Every now and again, we get a window into our former selves – not a memory, or a story retold so many times the story becomes the memory – but a true factual account. I had such a vista not long ago when I tracked down a small blurb Downeast Magazine had written about me at age 16. The piece was about the lobster delivery business I operated out of Cod End, a fish market in Tenants Harbor run by Anne Miller. Since that time, more than 30 years ago, I’ve racked up life experiences with fever: several cross-county sojourns in college, a berth on the second all women’s Whitbread Around the World (sailing) Team followed closely by the first all woman’s America’s Cup Team, sailing regattas around the globe, law school (in New Zealand and Maine), marriage, divorce, children, a stint at a law firm and a decade of self-employment. What struck me while reading the piece was not how much I’d changed but that for all my experiences, I was the same. In the piece, I was introduced like this:
She was wearing faded dungarees and a sweatshirt that had Northfield Mt. Hermon emblazoned across the front. Her bare feet were splattered with paint. “Hi,” she said cheerfully. “I’m Merritt. I have to go up and get my stuff.”
The blurb goes on to describe the morning run, delivering muffins and danishes, picking up garbage from cruising yachts, noting my paint- spattered feet were from a boat I had painted in an attempt to save money for a trip to Europe (which I never took). I chuckled when I read that, looking at the paint splattered all over my hands from a home improvement project I’d just undertaken. What resonated most distinctly with me about my 16-year-old self was the way I was in constant motion: Grabbing my stuff, jumping back in my 13-foot whaler, reporter in tow, making my rounds, selling muffins, loading the whaler with trash, chatting to customers, talking to the reporter; all against the backdrop of a foggy Tenants Harbor morning.
Tenants Harbor has always been my landing spot – I’ve returned all but one summer since I was born, as my father had before me AND my grandmother, great grandfather and great, great grandfather. I ran my lobster delivery service, worked on the wharf as a “dock girl” and was generally left to my own devices from May, when we landed each summer, to Labor Day. Barefoot, unkempt, left to explore all that the shore had to offer. Cousins would come and go, but as an only child, I logged a lot of solo hours, in skiffs and on the rocky beach in front of our small cottage. My parents, like many of that era, provided meals and a bed, but the rest was up to me.
Several years ago, my working life crossed over and ran parallel to, my Tenants Harbor life. I was writing for the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative and went lobstering with Peter Miller, one of the 4 Miller “boys” who owned the wharf I had worked on as a girl. At that time, Cod End had been closed for two years. As we approached the buying station, where we would unload the lobsters, the morning fog finally having lifted, I asked Peter if Cod End would re-open. With the dry wit that only a Maine fishermen could deliver, he replied, “we’ve just been waiting for you to come back and run it.”