Thursday, August 28, 2008

Life's Dream

These last few sunny August days always bring back memories of Wells Beach. Back in the summer of 1946, Mom and Dad had borrowed Grampa Boocock's old 1937 Chevy and taken their first trip to Wells Beach on their honeymoon (rumors that Mom actually wore a bathing suit on the beach that summer cannot be confirmed). So every August when we were kids, they would pack us into the '59 Chevy and head from Connecticut to Wells Beach for a two-week family summer vacation. Aside from the five (or six) of us and all the food and luggage, one year Daddy even lassoed a huge old black and white TV set to the trunk for us to watch at the could hardly have been called a "portable" TV. There was no turnpike in the 50's and early 60's and it took all day to drive through Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire on old Route 1. Mom and Dad would be in the front seat and Cheryl, Andi and I were squeezed in the back for the eight hour trip. After settling the inevitable sisterly arguments about who would have to sit in the middle with her feet on the "hump", we would set out for Maine. More than once, Daddy would have to turn around as he was driving and say, "Don't make me pull this car over!" Other times, Daddy would just reach back and start didn't matter if you were the guilty party or not...if he reached you, you got it! Cars weren't air conditioned then, nor were there seat belts, so we would all just bounce around in the heat driving our parents crazy ("She touched me!" "I did not!" "Stop touching her!"). Once Joanne came along, she rode in a little plastic contraption that hung from the seat back between Mom and Dad in front, only adding to the ambiance of the journey. With four girls in the car, bathroom stops could have really set us back (and Dad always wanted to "make good time") so Mom would just lean over and tell us all to "hold it". We knew that we were finally getting close when we crossed the 10 cent bridge between Portsmouth and Kittery. We'd open the windows for our first smell of the ocean and scream, "We're in Maine! We're in Maine" until Daddy had had enough and would threaten to pull the car over again. An annual vacation tradition was to stop at El's Fried Clams in York on the way. At that time it was a little white wooden stand at the side of Route 1...those clams and hand-cut french fries almost made up for the long ride. And then, finally, we would turn right at the Howard Johnson's in Wells onto Mile Rd. and all hang our blond heads out the window to try to be the first one to smell the clam flats. The first sighting of the Casino was a sure sign that we had arrived!
Over the years, we stayed at a number of cottages on Webhannet Drive. The first, when I was about a year and a half old, was the Howgate. If you drive down the road today, it is one of the few cottages that looks exactly the same now as it did then--large grey weather-beaten shingles with a porch that goes around three sides. One summer we also stayed on the bay side, in a pink duplex cottage named the Laura Lee. George and Carol Katz and family stayed on one side and we were on the other. Auntie Doris and Uncle Donald brought Grammy Boocock to stay for awhile, and we have very vivid memories of her in a straw "coolie" hat wading through the beach grass at low tide like she was in the rice paddies!
The cottage that we called "home" most years though was "Life's Dream", owned by the Rodrigues from Sanford, Maine. It was a big brown cottage right on the ocean, with a swing set and its own shuffleboard court right in front, and we felt like we owned it! Andi and I shared the big bedroom upstairs on the ocean with two, big, iron double beds. I can still smell the salt air and feel the weight of the quilts when we slept with the windows open on the cool August nights. Cheryl, being the oldest, a "teenager", got the smaller upstairs bedroom all to herself, and Mom and Dad the third upstairs room. Sorry Joey, once you came along we just must have stuffed you in with someone in a porta-crib somewhere. Across the street from us were two cute red and white shingled cottages named Cozy and Comfy, also owned by the Rodriques. Most summers our beach friends the Hawkins stayed there while we were across the street. Mr. Hawkins was our version of Jack Lalaine. He ran the beach each morning with the sunrise, in his 60's version of a speedo. They had a son, Alan, about my age and a daughter, Cheryl's age.
I remember that we each got new "beach clothes" for the trip to Wells. These always included new white sweatshirts, white sailor hats (sometimes with "sunglasses" built in), "clam diggers", plaid bermuda shorts, white Keds, and cotton bathing suits that had a tendency fill with water (think helium balloons) when we got them wet. For the nights when there were dances at the Casino, we would spend most of the day thinking about what we were going to wear. We'd spend all day on the beach in rollers in preparation...well, except for the year we all got those ever-flattering "Pixie" haircuts for our trip to Wells. It was a big deal when Mom finally let me go to the Casino the night that it was rumored that Freddie ("Boom! Boom") Cannon would be there. When we arrived at the Casino, they stamped our hands to get in and we would walked up a big flight of wooden stairs to the dance hall. The Casino had huge wooden windows that swung out all along the could actually hear the surf and smell the popcorn while listening to Frankie Avalon, the Everly Brothers, the Platters, and Elvis. Below the dance hall was a little sundries shop with a soda fountain so there was always a place to hang out when you were afraid no one was going to ask you to dance. And when the Casino wasn't being used for dances, you could go there to roller skate on the big wooden dance floor.
