*Some of the stories shared on this page will probably never be seen in the literary magazines. However, I feel that they have some value and I’m glad to share them with you. “The Long Dirt Road” is the beginning of a series that appeared on my Facebook last year. These stories are about growing up in the Maine woods in a cabin at the lake without electricity or running water in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. Writing them brought me back to that time and I was able to re-capture some of the thrills and the challenges faced. I hope you find some thrills in reading them.
By Kristy Gherlone
Summer story series
If you’ve ever stayed in one spot long enough, no matter how much you like it, you start longing for a change of scenery.
For me, living at camp all summer, it came on gradually. Things that were exciting and new at the beginning of the season started to dull. Back in the late 1970’s, when I was just a kid, this happened nearly every mid- summer.
I’d catch a fish and swear I’d already caught that same one a half dozen times. Boat bailing and treks to the outhouse became more like work, and I’d swear I’d die if I had to haul one more pail of water!
Right about the time I’d caught my fill of frogs, the lake became a little tepid for swimming, and my sister and I were at the height of our summer bickering, my parents would talk about packing up the truck for a drive to Upstate New York, where my grandparents lived.
Apparently, the open road had been calling to all of us.
The anticipation of the journey would keep me from sleeping the night before. Campgrounds and swimming pools! Four lane highways and side attractions! My belly was full of butterflies as I lay in my swinging bed at camp, imagining all the fun we were going to have.
The morning of, our coolers were packed with sodas and sandwich fixings, cookies and condiments. My dad would stow the tents, camp stoves, and pillows in the back of the truck, and with a hasty ‘See ya later camp! We’ll be back!’ we’d head down the long dirt road that led south to 95.
I’d been the hour to Bangor several times. It was as lifeless and boring as a dry creek bed. There was nothing to see. I used to dream about having a portable television so I could make that stretch go faster! My sister and I would fight over the radio station, but dad had the final say, usually settling on anything playing his favorite, Ann Murray.
After Bangor, things got interesting. Towns and cities appeared nearly every few miles. If I finagled my way to the window seat, I’d roll down the window and stick my head out. The warm wind blew my hair and tickled my ears. Dad would say, “You’re gonna get bugs in your teeth riding like that.” But I didn’t care.
Inevitably, I’d start to see and smell the aromas of fast food restaurants and start begging to stop. All we had in our town was a McDonalds, so anything else was exciting.
“Why would we eat that crap when we’ve got real food?” Dad would grunt.
He’d keep right on going, but we’d stop at meal times to eat at the rest areas. My mother would haul out the red and white checkered table cloth, straighten it with one big whip and a little help from the breeze, and lay it flat on the picnic table before setting out the food.
There we’d sit, eating our lunches among strangers in lands foreign to me. Sitting out there under the shade of the pine trees, I’d grumble about French fries and burgers, but that was my job as a kid!
We’d get back into the truck again and roll on. The air was filled with newness. I could barely wait to see where we were going to camp that night. As long as it had a pool, I’d be happy.
In our travels over the years, I saw a lot. I’ve been to the depths of Howe Caverns. A lengthy downward elevator took us to the bowels of the earth, to a place where Huckleberry Finn used to roam. I touched a stalagmite and canoed in an underwater river. I’ve seen Fort Ticonderoga and I’ve been to Sturbridge Village. I’ve fed the goats and deer in the Catskills. I thrilled in every part of the journey because for a girl from a small town, I knew in those moments how much more there was out there. It made my mind swim with possibilities.
As we neared our destination, however, the excitement would fade just a tad.
Visiting grandparents when you’re a kid is a tricky business. You’re either going to be bored to tears or they’ll give you so much to do you’d wish you were bored to tears. It was a crap shoot.
My grandparents usually had a lot for us to do, but on the good visits, grandad would pack us into the old station wagon and drive us to their cottage in Pennsylvania. It smelled musty and old in there until grandad rushed around opening the windows, letting in the clean pond air. It was also filled with stuff from the past. Kitchen gadgets and furniture lived there that were older than me. I’d walk around looking at things and try to imagine what life was like back when those things were new. Grandad would put a Sinatra record on the player and tell me about the dances they used to have across the pond at the pavilion.
There at the cottage, I’d do pretty much everything I’d been doing all summer at my own camp, but it felt different. I traded ordinary squirrels for the ones that flew. Perch fishing for bass, and canoe paddling for my granddad’s row boat. Eventually, though it would be time for us to say goodbye.
It’s funny, now, that I don’t remember much about the drive home, but I do remember feeling relieved as we turned onto the long dirt road, leading back to camp.
Those road trips all those years ago were the best part of summer, but after being gone so long, everything seemed fresh and new again.
My feelings about needing a change of scenery every so often haven’t waned, now that I’m older. The open road still calls to me. Every summer I long to hop in the car and take a long drive. I hope this summer I’ll get to do just that.