Adulthood is when you make your own vacations and decide what they will be from the beginning. So much about vacation is inherited or shared with family, which is a great thing. But it’s nice to see the thing that evolves when you decide to make your own vacation. Book it, schedule it, pay for it, anticipate it all yourself.
We caravanned up after first stopping at the Palace Diner just outside of Portland, where we stop as often as we can and have astounding good meals. Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the Palace Diner, the thing that leaves you dazed when you finally wander out, is that their menu appears very standard when you read it through, other than canaries like brown butter banana bread and caramelized grapefruit listed casually under SIDES. Their french toast is listed on the menu as challah french toast, no details added, but once it is set in front of you, you realize the two enormous square pieces have been bruleed, and the crust cracks as you cut into it, the eggy custard of the challah softening around the crisp dark caramelized pieces. But it’s also the type of place where you swear to yourself that next time you’ll order lunch, as you watch the waitress place a triple decker burger or a lush freshly-made-tuna melt in front of someone down the bar.
David and I texted about the meals a little bit ahead of time. We stopped at Whole Foods in Portland on the way up and already had a good list in mind before we got there. Joe and I lived with David during one of our summers on Nantucket, he and I often traded off who made dinner, along with our other roommate Pete. Years later I still have a good idea of what type of thing he enjoys cooking–namely impromptu, very satisfying dinners, tossed together with experience savvy instead of a recipe. And he knows I can manage a more complicated dish using my obsessive devotion to recipes. We spent an enormous amount on supplies for the week, splitting the groceries between us. That was perfect because it left us able to make pretty much anything—squash pie, mussel and bean soup, meaty spaghetti, biscuits and gravy, fresh whipped cream, pie crust—once we were up there. We got take-out one time from the local burrito spot, but all the rest of our meals we made together in the big kitchen.
You know, I’ve started buying those tubes of Immaculate Baking Co. cinnamon rolls and they are just stunningly good. I’ve made cinnamon rolls from scratch, and I don’t think it is worth it when you can have these ready in 20 minutes with your eggs. And I’ve certainly had much worse tasting cinnamon rolls bought fresh from bakeries. Treat yourself.
Dave made fresh pasta noodles and Joe carved a pumpkin to look just like Darth Vader, as Lux had hoped. I bought ribeye steaks for Joe’s birthday, salted and peppered and unwrapped them when we got to the house, and let them age for two days in the fridge. I’m not accustomed to ordering $70 worth of meat from the meat counter, but when four people get to settle down to an amazing steak dinner, it all becomes clear. I did that steak house trick of putting a stick of butter on a plate, flinging salt at it, piling shredded parmesan and chopped parsley on it and then mashing it together until it was one pale green flecked soft pile of butter. We put half loaves of baguette on the grill for a few minutes and then spread all the amazing butter magic over it.
After a couple nights of watching us eat mussels, the girls realized they too loved mussels, loved plucking out the small cooked creature out and flinging the empty shells into the bowl with a tiny clang. Lux ate faster than everyone and adapted a strange third person request, “Any more mussels for Luxy?” eyeing the plates of the adults with desire. I stopped giving her the mussel broth because she wasn’t using it, and we all added more unplucked shells to her pile.
I cannot get over how it feels to wake up in the trees. With tree branches fully surrounding you, like you’ve been suspended in a soft down blanket of pine boughs. Our room was freezing when we woke up each morning. Of the four cabins, the girls’ cabin has the best insulation, and for the the three other cabins, the adults wake to a room that is fully 45 degrees. No matter if you made a fire at midnight, no matter if you plugged in the supposed space heater. If your arm snuck out while you were sleeping, it now feels like a different entity from your body, and you tug it back under the blankets with alarm.
We told the girls to knock on their cabin door when they wanted us to come get them in the morning. It was the first time they shared a double bed. Welcome to your vacation setup for the rest of your life! I wanted to say to them, thinking of the hundreds of beds my sister and I shared growing up. Joan probably woke Lux up earlier than she otherwise would have, but it was swooningly sweet to watch them snuggle in together each night. Joe has been reading Lux The Hobbit (in fact, they’re on their second read-through of it) so he would build a fire and then read them nearly to sleep each night. Then we would wake to the sound of their chipper knocks pounding on the glass across the deck from us. Joe would bound out of bed, out from the warm covers and into the freezing room, to go check on them. A funny switch-up, as of the two of us, he usually wakes the slowest back in Boston. I would force myself to change into some of my stiff freezing clothes, pick out some warm clothes for them to put on, and then we all tramped over to the main house together. The main house has the kitchen and the living room, and the coffee maker!, and is fully heated.
It was so wonderful to have the company of two non-parents, two people who could comment on the weather, the day, the water, and make plans for general amusement. Two people who haven’t rote-memorized the strange rhythms of their children’s moods and begun to anticipate them at certain times of day with vague dread. Probably the best part was the presence of two adults who wanted to play board games after bedtime or tell old stories, instead of slump on the couch as Joe and I typically do. It was really good to watch the girls play and scheme with someone else who could delight in them. Not to mention help them craft face masks, help them climb rocks, help them get a snack, answer a question.
As for the four of us, the adults, there were times when it felt like—oh yeah, college! Here we are, just kids, we’re all the same and together again. And other times when I felt so different and far away from them, the three men—I’m not drinking, not smoking an occasional celebratory cigarette, not skinny-dipping into the ocean jumping from the sharp rocks, not staying up late into the night to watch stars fall. I’m sleepy and oversized, preoccupied and awaiting the next small child’s request, remembering the soft tang of whiskey with bemusement, remembering the self indulgent rush of a nicotine drag with, well, I can’t remember it at all anymore. It’s been so long; maybe five years? I’m grumpy for no reason other than persistent thud of a small heel against my rib cage. The girls are mine and they cling to me when they’re sleepy, and want me to hold their hand, and arrange their food, and nod in affirmation every single time when they say they need to go potty. you don’t need me to do this, anybody can do this for you, I think to myself here and there, but it’s not really true, is it? Not true in the satisfying nearly trademarked way that mom does it. And the next girl is mine too, and I think about her when I make almost any decision for my day. It was that time, 31 weeks. She’s gone from a quiet swimmer to a nearly omnipresent tangle of limbs, waking me up with her flips and kicks, settling into odd positions that makes my abdomen feel like a couch too full of elbows.
But there’s also that male-ambition thing? The thing that stirs men to memorize long ballads so they can play them at the foot of stone towers? To chop and haul wood, build warm fires, frame houses over their families heads? That infects them with the idea to teach themselves to fix a car when there is a mechanic just down the road? Meanwhile I’m puttering around, baking bread from the exact same recipe I’ve used 300x times? I don’t play an instrument, and I didn’t attempt to memorize the lyrics to Lava, as they did (pixar, look it up, it’s cute). I didn’t want to. I probably could have jumped into the ocean, had I told Joe I wanted to and asked him to stay with the girls. But I didn’t want to. What I’m saying is–don’t feel too sorry, or fall too much for my oh if only. And, I suppose, I was a little jealous of their drive and adventurous ambition? I picked up Annie Dillard’s The living while there, a novel of many stories framed around the families who settled the pacific northwest. What were they doing there? Women watching their children die from various freak threats, is what it felt like to me. It’s obvious the glass on my maternal goggles is rather dense right now, that I can’t even read a historical novel without being nearly flattened by the idea that these people risked their children’s lives for a new adventure.
I made a pie from this squash. It’s quite a satisfying thing to take a hearty heavy vegetable, so thick you can barely cut it in half with a knife, roast it until it’s weak, then blend with all sorts of good things and turn it into a dessert. Great recipe right here.