“Tell me the story about Flip,” I say.

We’re driving through the Palermo countryside and my husband is pointing out all the old houses and who lived in each one, way back when.

This is the territory he knew intimately as a child, summering there many years ago with his parents in an old farmhouse they bought while living in Massachusetts.

Palermo summers were like heaven, according to all the stories I’ve heard. They planted a vegetable garden, fished and swam in area ponds and always threw a party on the Fourth of July.

As we drive through the old roads Saturday, up hills and down, I want to hear the story about Flip, the dog, even though I’ve heard it many times.

Flip came to Phil’s family by way of a newspaper advertisement back in the 1950s. A family in Newton, Mass., wanted someone to take their little black dog for the summer while they went to Europe to work.

Phil’s father thought it would be a good idea to have a dog in Palermo, so they took her with them and she absolutely loved it there.

She went everywhere with Phil, running in the fields, swimming, fishing, and then falling dead asleep every night on an old love seat in the parlor.

And so the tradition continued for eight summers — Flip would leave her permanent family in Newton, climb into Phil’s parents car for the long ride to Maine and bolt out into the fresh Palermo air, resuming life there as if she never left.

At summer’s end when they took her back to Massachusetts, she’d jump out of the car and head for her other family, never looking back.

And so it went, Flip’s living this double life, until one day the telephone rang and Phil’s mother answered, looking very sad afterward.

She broke the news that Flip’s family called to say she had been hit by a taxi cab and died. Of course, Phil and his family were heartbroken.

Which reminded us as we drove through the countryside just how impermanent everything is in this life.

Parts of Palermo, in Waldo County, seem very old-fashioned, leading one to believe it has changed little in the last 50 years.

But Phil knows differently. He notes how the roads, once narrow and dirt, are now wider and paved. And how his old farmhouse, which had no electricity years ago and was illuminated at night with Aladdin lamps, now is electrified.

“I barely recognize the place,” he says, as we pass another old homestead someone has tried to modernize with new windows and vinyl siding.

Then our conversation turned to the Skowhegan neighborhood where I grew up.

“There were once a handful of farmhouses there, and now there are dozens of modern homes,” I say. “It’s crowded. It’s all different.”

I tell Phil there are two things we can be certain of in life: change and death.

And then we pass an old cemetery, the only thing that really never changes except for getting an occasional new inhabitant.

We remark that cemeteries are nice places, with their unpaved, grassy roads, large maple trees, colorful creeping phlox — and continual silence.

No matter how commercialized we become, we can always count on seeing an old cemetery, much the same as it was many years ago.

It’s odd to see tiny family cemeteries by the side of the road or off highways, fenced in and protected. They look so strange there, old relics, out of place.

It’s ironic that we’re forever catapulting into the future, acquiring, collecting, fixing and modernizing, only to end up in the one place that doesn’t change.

You can’t go back, you can’t take it with you — and God knows we can’t control time.

But we’ve got the memories and can tell our stories. And in that, there’s some comfort.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 24 years. Her column appears here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]

 


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