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Lunch at JJ’s

May 20, 2011

The true joys of Maine are hidden in the air. Invisibly, they surround us like a phantoms awaiting discovery.

Maine is a rare present, hiding it’s best delights from view. And while the images of her rugged northern coast, her sprawling southern beaches, her majestic lakes, rivers and forests draw tourists in droves, there are, for me, more stunning pleasures.

Today is a typical dreary, chilly day in that others call spring. Here, the coming of summer is heralded by mud, mostly. Yet the harbingers of summer are all around and they delight me as I walk through Old Orchard Beach – an ancient amusement town devoted to wretched excess and worldly pleasures four months of the year.

Excess is sometimes excusable.

A freight train rumbles slowly through the heart of town on brilliant steel rails that separate the beach from the business district. Cars are unceremoniously halted by the pier as if to invite their passengers to pause and admire the carousel being polished to a bright sheen and lubricated for the coming droves of children questing for golden rings. The sounds of the box cars’ clattering wheels blend with the calliope’s perky tunes and transport me back to my childhood.

Familiar smells swirl with the light breeze, alternating between clams and potatoes frying in deep fragrant oil and mud flats at low tide. A few brave souls (perhaps devoted is more accurate) wonder along Grand Avenue having come for a prelude to the magic that will soon arrive.

Their conversations mingle, a blend of languages and dialects which is, to me, not foreign but friendly. I remember my grandfather bringing me here in a now dim past and being wildly excited that the people were all so different and so happy.

There are no ties here. No pants with whales embroidered on them. Women dress to inspire and the men oblige them. Folks with airs about them are seldom seen. Laughter is a required accessory.

I imagine the coming season and the bustling chaos it will bring as I finish my chowder at JJ’s, a small tavern/lunch bar snuggled up next to the tracks. The last boxcar glides past my table. A large gull who’s been watching me eat is perched fearlessly on the low stone wall that separating us from the relentless vibrations of unimaginable torque and the strangely sweet smell of an awe inspiring diesel locomotive. When the coast is clear, with a piercing screech he spreads his powerful wings and lifts himself silently into the air. That silence is deafening.

And in that moment, I understand why this place is one of those great joys that I’ve treasured for so long.

P.S. – JJ’s has great chowdah

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Bev Malona permalink
    May 22, 2011 6:44 pm

    Cris, your words create beautifully three dimensional images, sounds and scents.
    I smelled the clams and potatoes frying…I heard the train cars clattering…my grandmother, long gone, laughing and speaking her broken English, enjoying a reprieve from the city-so happy.

    Thanks

  2. June 16, 2011 11:34 pm

    Cris, you have an astonishing creative force that continues to amaze and delight me! You capture a moment and place in time that makes one wish she were having ‘chowdah’….even if she is vegetarian!!
    Thanks for such beautiful writing!

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