My grandfather Bill sometimes tells stories about his summers at Camp Cobbossee in Winthrop, Maine: about hiking into town to have strawberry phosphates, how his parents and sister would come up from New Jersey and stay at a nearby hotel with other parents of campers, how someone told him he had funny knees once and it made him self-conscious. You can’t really see his knees in this picture, but I think they look okay. You also can’t see much of Maine in this picture, but as soon as I saw it, I knew that’s where it was and my heart gave a little leap in my chest.
When I went away to college in Maine, I thought that the fact that it had been the subject of my 5th grade state report meant that it was fate. I liked that somehow when I picked Maine for my project (because, by the way, it was the state closest to Prince Edward Island and therefore Anne of Green Gables), I was truly connecting myself to something without even knowing it, anticipating another decision I would make many years later. In reality, though the line that connected me to Maine was much longer than that, begun by my grandfather on the shores of Lake Cobbosseecontee when he was 7 or 8 and sent to camp for the first time. I didn’t know he had gone to camp in Maine – or anywhere else, for that matter – until I went to college and he began to talk about it, and every other piece of information he knew about the state (which is a prodigious amount because he knows everything about nearly anything): about the fact that potatoes come from Aroostook County, about those strawberry phosphates, about the number of soldiers Maine gave to the Civil War. This place that we both spent time in and have very fond memories of became yet another thing that we share in common, another little secret that no one else in our family really shares.
During one of my last weeks before graduation, I drove up to Camp Cobbossee by myself one day – just because. My grandfather had been sick and was still in the hospital when I did this, and I think I intended to go take some pictures to amuse him and cheer him up. I was also, of course, doing this for me, because I wanted to see where it was that Billy spent his summers. I didn’t actually make it out to the camp itself because it was down a long private road and I was afraid of getting yelled at (because I am always afraid of getting yelled at), and I didn’t take many pictures of anything,because I saw nothing to photograph. But driving around Lake Cobbosseecontee, down roads that my grandfather might have crossed when hiking in to town with his friends and counselors, I realized for the first time how close together the places (the lakes around Winthrop, the seashore around Brunswick) we both hold in our hearts and memories are in space, if not in time.
I love this picture, which I’d never seen until a week ago, because it places this little boy who I only know as my grandfather in a world I can recognize, a landscape that I know and love.