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Road Trip with Mom
Part I

A Summer Road Trip with Mom in July 2008

Bill, Mom and Eileen Brockett
My oldest brother Bill, my Mom and Eileen Brockett

The air was thick, hot and wet with humidity when I arrived by plane at Bradley airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. None the less I felt happy to be back in Connecticut because I would soon see my Mom and a few of my five brothers. When I picked up my rental car I was reminded that in the east, one must engage their psychological defenses least they be taken advantage of. The clerk asked me if I was going to use more than a tank of gas. "Yes" I replied. "Then you may want to bring back the tank as close to empty as possible because we will charge you 50 cents less per gallon than the gas stations will" he said. Sounds like a good deal I mused until my old Connecticut defenses kicked in. "What if I return the car with half a tank" I asked? "Will you charge me for a full tank"? "Yes" came the reply. "So the discounted price on gas actually turns into a hefty surcharge unless I run the tank dry and push the car into your lot" I exclaimed. "I think that I will return the tank full" I stated. The clerk grunted and then tried to sell me extra insurance. "Full coverage is only $18.00 a day" he said "and it will cover all damages". Wow, $18.00 times 365 days is about $6,500.00 a year I mused. What a deal. I respectfully declined that offer too and a few minutes later, happily drove away.

Branford Point Fishing
Fishing off the rocks at Parker Memorial Park,
also known as Branford Point in Branford, Connecticut.
Parker Memorial Park
Big Beach at Parker Memorial Park
Best Value Inn
America's Best Value Inn in Branford, Connecticut

AAmerica's Best Value Inn is best value in Branford lodging. The folks were friendly, the rooms clean, the air conditioning quiet and cool and the area was safe. There was plenty of parking, restaurants were nearby and the bed was comfortable. I could have stayed at my Mom's home but I do not like creating extra work for her. She is 88 and put in many years of work raising six boys and playing an active role in our community via the PTA. This was her vacation as well. In one day my Mom and I were driving to Bridgeton, Maine to visit my oldest brother Bill and his wife Eileen at their new home. Then we were traveling to to visit my youngest brother, Terry and his wife Pam, at their cottage in Casco, Maine.

Branford was a working class community with three heavy industry factories, neighborhood schools and a busy town center when I was born. Now only one shell of a factory is left, the neighborhood schools are centers for the over 65 crowd and the "revitalized" town center resembles Main Street in Disney World. The new Branford is a magnet for folks with lots of money and leisure time. Formally impoverished sections of town along Long Island Sound now sport over sized waterfront homes that sell for millions of dollars. The Sound is a playground for the moderately well heeled from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The pursuit of leisure is now a dominant theme in the town of Branford; even the Chamber of Commerce has adopted a pleasure sailboat for their logo.

Leisure is a lifestyle in Branford

Long Island Sound
Pleasure boats are a common sight along
the Branford shore of Long Island Sound
Branford Chamber Logo

The changing attitudes of Branford business leaders is reflected in their choice of adopting a playful sailboat leisurely plying the waters of Long Island Sound.
Visit the Chamber of Commerce web site at http://www.branfordct.com
to learn how you too can live and play in Branford, Connecticut.

I-91 in Hartford, Connecticut
I-91 in Hartford, Connecticut is a busy
and often congested, eight lane highway

My mom and I left Branford around 10 in the morning. We drove over the deteriorating Quinnipiac bridge, past the odorous oil tank depot in the city of New Haven and turned north on to Interstate 91. Gradually we left the sultry coastal weather behind as we headed up the Connecticut River valley. As a teenager I paddled a small canoe down the Connecticut river from Canada to Old Saybrook, Connecticut and then along Long Island sound to Branford. It was a remarkable solo journey that lasted almost a month and encompassed close to 500 miles of paddling. My mom traveled by automobile along the river valley in the 1930's when farms connected by gravel roads dominated the landscape. She has vivid memories of passing through Springfield, Massachusetts on December 7th, 1941 while hearing on the radio that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Both our lives are intertwined with this long and winding river valley and today we traversed it together.

Mount Tom in Massachusetts
Old, 19th century red brick warehouses and newer
suburban sprawl frame Mount Tom along the
Connecticut River in Massachusetts.

