October 19, 2011

October marks yearly trip to Maine

SUSAN TOBIAS, Pinch of Time

---- — My husband and I reserve the first week in October for a yearly trip to the East Coast. We've been staying at the Friendship Inn, now the Friendship Oceanfront Suites, in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, for years.

Mr. and Mrs. Donovan were always in the office to greet us. They retired, and their sons, John and Dan, have taken up the challenge of offering very comfortable guest services.

The Friendship is "U" shaped, with the Atlantic Ocean at the "open" end of the "U." Every rental includes two rooms, a living room/kitchenette and a bedroom and bath, facing the ocean with balconies. A few miles north of the famous Old Orchard Beach pier, the carnival and shops are just a short walk away.

About five years ago, we found out the owners also had cottages for rent, right next door. One visit to Sea Breeze cottage and we were convinced we had found a new "home" away from home. We've taken friends and family to Sea Breeze and had some serious domino games, good food and great rainy-day naps.

How can you not like it when the owner meets you in the driveway, says, "Don't get out of the truck. You must be tired after your drive. Here's the key to the cottage. Come back to the office after you get settled." With a handshake and a smile, we drove around the property to the cottage and breathed in that wonderful ocean air.

We've met many nice people at the Friendship; most have stayed there for decades, such as Helen and Charlie, who live in Goshen, Mass. Helen asked to take a picture of my husband's truck, introduced us to Charlie, and we were good friends right away. We couldn't get over the similarities we have: Helen's birthday is exactly one week before Toby's, same year; they had a daughter, a son and a daughter, just like me; we both had a cat with a moustache (yes, a moustache); and they loved country music. This is the first year they haven't been able to make the trip due to illness. We really missed them.

About 10 years ago, we decided to take in the Fryeburg Fair, up in the White Mountains, northwestern Maine. We are captured by the quaintness of the event. One whole end of the site is dedicated to early country lifestyles. There are horse-drawn farm wagons and machinery, Loretta's Kitchen where aromatic apple crisp samples are still hot from the wood-stove oven, a blacksmith's shop, a one-room schoolhouse including a pot-belly stove and school marm, plus a hay barn full of functional antiques.

After lingering at that end of the fairgrounds, we make our way to the organic turkey dinners, or the fish chowder made by the Denmark (Maine) volunteer fire department, followed by a cup of melting vanilla ice cream over hot apple crisp, homemade by the North Conway Congregational Church. Yummy!

That first year we discovered, quite by accident, a fantastic group of musicians called The Half-Moon Jug Band. Their lead singer and "Van Gogh of the Banjo," Troy Bennett, caught our attention because he looked and acted like our son, Todd. From his laugh to his motions, his good-natured side could not be hidden. He's backed up by Mike the Drummer, also a happy sort who takes good-natured ribbing from Troy, and two additional band members, who have changed over the years. Their music, mostly written by Troy, tells the stories of Downeast Mainers, the fishermen, the loggers, and "Old Fishbones," a man who rides the trains in the 1930s. Of course, we own all of their CDs. The music carries us 4,000 miles every winter when we drive to Colorado for the holidays.

It's the memory of people and places like these that carry us through the long, cold northern New York winters and remind us that October will come again, God willing.

One last thought, as always, please be kind to each other. The world needs more kindness.

Susan Tobias lives in Plattsburgh with her husband, Toby. She has been a Press-Republican newsroom employee since 1977. The Tobiases have six children, 18 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. They enjoy traveling to Maine and Colorado, and in her spare time, Susan loves to research local history and genealogy. Reach her by email at