Curator of Manuscripts, Emeritus
Harvard Divinity School Library
AN ANNE MINIVER BUTTERFLY TECHNOLOGIUM
“Alan is scheming all kinds of way to get to Bridgton for a week.”
“We are leaving on the 9:40 Saturday and Mr. Gustin will meet
us at Portland. Alan is all excited. Can hardly wait.”
Up early, down to the Medford Café for breakfast,
special excitement that, the family never ate out,
the bags were ready, sheets towels mailed up,
a cab ordered to take us to North Station,
by train to Portland, from there by a friend’s car,
to “Maine Bridgton,” as the twins always called it,
the IGA grocery overlooking the edge of Highland Lake,
a terrible delay much as Christmas Eve seemed,
then the Highland Ridge Road, pass the golf club,
to its ending at Ingalls Farm: pastures, house, barn,
sticks on the barn spelling out I N G A L L S,
next the steep curling dirt road to lakeside,
The Grove, crowded with rough camps and cottages,
rented for 99 years from the farm family,
embraced by virgin pines as tall as my young imagination.
The Upper end of Highland Lake; Knowles’ Point is where the lake forks to the left and to the right; the Grove is on the right side of the fork on a brief area of the shoreline almost directly opposite Knowles’ Point.
Summer folks first started to come to The Grove to swim, fish, and relax in the 1880s. They arrived in horse-drawn wagons and pitched white tents for their temporary shelters. Eventually rough yet comfortable camps and cottages replaced the tents. Until the First World War, the lake had two small steamers – Lady of the Lake and HighlandLaddie. The first made two daily trips from Bridgton Center up both sides of the lake. The cost was 25 cents. The second was used if there were more passengers than the Lady could hold and was attached and towed by her. The steamers also delivered the mail to the lakeside camps and folks who attended moonlight dances at the pavilion in Ingalls Grove. The large boulders which were the cribstone base of its landing at The Grove, not far from the Indian spring, are still there. Someone later placed a diving board at its end and the spot was free to all to enjoy for diving and swimming.
The Grove About 1910
The Grove late 1920s
The Grove early 1930s
If our family stayed at various Grove camps and cottages,
“Camp Seminole,” “Lakeside,” “Little Rhody,” “Brass City,”
pushing open their screen doors was to familiar playmates:
a ground thickly layered with sweet smelling brown needles,
as well as scores of cones, some recent, some decayed,
dropped from a gathering of pines beyond every day living,
pines taller than ten-year-old eyes could ever imagine,
whose sturdy rippled roots made it so easy to trip, stumble,
nevertheless enjoyable to walk, skip, and run yonder upon;
a drinking water spring just there for all to pump,
first used by early tribes hunting either side of the lake;
and the lake shaped to its first name Crotched Pond,
with some camps built on huge rocks thrusting out from shore,
its boathouses, its particular swimming spots, shallow, deeper,
the water always comfortable yet bubbling up cold surprises.
Fetching the drinking water was always my chore,
from arrival until the last morning there;
a large tin pail with an ample enameled ladle,
was kept in the kitchen near the soapstone sink;
it was a light rather joyful carry to the common spring,
located on the slope between the camps and the lake.
The spring whose source was deep underground,
was encased by four large mossy cement walls,
half filled with rubbish water, sometimes a frog or two,
plus an iron pump with a wooden handle,
which when jerked up down up down coughed, gurgled,
gushed forth clean clear icy water into my pail,
making to the ears a lovely rich sound.
That first bucketful was always the easiest to lug back.
My father exclaimed “heat buzzer,” I listened,
heard that distinctiveness suddenly jump out of sounds,
buzzing buzzing clicking hum, so frequently repeated,
mixed now into my father’s whistle, our smiles,
an afternoon for diving splashing, for evening fishing.
On the lake, in our row boat, midmornings
a few yards off the boathouse, just drifting,
I observed the slow small water circles being made,
by the thin leggy bug skaters, as I called them,
then glimpsed a dragonfly so transparent, so majestic,
at rest on the flat surface of an upthrusted oar.
He usually came between eleven and noon,
that regularly, as were the usual all-summer elders,
gathered by the mailboxes then totaling about twenty-four.
Their box as two-week renters never got much action,
a note from Aunt Annie maybe, local advertisements certainly,
but that did not keep the twins from their chosen routine.
Exciting days were when Mother had written letters,
something she loved doing, did easily, often,
the postcards they scribbled to chums back home.
These they carried very carefully to the camp’s box,
where, reaching on tiptoe for its lid and pulling hard,
they opened it, shoved in the mail, yanked up the flag.
That was that. Until he came. Then lunch, bathing suits,
an hour’s wait, racing to the lake, unforgettable afternoons.
One day we went blueberry picking, the family,
others, walked up the dirt road toward the farmhouse,
then cut right through waist-high bushes, brambles,
to a clearing once the site of an old summer hotel,
destroyed by fire, now home to low bush blueberries.
It was hot, humid, back breaking picking and picking,
first fun, excitement, but our competition short-lived,
for the tiny berries so slowly filled a coffee can,
so different from swimming or dock fishing pretty sunfish.
Up to Ingalls farm went the twins, quite alone,
just to see whatever was to be seen up there;
old Mrs. Ingalls who was quite short, round, smiling,
was busy in her kitchen at butter making;
she always reminded me of my Big Grandma,
also short, round, smiling, comfortable to be with.
The kitchen was roomy and airy, pleasant and sunny.
I followed her into the room where the separator was,
watched silent as she bent her white porcelain pitcher,
to pour raw milk with its top cream into the machine,
then left before the finish of the butter making for the barn.
