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Is it a Maine morning without Condon's Garage?

A landmark of a simpler life closes, but it will stay forever open and cluttered on Robert McCloskey's pages.

By Kathleen CaldwellCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / June 21, 2007



Brooksville, maine

New Englanders of a certain age grew up with Sal and Jane – the young daughters of children's author Robert McCloskey – picking blueberries on a Maine hillside, losing a tooth on a sandy island shore, visiting Condon's store in Buck's Harbor for ice cream. Fifty years later, many of the same readers still relish these storybook memories, but Mainers in particular cling fiercely to the wholesome tales of what we imagined to be a simpler time.

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So when rumors began floating around town that Condon's Garage of "One Morning in Maine" fame would be closing soon, I had to pay a visit to Don Condon. Someone needed to commemorate the occasion, to hold onto this place just a few minutes longer.

It was one of those stubborn late spring days – gray and raw – but by 8:30 a.m. business was brisk. Stepping past the two rusty WD-40 cans discarded in the mud near the door of the formidable old building I was struck by the stratification of stuff – an archaeologist could spend years discovering secrets in the oil-soaked layers of this place. Note the flirtatious Husqvarna girl smiling down from the wall calendar; a business card tacked up on another wall – Cork Cove Smelt Camps, Dresden, Maine; a recent edition of Hunting magazine thrown atop a stack of parts catalogs; a brown (originally black?) rotary phone – well-oiled on the outside; four vintage weed whackers dangling from a cedar bow rack fitting into its corner like a perfectly shaped steamed keel; an old steering wheel hanging from a chain-saw display.

Patrick Trowbridge was busy removing a vinyl seat from his Boston Whaler to make room for hauling tools and building materials to an island job this summer. After a few minutes he disappeared toward Buck's Harbor Market. He returned much later – a good chunk of the morning gone – with a cup of coffee and a doughnut.

Larry Snowden, the school-bus driver, wandered about making small talk, working his way around to a financial proposal, finally asking Don about an engine out front he'd like to buy: "No hurry, though. I was just kind of wondering." It's all part of the dance.

It's a dance that local planning-board member Chris Raphael apparently hasn't mastered. He darted in and out – just a few beats faster than the local pace – efficiently resolving some minor board business with Don, the board chairman. Chris is from away (as am I).

Finally, when traffic settled, Don paused for a few minutes to reminisce about this place. You may have heard that Mainers are standoffish, but this isn't true. They're reserved, perhaps, but masters at making words and time count for something.

Don's best recollection is that the building – graceful and beautifully proportioned outside, basic and functional inside – was built in 1924 by his great-grandfather, Ralph Condon. The "outer part" was intended to be the garage, the other half a store, and upstairs a movie house. The store never came to pass, nor did the movie house – talkies came in and local movie houses went out. One for three.

Ralph's sons, Russ and Dick, ran the garage until World War II when they had to shut it down to work in the shipyards. When the war ended, Russ opened Condon's Store on the other side of the church (where Sal and her dad got ice cream) and Dick ran the garage.

The third generation of Condons, Don and his older cousin Phil, have run the place for the past 30 years. Phil is mostly fishing and caretaking summer places now, and Don is scaling back, moving the garage business to his home-based shop far removed from the busy harbor. He'll continue with Mercury outboard motor sales and repairs and other miscellaneous boat and automotive work. Saws and mowers? Well, he isn't too enthusiastic about the mowers – can't make any money on them, he says.

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