Off Season and Off Centre at Old Orchard Beach

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It was late September when we headed for Southern Maine. By ‘we’ I mean Graham, my sister Jo and her chap, Bob, and I. The trip had been Jo’s or G’s idea, we couldn’t agree who had started it. But it felt like a jaunt, or as G put it later ‘Four Go Mad in Maine and Mass.’ We were going with the aim of meeting up with our third cousin, Jan, whom I had never met (being away in Kenya when she and Craig had visited the UK). Jo had met them, though, and shown them around Shropshire. Now Jan had kindly invited us to stay in her beach cottage for a week before travelling on up to Richmond to the family alpaca farm.

The day was hot as we drove up from Boston, but already I could feel summer slipping away. There was a dreamy, dusty air about the small towns we drove through, the civic gardens still brightly neat with flowers, yet with that ‘nearly over’ look.  Salem, Gloucester, Portsmouth, Kittery, Biddeford, Saco,  we passed on through, except for a quick pit stop at Kittery, and our first taste of Maine clam chowder. The first of many ‘tastes’ I should say, since we all became hooked on the stuff.

And so well and severally chowdered, we sped on northwards up route 95. The trip was taking longer than we had reckoned on. Being the end of the  holiday season, the highways department had started digging the road up for what seemed like miles. We could spot  no useful turn off, and we were keyed up in the knowledge that Cousin Jan was meeting us at the cottage with the keys at 3pm.  Back at the farm, the alpaca moms were busy having babies and she was on tight schedule.

But then just when we thought we’d never get there, there was the sign we’d been looking for.  Ocean Park. We turned off the highway into the maze of pretty lanes and avenues that make up this quaint seaside community.

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Our destination was in fact just a step away from the beach, in what had started out as a single storey, verandahed cabin, but later had been jacked up on cinder blocks to provide another floor. The verandah had been enclosed and turned into two rooms. Jan told us that the cottage had originally been the 1920s retreat of an Englishman who had lived in India. Many of his books were still on the sitting-room book shelves where he had left them. He had apparently later created the lower floor for his mother  so making two little houses in one.

Jan was sitting out on the lawn reading when we arrived. The sunlight had that honeyed September glow, but the sea breathed autumn at us. Jan was worried we would be cold at night since the cottage had no insulation. She had come armed with extra duvets from the farm. It was an odd feeling that meeting. Although we were strangers, I felt instantly embraced by family affection. For one thing, Jan so looked like my Aunt Evelyn.

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Apart from the occasional and poignant call of a passing train (a sound we grew quickly to love), Ocean Park is a serene and leafy enclave. A place out of time. Most of its houses date from the late 19th century when the Free Will Baptists founded a family summer resort there. The presence of water and a grove of trees were requisite for such a retreat, while religious and educational meetings and all round self-improvement were the focus of the gathering’s activities.  The Tabernacle Temple meeting hall is still there amongst the pines and maples.

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Meanwhile, a couple of miles along the beach, the resort of Old Orchard Beach aka OOB, could not be more different.  In season it is teeming with humanity, the coastal strip lined with cheap boarding houses and motels. It is not the sort of place we would normally go to in any season, too much razzamatazz and bustle, junk takeaways, and nowhere to buy real food. But now, at summer’s end, it did hold a certain doleful fascination – you know, the kind of fascination of the David Lynch Twin Peaks sort.

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IMG_0058 - CopyWhat else can you say, off-season resorts are simply desolate. When summer ends they lose their reason ‘to be’; the body is there, but someone has switched off the blood supply. We wandered up and down empty streets, feeling somewhat perplexed. Most of the shops were shut.  The rides at Palace Playground had been wrapped up for the winter. There was scarcely a soul around.

It was only when I had a notion to take the Downeaster train to Portland, and we ended up in the library, trying to find out how to buy tickets (the station machine being terminally out of order), that it was all change. Inside the library it was humming with cheerful librarians and  young moms with kids. And so just when we thought we were all alone on Planet OOB, lovely human life was discovered. The librarian even let us use the phone to reserve train tickets, and then print them off from her computer. So thank you Libby Library, you surely know how to give good service – in or out of season. We hope, too, that by now you have reached your building fund target. ‘Support Your Local Library’ – that’s something we all need to do.

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copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

 

Follow the links for more bloggers’ off season off centre posts:

Ailsa’s Travel Challenge Off Centre at Where’s My Backpack

Off-Season