Maine attraction: Family fun, serene scenes
By Ian Gregor
It dawned on me as I was loading our luggage into the back
of my well-used Nissan Pathfinder:
“Am I missing something or is this really easy?”
Don’t get me wrong — our annual trips to coastal Maine have
always been relaxing, even when our two children were younger and labor-intensive.
It takes a lot of effort to stress out amid fresh air, historic Colonial-era
homes, spectacular ocean views and the joys of not having to adhere to a
routine, mow a lawn or feed, walk and clean up after a 95-pound Labrador retriever.
But as we headed off to LAX a few weeks ago for our red-eye
flight to Manchester, N.H., I couldn’t shake the feeling that something
was different this time around.
Consigned to photo albums and the recesses of our memories
are the wonderful accoutrements of infancy — portable cribs, high chairs,
bottles, sippy cups, mounds of toys and the dreaded double stroller that
I used to lug filled with children up the stairs of the wooden foot bridge
that spans Perkins Cove, the inlet in the town of Ogunquit, Maine (population
1,800), where we own a week of time shares in the summer and fall.
That’s not all. Now our children — Erica, 7, and Nicholas,
4 — actually are interested in doing some of the things that my wife, Diane,
and I want to do, especially if it involves hooking fish or hiking on trails
where they can stop every 18 seconds to examine a near-microscopic bug. And,
for the first time, Nicky can last an hour in a respectable restaurant without
turning into a savage.
After we landed, the kids napped in the back seat and Diane
gazed into the woods that shroud the highways while I drove our rented car
east from Manchester toward Route 1, which connects Ogunquit with Portsmouth
20 miles to the south. It always feels as if we’re returning home as we
cruise north on Route 1. We’re eager to see which restaurants and stores
failed to survive the previous tourist-starved winter and spring, and it
never ceases to amaze us that the guy who’s been building that two-story
log cabin just south of Ogunquit has made virtually no progress on the project
in the 10 years we’ve been visiting.
When we hit the center of town, which is marked by the intersection
of Route 1 with Shore Road, it felt, as it always does, as if we’d never
left. We were greeted by the ubiquitous sight of the Latest Scoop
ice cream and coffee shop across the street from The Front
Porch, a meticulous bar-restaurant that caters to the sizable gay population
that descends on Ogunquit during summer weekends.
This year, we decided on a 10-day trip to Maine. For the
first three nights we rented a room in the Studio East motel, which is smack
in the center of town and offers small but comfortable rooms for a reasonable
$109 a night — and always accommodates our request for an early check-in.
The first thing we did after unpacking was jump on one of
the trolleys that run through town and head south to Perkins Cove. In addition
to offering postcard-perfect views of moored fishing boats and a collection
of fine shops and little art galleries, Perkins Cove is the home of the
Lobster Shack, which serves up the best lobster rolls anywhere. It’s owned
by Jason Evans, whose father took over the business in 1986 before retiring
last year, and his wife, April. They’re personable and Jason has a mind
like a steel trap. When I walked in this year minus the goatee that I sported
last year and wearing glasses instead of my usual contact lenses, Jason
greeted me by name and remarked that the journalism business must have been
crazy after Sept. 11. Then he asked Diane and me if we wanted our standard
Casco Bay Pilsners with our lobster rolls.
Nodding off from lack of sleep and a couple of cold beers,
we headed back to our room for a nap before a pizza dinner, after which
we made the mandatory ice cream stop at The Latest Scoop.
The next morning we woke refreshed after 11-hour slumbers.
From our room, it was barely a two-minute stroll along a charming and uneven
red brick sidewalk to a small market, several good restaurants and our beloved
ice cream parlor. Another three minutes brought us to Ogunquit Beach, which
sports a mile of undeveloped shoreline on one side of a little peninsula
and a small bay on the other.
Naturally, we headed here first because the bay at low tide
is a fine place to catch crabs using the daddy-dives-into-the-cold-water
method or, alternatively, mussel meat that my children tie to strings and
toss into the water like fishing lines. Gregor family tradition holds that
we place the crabs in beach buckets, where they undoubtedly have a grand
time, until Daddy, after changing the water several times, announces that
we need to let the crabs go or else they’ll die. Then we repeat the procedure.
The surf on the ocean side is pretty small but just the right
size for 4- and 7-year-olds to use boogie boards. On day two, which happened
to be July 4, Erica and I boarded and surfed while Nicky hunted crabs. Later
that evening, we enjoyed a spectacular, half-hour Independence Day fireworks
My in-laws are the ones who introduced us to Ogunquit a decade
ago. We loved it so much that we bought a week of time shares in the summer
and fall in the Hillcrest Inn, which was built in 1911 on a wooded plateau
where one hill stops and another begins.
