It is true that the older we get, the sharper and more in focus our childhood memories become.

Some of my fonder ones are of spending time in Aroostook County in the mid-1960s with my friend Terri and her family.

She was one of my first friends, and she lived for a short time a few houses down from ours in Skowhegan.

I met her while taking a walk one day with my grandmother Isabella Calder.

She peered curiously at me from behind an apple tree at the end of her driveway and we stopped to scrutinize her.

We looked alike, it seemed, both having short, Dutch-boy haircuts, round cheeks and dirty knees.

We became friends, and I liked visiting her at her house. Her stepfather, Jimmy, fed Terri’s younger brothers, Gene and Alan, potatoes he mashed with a fork and on which he slathered copious amounts of butter, salt and pepper. It’s funny the things we remember.

Jimmy was a good sport. He drove us and Terri’s mother, Ann, to Ashland one hot summer night, we kids sleeping in the back of the station wagon on mattresses, perched next to the open back window, where we kept our eye on the boat hitched to the bumper and packed with all the belongings we’d need for two weeks — clothes, food, inner tubes and books. Lots of books. Terri was and still is the most voracious reader I’ve ever known, devouring them so fast she leaves me in the dust, and I consider myself a pretty avid reader.

Jimmy drove taxi for a living, and he was a good driver, maneuvering that old station wagon through the winding Aroostook County roads, avoiding deer and other wildlife that traipsed through the Haynesville Woods. He had slicked-back brown hair and smelled like coffee, he drank so much of it. Ann wore a perpetual smile and she was kind to me and treated me as if I were her own daughter. Sometimes she would scold Terri for pouting and say,, “Amy doesn’t pout” — which embarrassed me a little, but I liked the accolade.

We landed at Terri’s grandmother Me-me’s house in Ashland as the sun was rising, too tired to eat breakfast. We dragged our suitcases up the stairs and collapsed into neatly made beds whose pillows were rolled up like logs under soft terrycloth bedspreads you see in old people’s houses.

For the next few days, Terri and I stayed at Me-me and her husband, Pa’s, house while Ann, Jimmy and the boys went to Portage Lake to vacation in a camp on the water. We would later join them there for the remainder of our vacation.

Being at Terri’s grandparents’ house was fun. We walked to the post office to get mail, rode bikes to the general store owned by Terri’s relatives to buy candy and visited Terri’s friend, April, who lived out in the country and whose mother baked sweet bread and cookies.

In the afternoons, we lolled about on the swinging sofa on Me-me’s porch, reading books and falling asleep in the lazy summer air.

We played in the screen house on the lawn and tried to sleep out there one night but got scared from telling ghost stories and ran back into the house.

Mornings, we picked raspberries from Pa’s garden, smothering them in thick cream that came in a little blue carton. It was some type of nondairy creamer I thought was just marvelous, as we had no such treat in our house, where everything was homemade.

Pa, who had had a stroke and stuttered a bit as a result, was generous, as was Me-me, and they paid a lot of attention to Terri and me. Me-me and Pa both wore glasses and she always looked impeccable in her blue dresses, red lipstick and no hair out of place. Pa did not talk much. I thought it amazing that he was still able to drive after having had a stroke. They would take us to relatives’ houses to visit, and sometimes we had a meal. I was fascinated by the way they cooked fresh cut green beans and peas and drowned them in milk and butter, salt and pepper. I’d never had vegetables served like that, and it was delicious.

Once we got to Portage Lake, we spent most of our days swimming and splashing around, fishing from the boat, catching a lot of hornpout and throwing them back into the lake. Getting those darned hornpout off the hook was pretty tricky because of all the pointy things sticking out of fish, but we didn’t care; we just kept catching them, one after another.

Terri and I buried shells, driftwood and other treasures in two plastic bread bags on the bank of the lake that summer, hoping the person who found them would contact us. We left notes inside with our names and addresses, but we never heard a word from anyone.

The small rustic camp we stayed in had only one bedroom where Ann and Jimmy slept, so we kids bunked in the living room on metal cots that were kept folded up in a corner until we brought them out at dusk. We giggled and told stories well into the night, slept soundly and woke to the luscious aroma of Jimmy cooking bacon and eggs for breakfast.

When it was time to leave the cabin and head back home, Ann would sweep and scrub the shower and sink, cupboards and floors until they were gleaming, imparting to us the directive that we should always leave a place in better shape than we found it.

Hours later I arrived back in Skowhegan to learn that my own grandmother, Isabella, had died. My mother didn’t have the heart to notify me of her death while I was away, and the funeral was held without me.

Today, when I look at the picture of my parents and six siblings all dressed up and lined up outside the funeral home, I remember that summer with Terri and her family, and how secretly, I was glad my mother protected me from such a sad occasion during such a happy summer.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 27 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected].

For previous Reporting Aside columns, click here.


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