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Guest Blog by John Ford
One of the nice things about traveling from Sharon, MA to Appleton, Maine is the dedicated four hours of reflection time spent getting there. Sure, most people would probably say that’s too long to travel, but I’ve found that time to be a welcomed reprise from the world and the prerequisite for entering “Maine Time,” which is far different than “Massachusetts Time.” In Maine, it takes a minimum of a half hour to get anywhere. Time is protracted in Maine, and I’ve come to love that, too.
Often during the rides, Ann-Marie and I listen to audio books on our way North ( Remind me sometime to give you some great book recommendations). Other times, she listens to photography pod casts with her ear buds, and I just enjoy the quiet time thinking. I usually tell myself that during this trip I’m going to focus on some issues and work through some solutions in my mind. Or, I plan to to formulate a nice story to blog about. However, I find that my focus lasts for about 30 seconds, and then, like a frenetic squirrel running from tree to tree, my thoughts start to bounce from one random thought to another. During the most recent trip I couldn’t help but to think, “Do smart people have the capacity to think longer thoughts, and is that why they’re smart?”
Although, I also realize that while I struggle to focus, my brain is also competing with my musings by consciously and subconsciously computing the millions of pieces of information that is required to keep my car traveling safely on the road. It’s probably a good thing that my focus is overridden by self-preservation.
In any event, here are a couple of random thoughts I had during our recent trip to Maine.
One of these random thoughts was about sleep. I could write a whole blog on sleep. When I worked the midnight shift ( ten years in total) I came to truly appreciate the body’s need for unadulterated shut-eye. My sleep pattern became so disrupted and disjointed that, at one point I was close to hospitalization. Thank goodness those days (and nights) are in the past.
In my 66 years, or approximately 23,496 nights of potential sleep, I have had plenty of good slumber. Yet, during this life, only a very small number of nights of remarkable sleep. The kind of rest that feels like you’re waking from another world. Maybe three remarkable sleeps total - and two could be credited to whatever drug they give you before an Upper GI and a Colonoscopy.
The best natural sleep I can remember occurred when I was 12 years old.I had the
the best sleep I had ever had. It was the summer of 1968. I was on a New Hampshire camping trip with my family. The campground had a small pond and a row boat which could be used at will. Rowing a boat by myself was a thrill to a 12 year old and I spent hours perfecting my maritime skills in the warmth of our late August vacation. Exhausted, I later returned to our old ten-man, cabin style, tent. The pungency of the thick, slightly mildewed, canvass was the comforting smell of those rare vacations that we took. It’s funny how your brain can magically recall odors.
I feel bad for kids nowadays. Today, most families don’t go camping and if they do they usually have one of those fancy nylon LL Bean jobs that beautifully repels rain and can be put up in seconds. Our tent took hours to put together and my father would systematically lay the parts out before my mother and I were assigned our places for the moment of truth. Something like the itinerant tent raisers at the Barnum and Bailey Circus. We also had those foldable cots that were awesome, particularly when compared to constantly deflating air mattresses, or the hardness of the ground.
I had fallen asleep on one one of those cots and I awoke a lifetime later with the setting sun playing on my face. My hair was wet with sweat and my body truly felt as if I had been transported to another place. I was in a fog, but also truly energized. What made the waking moments even more eerie was that as I peered outside the tent there was no-one to be found. My parents and siblings were absent. In fact, the whole campground seemed deserted. If I had reached the age of shaving, I would not have been surprised if I had found a Rip Van Winkle beard sporting from my face. As I stood alone outside the tent, the world seemed so lonely and scary, but it also felt so wonderfully refreshed and exhilarating, due to this unearthly sleep I had just physically experienced.
I didn’t know at the age of 12 that some 54 years later during time transport to Maine, I would be again reliving that experience. But, that’s what “Maine Time” does, it transports you - sometimes to places that are neatly tucked away on a camping cot in 1968.
I find myself hoping that someday I can experience a sleep like that again. In the meantime, I can look forward to my next colonoscopy. I think it’s scheduled for 2024. “Hey, Ann Marie, did I miss the exit?”
Everybody has a story and if you’re lucky enough to have the time, most people are willing to share theirs. That’s what I like about retirement and the State of Maine. I have the time to engage people and solicit their stories, and almost everyone in Maine is friendly enough to engage in conversation.
Recently, Ann Marie and I took a trip to Boothbay Harbor, Maine, to visit her parents. She asked me if on the way we could stop at a small art gallery in Boothbay Village to view the collection of photographs from the recent Maine Photography Competition. I’m always up for appreciating artistic creations, so we stopped and entered the Boothbay Region Art Foundation Gallery. We were warmly greeted by a very friendly, colorfully attired, woman who was shuffling some paperwork. In her Maine vernacular, she encouraged us to enjoy the show. It was early afternoon on a Sunday and we pleasantly had the entire gallery to ourselves.
There were so many wonderful images to view and absorb. As we dawdled in front of each photograph, we discussed our likes and general impressions of each work. I couldn’t help but think that many of Ann Marie’s photos were equally as good as the finalists.
One of the photographs to win an honorable mention was taken by Rick Reynolds who formally resided in our home town of Sharon, MA. Rick now resides in Cushing, Maine. His photograph was a beautiful black and white shot of a Maine lighthouse being embraced by the sea under a canopy of a forbidding storm clouds. What a small world it is, I thought.
After about an hour of enjoyment, I finally settled on my favorite. It was taken by Maine photographer, Michael Hagenbuch of Tenants Harbor. His photograph entitled, “Home To Home” just tugged at me emotionally. I found myself unable to pull away. In my opinion, works of art have to employ two essential ingredients; they have to have interesting subject matter and the work has to critically draw an emotional connection with the viewer. Mr. Hagenbuch’s photo certainly spoke to me personally, in both ways.
