by Sheila Connolly
The first day I was in Maine, I went to a clambake. Not the beach and bonfire kind—this one was held in a stable that had been converted to a restaurant, across the street from a harbor, I couldn’t tell you where. A group of us had the works—lobster, of course, and clams that I remember because I had never willingly eaten a clam in my life. I think it cost us five dollars each (that tells you how long ago this was!). So in my mind Maine and clambakes go hand in hand, and that’s why it’s a treat to celebrate the publication of Barbara Ross’s Clammed Up here this week.
Growing up, I had mixed feelings about Maine. My mother’s father, child of a wealthy widow, product of New Jersey prep schools and a few failed attempts at college, decided at the age of forty that he wanted to be a dairy farmer. He took one ag course at Rutgers, bought a run-down potato farm in Waterville, and hauled his wife and daughter northward. He bought a herd of Guernseys and a bull named Governor.
Needless to say, he was not a very good dairy farmer. He built a state-of-the-art dairy barn—which burned to the ground before he paid the insurance premium. His wife left him—being a farmer’s wife was not what she had signed on for. He and his daughter eked out a few more years by growing green beans for the Army during World War II, but eventually he went broke. His last gasp was trying to run a ski lodge on part of the property, but that didn’t help.
My mother, having completed high school and found that all the interesting men of her generation had gone off to war, got fed up and joined her mother in New York.
A sad story, right? But my grandfather loved Maine. My mother kept the last letters he sent, weeks before his death from a heart attack at 44, and in them he told her he was off to look at another dairy herd, planning for a fresh start. He kept trying.
My mother never went back to Maine after his death. But when I was in college, I decided I ought to see it, since it was part of my history, so I signed on as a counselor at a girls’ camp one summer. It was a nice place, the kids were privileged but pleasant, and we all had a good time. One counselor had a car, so on days off we’d go places, like Acadia National Park, or to see a play in New Brunswick. We sang camp songs (a lot), and by August we were feasting on pie made from wild blueberries picked on site.
I’ve never been back. But seeing Maine, and spending some time there, gave me a better understanding of my grandfather, who I never knew. And maybe of my mother as well, because in Maine she figured out what she didn’t want to do with the rest of her life and never looked back.
Barb’s book captures a lot of what I found there—the call of the land and the sea, and the ties to family and your own history with a place. This is what makes a good cozy, and Barb pulls all the pieces together well in Clammed Up. If you love Maine, read it; or read it and you may just come to love Maine.
Golden Malicious, set in a small town in western Massachusetts, will be released October 1st.