I was at a crossroads. Literally. And it was the kind of decision my father had to make repeatedly throughout our life as a family when my sister and I were growing up in the 80s.
Go straight on Route 302 through scenic Naples and then on to Route 117 through Bridgton to our destination of Harrison? Or turn right on to Route 35 and head north along a country road to get there?
For some reason, Dad always chose to turn right. I say “for some reason” because Dad hated that 11-mile stretch that took us to the small town of Harrison. I can only figure that my father, usually a man thrilled by discovery, did not feel adventurous enough or curious enough to see what would happen if he had instead skipped the right onto 35 and had stayed the course on 302 on the way to my grandparents’ cottage on Long Lake.
He would have liked that long stretch of 302, which takes you over the bridge and past the little shops and eateries in Naples and the drive-in and familiar chain stores and restaurants in Bridgton. I would have liked it too, especially when we’d pass the grocery store at the intersection of routes 302 and 117 in Bridgton, the one at which Stephen King was shopping when we he was hit with the idea for his short story, “The Mist,” in the late 70s.
But instead Dad always took that right and would complain that this stretch of Route 35 felt like the longest and most boring drive he ever had to take. The distance between Sanford and Harrison is about 65 miles, a trip that could be taken inside of 90 minutes. I never heard Dad take issue with the first 50-some-odd miles of the journey, but oh, those final 11. Usually, it’s the kids from the back seat who during long trips ask, “Are we there yet?” On this long stretch of 35, Dad would be the one to ask.
My guess is that the route ran counter to Dad’s preference for an active sense of community over relaxed rural atmospheres. To this day, Mom is known for taking quiet drives in the country. Dad never took such drives. And those 11 miles that connect Naples to Harrison on Route 35 is such a drive. Lots of trees. Lots of fields. Houses set apart.
I went to Harrison on Sunday. Given the time that I spent there during the summers of my youth, I consider it a home away from home, even as I no longer have family members who live there. A few times each summer, I’ll head to Harrison and make the usual stops: a dip in Crystal Lake, a stop at the general store that my grandfather once owned, and a few other spots. Then I head over to Bridgton, the home of Ricky’s Diner, the Magic Lantern movie theater, and Bridgton Books, among other places. These trips are usually taken on a Sunday. I find them relaxing.
I almost always take 302 and 117 into Harrison. I like driving through Naples, which offers a quintessentially summer scene. I like going past the drive-in in Bridgton and checking its sign for the double feature it’s currently showing. And yeah, as a lifelong reader of Stephen King’s novels, I like going past that supermarket that inspired one of my favorite stories of his.
Once in a while, though, I will take that right onto Route 35 and will drive those 11 miles into Harrison. This is what I did this past Sunday. I took that route as a tribute to Dad, putting myself through the same paces he kept whenever he delivered my sister and me to his parents for several days of swimming, playing cards and checkers, hanging out with my cousins, and going on the amusement rides during the Harrison’s annual Old Home Days festival.
I’ve always been a somewhat balanced blend of my parents, taking after my mother and father in relatively equal measure. Like Dad, I like driving along bustling routes. Like Mom, I enjoy rural routes too. That infamous stretch of Route 35 offers soothing nature and various family landmarks: the elementary school at which my aunt taught, for example, and the fields on which my cousins played soccer. At one point, glimpses of Long Lake appear through the trees on the left, and I am reminded of breezy cruises in my grandfather’s boat.
And here’s the moment I like best: when you reach the end of that 11-mile stretch, you can see the clock atop the Town Block on Main Street in Harrison. I spent a lot of time at that Town Block as a kid. Whenever I visited Harrison in the summertime, I’d walk to the store at the Town Block, would buy the Portland Press Herald, and would return to my grandparents’ cottage to read the comics and check out what was playing at the Magic Lantern. We’d eat breakfast or lunch at The Cracked Platter, a restaurant that was there at the time. Actually, during their first several months in Harrison, my grandparents lived in the apartment above the store.
I always loved that moment when the clock on the Town Block appeared on the horizon as we drove along Route 35. It meant that my string of days spent swimming, boating, feeding ducks, relaxing and hanging out with my cousins was about the begin.
Dad must have liked that moment too. It meant his dreaded trek on that long stretch of Route 35 was coming to an end.
Until he had to turn around and head home, of course.
Shawn P. Sullivan is an award-winning columnist and the author of “Islands in the Chaotic Ocean of Life,” a memoir that is available online at Amazon.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.