We stopped by Mount Tom at a roadside rest area and scenic overlook. The parking area was hemmed in by industrial buildings but in the open spaces bright orange and yellow day lilies fluttered in the warm summer breeze. How lush and green New England is compared to Montana I mused. Plants, bushes and trees want to grow everywhere despite the constant competition for ground from the millions of people who live and work here. Mom looked at a few berry bushes and then was drawn to the wild roses and honeysuckle. "They smell so sweet" she said, "they remind me of when I was a little girl and growing up on the farm". Mom and her three sisters were raised on a dairy farm just 1/2 mile from where she lives now in Branford, Connecticut. She often told us tales about life on the Saga-Loo farm as we grew up. So many were the tales and so vivid were their telling that we came to know the farm as if it was our playground as well. Unfortunately, the farm was sold in the 1940's and eventually gave way to an interstate highway ramp and sprawling commercial buildings.

White Mountains
The White Mountains of New Hampshire as seen
from the scenic Kancamagus Highway
Classically inspired home in Bridgeton, Maine
A classically inspired home on Route 302
in Bridgeton, Maine
Bridgeton Monument
A grand and beautiful memorial
to local fallen soldiers greets
visitors to Bridgeton, Maine

MMom and I continued north on Interstate 91 away from the gritty, industrial landscape of the lower Connecticut River valley and crossed into the rolling hills and farm country of Vermont. The oppressive, hot and humid air of Connecticut and Massachusetts gave way to cool summer breezes and a beautiful blue sky dotted with puffy, white clouds. Traffic was light and the highway was clean and well maintained. Towards 3 in the afternoon we crossed the narrowing Connecticut River and headed towards the White Mountains of New Hampshire on highway 302. My Mom and I both enjoyed viewing the classically inspired homes that were built around the turn of the 19th century and dotted our route. Many a fortune was made by factory owners who took advantage of abundant natural resources, low cost water power and inexpensive labor between the Civil War and World War I. They built beautiful homes first in the Greek Revival tradition and later in the new, Victorian school of architectural design. Some of the homes were converted to summer homes for wealthy New Yorkers and the well heeled from Connecticut after World War I and are still well maintained. Others showed their past grandeur through layers of peeling paint and a general weather beaten condition. As the countryside unfolded before us our conversation flowed from architecture to history to family and friends. The miles rolled quickly past until we found ourselves in a traffic jam in Conway, New Hampshire. After a brief stop at another scenic rest area Mom and I drove the last 50 miles to Billy and Eileen's home in Bridgeton, Maine. We arrived just before sunset and sat down to a delicious home cooked meal in Eileen's warm and friendly kitchen.

Bill's Picnic Tables and more in Bridgeton, Maine

Bill Brockett, my oldest brother, hard at work in his
spacious and well equipped, wood shop
Bill and Eileen Brocketts home
Bill sells custom picnic tables and hand made
lawn ornaments from his home
Bills Picnic Tables and More
Bill's Picnic Tables and More is located on the corner
of Brocklebank road and Route 302 in Bridgeton, Maine

In 2005 Billy and Eileen said good-bye to Branford and moved to Maine. A few years later they found a nicer home in Bridgeton on the corner of Route 302 and Brocklebank road where they now live. Bill is retired but keeps himself busy with his woodcrafts. His grassy front yard was full of silhouette lawn ornaments. Octagonal and rectangular picnic tables, Adirondack chairs and footstools lined his driveway along with custom bird houses and wishing wells. Bill builds everything by hand and will custom construct almost anything. His prices are more than competitive and he has a wide selection of hand crafted products to chose from.

Billy and Eileen gave Mom and I a tour of their beautiful new home and woodcraft workshop. All the major rooms are on the first floor. Eileen's kitchen is spacious, well organized and easy to work in. Their dining room is connected to the kitchen and fronts a small rear deck. The living room is large, has an expansive view of the green and well decorated front yard. A hallway leads to a guest bedroom, Michael's bedroom and bath, and a master bedroom and bath at the end. A separate laundry room is connected to the dining room/kitchen. A full heated basement runs underneath their home and a walk in attic sits in the rafters. Bill's wood workshop and business occupies both bays of his two car, attached garage.

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle pole ornament
Nature and Romance
Enhance the natural beauty of your home or spark
a little romance with Bill's hand crafted lawn ornaments
Custom Birdhouses
Bill constructs beautiful custom birdhouses
Gone Fishing
Gone Fishing with the kids...
Downtown Bridgeton
Downtown Bridgeton, Maine still retains many local traditions such
as brightly colored homes with classical architectural ornamentation

After a delicious lunch that was almost identical to the ones my brothers and I ate around our kitchen table in Branford many years ago, I decided to explore downtown Bridgeton. Mother spent the afternoon with Eileen and Bill worked in his wood shop.

