From Our Readers: Love Letters About the First Trip to Maine
For our March/April issue, we asked readers to write a letter about their first visit to the Pine Tree State.
After years of living on Long Island and in New York City, working paycheck to paycheck, I made a career change that would shift my entire life. I became a launch boat captain at a tugboat company and was making good money, enough money to treat myself to a vacation in a new state. On August 3, 2016, at 34 years old, I was headed north to explore Maine.
My first day was spent wandering the city of Portland. I was stunned by the majesty of the Portland Head Light and the surrounding cliffs of Cape Elizabeth. The next five days were spent exploring Monhegan Island, hiking, swimming, and paddleboarding in Camden, taking boat rides around Harpswell, swimming in the crisp waters of the Gulf of Maine, strolling barefoot on beaches, and eating all the lobster and blueberry pie I could handle!
Then came my final night in Maine. After a brief rain shower en route to Seguin Light, the sky began to open. As my guide and I moored the boat and came ashore, a double rainbow appeared over the lighthouse. It took my breath away. As I sat on a bench, taking in the sunset and natural beauty of everything I had seen and experienced those last few days, I knew I was home. Maine was where I belonged.
As I write this, I am sitting in my dining room in South Portland. My home.
—Jess Yeomans, South Portland
Maine is my home, even though I’ve only lived in it for two years of my life. I was born in Portland, at Mercy Hospital, in 1950 and lived there for the first year of my life. Years later, when my father was deployed to Iran, my family returned to Portland, and I went to Sacred Heart School for the third grade. I remember walking with my cousin, Chris, through the snow in Deering Oaks Park to get to school. On Saturdays, at ages eight and ten, we would walk to Congress Street for lunch at Woolworth’s and then have a hot fudge sundae at the Splendid. In the summer, we swam at Higgins Beach and Sebago Lake. We ate Italians, whoopie pies, Cushman’s doughnuts, fried clams, and lobster rolls.
My grandparents first came to Maine from Ireland. It reminded them of the rocky shores of Donegal. My parents were born and raised in Portland. My mother went to Portland High, and my father went to Deering. They loved growing up there. All of our relatives remained in Portland and South Portland. As a military family, wherever my parents, my younger sister, and I lived in the world (Salzburg, Austria; Tucson, Arizona; Bogota, Colombia) we would come “home to Maine” to see the family before our next assignment. Maine was our touchstone before we headed off on our next adventure.
Whenever people ask me where I’m from, I say, “I live in Virginia, but I’m from Maine.”
—Joan Fox, Alexandria, VA
Hanging on my and my husband’s bedroom wall is a framed portrait of the night sky from December 19, 2005. Most people get these prints to commemorate a wedding, the night they first met, the birth of a child, but not us. Ours illustrates the night sky in Kennebunkport on our first night in Maine.
We were 23, on winter break from grad school, and looking to celebrate our recently back-together status as high school sweethearts after a few on-again, off-again years throughout college. Christmastime was (and is) a big deal to us, and my husband had searched for a quintessential New England town to visit, landing us in Kennebunkport, at the only inn with an ocean view that was still open for winter.
We spent three days waking up for sunrises over the horizon, browsing art galleries, collecting mementos from shops, and walking along frigid but gloriously empty beaches. We even went for a real horse-drawn sleigh ride (and yes, we sang “Jingle Bells” along the way), and snagged the prime table by the window for dinner at the White Barn Inn. The town was mostly empty, locals informed us, because we had just missed Christmas Prelude, Kennebunkport’s annual holiday celebration, which stretches over the first two weekends of December each year. If we came back, they said, we should come for Prelude.
And come back we did, the next year, and the year after that and the year after that. We just got back from our sixteenth year. This time was a bit different, as everything in 2020 has been: Prelude persisted with safe practices, virtual adjustments, and lots of extra holiday lights all about town. And though we have come to love the cheerful traditions of Prelude, like the tree lighting, and the cookie tour, and the carol singers, the quiet and the stillness of this year’s visit reminded me so much of our first trip.
Of course it wasn’t too quiet, with our two children, one of them a toddler, careening around, but somehow, with our own 16 years’ worth of traditions—singing Christmas songs for the seven-hour car ride, screaming “Yeah, Maine!” in the middle of that bridge (you know the one), visiting our favorite gallery with the artists who’ve now become great friends, taking pictures with the ocean as our backdrop, and sipping Prelude Ale—we felt the magic of that first year more than ever, maybe because we needed it more than ever.
I bought our night sky portrait a few years ago as a Christmas present for my husband, the year we decided to move to Maine. We are still trying to make it work; maybe the extra magic we felt during Prelude this year will help us finally call our favorite place home for good soon. Until then, we plan to be back next December, and the next, and the next, and the next . . .
—Penelope Gene, Massapequa Park, NY
On a cold January evening, I fell in love with Maine while singing “Life Is a Highway” with strangers around a piano in Ogunquit. What was special about that night? Every July, for 13 years, our family had spent a week in Maine. There was always a lot to love, but that evening was my first wintertime experience. We had decided to drive up for just one night, and I was nervous with anticipation. How would I feel seeing Maine in a different season? When we arrived, we were among just a handful of people in town. Any worry I had quickly dissipated. There was a unique stillness and a sense of calm when we walked the beach. The unparalleled beauty of the Marginal Way Walk was even more striking, and the food tasted just as good as I remembered.
For many, a peaceful moment in nature prompts a profession of Maine love. For me, it happened when I reached “the steps,” steps that I had seen many summers before and that cannot be missed when you enter the Front Porch Piano Bar and Restaurant. Those steps are symbolic—they transport visitors to another world, one that can often be heard from the street. I had traded in my sundress for a winter coat, but the room was still crowded, and that world was still there. That night, I knew Maine is made of the people, the laughter, the inclusivity, and the knowing that, even in the middle of January, you can sing loudly and come home.
We have since decided to build a house in Maine so that we have our own home here for years to come.
—Andrea L. Glass, Kennebunkport