Friday, July 02, 2004

Ocean Breezes

We're coming to you today, and for the remainder of the holiday weekend, from beautiful Ocean Park, Maine, once a Baptist summer retreat (no alcohol permitted to this day) and now a unique blend of modern Southern Maine tourism and Victorian seaside gentility. My boys and their nearly 20 cousins on their mom's side represent the fifth generation to have descended each summer on this tiny outpost along windswept Saco Bay. And after a century of faithful pilgrimage, they even have a central place at which to converge: my in-law's impossibly wonderful restored 1881 Victorian bed & breakfast, Billow House.

This Valhalla has everything one could want: there's an appealingly tacky old boardwalk-and-amusement-park town just next door in Old Orchard Beach, a place known mostly today for the thousands of scantilly clad Canucks who decamp each summer. But even this place is soaked in history: Jack Kennedy's parents met on the beach here, and Charles Lindbergh made a stunt landing as part of a victory tour after his historic cross-Atlantic flight in the Twenties.

We're situated almost precisely between the wonderfully restored Old Port section of Portland to the north and to the south the lavish upscale Martha Stewart-like town of Kennebunkport, known these days mostly as the site of the Bush family's ancestral summer home, Walker's Point. It's off on its own peninsula, and is surely one of the most magnificently positioned private homes in America. The famous L.L. Bean store, open 24 hours a day, is a 20-minute drive. After more than 20 years of coming here each year, I've barely begun to explore the cultural and historic richness of what lies just within a 25-mile radius. But I plan to keep working on it.


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