The unpainted wooden barn stood across the road,
its doors were summer opened, easy to peer into,
no cows, no chickens are to be seen, just hay,
everywhere messy hay, on the center cement walkway,
between the barn’s two long rows of milking stalls,
stuffed into odd ends, packed on the floor up above.
One visit the twins sought out missed eggs,
found some, mine from a dusty cobwebbed corner.
Excited I grabbed it and ran toward the barnyard,
then stumbled, it slipped free, surprised the twins.
She was in the back, holding the paddle still,
then its blade touched the flat lake surface,
was pulled through the water smoothly,
the trim red canoe glided away from The Grove,
toward a patch of reflected moonlight;
I wanted to look back to see just her,
but I was only twelve and should have been older;
if she spoke any words they are now gone;
for a bit the canoe was out of sight,
up lake somewhere, hidden within the early evening,
finally it shot up again the sandy beach near the boathouse.
It only happened the once, that would be her memory.
I am out in the water of my Maine Bridgton lake;
when just staring out as a fledging awkward kiddie.
it was near the shore and under the mother’s eye
toes bouncing on the gravel bottom, nose sucking water,
thin arms and hands fumbling at breast strokes.
Graduation was running pell-mell without stumbling,
to the end of the short wooden dock of the boathouse,
the folding up into an egg, your cannonball,
jumping up, out, down, finally smacking and sinking.
Solitary swimming never faded but merged into kids,
races, games, somersaults, venturing further out then anyone,
just the once wakeboarding in circles the lake surface.
Each camp had its private piece of the shoreline,
but often shared, some with a boathouse and dock,
a couple with a very tiny sandy beach open to all.
I eventually became an excitable lover to each and everyone.
“Mr. Bridgton” Fishing, 1945
“Alan and I,” he wrote one time, “have enjoyed our ‘rowing’ to and from our favorite spots immensely. He is a swell pal for a fishing partner: I’ll always remember that, and we did see some lovely sunsets together.”
He had no car, my old man,
as Jake Barnes would have called his father,
so we rode with the man in the next camp,
up the ridge to the club’s golf greens,
it was about nine, dark and still,
but for our voices chattering nothings.
The very short fine grass was early dew wet,
the night crawlers were long stretched,
except for ends tuckered tight in holes,
until flashlights clicked focused light,
then the tug, struggle, the violence started,
for life, for bait for bass and white perch.
We came to row in turns, both liked it,
but that waited until I could manage oars.
The wooden boat which came with the camp,
drifted away from the boathouse for a few yards,
before the rower started a direction, a tempo,
a constant, measured stride toward the fishing spot.
It was relatively easy and pleasant work,
even if the rowing position was backward;
but that allowed the son to face the father,
the freedom for some conversation, some quiet.
I can hear the oar slice steadily the water,
feel the pull against its slight weight,
see the sun descending, the shadows appearing.
He cast his wooden lure “Minnie,” he did it well;
I liked the sound when it hit water.
Slowly, at his ease, he reeled in the line,
expectant, carefully, on guard, awaiting a strike.
We were off Knowles’ Point, roughly a good row
from the nestled camps in The Grove,
whose lights seemed earthly stars that blinked,
when the light wind shifted a leaf, a branch.
Than a wail, short and haunting, uttered three times,
usually repeated after a bit of deep silence.
It was just dark enough, the evening, the water,
so my young eyes had trouble discovering,
the black head, pointed slightly upwards,
floating near our rowboat until going under.
I tried but never could guess where it would reappear.
Postcard to Alan Seaburg, Lakeside Camp, Ingalls Grove, Bridgton, Maine, August 1, 1942:
ALAN I HEAR THERE ARE LOTS OF FISH IN THE LAKE SO I GUESS I’LL COME UP AND GET SOME. HOPE YOU ARE HAVING A GOOD TIME. FROM MITTENS.
Mittens was a family cat whose handwriting was similar to that of “Mr. Bridgton.”
It was “Mr. Bridgton” who insisted that the twins,
know the way to properly clean a fish for frying,
be it bass, white perch, pickerel or slimy bullheads.
So at fourteen I learned his way of doing it right,
indeed so well that at 80 I could probably still do it:
cut off the tail, back fins, then the belly fins,
followed by two thin slits to the guts, each side,
next severing the head from the bony spine,
grabbing it and pulling with the correct swiftness,
off it and the messy guts come with a lovely neatness.
All that is left is to peal the skin as with a sun burned back,
split the spine, rinse the two pieces, present to mother.
Of course, always the yearly Big Fish Contest,
The Old Man Vs The Kid, right Hemingway?
Only it was never a true contest, he always won,
for what chance had a sunfish, a pickerel, a pout,
compared to a white, perch, or a smallmouth bass?
what chance a mere worm to the mighty “Minnie”?
I cared; I really did care then to win the contest,
especially when his pickerel’s longer nose beat me.
And yes, I did “win” one summer, to my alas,
but how very sad that growing up was for The Kid.
Your father finally caught a big fish – the biggest bass I believe I ever caught in the Lake. It was the one that got away with “Minnie”. However, five days later a boy in the Grove was canoeing near the Christmas Tree Inn and there he found the big fish floating on the water (dead) with “Minnie” still in its mouth. He brought it back to me and, golly, were the twins glad to see “Minnie” again.
I haven’t fished for more than sixty years
I might: If with my father, If that lake, If that time
The text and poems of Maine Bridgton are under copyright by Alan Seaburg but can be republished with permission from the Anne Miniver Press. In producing this on-line version the publisher acknowledges with gratitude the assistance with the photographs of the American Artist Thomas Dahill.
THE ANNE MINIVER PRESS