Thursday, August 4, 2016

Time of Marvel

My Great-Grandfather Johnson first brought his family to Flood’s Cove in Friendship, Maine in the early 20th Century, sometime around 1910. My mother vacationed here as a girl. My children are the fifth generation to summer here.

The cabin in which we stay is named Barnstable. It was, once upon a time, an actual barn. Timbers bear gnaw marks from livestock that were housed here more than a century ago. Around 1900 when the land changed hands it was converted from a farm into this summer destination.

Until I was almost seventeen I visited every year with my family. The cabin is still quite rustic, though not nearly as much as it was when I was a child. The plumbing was updated around 1990, prior to that you needed to fill jugs at the spring for drinking water, the shower was also installed about that time. Before that you needed to sponge bath with the help of an electric kettle.

Plus ça change. I take my son in the motorboat to fish for mackerel, so my Grandfather Baker did for me. We sit on the porch and look out at the cover through a trio of birch trees my Grandfather Henrik painted some decades ago, a painting which hangs in my parents home in Lakewood.

Twenty years ago the woman I would marry and start a family with, we made our first journey here together and she just fell in love with the place. Since then we would visit every couple of years, and once the kids were a certain age made it an annual thing. Spending a week or two in Flood’s Cove with members on my side of the family has become their annual tradition, too.

My relationship with this place is a bit complicated, however. In spite of the simplicity, the calm, the quiet, my associations, my memories are tied up a great deal in the interior of my thoughts as a pre-adolescent, and early teenager. I cannot walk these paths or roam these unpainted rooms without being struck by strong reminders of pop culture from the late 70s and early 80s.

A great part of the inner world I created here had to do with the fact that I was often alone. My brothers are older than me, by several years. One stopped visiting entirely when he began high school, beginning in 1978. My eldest brother began visiting with his college-age friends, and I was not invited to be part of their events. Who could blame them.

There were other kids here, to be sure, and we played our games from time to time. But I never felt as though I fit into the special, summer cliques which formed here. I could go into the details, suffice to say I usually found myself creating my own, private play. This included creating artwork out of seashells, or using carbon paper to create a daily newspaper to distribute to each of the cabins.

Summer 1980, I was searching for a new comic book. Two years earlier my brother had gotten me interested in comics, but I only had the change for and interest in one single title, Howard the Duck. This is because even at the age of ten I was already a complete smart ass. However, HTD was discontinued in 1979, and so I needed a new storyline to follow.

That summer I collected every Marvel comic I could get my hands on. I did try reading DC comics, the kids in the Bungalow (an adjacent cabin) had a number of Batman and Superman comics, but those were terrible at that time, everyone knows that.

Funny, even my memory of DC comics is associated with this place, and not from home.

There was a newsstand in Waldoboro that was well-stocked in comics, and in my search for a regular thing I purchased plenty of them, auditioning the Marvel universe.

While several titles piqued my interest, like most kids at that time I became obsessed by X-Men. It helped that Marvel was currently peddling a series of reprints, so I was able to read the title from its origins in 1964.

One single issue, however, one story held me and haunted me and is one I remember to this day. Marvel Two-In-One #69: The Thing Battles the Guardians of the Galaxy was a story about a hero from the 30th Century who returns to our present to persuade his younger self not to become an astronaut and endure the living hell of being trapped in stasis for one thousand years, unable to move but mentally awake. Today a storyline like that one would no doubt be spread out over at least a half dozen issues.

Space Panic
Then there was my quest for video games. My son plays Pokemon Go right here in the cove, I had no such release. Every day-trip to Camden, Rockland or Damariscotta I would seek out those venues which would most likely feature Space Panic, Moon Cresta, or best of all, Crazy Climber.

The next year I turned thirteen. I had met girls. I had a Walkman. For hours I would sit in a hammock at the Birchview (yet another cabin) listening to cassettes. When we would drive I would commandeer the radio. Fortunately my father was totally cool with that, also in his mid-forties, he was at that time the most interested in popular music as he ever would be.

What was popular at that exact moment in time? Jessie’s Girl, Everlasting Love, and Sukiyaki, a cover version of a Japanese love song from 1961 that made my father wistful his time in the service. It was a time of interesting transition for popular music, just then beginning to swing away from introspective Baby Boomer brooding (Games People Play) to teenage Gen X angst and weirdness (Bette Davis Eyes).

I was shocked and surprised to receive a letter - an actual, physical letter - from a girl who I had been flirting with during Bay Days. She was not subtle, she was really looking forward to my returning to Ohio. I can’t remember if I had written her first or if she had gotten the address to this resort pace from my brother. For the first time I desperately wanted to not be here, suddenly going away from home seemed a punishment and not an adventure.

My daughter is the same age this year as I was in 1981 (actually a half-year older) and upon arriving was distressed to realize that she wouldn’t be able to text message her friends from the cove, though she can still Snapchat. I was like, I dunno … like some astronaut trapped in stasis for one thousand years, unable to move but mentally awake.

My daughter has another thing I never had, for many years now she has had a friend here. They are almost the same age, they don’t communicate throughout the year (we have taken to negotiating with the girl’s parents to make sure we are in the cove at the same time) but spend all their time together when they’re in this place.

Nineteen eighty-two is lost to me. I can’t remember anything except feeling entirely alone. This is where my troubles began. My big birthday gift was an Apple II+ so that was cool, but it was also when I began to become peevish about having to visit.

Last year, when my son was ten, he taught the eight year-old staying here how to play a first-person sniper assassination video game. That’s nothing. When I was fourteen I taught a five year-old I was babysitting how to turn a can of bug spray into a flamethrower.

Can you see the bird?
The following year, 1983, was the end of the innocence and wonder. Only fifteen but my mind was older, I had a girlfriend in Cleveland to get back toand a desperate need to watch absolutely anything they broadcast on MTV. Making matters worse, there was an entire team of young adults here that summer, my eldest brother and visitors from Europe (former exchange program “family” members) and others from Bay Village who were just that much older than me to make my life miserable.

True, I was a complete dick that summer. But I was no longer the least bit interested in the bucolic setting, the sea, the trees, the quiet. I wanted music and dancing and fooling around. My solace was in trips to the towns where I could shop for records - records I wouldn’t even be able to play until I got home - and to immerse myself in cabinet video games.

Even then I accompanied my family to Maine for two more summers before graduating high school and breaking with tradition. Returning after a five-year break in 1990, I recall heading out to the great rock which faces Muscongus Bay. Even then I wasn’t ready to take in the landscape as it exists. I was wearing headphones and listening to Michael Penn.

My daughter loves it here. I have always wondered how long that would last, when the pull of home, of teenage interests would overwhelm the simple wonders of this corner of the world. My wife reminds me that she's not me.

The girl may have technological tethers to her life at home, devices which were not available to me, and a friend to look forward to seeing here. But she also finds beautiful places to sit and read, she loves to play the violin out-of-doors, to sit on a rock and sketch.

Tonight, our second-to-last night in the cove for the year, we had an extended social evening her at Barnstable. Wine hour with friends in the cove, a long dinner with family, a dozen sitting around the table, four generations represented (the youngest at ten months, the eldest eighty-one) my wife and I took a walk into the darkness, each step away from the light of the cabin the sky grew starker, the sky turning black, the most visible stars soon subsumed by an array of billions, the Milky Way evident and elegant, streaming across the heavens.

'S wonderful. 'S marvelous.

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