ome friends joined my wife and I for a light dinner last Saturday night, at York Harbor Inn’s lounge.
This was the first time we had visited the Cellar Pub since the renovations. The pub now looks like the galley of a ship.
After a few beers I actually felt as though I was on a ship but that is another story! Everything was going well until I noticed that the popcorn machine that I had always enjoyed in the past was no longer perched by the entrance to the pub. I asked the waitress what happened to it and she told me it wasn’t worth the bother.
Many of the patrons left messes that made cleanup at the end of the night literally impossible. As she said it, I remembered all the times that I had missed my mouth as I tried to navigate a handful of popcorn toward my face. I decided not to tell her I was responsible for most of the mess. That started me thinking about other places I used to take for granted. Places I enjoyed visiting and assumed would always exist.
The first that came to mind was Ya Ya’s which used to be located across from the bathhouse on Long Sands Beach. The primary reason I loved coming to the beach was to visit Ya Ya’s and get the best and biggest fried dough in the entire universe. Part of the attraction was that it had more powdered sugar in it than dough. I remember the day it was sold to become another restaurant and then finally a cluster of condominiums. I wonder if the people there today have any idea that they are living on top of what was once a local shrine.
I thought about the basket shop that used to be in the store that Bill & Bob’s now occupies at York Beach. It was run by a foreign gentleman whose name I never knew, but who filled his shop with the most incredible decorative baskets. Locals used to wait anxiously till the end of the season, which always ended on Labor Day back then, to run over to the store and buy baskets at end-of-season sale prices. In my house today are some of the baskets that came out of those sales.
Happily not every place I used to enjoy has gone. There are still some places left that I used to visit when I was younger and which I still enjoy visiting today. Places like The Goldenrod with its famous saltwater taffy. The first time I came to York Beach was approximately 33 years ago when I met the sweet and naïve young girl who was to become my wife.
We stood together in front of The Goldenrod’s window, like tens of thousands of other visitors before us, and watched those giant taffy-pulling machines turn the taffy to perfection then roll it into a wrapping machine that never lost a single piece of taffy. Every summer, at the beginning of the season, I go back and stand in front of that window for a few minutes because I am afraid that one day something else will have taken its place.
Flo’s hot-dog stand is another icon that still stands against the tide of change. A few years ago I thought we might lose it when Flo passed away but I am happy to say that her daughter took up the gauntlet and kept this unique piece of York history going. The stand still looks the same and the cars still line Route 1 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and nobody minds because they know that Flo’s stand belongs right where it is.
El’s Fried Clam stand used to be like Flo’s. My wife and I used to go there for what we considered to be the best fried clams ever and I have yet to find another place that can even compare to the taste of those big-bellied treats. One of the best ways to experience our local culinary heritage is to have an Indian Pudding ice-cream cone at Brown’s Ice Cream Shop on the Nubble. I remember how depressed I was when the shop didn’t open for a few years about a decade ago.
At the time I thought I had lost one of the main reasons for making York my home. Then, it came back one summer and hasn’t left since. York’s Wild Kingdom is another enduring symbol of York’s past. The land where it stands has always been a park of some type since the early history of York although its name has changed. I don’t think York Beach would continue to be York Beach without the park that sits right across the street from the York Beach Fire Department.
Also, speaking of great symbols of York’s heritage, let’s not forget the men of the Beach fire department who are seen throughout the summer sitting and watching the thousands of tourists enjoying what we call “home”. For as long as I remember the Beach has been a volunteer department and I have always found something inspirational in seeing those guys, knowing that they are volunteers and at any minute they could be called upon to put their lives on the line.
Festivals are also important events that York will, hopefully, never cease to enjoy. I remember when York Days began in the early 1980’s. Few people in town thought it would survive. There were fireworks but they weren’t like the fireworks we see today. Today it is a spectacle that causes visitors from all over New England to book their vacations during the first Sunday of August – if they are lucky enough to get a room.
I also remember when Harvestfest started in front of the Congregational Church. It was little more than a couple of tables filled with homemade crafts and goodies. Today it takes up most of York Village displaying the incredible variety of talents of the people who live here. Hell, one now has to get a bus from the beach in order to enjoy an oxen sandwich or a bowl of beans baked in the ground.
The lighting of the Nubble, both at Christmas time and in July, are traditions that grow with the years. I remember the first time I went up to Nubble Light after the Thanksgiving holiday. I couldn’t believe the number of people there because it was so bone chilling, feet numbing, and face-freezing cold. However, nobody seemed to mind because it was the most local of celebrations and everybody was there with their friends and neighbors.
Some of my fondest memories – and worse headaches – occur during the many parades that York loves to put on during the Memorial and Labor Day weekends. In the last few years I think they’ve thrown in a few more during the summer months just for the hell of it. The parade consists of all the fire trucks in town filled to capacity with children, dressed in all sorts of costumes, waving to the people who watch from the side of the road. The headache comes from the blaring horns and sirens of all those trucks.
Back at The York Harbor Inn my wife noticed the big smile on my face right before our dinners came. I told her I was saddened by the loss of the popcorn machine but I was happy about all the customs and traditions we still had to enjoy.
Next time I go to the Inn for dinner, I might just have to remember to take my own bag of popcorn!
Yearning for the popcorn of olde Yorke by J. G. Fabiano.
Jim Fabiano is a teacher and a writer living in York, Maine, USA
email him at: email@example.com
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