It has been years – maybe 20 or more – since I have been back to Maine during the holidays. The 8 degrees below zero temperatures that year may have – just may have – played a part in why I have not returned since during the winter months.
But I also recall that while the weather outside was very cold, the holidays in Maine were pretty warm and toasty. Our family for years went to Fort Kent for at least part of the holidays. It was where my grandmother lived with my Uncle Clayton and his sons, Rick and Mark. I have some recollection of wearing a New York Giants football helmet and being run over by my older cousins. That shows me for wearing a Giants helmet and not a New England Patriots helmet. Although I believe I was wearing the only helmet available at the time, so it was not all bad.
I also have a recollection of sitting at the kitchen table of that home and my grandmother making ployes, the French-Acadian buckwheat pancakes, and loving them. A 1-pound brick of rich butter that sat on the table – not in the “icebox” – was soft and used to cover the ployes, which were rolled and eaten with pleasure.
Later, after my grandmother died, I seem to recall spending holidays at my Uncle Richard and Aunt Gloria’s home in Fort Kent and then in Eagle Lake, Maine. The place in Eagle Lake had started out as a vacation home with the idea that it later would be a more permanent residence, which is the way things turned out. It was on the eastern shore of the lake – beyond the town of Eagle Lake, beyond the picnicking area on the hill above the road, beyond the housing complex overlooking the lake and a lookout turnout, beyond old farm houses and new homes. There, across the road from the home perched on a steep hillside, was a dirt road that crossed the railroad tracks and went down to the lake to a collection of vacation and permanent homes on a point.
Aunt Gloria, my mother’s older sister, always greeted us with a kiss and a tight hug. By this time, her sons were getting older and spending more time away; having my sister and me there gave her an excuse to spoil a couple of young children.
In the summer months, only the brave ventured into the lake to swim. I recall that Eagle Lake was very cold, even compared to other Northern Maine lakes. My sister and I instead would skip rocks on the water, play with their pet dog, Penny, or simply run around the point.
The winter was different, of course. Eagle Lake is a rather long lake and there is plenty of open space for a very, very cold wind to pick up force and a cutting edge. My sister and I would hunker down in front of the television – it was a color TV, I seem to recall, and was such a step up from our black-and-white Zenith – especially during the holidays with a large Christmas tree in front of the large windows facing the ice-covered lake.
My Aunt Gloria always made sure we had plenty to eat and seconds were the rule; no one was allowed to leave the table unless they had eaten enough to require belt loosening. And that usually was before the main course was served.
Then there came the mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, ham and, of course, a turkey. I always asked for the turkey leg. Not sure why, just did. I suppose I liked the smokier flavor of the dark meat. And the turkey leg is sort of like meat-on-a-stick. With a turkey leg there is little concern for a plate; simply grab hold of the leg and dig in. With sliced turkey and other holiday foods, there is a need for plates and utensils. What growing boy or girl wants to be weighted down by plates and utensils? An amateur turkey-mealer, perhaps, but not me.
Even later, when we stayed closer to home for the holidays, most knew not to get between me and the drumstick. It just was not a good idea for anyone to do that. Now, I still enjoy the occasional turkey drumstick, although I also enjoy white meat as well.
I won’t be having turkey – leg or white meat – this year for Thanksgiving. I am living a bit far to drop in to visit my Mom or Aunt Gloria for a homemade turkey dinner. Instead, I will be digging into a couple of Cornish game hens. The drumsticks are a bit small, but will be plenty big enough to remind me of those Thanksgiving meals of my childhood.