Remember who you are. You are a star, a mountain, that fountain in the sun. Your heart is the velvet cave where birds sing. Are you remembering? Julia Cameron
It was on Day Four of the eight-day trip, mid-week, that my kids came up with the persona for me. The seven of us – Cam and I, our two boys and their gals, and twelve month old Baby Viren – were leaning over the sides of the seventy-five year old, thirty foot wooden tour boat, the Ruth, and sopping up what sea breeze we could find on this sweltering heat-wave of a Wednesday. I, the girl from coastal Maine, was acting as our personal tour guide. “See that bell buoy!?!” I cried into the hum of the engine as I pointed out toward the horizon and Ragged Island, to the red marker set against the sparkling blue of the sea. “That’s the one that my father let my friend, Sally, and I climb on when we were about ten!” “And look over here – that’s the Porter’s Cottage nestled in the woods! We ate lobster dinners at their house!”
It was a small crew on our two-hour boat-ride, a captain and his first mate, and the seven of us and one other couple, and I found myself feeling at home out on the waters of Casco Bay, as if it had been just yesterday that I was the salt-water-soaked preteen on that sea-swaying bell-buoy or the bikini-clad thirteen year old straddling the wooden bow of our twenty-foot red-painted lobster boat while my father steered through the splash of the waves out to Mark Island or around the wild side of Wood Island and into Hermit Island’s high tide cove called the Bathtub. The years melted away as our captain pointed the bow toward the mouth of the New Meadows River, and, with a skill that comes from years of practice, maneuvered our boat through a maze of bright-colored lobster buoys. We were heading into the Basin! The Basin! As he guided us into the protected inlet, he shared his version of its history, how, for generations, it has been a haven for boats in storms, a place of safety when the seas become unruly. I politely listened to his Basin stories, and then I shared my own, how the Basin was anything but calm seas to me when I was a teenager.
I worked as a kitchen girl and waitress for three summers in my late teens at Rock Gardens Inn, the quaint clump of cottages perched on the point just a stone’s throw away from where we hopped onto this tour boat, and the Basin was a favorite playground of ours, of the nine high school and college-aged gals who lived at the inn. Squish – that’s what we called our fun-loving colleague because of her cute little nose and her cute little giggle and her cute little backside and the way she wiggled when she walked – she was anything but tame and she owned a Boston Whaler, a tiny boat with a huge engine, and she charged that engine up and she sailed across the sea and it was always a wild ride with Squish. And sometimes, on the hot days, the days like this one that my family and I were now motoring through, we Rock Gardens Inn Girls found ourselves right here in the Basin flying behind the boat of our reckless friend, skimming and skiing across the calm surface of these waters. That’s what I was shouting out over the hum of the engine on this sweltering afternoon – that I used to water-ski here in this enclosed harbor – when the persona took hold. I think that Cam, who met me in the midst of these Rock Gardens Inn years, added something about Boone’s Farm Wine to my story, as if I ever had the talent to combine a bottle of Boone’s Farm – which I admit might have made its way into the Beach Party Nights – with an afternoon of waterskiing. But that was the image that delighted my kids, their mother, a teenager, grasping the reins with one hand, a bottle of Boone’s Farm with the other, and flying through the air behind a speeding boat and shouting something out in a thick Maine accent. “Helen Jo”, the name of my youth, is what they began to call me.
And the name, and the persona, it stuck. After our captain steered us back out around the seaward side of Horse Island, past the flock of terns dive-bombing for fish, past the seals poking their heads above the waves, past the lobster boats and the draggers and into the harbor, after we climbed onto the wharf and waved our good-byes to captain and first mate, I was still Helen Jo. And an hour later, while whooping and hollering into the wind and the waves at the state park beach, while splashing and swimming and feeling free with my grown-up boys and their grown-up gals and the bold little Viren, I remembered her, that whooping and hollering and out-of-the-box teen. It wasn’t a persona at all, but a very real part of who I am – the loud and raucous water girl born by the sea. And for the rest of the week, as my grown-up boys noticed that Helen Jo drove a little faster than the mom that they were used to, and noticed that she didn’t work as hard at being in charge and she let her hair grow salty and sea-washed, I felt freed-up. Freed-up of the roles that could make a vacation anything but a vacation. It was fun being Helen Jo. It was fun feeling young and salty and a wee bit reckless. It was fun scooping up that grandson of mine and loving him with a blubberiness that only a grandparent can feel, while, at the same time, giggling inside because that youthful, fun-filled Helen Jo – she was alive and kicking up a raucous.
I hope that the others felt it too, the freedom to let go, the freedom to ride the wave of the moment without role or expectation. Near the end of the week, on the last visit to the wide stretch of state park beach, while Cam sat under the umbrella and played in the sand with Viren, the rest of us tried out the boogey boards that my friend, Muriel, had loaned to us. The sea is a great equalizer and the waves were building up momentum as the tide began to pour back in and we were tossed about and we, all of us, stretched our arms out over those boards and chose our waves, and sometimes, if we caught them just right, we rode them into shore, and skidded along the sand before stopping. It was a rush. And, for those ocean-soaked moments, we, this gang on the beach, were not parents or the kids of parents or siblings or the partners of siblings. We were ourselves, people on a vacation having fun.