana. We ended our stay with a trip to the Borders store in Bangor. Being a bookstore and of greater interest, T came in and I gave him a tour of the store I had helped to open 13 years before.
Bangor was the fourth store I opened and a first in many ways. It was a B store (I had opened Pittsburgh, Plano and Princeton, now I was finally on to a city that started with a different letter.) It was also my first stay in New England even though I had dreamt about visiting and perhaps living there for many years. I was also recently engaged and the staff all thought it heartbreaking that I was so far away from M. (I opened up the store in the World Trade Center right after I got married and the staff there flew M in for the weekend to surprise me,– but that is a story for a different post.) When we opened the Bangor store DVDs were just starting to appear on the scene. It seems not so long ago but I guess in the scheme of things it was a lifetime ago. DVDS are no longer popular and the store is no longer a Borders bookstore. Funny how that happens.
I have visited Maine in my 20s, 30s and now 40s and each time I am different; but in some ways those trips have changed me, shaped me sent me off in a new direction. I have a few constant markers in my life. Every year the fair comes to our town, we go to the Cape in October—these are constant that cause me to reflect on the year that has just passed. But when you visit a place infrequently over time it becomes like the doorframe in your childhood home, the scratch marks with your initials showing how much you’ve grown. The place you return to examine your life and the changes that have taken place. A bird’s eye view of the past.
As the car tires roll over and over the hot pavement, taking me home, I wonder: how will this trip change the person I am still becoming? And when will I come back again? I pray it won’t take me another ten years, I can’t wait that long to have another plate of brioche French toast.