Nestled in the saturated green of maples and birches and scrub sumac, a single scarlet leaf winked at me as I sipped my morning coffee.
The long, slow days are slipping away. Nights fall to temperatures in the fifties. School buses lumber down the roads. Apples quicken on the trees. Despite the signs, summer is not over yet. Not for me.
This week I head off to the place that makes summer–summer. It’s a 19th century seaside community on the southern coast of Maine. My family has been going there pretty much forever.
Ocean Park is a Chautauqua community, like some 350 others established around the same time. Founded in 1881 by Free Will Baptists on a .5 mile square piece of land, Ocean Park is a pocket of paradise. Sitting elbow to elbow with Old Orchard Beach, a honky-tonk kind of place with amusement rides, video arcades and every kind of fried food, Ocean Park is the yin to the yang of a different kind of fun.
Though church is not mandatory anymore and the community building is as packed for evening movies as it is for Sunday sermons, Ocean Park has the vestiges of its New England protestant heritage. You can’t buy alcohol or cigarettes within its borders. Luckily, there are NH state stores on the drive up and I don’t miss the smoke. At one time, you couldn’t play cards on Sunday. It might not seem like a hardship, except Hearts gets played passionately around our kitchen table after dinner is cleared away.
Why is it great? It sits on a seven mile beach that is one of the most beautiful in New England. The soda fountain keeps tip jars that show where the scoopers are going to college, in case you needed a reason besides the homemade ice cream. Shuffleboard is an all ages game. It’s home to a writers conference. People sit on front porches and say hi. Kids ride bikes and walk by themselves and no one worries about them. Reading is a sport. You can watch fireworks on Thursday nights, sitting on the beach in the dark.
We day trip to Portland ten miles north or go on a shopping frenzy in Freeport while we’re there; we come back to this home away from home and settle in for the night, listening to waves breaking on the beach.
I usually go with my family the last week in August and wrap up summer there. This year, we’re running a week late because schedules get more complicated when folks have to fly in from other states and across the ocean. Despite the schedules and changes in our lives, we’ve held on to this time and this place. Summer is not over yet.