We mugged up when we dropped in
Memories now and then bring old things back anew, which is good, and a common expression heard in my youth was, "Do drop in!" At parting, folks would say, "If you chance our way, do drop in." It was a coastal duty rather than a courtesy.
Passing, take the time to step in the back door to gab and have a piece of pie. On leaving, it was, "Thanks for the mug-up!" Freeport was a Maine coastal town where we mugged up when we dropped in, a shipbuilding, shoemaking, and fish-shipping village, and if you didn't know everybody, you had to be a newcomer. It was a wonderful town to grow up in.
Eddie Skillin and I were 12 apiece when we began our extensive investigation of the environment, which was all about Freeport in every direction and scarcely yet used. We would jam certain necessities into our packsacks and go somewhere to see what we could see, using our feet but also the steam cars and the network of trolley lines then serving most of Maine. There was no highway traffic then; we could not depend on thumbing rides. And, say about 1920, nothing was expensive and people weren't possessive to the extent that Eddie and I found "no trespassing" signs if we set up our pup tent.
We were in the right spot at the right time, for Mr. L.L. Bean, a Freeporter, and his brothers happened to have various "camps" in various parts of Maine, and Eddie and I happened to know where to find the various keys.
In the Maine woods, any shelter with a roof and door is a "camp," even today, and folks who own palatial summer dwellings on the most expensive lakes will tell you they'll be "at camp" until late October.
Mr. Bean, who had not then become a mail-order magnate, and his brothers liked to hunt and fish and camp out. They liked to find an abandoned building in the woods, pick it up for a few dollars, and fix it for a camp. A few of their camps were farmhouses where a family had "run out" and were furnished well with dishes, stoves, beds and bedding, and even books on shelves. But some were no more than the horse hovels of lumbering operations. No matter; they were sufficient for hunting and fishing, and even for "getting away for a few days." Each had the L.L. Bean sign of distinction, "Dew Drop Inn."
Eddie and I asked Mr. Bean if we might be accommodated, and he said sure. He told us that at the Mt. Abram camp the key was in a tin can in a mortise hole in a certain barn timber, and if we'd tell the conductor we were going to Dew Drop Inn, the engineer would slow the train and we could jump off.
Railroad buffs are going to drool with envy when they hear this: Eddie and I left Freeport at 8:20 a.m. on the eastbound Maine Central Railroad, on a wood-burning steam locomotive.
Eventually we made our way to a narrow-gauge (two-footer) train headed for the Carrabasset Valley and Kingfield. We told the conductor we were going to Mr. Bean's camp at Mt. Abram and he said, "Haven't seen Mr. Bean for some time; how's he doing?"A few miles from Kingfield, the dinky peanut-size whistle tooted once, and the conductor came to tell us to get ready to jump.
Poised on the car steps, Eddie and I hove our packsacks when the conductor said "Now!" and then jumped after them. The little toy train was barely moving. The whistle tooted again, and Eddie and I were right by the washed-out road that once went up the hill to the farmhouse now Dew Drop Inn.
We found the key where we were told to look, and had a trout chowder for supper. The cribbage board was on a nail over the kitchen table, and we found the playing cards in the table drawer. Before starting supper, after trying the stream, we read the rules of Dew Drop Inn, as posted on the inside of the door. The first rule was, "Any member finding himself lost in the woods shall return to camp immediately." The last rule was to leave the woodbox full and the kerosene lamps trimmed and filled before leaving.
Well, I want you to know that the cafe in the flagship retail Bean store in Freeport, Maine, is today called the Dew Drop Inn. Next to it is a cozy library lounge that has been named the John Gould Room. They had a ceremony earlier this month and put up a plaque and I was there, along with the peak of the summer-tourist customer surge of people from all over.
This came about, the man said, partly because I've written so many years for this newspaper, partly because I'm a Freeport boy, partly because I was a friend of Mr. Bean, partly because I remember the Dew Drop Inns, and partly because I've been a good boy and deserve it.