As I try to find inspiration for these blogs and to promote (shamelessly) the release in October of my new book, The Wanderer, I have started to rummage through old travel journals—some dating back fifty years. However, an email resurrected memories from this particular trip and the title of this blog. You might think that the inspiration for the title of this blog came from the bible—and you would be close, but no cigar! For me, it derives from a trip to New England I took in 1983 with my husband’s two Chinese physics students, Zhou Ur and her husband Bau Gang. In addition, a friend of mine, Ruth, who hails from that part of the country joined. She and I both had relatives in Maine, which made lodging and other travel necessities more affordable.
My friend, Ruth, a former Methodist deacon—until she came out as a lesbian, knew her King James biblical quotes. Every time we seemed to be a long way from where we left and nowhere near our destination, Ruthie would ease my anxiety about being lost by saying in nice comforting tones, “there will be a sign.” Had I been a better biblical scholar, I would have known that the signs the bible refers to are not for road warriors but for those awaiting Armageddon! In our case however, the signs usually came into view just when I was sure we were lost. Ruthie would just smirk, and look at me smugly. I could hear her thinking, “faithless fool.”
Remembering the trip brought back vivid memories. As we traveled up the Maine coast, I would point out old house likely belonging to a seafaring captain and Bau Gang would remind me in his heavily accented English, and with a barely perceptible smugness, that old in China meant thousands of years. My old was only a couple of centuries. Both he and Zhou Ur were delighted when we passed the sign for China, Maine (pop. 4,227) and gleeful when they were able to dip their toes in the wild looking Atlantic ocean at a stop at Arcadia National Park. Since I grew up in Miami on the warmer middle of the Atlantic, I wasn’t thrilled with the cold water but I do remember with some clarity a tomb stone in nearby Bucksport that legend has it is permanently marked with the outline of Col. Jonathan Buck’s leg. There is a story there and you can find it at: https://www.bucksportmaine.gov/vertical/sites/%7B1700581E-144E-4C5D-B026-79CCA6D1E656%7D/uploads/Legends_of_Jonathan_Buck.pdf
I have vague images of cranberry bogs, eating fiddle head ferns at my sister Sunnie’s farm in Troy Maine, and of Strawbery Banke located in the South End historic district of Portsmouth, New Hampshire—while trying to eat chicken feet in a Chinese restaurant in Boston is a little clearer, perhaps because I have never managed actually to swallow a chicken foot. Perhaps the funniest memory I have of that trip was the day we stopped at Ruth’s aunt and she invited us to stay the night. The aunt, hospital as she could be and unaware that her niece was a lesbian, gave Bau Gang and Zho Ur a double futon on the breezeway and Ruthie and I her guest bedroom. We were to share it for the evening. I am not homophobic; at least I didn’t think so. However, when we climbed into the full size bed I found myself clinging to the edge, one hand on the floor to keep from falling off! Luckily, for me, Ruth soon realized that I was not tranquil. “Carole, relax. I’m well aware that you are a straight woman and have no intention to try to persuade you to be otherwise. Get on the bed and go to sleep.” Feeling utterly foolish, I pulled myself fully back on the bed, smiled sheepishly and went to sleep.
I last saw Bau Gang and Zho Ur in Beijing in 2008. Ruth lives with her partner in rural Ohio. We keep up with each other via Christmas cards and the occasional email. I got an email from her just a day or so ago…a sign to write this blog.
“Carole, I was reading about fiddle head soup. Made me think of your sister Sunnie in Maine. Thoughts came of our 1983 trip with Zho Ur and Bau Gang to the Eastern US. Wondered what ever happened to them, and to Bau Gang’s friends that owned that fabulous Chinese restaurant? The chef went out for the live chickens for our meal. Ugg! But great food. Great trip. To this day when traveling, that expression “there will be a sign” still comes up—even in the age of a GPS. Ruth.” May 15, 2020