View from Glen Hill: Summer joys away from home

I wrote last time about the elements of economic and community vitality, past and present, for our small summer town of Andover, Me. (pop. 800). While those are important foundations for any town, what has brought us here summer after summer for decades now has little to do with these factors.

What really counts is our joy in being here. Andover provides a family summer retreat home where our kids and grandkids come as often as they can and where all of us can rest and recreate in many different ways, from swimming and boating to riding the 1950 Willys Jeep, now relegated from a work-horse role to more of a purely fun one. What started for Becky and me as a few weeks a summer in my full-time working years has now extended to two months a summer. We are the opposite of the snowbirds who, to a similar end, wing south to Florida for their winter months; we are the sunbirds who come north in the most temperate of Maine times.

While natives thoroughly enjoy all of the seasons here and make the most even of the very cold times with ice skating, skiing, snowmobiling, ice-fishing, and hunting (with the game changing with the seasons), that’s not our bag, and in any event, our family house, while able to be heated, is not well-suited to making visits then practical.

So it’s the summers for us, and we manage to pack lots of activities into them, though my eldest grandson recently commented on the volume of reading I do up here, reclined in a home easy chair or on a porch glider at the lakefront. But that’s only for the quiet moments. The rest of our time is spent in many different outdoor activities. Favorite ones involve the grandkids, of course. They range from playing catch to helping to steer (sitting in my lap) around our yard and fields anything mechanical, from our garden tractor to the two-door (except no doors — or top!) ’87 Jeep Wrangler that, with our ’96 Cherokee, are our farm workhorses.

Our grandkids are also out there with me helping when we dig gravel from the small gravel pit at the back of our fields and also when we go to the new large-scale commercial gravel pit at the southern edge of town that I wrote about last time. We take the ’87 Jeep there, towing the large blue trailer built on an old truck frame, to get a one-ton load of three-quarter-inch gravel (for a princely $20!) loaded by a huge articulated bucket loader. Its bucket is so large that the operator can’t see how much our trailer, far below him, has filled. I signal when the trailer has gotten full enough that its tires begin to depress, taking only a small portion of his bucket-load.

Then we begin our drive out of the facility, past the huge blasted rock and the machines that grind it into many useful forms and sizes (like gravel), past the dump trucks loading up and the bucket loaders loading them, out to the truck weighing scales and then on our way home, doing about 25 mph over that four-mile stretch. The grandkids love watching the trucks, loaders and grinders at work — seeing their Mighty Machines videos in real life! When we get back home, we all work at off-loading the gravel onto the driveway to resurface it with a lot better quality gravel than what we’ve gotten for years from our back-field gravel pit. Eldest grandson Jack and granddaughter Hazel, now 6 and 4 respectively, also help with such things as trimming branches from the borders of our fields and de-limbing trees after I’ve dropped them, helpfully throwing the branches into that same trailer.

When our work is done and the trailer is empty, the kids kneel in the trailer holding on to its waist-high front end while I drive them at slow speeds across our harvested fields. This is undoubtedly not a government-approved method of transport, but it’s done with their parents’ approval and echoes my own summers as a kid doing similar things — a trip down memory lane even as I can hear our grandchildren laughing with delightful glee a few feet behind me as I drive along!

These are old-time joys of summer in which work and play seamlessly combine to make engaging learning experiences and fun times of simply being together. They are always, as now, over much too fast.