In the center of his photograph, your eye is drawn to a pristine, white, federal home set on a snow covered yard. The house is darkly juxtaposed and framed by a twelve paned window, encased in an equally beautiful raised panel alcove. I love the perspective that the artist drew upon. It reminds me of all those Flemish painters that would pose their subjects under some window light and then paint them from the adjoining room or hallway. For me, the emotion that is felt is that of peaceful solitude. Yet, there is also an element of inherent loneliness that it evokes as well. A kind of pulling into one’s self. We’re observing the distant beauty outside, while simultaneously being contained and separated in this darker place. A place that feels lonely.
I immediately conclude that Michael Hagenbuch has to be over 60 years of age - although, I don’t really know anything about him. I ruminate to myself that after the age of 60 you start to see the beauty of life as it is contained within our own mortality. That’s the emotion that Hagenbuch’s work is evoking in me. I also start to hope God is gracious to me and allows me to leave this earth before Ann Marie. I’ve never been so good at loneliness.
Okay, I rant, and wax a bit too maudlin. With Ann Marie’s approval, I decide I have to purchase this photograph. “Wow”, I think to myself, it’s my favorite in the entire gallery, and it’s priced the cheapest at $150!
I beckon our Maine host over to tell her I’m interested in purchasing. She tells me she just loves the work as well, but she then pauses when she looks at the accompanied display card. “Oh dear,”… she states. “This red dot indicates that the work is already sold”. I express my disappointment and remark that the artist could have received three times the requested purchase price. She agrees.
Amazingly, the woman then tells me that she is going to call the artist and see if he would consider making an additional reproduction for me. She took my phone number and promised to get back to me.
Ann Marie and I weren’t at her parents house ten minutes when my phone rang. “Hi, John? This is June from the gallery. I spoke with the artist and he is willing to make another copy at the same cost for you, and the member that purchased this one is willing to let you take his while he waits for the copy”.
We jumped in the car and rushed back to the gallery and thanked June for her efforts. Two women and a dog entered the gallery right after us and inquired if they could bring in their very well behaved dog. “Sure”, June cheerfully responded. Gosh, I love Maine - no pretense or snobbery here, even in an art gallery. Ann Marie asked for her full name. “June Rose”, she proudly stated. “What a wonderful name”, Ann Marie remarked. “Well, it used to be June Webster, but I married a Rose”, chuckled June.
I awkwardly started singing, “June Is Busting Out All Over”….. from Carousel. June, immediately froze in place and just stared at me with those “deer in the headlights”, look. Feeling her uneasiness ( at this stranger singing her name and me thinking she had no idea what the song was), I feebly attempted to qualify my musical offering by stating that I think the song is from the musical, Carousel or perhaps, Oklahoma, I couldn’t quite recall. One of the two women that came in with the dog came to my aid by saying, “Yes, it’s from Carousel!
As a quick aside, Ann Marie thinks I have a dual personality. At home, I am often quiet, cranky and near impossible to engage in conversation. Conversely, in public I can be ebullient and chatty, while exploring all possible connections between random people.
I recently told Ann Marie that my first girlfriend, many decades ago, described me as, “charming, when I wanted to be.” Which was her way of saying that I was a jerk most of the time. She, of course, was dead on accurate.
But, here’s the best part and the point of this blog. This is how June Rose eventually responded to my ad hoc rendition of June Is Busting Out All Over.
June is a life-long resident of Boothbay and she tells me in dead pan fashion that Carousel was filmed right here in Boothbay Harbor in 1956. She goes on to tell me that 17 year old June Webster, and her friends, would come down to the harbor each day to watch the filming and to swoon over a young star by the name of Gordon MacRae. June’s brother was also chosen to be an extra in the movie. She said that all the kids would play on the set once filming wrapped up for the day.
After my jaw hit the floor and the two women with the dog were drawn into the story, June continued by telling me that in the day all her female friends would have their hair made up to emulate the actress Shirley Jones. June would claim that Frank Sinatra showed up on the first day of filming fully prepared to play the part of Billy Bigelow. However, Sinatra immediately quit because Boothbay was a dry town in 1956. “That wouldn’t work for Frank”, the dog lady chimed in. The unconfirmed rumor at the time was that Eva Gardner, to whom Sinatra was married, told him to quit the film and get his butt to Africa where she was filming. Otherwise, Gardner threatened to have an affair with her costar, Clark Cable. I think June’s account seems more plausible.
I find myself deeply moved by this entire exchange. What a wonderful shared story that was sparked by an awkward singing of a broadway song. What a stroke of great fortune, but such encounters are truly expected in Maine.
But wait, the story’s not over! June went on to tell us that she had the wonderful fortune of working for a local florist in 1956. As such, she was chosen to deliver a bouquet of flowers to the house where Gordan MacRae was staying. With Bubbling teenage excitement, June knocked on the door anticipating the presence of gorgeous Gordan, only to be disappointedly met by the maid. As she handed the arrangement to the maid June was even more disappointed to hear Mr. and Mrs. MacRae arguing loudly in the background. Alas, her romantic visions of perfect Hollywood couples were quickly and rudely dashed.
Everyone has a story and June Rose had an incredibly wonderful one. Photographer Michael Hagenbuch told me his story through a hauntingly beautiful photograph. And even the two ladies with the dog joined this story and probably have some pretty good stories of their own. I hope you take the time to enjoy life like my friends in Maine and I hope you take the time to seek out people’s stories. I know you, too, have some good stories to share, I just know it.
Home To Home
After 31 years of teaching, I have decided to retire and start a new chapter of my life as a photographer. It has been my passion for about 7 years now.