Staying in the center of town was pleasant and convenient
but we feel as if our vacation really starts when he check into Hillcrest.
Our summer unit is a spacious, east-facing one-bedroom apartment on the
second floor that offers an ocean view and has hard wood floors and throw
rugs in the living room/dining area and a big carpeted bedroom. We’re just
one floor up from my in-laws’ unit, which allows our children to continuously
dash up and down the stairs to visit Grandma and Papa.
The only drawback to our annual Maine visits is that as we
explore more places and do more things, we find that there’s no way we can
get through our entire to-do list. This past year, we didn’t make it to
the wonderful Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, the summer town of the Bush
family that is about 20 miles north of Ogunquit. Nor did we make it to Portland,
a picturesque port city 20 miles north of Kennebunkport, or the wonderful
beach at Cape Neddick, which is in the town of York, a few miles south of
Ogunquit. And I didn’t get out kayaking along Maine’s craggy shoreline either.
But this year, we did considerably more than usual, in no
small part because the children are older and more adventurous.
Diane made several outings to the antique shops that dot
Route 1 and Shore Road, and walked most days along Marginal Way, a 1\-mile
path that winds above the shoreline between Perkins Cove and the center of
town. I went running almost every morning, either on Marginal Way and the
beach or through the myriad trails that cut through the surrounding woods,
where crude stone walls erected by farmers a century-and-a-half ago or more
Naturally, though, most of our time was spent with Erica
and Nicky. There are plenty of things for kids to do in and around Ogunquit,
including several miniature golf courses. We also went hiking twice on Mt.
Agamenticus, a low peak just west of Ogunquit where the children rode horses
for rent at public stables.
A highlight of every trip is chartering a fishing boat run
by Dennis McMahon, known to all as “Satch” because he lived for a time in
New Orleans. We first met Satch 10 years ago when he supplemented his teacher’s
income by working summers on a fishing boat out of Perkins Cove called the
“Bunny Clark.” A few years ago, Satch bought an old boat from the widow
of a man named Bobby Coombs, who pitched in the major leagues for the Philadelphia
Athletics and New York Giants and taught Satch’s sons, Whit and Dennis, how
to throw curve balls.
The “Gath III,” which Coombs named after his wife, Agatha,
is one of the oldest active fishing boats in Maine. Now Whit and Den, who
are in their early 20s, have their captains’ licenses too; father and sons
take turns running trips on the Gath III and the “India Marie,” a boat that
the family bought last year and named after Satch’s daughter.
This year was the first time we took both children fishing
for striped bass, although Erica has accompanied me on previous trips. Nicky
took to the sport, well, like a fish to water. He and Erica delighted in
pulling up one, two, three, even four mackerel and pollock at a time, which
we collected and dumped into a salt water tank to use as live striper bait.
When it came time for catching stripers, Whit maneuvered
the boat up to a series of rocky coastal protrusions. Erica landed the first
striper, but it was one quarter of an inch too long to keep. (Maine allows
you to keep stripers between 20 and 26 inches and over 40 inches to preserve
the breeding population.) Diane caught the next fish, a keeper at 24 inches,
and her father, Art Fitzgerald, quickly nailed another keeper. As we were
preparing to call it a day after 4½ hours at sea, I finally got a
bite on my line and reeled in a 7½-pound striper that, like Erica’s,
was too big to keep.
We fried the fish that night in butter and washed them down
with some full-bodied Shipyard Ales.
Our favorite find this year was the Chauncy Creek Lobster
Pound, a charming little restaurant built onto a big dock on the banks of
a tranquil creek by the same name in the city of Kittery, just north of
the New Hampshire border. You can down your lobster roll in the sun or under
a canopy, and if you happen to pull up in a boat, a waitress will come out
to take your order and deliver your food.
Another wonderful discovery was Lindbergh’s Crossing, a cozy,
dark restaurant on the bottom floor of a 200-year-old brick building in
Portsmouth near the banks of the Piscataqua River. Wisely, we left the children
with Diane’s parents and were able to fully appreciate the charm of the
blackened interior brick walls, the immense wood ceiling beams and the excellent
The food was like nothing I have ever tasted. I started with
the $9.50 mussels marinated in white wine and shallots, followed by a $16
vegetarian roasted mushroom paella that exploded with flavors of rosemary
and oregano. Diane had chicken and pine nut empanadas in sherry sauce for
$8 and garlic marinated beef and sauteed shrimp with creamy polenta and
sofrito for $19.We sidestepped the pricey wine list in favor of a couple
of full-bodied local draft ales, and rolled out of there entirely content.
I’m already counting down the time until we return to Maine
— 44 weeks.
Date:September, 1, 2002