This post is contributed by Coastal Rivers Trustee Barnaby Porter. Read the previous post here.
Editor’s note: This piece is from Barnaby’s archive.
Summer vacation and summer heat are a lethargizing combination that affects us all. It breeds a large company of lemonade sippers, swinging on porch swings, just watching the building thunderheads. Such moments, while common, were, in truth, merely creative pauses for the unleashed cannon-ballers among us back in the day.
My more youthful summers on Old Broad Bay were such a grand stretch of hell-raising days that they were easily some of the best of my life. Peopled by aunts and uncles and cousins almost beyond count, there was so much going on that those sustaining visits to the porch were the only moments we slowed down enough to notice if the grown-ups even existed anymore. It was on those occasions when one among the sweaty-haired throng of kids was likely to ask, “What are we going to do now?” And with that, we plotted our next move.
Much of our planning was based on out-of-the-box thinking that led us into such bizarre expeditions as hunting woodchucks by boat or attempts at parachuting off the roof of the house. Then there were the ritualistic things we did that had deep roots woven in the tradition of the generations that spawned us.
These rituals usually took the form of hazing initiated by the older kids, the wiseacres, who were always on the lookout for another scheme to lord it over the younger members of the pack. That was how I learned to swim when a bunch of us was down on the wharf one day. One of my wiseacre cousins decided my time had come. After a brief scuffle and some desperate hollering for help, I found myself whirling ‘round and ‘round by an arm and a leg, and, still hollering, I was heaved over the side of the wharf. I can remember tumbling over and over in a froth of green water and bubbles and finally managing to get my nose and mouth to the surface just as another of my tormentors yelled, “Look out for the crabs!” The buoyant effect of that word “crabs” was remarkable; in no time flat I thrashed my way to the ladder. Climbing back up onto the wharf, I proudly realized I had just become a swimmer. I was immediately shoved off again of course, but by the end of the afternoon, I was leaping into the water on my own. That was how we did things.
We had another ritual that bordered on cruelty. There was a small pond on the place, and way back in the alders at the far end was an old ice house. It was dark green. We never went near it, for that was where the Boogeyman lived. The Boogeyman was no laughing matter. No indeed.
By the time I had become a wiseacre, the figment of the Boogeyman had evolved into a looming and very real presence in our summer world. We wiseacres made sure of this. Over a period of days, we’d drop subtle remarks calculated to strike terror in the fluttering hearts of our youngers. Someone would say, “You know, I haven’t seen hide nor hair of the Boogeyman this year,” as we walked past the pond. I liked to add my personal touch, “Yeah . . . but I think I heard him in the bushes the other day.” Another moment would pass, and when the little kids weren’t looking, someone lobbed a rock into the alders. The sound of tearing leaves and a thud in the mud did the trick. Those kids really quickened their step, and we had them right where we wanted them.
My little sister, Phoebe, was our chosen victim one year, picked, I suppose, because of her cheerful, carefree spirit (sometimes a little too cheerful and carefree), and a day or two after the rock-lobbing phase, we very deliberately cultivated a child-mob psychology. Brandishing sticks and ropes (God knows what they were for) and a teddy bear or two, we all headed down to the pond with a “Let’s go get the Boogeyman!”
Meanwhile, a senior wiseacre had been making preparations down at the ice house. Drawing on his depth of knowledge of boogeyman lore and with a creative flair for detail, he besmeared himself from his ogre’s head to his webbed feet with slimy, green pond muck, everything, including his burlap loincloth. With a shaggy mane of eel grass and sea weed, the stooped figure swayed around, his gnarled hand grasping a club made from a crooked old root. This was the dread figure that lurked in wait, charging the frightening gloom of that old ice house with a deep, guttural gurgle.
Gaily at first, we worked our way through the alders, but then the chatter dampened to a whisper. Any sign of reluctance from one of the little kids was met with a nudge in the rump. As we committed ourselves to what was now becoming a fearful adventure, Phoebe was carefully maneuvered into the lead. The door on the ice house hung on one hinge, partly open, padlock dangling. All eyes were riveted on it. “Maybe the Boogeyman isn’t here,” a small voice hoped… when… WITH A GUSHING LUNGE AND A ROAR THAT TORE THROUGH THE HUSH OF THE ALDERS, the horrendous monster, THE BOOGEYMAN, lurched through that ice house door slinging gobs of mud in all directions and grabbed little Phoebe by the arm with his slippery, slimy, deformed fingers. IT WAS A TRULY AWFUL MOMENT!
Their eyes popping and wide-open mouths screaming till their lungs bled, the terror-stricken kids ran and tripped and fell… got up again and ran… through any avenue of escape that presented itself to their panicked brains. (All indications were the Boogeyman was REAL!)
When last seen, Phoebe, not so cheerful and carefree any more, was streaking across a wide-open field of daisies and buttercups for home, her light brown pigtails flying straight out behind her.
Artist and author Barnaby Porter has had a varied career in marine research, aquaculture, and woodworking, among others. Most recently he partnered with his wife Susan as co-owners of the Maine Coast Book Shop & Cafe in downtown Damariscotta. Barnaby currently serves on Coastal Rivers’ Board of Trustees. For more about Barnaby, click here.