After we left Massachusetts, we drove up through New Hampshire and into Portland. I was, at this point, still 17 or so years away from becoming a lighthouse enthusiast, so I missed out on my chance to see one of the most-photographed (if not the most-photographed) lighthouses in the world, Portland Head Light. If you see a photograph of a white lighthouse and the outbuildings all have pretty steeply pitched red roofs, that’s Portland Head. Before Alex and I started to buy calendars of our upcoming destinations (this year’s calendar is Munich), I usually bought a calendar with lighthouse pictures and my usual goal was to find one without a picture of Portland Head. Some years I was more successful than others (and one year I found one with two pictures of Portland Head, each taken from a different angle). If you’ve ever watched Babylon 5, the episode “Shadow Dancing” ends with Delenn holding a snow globe with a lighthouse in it. That lighthouse is Portland Head. Anyway, I hope to return to Portland someday to actually visit the lighthouse that I’ve seen so many damn times in photographs.
While we didn’t go lighthouse spotting, we did visit yet another famous person’s house and this one did make an impression. We visited the Wadsworth-Longfellow House, home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Among the things we saw was what they refer to as the “Rainy Day desk,” which is where Longfellow wrote his poem, “The Rainy Day.” You know the saying, “Into each life some rain must fall”? That’s from “The Rainy Day.” The poem also references a vine and there is ivy on the exterior wall outside the window above the desk. The tour guide said that the ivy was there during Longfellow’s lifetime and may have been of some inspiration to him in writing the poem. So I went outside and stole a leaf from the ivy. I took care to get it home in one piece and then sealed it in a plastic bag. I used that leaf as a bookmark for most of the following school year. I wonder where it is now. It’s probably still in one of the books I read that year.
I’m pretty sure we also went to the Portland Museum of Art. At least the building it was in at the time, the McLellan-Sweat Mansion looks awfully familiar. It turns out that 1981, the year we were in Portland, was the year they began work on the current building across the street from the mansion. The new building is much more modern and more memorable.
That night we went to a lobster restaurant and had whole steamed lobsters for dinner (my parents have never gone for terribly fancy food). I wouldn’t swear to it, but it looks like it might have been whatever restaurant was in the same building where Street & Co. is today. That is certainly the right area of town. My dad made some joke or other at dinner and I laughed so hard that the screw fell out of my glasses and we couldn’t find it anywhere. We had to go to the Pearle Vision store in downtown Portland on our way out of town to have a new screw put in.
It’s not really about Portland, but while we were in Maine, we were driving through the woods somewhere (probably on US 201) and I saw the biggest dog I’d ever seen sitting in the lanes going in the opposite direction. As we passed the dog, it looked up and I realized that no dog has round ears like that. The large dog I saw was actually a bear. My parents didn’t see it at all.