I share the best
thing I can make – this stitching
together the memory
and heart-scrap, this wish
– Wesley McNair, Poet Laureate of Maine, from “Reading Poems at the Grange Meeting in What Must Be Heaven,” collected in My Brother Running
I’ve been coming to Portland, Maine, in August for the last eight years. My company is based in New Gloucester, Maine, and one of my dearest friends and later boss lives in The Pine Tree State. Jack and I met at Syracuse University when we were fiction writers in the Creative Writing Program back in 1988. Yes, I know, that was a long time ago. Jack and his business partner started a publishing company in the early 2000s, and he took me on as a freelancer shortly thereafter.
I was still a freelancer at the time when I started coming to the summer summits, which commenced two years before, but have been an FTE in the last three years. Ever since that first summer summit, I have stayed with Jack and his family – he met his wife, Fay, our second year at Syracuse – for the weekend and then the company summit would begin that Monday and Tuesday. In August 2010, my family came with me, and we explored the wonderful islands in the Portland area before heading to Boston for the rest of our family vacation.
I still remember the wonder of looking out the window of the plane for the first time before landing in Portland and seeing all the quaint but sturdy New England-style homes on the waterfront and the boats with their beautiful, billowy white sails in the still water. Jack and Fay’s three kids – Genny, Nick, and Camille – taught me the proper way to eat a lobster. There is nothing like fresh Maine lobster, such that I heed Jack’s warning to never order lobster at a restaurant lest I wish to be disappointed. It’s true.
Through the years, I’ve been lucky enough to take advantage of my downtime to dash to downtown Portland and enjoy the brick sidewalks and storybook shops, and take in the fresh salt air. This year, the grandmother of one of Jacob’s baseball teammates who hails from Boston recommended that I go to The Standard Baking Co. (75 Commercial Street, Portland, ME, 04101, 207.773.2112), which is well-known not only in Portland but in New England and beyond. We stopped on a Saturday afternoon, and the small shop was hopping as people came in and out on a continuous basis (no exaggeration here). I had to try the chocolate chip cookies, which did not disappoint. I’m told that their breads and pastries are equally delicious. Definitely a destination if you’re ever in Portland.
I hit Second Time Around (28 Exchange Street, Portland, 207.761.7037), a consignment shop that has several locations on the East Coast. The Portland shop is small but well curated, which means you can swoop in and out fairly quickly. Although supersize vintage and consignment shops can produce the thrill-of-the-hunt adrenalin, oftentimes and lately they overwhelm me. In the past, I have found a Nanette Lepore brocade jacket and a vintage 1940s jacket for a song. This stop, I snagged a Marc Jacobs embellished cropped cardigan. Other favorite shops in the downtown area include Abacus Gallery (44 Exchange Street, 207.772.4880), which features Elizabeth Ng jewelry made of antique buttons; Se Vende Imports (4 Exchange Street, Portland, 207.761.1808), which has beautiful imported jewelry ranging from inexpensive to $$$; and Wyler’s (92 Exchange Street, Portland, 207.775.0751), a gift shop featuring unusual greeting cards, jewelry, clothing, shoes, and everything in inbetween.
I didn’t make it to the vintage shops Encore, Material Objects, or Pinecone+Chickadee, with the latter two also offering locally crafted goods, on Saturday, but we’ll see if I can slip it in before I return home. The other thing I failed to do is take a picture of a beautiful home typical of the area with the caption of “my next home.” There is always a next time!
When we were island hopping back in 2010, the area reminded me of Robert McCloskey’s wonderful children’s books – Blueberries for Sal, A Time of Wonder, and One Morning in Maine – and Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius. It reminded me of the wish to have given my kids an annual summer vacation on an island, where they could hop on their bikes and take off, fish, and play in the water while I read novels under the cumulus clouds and brilliant sun. In the evenings we would eat leisurely dinners on a deck under the stars, where it is warm with a slight breeze. The days stretch on seemingly without end. And the water, the water is all glass.