Portland, ME – Coasting

Finding Southern Hospitality in Yankee Country

The Wedding Cake House, Kennebunk, Maine

The Wedding Cake House, Kennebunk, Maine

Did you ever see a place that looks like it was built just to enjoy? Well, this whole state of Maine looks that way to me. – Will Rogers

I chose “coasting” in my title for a reason. Getting to Portland was anything but a rush – it was more like coasting  north from Boston on the Amtrak DownEaster. The trip was supposed to take 2 1/2 hours. It took four. The conductor told us we had some unanticipated “slowdowns” – a technical railroad term, no doubt, for “Moose on the Rails!” It didn’t matter. It could have taken us 7 hours, and it would have been fine.

The slowdowns were a welcome relief from the hectic pace of Dallas. The gentle rocking of the train as it lumbered through canyons of towering trees, just leafing out (in May!) and the sun setting, its golden light filtering through those fresh layers of green – why rush? “The journey’s the thing,” I keep telling my students. “Love the journey, or get off the train!” Yes, I use that metaphor when encouraging my DTS students to slow their pace. The destination we all share will come quickly enough. It’s the middle part we should savor.

Portland, Maine. Delightful – from the Portland Harbor Hotel and our host, Ansel (named after Ansel Adams, the great Photographer from the Left Coast), to Mr. Reginald Herbert Humphrey, Jr., our Concierge, who told me he had met only one other “Reggie” in his life, and that was back in the Jurassic days of high school. We had nothing in common but our first name, but we visited like long-lost brothers. It was the same with most of the folks we met.

Pam Goode (MaineDayTrip.com) was no exception to that rule. She was our hostess for a  scheduled 6/actual 8-hour guided tour through Portland and points south. Pam is a generous wellspring of fun facts about Portland proper (director, John Ford was raised here; Stephen King and H. W. Longfellow were born here), Cape Elizabeth (home of the late Bette Davis), and the Portland Head Light (a lighthouse operating since 1791 in Ft. Williams Park) – and, of course, George and Barbara (as they are known to the locals), who summer about 25 miles away to the south in Kennebunkport. There, the Kennebunkportians (?) enjoy watching Barbara tool around in her tiny smart car trailed by an entourage of secret service personnel in their limousines. It makes for wry New England observations as the line of shiny black limos trail “Snowbank” (white-haired Barb’s Code name) to the Bush’s favorite Lobster shack, or to do a bit of shopping.

The real highlight, though, came when we rolled to a stop at 104 Summer Street, in front of the famous Wedding Cake House in Kennebunk. According to Compass American Guides (2005), “it’s the “most photographed house in Maine.” The home was built in 1825 by shipbuilder George W. Bourne (1801–1856). As Pam described the place we noted an elderly gentleman in the front yard holding the leashes of several golden-haired Springers. He was waving at us to come into the driveway. “Oh, I can’t believe this!” Pam said, as we pulled into the gravel drive. “That’s Jimmy Barker! He owns the place.” Jimmy (a spry 87 and 1/2, as he boasts), welcomed us with a firm handshake and a smile as bright as a lighthouse, and asked if we would like to see the inside of this famous home.

We piled out of the car and went to the front of the house as Jimmy put the dogs back in the kennel. He opened the door and ushered us into a home absolutely packed with paintings, treasures, and decades of memories tucked into every corner. He gave me permission to take pictures and gave us a brief tour of the place, which included numerous portraits of a much younger and strikingly handsome Jimmy Barker. He was so kind, so gracious and welcoming. We in Texas pride ourselves on our southern hospitality, but I’m saying, we could take a few lessons from a Yankee named Jimmy Barker.

As far as I can tell, Pam and her boss, Norm (a Texas transplant to ME, by the way), are the only game in town when it comes to personal guided tours of Portland and the surrounding area. It’s no wonder. They are so good at what they do, and so reasonably priced, any potential competitors would face a stiff climb to even come close.

Having said goodbye to Pam, Lauren and I ended our day with a slow walk among the quaint shops that border the streets that run parallel to Wharf Street in Portland. Inside The Mind gift shop, we picked up a “Crab Clock” for Evan, and a few small gifts for friends. Down the street, we moseyed into another shop where we found a mug with a lobster on it (we always pick up a memory mug) for ourselves, then into a variety of other creatively designed stores, where we enjoyed a sprinkling of conversations with the wonderfully homey shopkeepers, many of whom had some odd connection to Dallas.

So – if you’re looking for a picture perfect environment, filled with interesting, and friendly folks, downshift!  Or better still, coast into Portland. If you’re like us, you will find it hard to leave.


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One thought on “Portland, ME – Coasting

  1. I couldn’t agree more, Reg. A native Mainer myself (Brunswick), I moved away so soon I have no recollection from childhood. But my visits as an adult have made me long for the place. Great article, and I, too, agree about the train ride!