Gifts from the Past

By Cecelia Cook

I am blessed with wonderful memories of living and working in different parts of the country. Having lived two-thirds of my years in the Deep South and one-third on the central Eastern Seaboard, working in the Southwest, the Pacific Northwest, the Northeast and the West Coast provided me a new perspective of our country: areas which were still rugged around the edges, not yet completely tamed by man. I began jotting down snippets about my adventures in my new surroundings and later converted them to Word documents. Last evening, I ran across a forgotten electronic folder entitled Journal Entries. It had 10 entries made over a 6-year time span, from Maine to South Dakota to New Mexico and points in between. I’m thankful I made these “journal” entries. When I read them today, it was like opening a gift from the woman I was then to the woman I am now – my memories, a gift from the past.

***

Wednesday August 27, 2003 – Casco Bay, Maine

It’s my off day today and it’s perfect. It’s 10:15 am, and I have no desire to be anywhere else in the world. Nowhere! I’m sitting on the deck of a ferry hopscotching from island to island across the Casco Bay. My bike is secured below on the freight deck, and I’m on my way to an adventure: exploring Great Chebeaque Island, the outermost island in Casco Bay.

The ferry is headed north, the wind is out of the west and the sun is at mid-morning position in the east. There is a slight chop on the water and the combination of the height of the wave with the angle of the sun produces a pattern on the water of gulls in flight – silver gulls. Hundreds, then thousands of flickering, silver gulls as the eye moves toward the horizon in the east. Just before the horizon, the silver gulls all meld into one vast mirrored surface.

The day is singing, and my heart joins right in – I may not recall the words my heart sang in my younger days, but I remember the tune. I want to remember this morning forever. I thought I’d forgotten how it felt to be truly “in the moment” – I was afraid I had become a woman anesthetized by the rush, rush of modern life to the point I couldn’t feel beauty. Thank God, I still can. For some, the ability to feel beauty IS joy.

I push my bike off at the dock at Chebeaque and ride to the northern tip of the island to have lunch at the Old Chebeaque Inn constructed in 1924. This “new” hotel replaced the one built in the 1800s, which burned in 1920. The white wood frame structure is three stories with a veranda (that’s what they call a covered porch in Maine) running the entire length of the building and wrapping around both ends. The dining room faces the harbor, but there are only a few patrons.

Maybe they heard the menu is a piece of fiction. Neither of my first two menu choices is available: all I can get is a hamburger. However, the disappointment with the lunch fare is quickly dispelled by the fascination of sitting on the veranda of that old hotel with a glass of wine listening to music from the 1940s. How historically fitting as Casco Bay was the U.S. North Atlantic Fleet’s refueling center during WWII – the last stop for fuel before crossing the Atlantic Ocean. German U-Boats lurking close to the bay entrance sank an untold number of U.S. ships, and the locals have lots of stories about these times and the red horizon lines at night. U.S. losses were never publicized.

Even though I cannot see them on the veranda, I can feel the long-ago presence of young servicemen in uniform escorting pretty young ladies in feminine summer dresses and sling-back pumps. Everyone is smoking Luckies or Camels. My fantasy even has sound effects: lots of laughter and ice tinkling in glasses. The couples dance – not fast dancing, but very slow and with bodies very close. Even an imaginary spectator can sense their electric sense of urgency: they are temporary people in a temporary situation. It’s a very haunting experience, even if self-fabricated. I won’t forget it.

After lunch, I explore the hotel’s first floor nooks and crannies and find a collection of yellowed sheet music stacked behind the glass doors of an old wooden bookcase. One piece is entitled “The Rose of a Navy Man” (was the rose a tattoo or a woman?) along with other titles I have never heard before. The piano and bench were all that was salvaged from the 1920s fire. Had this sheet music been stored in the bench? The collection had to date back to World War I or even earlier. I carefully fold the ancient paper and replace it in the bookcase.

I hate to leave, but there is a ferry to catch and I’m not a strong swimmer.

***

A 2011 update on The Chebeaque Island Inn: The grand old dame was completely renovated in 2005 and enjoys a five-star historical hotel rating as well as a #11 ranking of the top 50 small hotels in America. I went back in 2007, but it was closed for some unknown reason. All I could do was peep into the first floor lobby windows. The common areas looked upscale English Country Estate. But I missed the slightly worn carpets, the rump sprung chairs and old books on the shelves. I do hope they didn’t trash the old telephone switchboard, it was a classic. Someday I want to go back, sit on the veranda, have a glass of wine and find out if the spirits of the servicemen and the young women of WWII return – or whether the renovations removed the power of their memories to draw them back to this place. For me, I must go back.

