A decade-old rite of summer draws to end

Every holiday spot runs its cycle, and mine came to an end this week

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The Gazette, Friday, June 30, 2006

In the 10 years since my daughter was in the first grade, we have always spent the week after the end of the school year at Ogunquit Beach on the southern coast of Maine.

For the last eight years, we've rented the same dollhouse of a white cottage at the top of Whistling Oyster Lane, just off the renowned Marginal Way. It's about 100 yards down the hill to Barnacle Billy's, a locally famous lobster house in picturesque Perkins Cove, which with its fishing fleet is itself a scene right out of Murder, She Wrote.

Except that this year for the first time, Grace didn't come to the beach; she went to camp for the summer as a Leader in Training, as they are called at Kamp Kanawana, which the Y of Montreal has operated in the Laurentians since 1894 - the oldest camp in Quebec. Six generations of children have been Kanawana campers, and some, at 16, are given the kind of leadership opportunity that sees them come home at summer's end more as young adults than as kids.

Meanwhile, back at the beach, Dad has been suffering a mild case of parental-separation anxiety. So, back in Montreal, has Grace's mother, who has never been away from her daughter for an entire summer.

Every time I walked on the beach this week, I saw Gracie plunging into the surf with her board, with me frantically waving her in when she went out too far. Or almost running to keep up with her as she was pulled along in the amazing ebb tide currents of the Ogunquit River, which runs into the ocean behind the beach.

As with most beaches in Maine, there is a disproportionate number of Quebecers, who stand out like Germans in that they vacation in large family groups, sometimes all three generations per family, plus ma tante and cousins, and are considered to be loud because they are overheard speaking a foreign language.

Quebecers come because it is the beach, because it is right next door, and because we are well treated. For years they have raised the fleur-de-lys alongside the Stars and Stripes over the footbridge across Perkins Cove on St. Jean Baptiste Day, and the Maple Leaf on Canada Day. They certainly don't come for the swimming - the other day the ocean at Ogunquit was a bracing 58 degrees F. But the beach, at low tide, is one of the most majestic in America.

As for the natives, they are the Red Sox Nation, typified by the guy in the T-shirt that reads: "I root for the Red Sox, and whoever beats the Yankees."

One of the highlights of the week in Maine has always been the political seminars conducted by my landlord and neighbour, Dick Drisko, a progressive Republican member of the legislature in New Hampshire. In the last week of June, they are always in sprint mode, with the governor threatening this or that veto, and horse-trading of all kinds at five minutes to midnight.

There are 400 seats in the New Hampshire legislature, as Dick explains it, one for every 3,078 residents of the Granite State, which has a population of 1.2 million. The legislators are paid the princely sum of $100 per session, plus gas mileage. It is considered a privilege to serve.

"It is," Dick explains, "the third-largest parliament in the English-speaking world, after Westminster and the United States Congress."

"On a per capita basis," I venture, "it must be the largest. You have 92 members more than the Canadian Parliament, and we have 33 million people."

I explained to Dick the other night that we would be giving up the last week in June, as Grace, if all went well, would become a junior counsellor next year and a counsellor after that.

"It's a great opportunity for her," he said.

Her summers here started with sand castles, before she graduated to boogie boards. But her preferred afternoon activity was always sitting under an umbrella at the beach, with a book. In a decade of mornings, she would walk on the slate rocks below the Marginal Way, which winds along two miles of cliffs between Ogunquit and Perkins Cove. Evenings, she would skip down to the cove for an ice cream, and buy a book at a charming second-floor bookstore overlooking the lobster boats and yachts in the postcard- perfect harbour.

But the store has closed since last summer, replaced by an art gallery. And the weather was "out" this week, all rain, mist and fog except for one nice day. Perhaps it was just as well she wasn't here, what with the weather and Books Ink gone.

Every vacation spot serves its purpose and runs its cycle. And this one is done.

When I called her from the beach the other day, she was packing her kit to go to camp.

"It's okay, Dad," she said. "Have a good time in Maine."

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