Last week, on Beal and Bunker’s mail boat, I got chatting with a young family I had never met, just arrived in Maine. In a few minutes we discovered that the tiny lake in upstate New York where they had just been vacationing was the same lake where my family has spent summers for five generations.
“We just saw your parents yesterday morning!” they exclaimed. It made my head spin.
Maine’s population may be small, but our influence is extensive. Just start collecting a list of out-of-state license plates and you’ll see how far Maine’s reach extends across the continent. Time and again in our small communities, one hears stories of unlikely coincidences that unite Maine with far away places. Today’s story is an example of one of those delightful Maine-made connections.
Last month at Left Bank Books, my favorite little bookstore in Searsport, Jane McCloskey gave a talk about her new book, “Robert McCloskey: A Private Life in Words and Pictures.” It is a biography of Jane’s father, author of several children’s books set in Maine.
Mindy Blake, of Hampden, attended the Aug. 5 talk on behalf of her cousin, Sandra, an avid McCloskey fan from Ohio. She left her husband, Stan, on board their boat, Alert, in Stockton Springs and headed to Searsport for the talk.
At the urging of her friends, Mindy sent me her story.
“Friday evening I drove to Left Bank, a charming, tiny bookstore [previously a bank] in Searsport. Jane McCloskey, a daughter of the renowned children’s book author-illustrator Robert McCloskey was there to sign her just-published book about her famous father.
“Robert McCloskey, the author of ‘Blueberries for Sal,’ ‘Burt Dow, Deep-water Man,’ ‘Make Way for Ducklings,’ and other classic children’s books, was born in Hamilton, Ohio, also my hometown. My ancestors founded Hamilton.
“Robert McCloskey’s sister, Dorothy, graduated from Hamilton High school the same year as my mother; in my copy of the 1936 Hamilton High School yearbook, Dorothy’s picture is right above that of my mother, Carol McMechan. Jane was visibly moved when I showed her the picture of her aunt in the yearbook, and asked if I would send her a copy of the page.
“A Robert McCloskey museum opened a few years ago in Hamilton. My cousin Sandra volunteers as a guide in the museum. Sandra is most knowledgeable about McCloskey, his books, his life. When Sandra visited Maine for the first time three years ago, her mission was to visit Deer Isle, the setting for some of McCloskey’s books. As elementary school teachers in Hamilton, Sandra and her mother served a combined total of 70 years or more.
“In the bookstore, after attendees finished asking Jane their questions, I raised my hand to say: ‘I was born 70 years ago in Hamilton, Ohio [heads swiveled in my direction; Jane looked straight at me]. All of my family still lives there. My cousin Sandra serves as a guide in the McCloskey museum in Hamilton … my mother Carol dated your dad in middle school! [I found this out three years ago from Sandra] If my mother hadn’t blown it, I’d be you!’
“Laughter broke out. Later, Ms. McCloskey signed my copy of her father’s children’s book ‘Lentil’ which is set in Hamilton. At my request Jane inscribed ‘Lentil’ to my cousin, Sandra.
“As I was leaving, one of the bookstore owners pointed out the wide-open, massive old vault left from the bookstore’s days as a bank. Pointing to the vault, the owner smilingly commented to me: ‘made at Mosley Safe Company located in Hamilton.’ I responded, ‘That was my father’s first job in Hamilton, working at Mosley Safe.’
“After a homemade slice of blueberry cake, I drove 10 miles north to Stockton Springs harbor where Stan rowed out in Alert’s dinghy to pick me up at beach’s edge. The next morning, cocooned in my sleeping bag in the forward berth, I was still remembering the events of the previous evening.“
Thank you, Mindy, for a lovely slice of Maine, flavored with books, celebrity and a little town in Ohio.
Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.