In another week, I’ll leave for my family’s summer cottage, Twin Pines, on a lake in Wisconsin. I feel closer to Emilie Loring during summer vacation.
She changed to navy blue shorts, with a top of gay India print, white sandals, and caught up the green and gold pennant. Give Me One Summer
True, we swap lobster rolls for cheese curds, but there’s much that would fit right into one of her summer stories: lazy days by and on the water, cold drinks on the dock, brisk walks, boat rides, picnics, and gatherings with neighbors. Plus, I read so many of her books during the summer that the experiences are fused in my mind.
The Blue Hill Public Library has a copy of Robin Clements’ unpublished history (1983) of Parker Point, the epicenter of summer-cottage life in Blue Hill. Emilie’s cottage was on the opposite side of the bay, but the social influence of Parker Point reached all the way around.
Arriving by train or steamer, summer cottagers “took day excursions to see the sights, to visit other vacationers and not infrequently to paint the scenery, to write poetry on its beauty, or to compose and play music.”
After dinner, the cottagers took walks, “stopping to lean on the ever-present walking stick and chat with other cottage residents.” No one seemed to actually need the walking sticks for support. Blue Hill’s historian Esther Wood remembered Victor Loring swiping at roadside wildflowers with his. David Owen used his to clear stones from his driveway, and Ben Curtis’s stick was used “as an ox goad when he teamed the oxen, as a weapon when he killed snakes.” But, she recalled, “They walked with style.”
That meant that cottages had collections of walking sticks just inside their doors, alongside the umbrellas. The Lorings’ neighbor, Mr. Brooks, needed two stands to hold all of his canes: “metal canes, wooden canes, bamboo canes, canes with handles and canes with no handles, canes with curved handles and canes with square-cornered handles.” We have a collection of canes at Twin Pines, too, but I have nary a one at my home in town. Oh wait. I do have hiking poles. Do those count?
The pace of life was undeniably much slower, as the post-prandial promenading indicates. There was no Country Club, no Yacht Club, no cars, and fewer places to shop. A trip to Ellsworth was rare, as those 14 hilly miles behind a cart horse were not casually undertaken. Families came for long stays and looked for their entertainment to music, to day trips with large picnics put up by the Homestead [local guest house], to sailing expeditions with local captains and to evenings of reading around the fire. Sometimes there was dancing… and often ‘musical evenings.’
Parlor games were in full bloom. Charades, rhyming contests and the like passed many evenings, and one of the stranger remnants of this era and life is a sort of album still in Ingleside cottage, in which guests, with their eyes shut, were asked to draw a pig. The results were predictably ridiculous, but all the early Point families are represented in the book–old and young, carefree and dignified… All of this is silly stuff, but certainly charming and very much in what Henry Becton calls “the Blue Hill tradition of do-it-yourself entertainment.”
Can’t you just see that guest book?! I love all that it signifies–friends together, just having fun and not taking anything too seriously. We don’t keep guest books anymore, and we’re the poorer for it:
Every house ought to have a “book” for guests, and for owners to note an outline history of the summer. It is a Victorian custom that we have unfortunately let slip. Who knows what is lasting, and what fleeting? Give future historians a chance and keep records.
Speaking of history, don’t miss the story about Henry Becton and Bob Slaven in this post: When You Share the Things You Love. There’s an early photo of Emilie there, too!
Robin Clements called Parker Point “a happy anachronism,” which could be said about much of summer living. How easily we leave behind the press of modern life, wear play clothes, cook outdoors, churn our own ice cream, and skip stones.
This summer, consider the following for your vacation list:
watercolors and brushes
a stout, walking stick
pen and paper
and a guest book.
When guests stop by, have them close their eyes and draw a pig.
[Illustration by Garth Williams, for Charlotte’s Web by Blue Hill author E.B. White, published by HarperCollins.]