Where did I go on vacations as a child?

To Maine. To places named after fish…and moose…and sometimes both. To go fishing.

We always went fishing. On our family vacations, there were no amusement parks, no tourist attractions, no road trips with stops to appreciate landmarks. My dad “Mac” only truly appreciated landmarks if they led straight into the water, where he could fish to his heart’s content (and then some) from the minute we got out of the car till the minute we got back in. My mother, sister, and I were happy to tag along, though, especially when we out-fished him, beat him at after-dinner cards, or trolled down the lake long enough to need to stop for fuel, which was candy bars and boat gas.

Growing up in western Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire, I thought the Welcome to Vacationland sign across the state border was put there just for us. Maine meant vacation, and we never thought of spending it in any other land but the land of log cabins and lunkers. The day after school got out in June, we’d all pile into the car at o-dark-thirty and head up the pike to Moosehead or Mooselookmeguntic, or some other big Maine lake harboring big brookies and salmon. For us, there was no such thing as a “staycation” around our backyard pool or even our backyard. Pools were for spoiled kids who never learned how to fish or cool off under the garden hose. And the kind of backyards you’d want to sit around in were for families who never wielded a rod hooked onto a “nice one” so they futzed around mowing and raking instead. For Mac, all decisions led to reeling ’em in up in God’s Country, and if you thought otherwise he’d thank you for leaving more space for him while you went to Storyland or whatever the heck you did in your spare time and called it fun. Besides, how many families got to stay in a two-room cabin across from Mount Kineo and watch racoons play on the porch? Or at Tomhegan, The Birches, Wildwind Cove, and all the places so steeped in legend we just had to go add our tall tales around the fireplace? Not many, I finally realized. I was halfway through elementary school before I figured out that sitting on a boat seat using my non-fishing hand to wash down PB&Js with lake water Tang while telling outhouse jokes for a week wasn’t every families’ idea of a nice getaway.

But my sister Jan and I loved every minute of it. Like puppies who don’t care they’re living the same day over and over because they’re always having the best day ever. “My butt is tingling,” I told her once on Moosehead eve, not able to put the right grownup words to how I’d be vibrating off my car seat with excitement by the next morning. Year after year, fish after fish, sunrise to sunset, we could hardly wait.

Jan and me, Moosehead Lake, 1963

So why didn’t we just buy or build our own camp on one of our favorite spots, people would often ask, to which Mac would make one of his “l know better” faces. He didn’t want us anchored in one place, he’d explain, not able to justify exploring our own lake never mind all the other blue splotches on the map. “See him? He isn’t out fishing!” he’d point out each time we floated by some “poor guy” replacing camp shingles, washing windows, or fixing pretty much anything that “tied him down” onshore.

We were sort of same old, same old, though…in a good way…with a very long tether. And we actually switched up our vacations by going to the ocean for a week each year. Fresh water in June, salt water in August. Or, in other words, trout and salmon swapped for striped bass and flounder. I fondly remember those hot seaside vacations becoming cooler and cooler the older Jan and I got. Once we were old enough to not have to be on the boat 24/7, we entertained ourselves in true Seventies free-spirited style. One year, we joined a historical excavation at Pemaquid Point, or so we told ourselves till we realized our rusty haul of ancient ship nails and pirate treasure was actually new junk washed up from a nearby dumping ground. The next year, we were allowed to roam the main drag on York Beach, doing all manner of teenage touristy things our Mum and Mac never asked about because they were too tired from being out fishing all day.

I am grateful to be able to look back on all those pre-smart phone innocent, independent memories—from before the world was a strange, scary, segmented place making us want to prove we were on a uniquely “awesome vaca” each time we left home. I’m grateful I married a guy who grew up at his very own family camp on Great East Lake and, like me, dreamed of living on a big lake in Maine then went ahead and made it come true. I’m glad we’re able to kick things up a notch with and for our daughters, venturing from our home base here on Mooselookmeguntic to all sorts of fishing, snorkeling, sightseeing adventures beyond our big blue splotch in the western mountains of Maine. I’m happy to say that I go back and forth to Moosehead, too, to the old cabin across from Kineo and to our friends’ new cabin up the road towards Tomhegan. And my butt tingles every time.

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