About this writer

  • Cecelia Cook Cecelia Cook worked for Southern University Press, primarily in historical research but created the copy for the book, Postcards of Birmingham and wrote travel brochures. Since retiring and moving to Pawleys Island in 2005, Cecelia has taken numerous creative writing courses, is active in many area environmental groups and loves off-the-beaten path travel as much as the budget will permit. She cooks and cleans when absolutely necessary.

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20 Responses to “Gifts from the Past”

  1. Joyce Walden says:

    Celia! Wonderful writing…I wanted more. So glad your sister shared it with me. Do more!

  2. Candy Crenshaw says:

    Great job Cecelia. Your writing is just like a conversation with you. I can see you thumbing through the yellowed music, and hearing the long-ago conversations of servicemen and their dates.

  3. Fayellen Bone says:

    I just loved reading your story. It made me feel as if I were there riding on the ferry and sitting on that hotel porch long ago with all the servicemen and young ladies.I hope to read more of your writings!

  4. Wanda Wilson says:

    I agree! This reminiscience was a wonderful gift from the woman you once were to the woman you are now. Certainly a day and a memory to cherish! I LOVE, LOVE descriptive writing that makes you feel you are there — to the point that you know exactly what the writer was seeing and experiencing! I call it armchair traveling! I hope all your travels have rewarded you with such good memories!

  5. Cecelia, your story is beautiful. I returned to read it again today, And even the second reading produce in me an awe that your memories, so deftly written, engender in me memories that call me back. Thank you for the trip down memory lane.

  6. Janet Swan says:

    great story. it was very easy to visualize though I have never seen the hotel. love stories like this

  7. Ciro DiLorenzo says:

    Cecelia, wonderfully written. I have been to that inn and know of what you speak. It is magical. I hope to read more of your work.

  8. Lynne Hardy says:

    Cecelia, thanks for sharing your memories. Great descriptive writing. I felt I was sitting on the veranda with you and sipping wine. Would love to read more of your writings.

    • Sylvia Dover says:

      Cecelia Thanks for sharing. Wonderful writting. Made me fill like I was there. Love the Coast and stories pretaining to it. Hope to hear more from you

  9. Margie Reynolds says:

    Wonderful dreams helps make a life happy. Ienjoyes reading your adventure.

  10. Martha Mundis says:

    Cecelia,

    A wonderful essay. I can also hear the servicemen and girls enjoying some precious moments before they all ends. Really liked the history lesson you included about the U-boats.

    Looking forward to learning more about your “gifts.”

  11. mariette zanca says:

    Cecelia, I really enjoyed sharing your memories, it was as if I was there with you and looking at everything through my own eyes.
    I hope you will get the chance to write some more.of your work.
    God Bless.

  12. Rosamond Hobart says:

    I always enjoy reading whatever Cecelia writes. She makes her experiences so real. Thank you for publishing this so that more people can enjoy her talent.

  13. Laura Harling says:

    I look forward to reading more of your stories.

  14. Jann Gordon says:

    Much enjoyed reading Cecelia’s comments. Very descriptive and made me feel like I was there with her. Looking forward to reading more!

  15. Norma Nisbet says:

    Gifts from the Past by Cecelia Cook is a delightful article. I felt like I was there with Cecelia, exploring Great Chebeaque Island and Old Chebeaque Inn. Cecelia has a remarkable ability to enable the reader to visualize her subject. I hope you will have more articles by Cecelia. I am in this area for 4 months of the year to visit my family and always pick up a copy of Sasee. Norma Nisbet

  16. Catherine Brazelton says:

    Cecelia, I loved reading about the trip to the Chebeauque Inn and hope that I have the opportunity to read more about your travels. I really feel like I was there with you having that glass of wine; you do know how to bring someone right along with you. Be sure to let me know when your travel book is published.

  17. Mary Clardy says:

    Love your story.

  18. Barbara Bennett says:

    Cecelia, what a beautiful essay. Especially loved the bits of history within your story. We should all spend more time sitting on a porch, learning more about past events and people. Thank you for enjoyable reading!

  19. Ella Furlong says:

    Cecelia,
    Congratulations! Your talent for writing has been recognized. I love your travel stories and look forward to seeing more of your submissions in print!

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