Tuesday, July 31, 2012

They Got What You Need . . . Generally"

“If We Ain’t Got It, You Don’t Need It!” Or so say the folks at Hussey’s General Store, in Windsor, Maine, who claim that it is the largest general store in a state that seems to be full of general stores both large and small. We have been coming to Maine regularly for the past quarter of a century and yet it is strange that we have never visited Hussey’s. But then again, we don’t regularly pass through this part of the state. I am not sure why that is, but there you go.

Upon our arrival in Maine this summer, we pledged to visit places we have heard about yet never seemed to find the time or a reason to go and have a look. One of these places is Hussey’s General Store. So off we went yesterday. Our first stop was an hour up the road, in Gardiner, on the Kennebec River just south of Augusta, the state capital. We stopped for lunch at one of our favorite spots, the A-1 Diner (more on this in a subsequent dispatch from Maine), followed by a short walk through Gardiner’s downtown, such as it is. This is a town that has clearly seen better days and there is not much to justify sticking around too long. Still, it is pleasant enough for a short walk after lunch.

Soon we were crossing the Kennebec River and heading for Windsor and Hussey’s General Store. Windsor is a small crossroads hamlet at the junction of State Highways 105 and 32, in the township of the same name and about a dozen miles east of Augusta. It is on the way to nowhere in particular unless you are on your way to Windsor which has hosted an agricultural fair since 1888. Otherwise, this is rural farmland and rolling, forested hills through which the languid West Branch of the Sheepscot River flows on its way to the main stem of the river a few miles south of here. Certainly not the large tidal river that empties into the Gulf of Maine below Wiscasset.

The original store was established in Windsor by Harland Hussey in 1923 and carried clothing, dry goods and other groceries; what one expected to find in any general store of the time. Supplies were shipped out of Wiscasset or to Augusta by means of a now defunct narrow gauge railroad that passed a mile or so distant, in York’s Corner. The store expanded with new additions in the 1940s, and a “new” store measuring 30,000 square feet opened in 1954 at its present crossroads location.

Today one can get gas outside and wander and browse on three floors. The main floor is mostly dedicated to shelves of groceries and coolers, including a variety of beer and wine. There are fountain drinks and hot hogs, books and magazines, maps, postcards, humorous signs and bumper stickers, and a wall covered with mostly kitschy Maine and North Woods souvenirs. Downstairs was dedicated to a wide variety of hardware and auto supplies, paints, and appliances. The upstairs is clearly the most interesting and unique: sporting goods, including fishing rods, lures and baits; new and antique handguns, rifles and shotguns along with ammunition, targets, holsters, and all of one’s hunting needs. There are camping supplies and a rather large selection of gear dedicated to the panning of gold (is there really gold in them thar hills?). There is a corner with shelves of older books at a decent price. There are collectible coins for sale. Finally - and this is probably the most unique attraction of the store - there is a corner displaying various types of clothing with a changing room. One of the big draws seems to be the selection of bridal gowns, tiaras and other wedding necessities. I was hoping to see someone trying one on since the sign out by the road advertises “Guns, Bridal Gowns, Cold Beer,” everything one needs to make a wedding complete. Regretfully, I had to be satisfied watching a young gal trying on a very becoming summer dress.

I have visited several Maine general stores over the years, but Hussey’s is certainly one of the biggest and with perhaps the widest variety of wares for the discriminating shopper. It does seem that they have anything you would could possibly need . . . speaking generally. If not, Augusta and its strip malls and big box stores are just down the road.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Greetings From True's Point - Dispatches From Maine

This is the first of several “Dispatches from Maine” which I will posting throughout the summer. 
I apologize; it has been a month since my last posting. We have once again returned to our beloved True’s Point cottage on Sabbathhday Lake, in New Gloucester, Maine, spending the past weeks settling into our summertime routine. We have been coming up here every summer for the past 25 years, and since 2010 Sally Ann and I have spent the entire summer here, returning home to Maryland only in early October at the height of autumn colors in New England and only a few short weeks before the first snow flurries are in the air here at the lake. In fact, it is hard to believe that in early April the remnants of winter ice were still found along the edges of our lake. Summer is a short but glorious season here in Maine.

I was chomping at the bit during the last two weeks before we departed home for these familiar and welcoming environs. The last week was hell . . . literally . . . as the temperatures in the Washington, DC area, like much of the eastern half of the United States, climbed into the triple digits for several days. The murderous heat, coupled with intense humidity, spawned storms that ravaged the metropolitan area. One dumped marble-size hail stones that turned our neighborhood white while a tornado touched down just a mile away and cutting power to thousands of households, some for several days. A week later, and two nights before our departure, a rare deracho formed west of Chicago and raced across the United States at almost 100 mph leaving a wide path of destruction in its wake. Much of the Mid-Atlantic states was left in the dark for days as trees were uprooted and power lines snapped. We were happy to get out of town while the getting was good!

For awhile we were not sure we were going to make it to Maine at all this year. The same line of storms that spawned the tornado that touched down near our Maryland home also produced the bolt of lightning that struck and detonated the stately white pine which stood sentinel over our Maine shoreline for over 130 years. Thankfully the tree and most of its arboraceous shrapnel landed in the lake. Had it fallen the other way, the cottage would have been totally destroyed and with it our dreams of restful summer months in Maine. To make matters worse, the lightning arced into the cottage destroying the fuse box. Luckily there was no fire. So, as we endured the destructive storms and unbearable heat at home, we waited on tenterhooks to learn the fate of the cottage. Our luck held, and the rest of the tree was brought down and all of the large debris removed from the lake and hauled away while power was restored to the cottage and all was in order again. Well, sort of.

It could have been worse . . . much worse . . . and we keep reminding ourselves of this fact. Still, we mourn and miss our sentinel pine and the shade it has long afforded our cottage and its lakeside decks here on True’s Point. We will make do, but it is just not the same.