We always dreaded rainy days at Wells Beach because that inevitably meant the dreaded trip to Gonic, NH, to buy wool. Mom made most of our clothes back then and she'd load up on fabric for the winter at the Gonic Woolen Mill. It would always be about 95 degrees and humid in the mill while Mom draped us in layer after layer of the hot, scratchy stuff. Somehow, August and wool just do not go together well. We did get some great clothes out of the deal year it was matching ponchos, another it was skirts and vests that you could "mix and match". This may be how we all acquired our highly developed fashion sense!
Those who say that 1969 was the "Summer of Love" clearly had not been to Wells Beach with us. If they had, they would know that it was definitely somewhere around the summer of 1959, when Cheryl fell madly "in love" twice in the same two weeks. The first was with the Tabletalk Pie Man (he was actually the Tabletalk Pie kid). She would spray her hair, sneak some of Mom's Pink Pearl lipstick, and be the first to run to the door when we'd hear the chant ,"The pie man's here, the pie man's here" as the pie truck came down Webhannet Drive. We never ate so much pie! Coconut, custard, blueberry and Boston Cream...all were purchased eagerly for the cause! By the second week of vacation that year, the pie man having shown little interest in inviting her to the dance at the Casino, Cheryl set her sights even higher...she fell in love with the trash man (again the trash kid). As the big Town of Wells trash truck would rumble down Webhannet Drive, there would be Cheryl, coyly offering up our week's worth of garbage in hopes of pulling off the coveted invitation to the dance. In spite of all her efforts though, by Saturday night she still ended up ...full of pie and with no trash left behind...going to the dance on Andi's arm.
One of my favorite memories was of the day that Uncle Donald lost his teeth. Aunt Doris and Donald had a cottage at Wells Beach and we spent a lot of time with them and our cousins during our vacations. That day, we were all out body surfing when we heard Uncle Donald say over the roar of the waves, "I think I've lost my teeth". He was clearly embarrassed to admit that while jumping the waves, he had lost his upper plate in the surf. For us kids that was a clear call to action. We began yelling to other kids up and down the beach, "You need to help us...our Uncle has lost his teeth...we need to find them!". All down the beach, from kid to kid, went the chant about Uncle Donald's missing teeth. By the end of the afternoon, there must have been 50 kids with face masks floating at the edge of the waves looking for the missing choppers. Sadly, the upper plate was never found that day, but the story of Uncle Donald's teeth has taken on mythical proportions in our memories of Wells Beach.
Days at Wells Beach were never boring. We'd slather on the Coppertone, grab our transistor radios, and fill our time with swimming, sunbathing, and walks to the Sunny Surf for Italian sandwiches, Parent's Market for postcards and Pop's Shell Shack for souvenirs. We'd go to the arcade at the Casino and play Skeeball, saving our tickets to win valuable prizes like miniature china dogs held together by golden chains. We'd dig clams in the bay, ride on the Moody Beach firetruck on Beano night, or walk to the Wells Beach Post Office to see if any of our friends from home might have written to us c/o "General Delivery". And every year there were the traditional after-supper rides - around Kennebunk Beach and the over to the Clock Farm in Goose Rocks, up to the Indian Moccasin Shop to buy little beaded dolls and necklaces, down to York Beach to watch taffy being made through the window at Goldenrod's Kisses, and to Perkin's Cove in Ogunquit to walk the Marginal Way and have our pictures taken on the footbridge. One year Mom and Dad had our caricatures done in Perkins Cove by the artist (forgot his name) who always had his easel set up in the parking lot...they got them framed and now we each have them in our own homes.
As I've grown up, it's amazing how many people I have met who have shared my memories of childhood summers at Wells Beach. In 1975, when I first went to work at the Wells School Department, I actually met one of the secretaries, Linda Emmerton, whose family stayed in Life's Dream the weeks before we did! Imagine she and her family felt that they "owned" the same cottage that we knew we owned! In fact, my husband Aaron spent vacations with his family right down Webhannet Drive at Catherine & Ed's Home on the Beach. I wonder if we might have actually met on the beach as kids, not knowing that thirty years later we would be married. Sadly, Life's Dream has been torn down, replaced by a new more modern cottage--but never can it be replaced--there's always a vacancy in our Life's Dream memories! Until next time - Nancy (with much, much help from Cheryl who did a lot of the writing and editing!!!)

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