Summer, Ice Cream, & Responsibility

Posted by: on Sep 10, 2013 | 4 Comments

MaineAugust marks the slow decline of summer. While we still have a few weeks of summer left, I’ll be sad to see it go. The Eastern Shore is at it’s best in the summer (although, I could do without the ticks). Taking advantage of living on the water makes the February doldrums seem far far away. The sun, sand, and mild waters are nearly free therapy. So, I’ll blame the lovely weather and summer activities for not writing, even though it’s all just an excuse. June and July saw us taking sunset cruises on the Bay, anchoring and letting the gentle swell rock us into the evening, tubing behind the boat on the creek, and standing waist deep in the Bay with friends and cold beers. But August came around and the jellyfish took over the Bay bath water. And I found myself with responsibilities. This August marked the anniversary of my father’s passing. I’ve spent much of the past year mourning and moving on. But the summer provided some distance from the reality of it. I had been floating along in summer vacation mode. But August meant facing the anniversary and meeting my sister in Maine to clean out his cabin.

As a kid, I spent every summer in Maine with my dad and sister. For years, August meant traveling to the blueberry fields to rake in the harvest. Later it meant going to the American Folk Festival in Bangor or just winding down summer with final trips to the ponds and lakes, last ice cream runs, and a few more cookouts on the fire pit. Every time I go to Maine, I carry all those moments with me and every time I leave I take a few more away. I could tell you how hard it is to dig through someone else’s stuff, someone you loved unconditionally, someone whose loss feels like a missing limb. But I’d rather focus on those little moments we created together in his memory and to help us all get through a difficult week.

My mom joined us for the week. She met me at my house in Virginia. Our first day on the road lasted a total of 11 hours. But we made it to Massachusetts unscathed. The second leg to central Maine is about 4 hours. But we dawdled a little and got distracted in Freeport at the L.L. Bean outlet store…I really did need new winter socks. We also managed a picnic in the parking lot under a tree. When we finally pulled down the driveway to the cabin, it was late afternoon and my sister had schemed up a dinner outing. Mom and I were reluctant to pile back in the car. But we did so with minimal grumbling. Mom squeezed in between the car seats and we wandered off in search of Maine lobster and clams.The seafood was well worth the additional time in the car. Unfortunately, my nephew ate a dinner roll too fast and got sick on himself and the floor. The waitresses were very nice about it and he spent the rest of the meal shirtless and in a relatively happy mood. We watched how quickly he ate for the rest of the week!

Salem ICTwice we had ice cream for dinner. Central Maine is home to Gifford’s. It’s the ice cream of my childhood. They are based out of Skowhegan (which is where I had my appendix removed at 16). It’s small, family owned, and the best ice cream ever. They have Maine themed flavors, including Maine Black Bear and Deer Tracks. If it was ice cream for dinner, I insisted it be Gifford’s. Ice cream with a 2 ½ and 3 ½ year old is just messy. It melts fast and dribbles down the cone to their little fingers, which amazingly they are oblivious too. It must be the adults constantly cleaning you off that eventually trains you to dislike that sticky feeling of dried ice cream hands. We sat at picnic tables in a nice park area behind the ice cream parlor for our “dinner” and then played a few rounds of ring around the rosy, in which we normally fell over before the song was finished. My niece prefers to fall at “pockets full of posies.” I tried singing the song faster to beat her to it but that didn’t always work either. And I found out how little of the ice cream the napkins cleaned off my nephew’s hands.

Our second ice cream for dinner escapade was the beginning of our American Folk Festival outing. The festival runs all weekend in Bangor. My sister and I used to go with Dad. We’d listen to music and dance. Friday night we went for the opening act, a bluegrass band from Virginia. We heard bluegrass, blues, and a little Quebecois (French-Canadian). We had second dinner at the food court by the river: french fries, Indian food, and clam chowder. The kids were troopers making it until 10 p.m. without crying. When they got tired from running and dancing, they just snuggled into my sister’s lap…both of them. They then promptly fell asleep on the drive home. The following morning my niece asked each of us, “We go hear more music?”

Mom and ZMy mom taught my niece to pee in the great outdoors (a Maine rite of passage). For the rest of the week, when she had to pee she would say, “I go pee pee in da grass?” We were basically camping anyway. Hopefully, she transitions back to suburban life seamlessly and doesn’t ask her preschool teacher to “pee pee in da grass.” That may raise some eyebrows.

Zahira and I

I had to coax Zahira to smile.

We also had quite a few campfires in the fire pit my Dad built. We cooked meals on it and sat around it in the cool evenings. Each morning, my niece and nephew would ask to inspect the fire and inquire if we were going to have another one. They helped break up kindling. And in that primal way, we all sat transfixed by the flickering logs. After the kids dragged my sister off to bed, my mom and I would sit a little longer unwilling to put it out for the night.

There are a lot of reasons leaving Maine was hard this time. But my family will have these memories forever. What better way to pay homage to my Dad’s memory?


  1. Lyn Burnstine
    September 10, 2013

    This was such a beautiful post. Your mother is a gorgeous woman and the photo was so lovely. Kids are adorable, too.
    I’m so glad you had that memory-building time together. I have spent very little time in Maine, but 1 or 2 weeks a summer for 20 summers in the Isles of Shoals off the coast of Maine and New Hampshire. My daughter now works in Bangor, although she goes home on most week-ends to Burlington, Vt..
    I wrote as Lynamber on PNN, and I adopted a sweet 4-year-old shelter cat in February that I named Amber. I remember admiring photos of your cat. Mine is about the closest thing to a stuffed toy I could have gotten–sleeps about 22 hours a day, but that suits me at 80 years old, with limited energy.

    • Hali
      September 11, 2013

      Thank you, Lynn! I hope your daughter has had a chance to go to the American Folk Festival in Bangor. It’s a great event with really talented musicians. :)

  2. Mom
    September 12, 2013

    Thank you, Lyn, for the lovely complement! I thought my husband was just making it up!
    Hali, I am moved by how many of the same recollections occupy your blog as have lingered with me. I cherished that time together – hard as it was, in so many of the same ways you did. I guess it’s in our blood.:)

  3. Betsy
    October 26, 2013

    Dear Hali,
    I am sorry I am such a laggard that it has taken me so long to get caught up here! Beautiful post! Gorgeous pictures! (Mandy you look so much like Grandmommy in this picture!)
    I feel your emotions in your writing… a pain that is so deep that it underscores Everything… yet a simple gladness… a Joy even in the repeating rhythm of going those places and doing those things you used to do with your Dad…. this time with the next generation along. There is no escaping the passage of Time… in so many ways we have to Learn how to let the past go… look to the future… realize that with every day we are building those parts of our lives that we will one day look back on and say…”If only I knew how to appreciate it better then…” Children do it naturally… we adults have to remember to do it consciously! I am glad you had this trip and I am glad I saw you on your way home… wrung out but enriched in a way that will settle in with time. I Love you and I wish I were nearer!
    Beautiful post! Beautiful people! Beautiful places!


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