Bridgeton town center, like most small town centers across America, is no longer the economic hub of the community. However Bridgeton center has retained much of the town's character and traditions. Houses are brightly painted and richly detailed with classical trim. A small, neat and well attended park sits on one end of the business strip and speaks volumes about the importance of outdoor life in this part of Maine. Hunting, boating, fishing and the winter sports of snowmobiling and skiing are part of almost everyone's life in Bridgeton. Book stores, art galleries, a clean and well stocked thrift store, a large, locally owned department store, restaurants, a medium sized grocery store and the town government buildings lined Route 302 in the spacious town center of Bridgeton.

Bridgeton Center
Turn of the century buildings, vibrant businesses and a
contemporary, brick bordered street invite shoppers
and visitors to downtown Bridgeton, Maine
People relax on the beach of a pleasant lake in downtown
Bridgeton. The White mountains of New Hampshire are on the horizon

Climbing Mount Washington in New Hampshire

Mount Washington Cog Railway
The world famous Mount Washington Cog Railway
still uses coal burning locomotives

Billy and Eileen lived just 70 miles from Mount Washington so I drove there early in the morning planning to climb the 6,288 foot (1,917 meter) mountain. Around 9 I pulled into the Cog Railway parking lot and was stopped by an attendant. "What are you doing here?" he asked with a busybody tone. I felt like telling him it was none of his business but then I remembered my experience the last time I climbed Mount Washington in 2004. "Are you going hiking, sightseeing or taking the cog railway to the top of the mountain?" he queried. Last time I told him I was hiking and he charged me $5.00 for parking 1/2 mile from the trail head and on a muddy patch of ground. This time I told him I was visiting the train museum. He allowed me to proceed for no charge and suggested that I park in the paved lot next to the museum and coincidentally, about 50 feet from the trail head.

The Cog Railway and the Jewell trail sits at 2,700 feet above sea level so I only had to climb about 3,500 feet of vertical elevation. The weather was bright and sunny but from experience, I knew that could change so I packed a Gore-Tex jacket along with a few energy bars. I visited the railway museum, entrance was free, and then started my long climb up Mount Washington.

Smooth Trail
At first the trail was smooth
and easy to follow
Rocky Trail
About 1/3 of the way up the mountain
large boulders often obstructed the trail
Tree Line
Near the tree line the trail was all
boulders and getting difficult to follow
Cog Railway
The weather turned nasty but I could still see the Cog Railway
locomotive belching smoke and chugging in the distance.

Around noon the weather started to turn bad. The wind picked up, the clouds descended and a pelting, cold rain began to fall. I donned my Gore-Tex jacket and trudged on and up. I hiked this trail many times and in worse weather than today. After I crossed the tree line, the line where trees no longer grow, a thick fog settled on the mountain. I could barely see more than 50 feet ahead. Still I could make out the rock cairn trail markers and I carefully traversed the wet boulders between them. After another hour of climbing the fog lifted for a few minutes and I caught a glimpse of the radio tower and buildings on top of Mount Washington. I scrambled towards the top as the fog quickly descended again. In a few minutes I was at the summit and darted inside the observatory and restaurant. After a warm meal and hot cup of coffee I trekked back out into the miserable cold rain and fog and slowly started to descend the mountain. Coming down was difficult and dangerous. The trail was heavily eroded, quite slippery and the fog was pea soup thick. As I descended the fog thinned and the rain stopped. At 7 PM I reached the Cog Railway station, drenched, cold and tired. I slept well that night. The next day Mom and I were headed off to Casco, Maine to visit my brother Terry and his family at their vacation cottage on a lake.

Treacherous Trail
Pea soup fog, pelting rain and severe winds
made for treacherous trail conditions
Ghost Train
A ghostly train chugs and hisses through
the fog and up Mount Washington
One slip and you could die
More than a few people have tumbled to their death
on the treacherous trails of Mount Washington
Fog Lifts
Gradually the fog lifts as I
descended below the tree line
Eroded Trail
I painstaking picked my way
through a boulder strewn and
heavily eroded trail

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