Friday, July 26, 2013

Summer Fun: Made by Mr. Richardson

Mr. Richardson, proprietor of Richardson’s Cottages in Wayne, Maine where we vacationed every summer, lives in my childhood lake memories as a fixture more constant than sunscreen (which I don’t remember.) I never knew George as a fall, winter, or spring guy. For all I knew, he returned each summer to Pocasset when the ice went out. Like the loons. Like we did.

As soon as we arrived at Pocasset Lake, we burst out of our packed station wagon and raced down the ramp to the dock. Waiting there was the wooden boat that came with the cottage, both of which George had built along with the wooden oars painted a matching gray and tucked beneath the seats. And usually, as we scanned the lake for our summer friends, we’d spot the signature white, flat-top crew-cut that was George (Mr. Richardson to us) motoring towards us in his own boat which was also wooden in my younger days but transformed to aluminum and fiberglass as the years went by. We waited impatiently for him to get to us, always excited to see which boat motor he’d chosen for us to rent and how many horsepower would propel us around the lake in the weeks ahead, always hoping for a 12.

Once that was checked off the list, we ran inside to change into bathing suits and sped to the beach. The beach was dotted with colorful Adirondack chairs and presided over by a red boathouse with white trim, all made by George. And by the time the man who’d built our summer vacations with his own two hands arrived from his lunch break each day, at least 20 kids of all ages were lined up and ready to ski. George had one of the few ski boats on the lake for many years and few, if any, of us renters owned one. So he spent his afternoons sticking to the red vinyl seat of his shiny silver boat, circling the lake for hours and teaching us all to ski by proffering his characteristic favorite advice—silence. And it worked. We all eventually learned to sit like we were in a chair, skis parallel, rope in between, and to let the boat pull us under George’s quiet, patient tutelage.

But the most fun we had with Mr. Richardson came towards the end of dinnertime every few nights when we heard the sound of his truck coming through the woods towards our cottage. We guzzled our milk, washing down the final bites of our dinner, and jumped up from the table with a quick, “Can I be excused?” The screen door slammed behind us as George lifted our garbage can off the nail in the tree where it hung out of the reach of raccoons. We greeted our friends already in the back of the red pick-up and clambered in beside them, ready for the dump run. 

While we picked the last bits of corn from our teeth and fooled around, George worked, cruising the shoreline and unhooking trash cans from their respective nails outside each cottage, cottages his wife, Janet, had christened with Indian names—Sitting Bull, Hiawatha, Pocahontas. I recited these ancient words to myself, committing them to memory in a sacred soliloquy for these people who’d walked the woods before us. One by one, kids from these other tribal homes let their own screen doors slam behind them and jumped in the truck to join us, leaving their own families still seated around their meatloaf dinners.

George tucked paper bags of trash in the bed around us, gradually filling in the rectangular space until we reached Willowash, the end of the line. The setting sun perched on the tree tops across the lake, coloring our adventure in shades of orange and pink, as George turned the truck away from the lake and into the cool, darkening woods. By then we lined the side rails like T-shirted decorations or sat across the open tailgate, bare feet hanging down.

We all knew the road by heart, anticipating the bumpy places where we’d exaggerate the bounce with a “Whoa!” while the tailgate sitters stretched their legs and brushed bare toes along the hard-packed dirt tracks or dragged them through the softer pine needles nestled in between. The braver souls, usually boys, “accidentally” fell off the tailgate, running and laughing to catch up and jump back on. We grabbed at the leaves which overhung the road and, like kids do, turned a simple trip to the dump into a thrilling game of daring adventure.

Not to worry. Like everything else he did, George drove slowly and purposefully while we, of course, pretended otherwise. The forest shadows cooled our eternally sunburned faces and the evening air ruffled through our still-damp hair from the day’s waterskiing. We layered our childhood memories with the spicy scent of pine trees, selectively forgetting the too-sweet smell of rotting fruit.

Always too soon, we arrived at the dump—something else George had made.  It was nothing fancy, no recycling station, no attendant, simply a quiet clearing in the woods where George eliminated the unwanted parts of our summer vacations. Yet somehow this place held an aura of mystery that engendered a thrill in our tight bellies and we always hoped to see something exciting, like a rat. We stood and helped, handing the bags of refuse down to George. I secretly dreamed of being Jacques Cousteau but at the dump I switched channels, surveying the landscape like Marlon Perkins on Wild Kingdom from the safety of my pickup perch while George, unaware of his role as my Jim, heroically braved the dangers of the dump from the dirt level.

His task complete, no wild animals in sight, George climbed back into his truck and we rode back towards the darkening lake, laughing with the happiness and relief of having lived out our adventure. George slowed down near our respective cottages and we jumped off at Kinoka where the lamps had just begun to glow, backlighting my mother washing dishes in the kitchen window. We had no televisions in our summer cottages. At night we came together as a family or with friends. We ate dessert and played cards or board games. We went to bed early with the songs of loons in our heads. And we dreamed of water and earth and the promise of more summer adventures to come.


*Note: This piece is a revision of an earlier post I wrote when George Richardson died and appears on the website Wayne in Focus at

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