I wake up when morning’s first rays strike the foot of my bed. I raise my head and can already see blue sky, trees, and water. I rush to don shorts and sneakers and head for the beach.
This is not as direct as you might imagine. A woodsy path carpeted with wintergreen leads to steep stairs. The cottage is atop a cliff, and this is the fastest way down.
There’s no beach there. Instead, huge boulders are strewn everywhere, jumbled and uneven. As a kid, I loved stepping from rock to rock in a stream. This takes more effort, more like scrambling, with intermittent climbs and short leaps.
At last, I step onto the pebble-strewn beach, freshly washed by the retreating tide.
Who would think I could find anything here? But I do, and it’s exciting.
The first time I came to this beach, six years ago, I found a glass shard. It was dark teal green on one side, white on the other. Curious. Maybe from a lamp shade? The next year, I found more and waxed poetic about it:
“I found two pieces the first year, and the next summer, three more washed up onto the same beach on different days, as if to say, “We’re still out here. Don’t you wonder about us? I do.“Sea Glass and Storytelling”
You’ve got to know what’s coming, and yes, you are right. My first discovery this year was another piece of that green and white glass. What were the chances that it would be here? that it would wash onto this beach and sit uncovered? that I would see it?
Luck was involved, of course, and a good eye, but openness was the real key–and a bit of optimism. I looked. In the weeks that followed, I found two more, a total of nine pieces in six years. It pays to look.
Do you remember the account books I mentioned last spring? They were the ledger, account, and day books of the Merrill & Hinckley general store in Blue Hill.
How neat would it be to know what the Lorings purchased when they set up housekeeping for the first time in Stone House? Emilie’s cookbook, For the Comfort of the Family, listed the necessary ingredients of her “emergency cupboard.” Would we see caviar, Major Grey’s Chutney, and anchovy paste on the Loring account? Paper doilies? . . .
Stay tuned next September when I have a chance to get to the Blue Hill Historical Society.“She had the end of a thread”
Well, now I’ve been there and can report back.
Ann, the archivist, met me at the carriage house of the historical society. Together, we carried the volumes from their home in a climate-controlled vault to a row of tables in the main room.
There were a lot of them and in no particular order. One by one, we determined their start and end dates, which ranged from 1890 to 1920. The Lorings didn’t buy Stone House until 1909, so we could bypass two thirds of the volumes.
Here we go, the 1910 account book with each customer’s transactions recorded by date and amount. In later years, the Lorings vacationed in Blue Hill from July to September, but this was their first full summer, when they were busy renovating and decorating the house, so their purchases began in May. We can see the amounts but not what they bought.
1911 has a day book which lists each item of each order. Merrill & Hinckley’s claimed to sell “almost everything,” so this could be fun. The Owen sisters, for example bought jam, jam, and more jam. Every few days, they were in for more jam. At a time when Royal baking powder and newcomers Clabber Girl and Calumet fought for ascendancy in the “baking powder wars” (It was a real thing), Bessie Owen stuck with the tried and true.
What did the Lorings buy?
Uh oh. It looks like we have some boulders to cross before we get to this reading beach.
Teachers develop an uncanny ability to read any handwriting–messy, misspelled, scrawled in haste, it doesn’t matter. But this taxes even my well-honed skill.
London’s Natural History Museum comes to the rescue with pointers for deciphering old handwriting. I write out the alphabet and look for upper and lower case examples.
It helps to know which products were sold back then. Who knew that bacon came in jars? Do you remember Postum, a substitute for coffee? Have you ever heard of Pettijohn cereal? These were all on the Lorings’ list.
I dismiss assumptions and realize that “c” stands for “can,” not “cup.” Slowly, the list takes shape:
Notice the absence of fresh foods. This was still several years before home refrigerators, so people bought jars, cans, and packages of food at the general store and purchased eggs, milk, fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, and meats from separate vendors–or raised their own. (I still remember my grandmother taking me to the town square on Saturdays to buy fresh corn and peas from Mrs. Suhs.)
Reading these lists is a little like training your eye to see sea glass on the beach. Discoveries can be slow, but each bit fills in the picture a little bit more. What did the Lorings eat when they were on vacation in Blue Hill? Do you see ingredients for meals like the ones she describes in her books–or was that a case of writing what she wished for?
She spread out the tempting lunch. Gulls’ eggs stuffed with anchovy; sandwiches so wafer thin you could taste the knife, as the English say. Little balls of minced salmon, coated with tomato jelly. A jar of mayonnaise to accompany them. Dates stuffed with orange marmalade or marshmallows. Coffee, hot pungent.Lighted Windows
She carried the berries to the kitchen… “Serve some of these for Miss Merry’s supper, Trudy… Get some lemons, quick. I’ll mix a drink. When Miss Merry rings, bring out the filled glasses and a plate of thin cookies on the silver tray.”Where Beauty Dwells
“Everything was okay and the lobsters, clams and fish are ready to cook.”
“Got potatoes ready to go in?”
“Yes, sweet, white, and green corn. The watermelons are packed in tubs of ice.”Give Me One Summer
Your eye may see something better than I do. Let me know in the comment section below.
My time in Blue Hill, as always, was beautiful and soul-satisfying. I completely understand why Emilie made it her summer home for forty years. I’ll share more soon. Meanwhile, treat yourself to a Maine-inspired treat: crabmeat salad–on a roll, on crackers, or all by itself.