During World War II, my mother and I stayed with her sister while my father was stationed in England. Having bounced from base to base before this, I never felt I had a real home until I lived with my aunt and uncle at their hotel in Wayne, Maine.
The Androscoggin House was a big, white edifice sitting on the top of a hill that sloped down to Androscoggin Lake. A long porch extended along the front and stretched around the side. It was quite an ordinary place, but to my young eyes, the hotel held a myriad of wonders.
One of these was the mangle room, where the air was always humid and smelled of bleach and detergent. Fascinated, I watched a plump red-cheeked woman feed damp, wrinkled linens into rollers from which they emerged flat and smooth. And if she was in a good mood, she allowed me to have a turn at the hissing monster. Above the mangle room was, what seemed to me, an amazing phenomenon, the ice room. Here big blocks were covered with layers of sawdust and remained solid even on the warmest day. The mystery was enhanced when my teasing uncles told me that the blocks came from a bottomless lake where many men had lost their lives cutting ice.
I had even more adventures when my friend Shirley came to stay. Often we would play spy. Above the kitchen was a bathroom with an iron grate in the floor. When the grate was open, we could look down into the kitchen and listen to the adults. We never heard anything exciting, but that did not deter us from sneaking up the narrow back stairs to play detective.
Another favorite place was the lake, where we waded in the cool water to pick the fragrant, silky, white pond lilies that floated on its surface. We would bring them back to the hotel, arrange them in clear crystal bowls, and then place them on the dining room tables adjacent to the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the lake. In my memory, the glass bowls are always sparkling.
The most wondrous place of all, however, was the Moonglow, my uncle and aunt’s dance pavilion, which was nestled in a pine grove a short walk from the hotel. Shirley and I liked to swirl around the crowded floor until intermission, when we would dash over a carpet of prickly pine needles to man the hot dog stand. Before even reaching our destination, we could smell the rising steam of hot dogs mingled with the odor of mustard and pine trees. Once there, we filled the spongy white rolls and passed them to eager hands. Of course, because we had been so helpful and “grown-up,’’ we were allowed to sleep in one of the empty rooms at the hotel.
As I think back on those days in my first real home, I am once again a carefree girl, running down a grassy slope to the glistening lake. I hear the bathroom grate’s metallic clang as it is opened and the sounds of music floating through the pine-scented night. I am young again.
Iris Orlen, a retired teacher, lives in Marblehead. Send comments and a 550-word essay on your first home to Address@globe.com. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.