Ever since Dad died 11 years ago, Brenda, myself and our brother, Robbie, have talked about visiting the places Dad grew up. We've always been so curious about our father. He rarely spoke about his troubled childhood.
It was a year of planning, but the time finally came. Since Dad was such an avid runner, running Marathon's across the country, we thought it would be cool to run the Mt. Desert Marathon in Bar Harbor to honor him.
Our registrations for the race were paid months ago, plane tickets were bought and the hotel was booked. Unfortunately, due to some last minute scheduling conflicts, Robbie wouldn't be able to make the trip.
Brenda and I had no intentions of cancelling. We were disappointed our brother wouldn't be with us, but there was no way we were going to back out. This was too important to both of us.
I'm so thankful we saw it through. From the moment we arrived, we were filled with excitement and anticipation. As we drove through Brewer, we kept wondering "Did Dad walk on this street?", "Do you think Dad went here?" "Do you think this building or house was here when Dad was?", "I wonder if he ate at this place?" It went on and on all day! We were both feeling so connected to him.
Brenda brought along a letter Dad had received decades ago from one of his many female admirers, so we started there. The letter was addressed to an address on Holyeoke Street in Brewer. Thanks to GPS, we easily found the white, two story house! As we sat out front, we imagined him walking in the front door. It was surreal.
As we drove into Bar Harbor, we passed one of his favorite restaurants, "Lunts", which apparently has the best lobster around. We weren't able to eat there since they were closed.
Every mile we drove, Dad was on our mind. Every, single one.
We even learned our great-grandfather, "Gaga", had actually been a police officer before taking over the duties at the Atwater-Kent Estate.
Brenda also brought a picture of the house our father was brought home to following his birth. We only had a street name and a picture to go on. This took some patience, as we drove down Ledgelawn Avenue in Bar Harbor, searching and studying every house on the street, trying to line up windows and roofs from the picture we held in our hands. Finally, I spotted it. I told Brenda "This is the house!" It had been painted yellow, but the structure looked the same. There were men in the yard doing some remodeling, but I knew it was the house! As we got out of our rental car, a woman walked out of the front door. We approached showed her the picture and told her our story. She said "This picture is from a long time ago, but yes, this is our house." We were overwhelmed. She graciously invited us inside and told us the floors and corner shelves were original. We actually walked on the same floors our father did as a child. We were absolutely elated! We ended up driving by this house several more times during our stay. We couldn't help it.
We decided to go to the library and search for anything relevant. We ended up discovering where the graves of our great grandparents, Liston and Alma Mayo, aka "Gaga and Mimi" were laid to rest! Brenda and I couldn't wait to make the trip to the cemetery in Somesville the next day! We were on a roll!
It was a beautiful drive to the Mt. View Cemetery. It sat on the side of the road. If you weren't looking for it, you'd most likely miss it, but we were determined. We jumped out of the car and immediately began walking the grounds looking for them. We were so surprised and excited to see the graveyard filled with people who shared the last name of "Mayo" and "Higgins". "Mayo" was our Dad's mother's maiden name and there were relatives everywhere! We've since found out we're related to the Higgins' families as well! Brenda and I were so excited, reading the headstones and learning of our newfound ancestors. After about 15 minutes, Brenda yelled to me, "I found them!" I ran across the cemetery, careful where my feet landed, and there it was. The gravestone my father had purchased years before. It read "Liston and Alma Mayo". We stood there for a little while and told them hello. We were so proud of ourselves. We set a goal and made it. It was surreal spending time there with ancestor's we'd barely known or never met.
The next day, just when we thought we had done it all, Brenda received a text from Nancy, Dad's 2nd wife. Nancy knew we were searching for anything and anyone associated with our Dad. She told us about one of Dad's childhood friends. She said he used to live in Bar Harbor, but she didn't know if he was still there or even still alive. Nancy told us Dad visited this friend every year and they spoke regularly when Dad was alive. They'd been best friends since 5th grade. She gave us his name. That's all we needed. His name was Jimmy McInnis.
I pulled the car over and immediately got online. We checked yellowpages.com and found him. Unbeknownst to us, we'd already passed his house several times throughout the week and hadn't even known it!
As we pulled onto his street, our phone was ringing! It was Jim's wife, Donna. She said they knew exactly who we were, but Jim was overcome with emotion and couldn't talk. He finally got on the phone and asked me if we'd like to come over. We told him we were already seconds away!
I dialed his number and got his answering machine. I explained who we were, what we were doing and asked if he was the same Jimmy McInnis who knew our father, Bob Robinson. Then, I hung up. We were only two blocks from his house, so we made the decision to drive to his house and knock on the door. We figured we had nothing to lose.
As we drove up, Jim and Donna were waiting for us on the porch. They were both crying. We were too. Jim could barely walk and needed assistance. He was overwhelmed. He said we looked just like our Dad.
It was an emotional, beautiful moment for all of us. Brenda and I would spend the next 3 hours with Jim and Donna hearing about our father, the trouble they got into as kids and how much he loved and missed him. We FaceTimed our brother Robbie, so he could meet Jim too. He sobbed again as he spoke with our brother. He couldn't believe how much Robbie looked, sounded and acted like our Dad. It was precious.
I can't begin to describe how my sister and I felt as we left Jim and Donna's home. We were walking on clouds! We'd just spent hours with a man who knew our Dad well, long before we'd even made an appearance on this earth. We left with the promise to visit again soon. Brenda and I are already planning our next trip back and hoping our brother will make it next time.
All the emotions we'd been experiencing all week and now, it was race day. The morning started early at 7 am. We had until 3 pm to finish the Mt. Desert Relay Marathon or we wouldn't medal. This wasn't an option for us. We crossed the finish line at 12:07! It was one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life. The hills were treacherous, but the scenery was spectacular. Quitting wasn't part of the plan, so we both persevered. When I found myself feeling I couldn't go on, I felt my Dad's presence with me, cheering me on. I would talk to him and ask him for help. I truly felt him with me.
This trip changed me. It made me want to listen more, paying more attention to what and who's around me. It caused me to reflect on how short life really is. All the places we visited where Dad had once been are still there, yet he's gone. Brenda and I talked of how we wished we'd made this trip with Dad before he'd died so he could have shared this part of his life with us. He was such a storyteller and would have engaged us with the stories of his youth. If only we could go back in time.
One thing's for sure. Dad would have LOVED that we took a week out of our lives to visit the people and places he loved. He would have felt so special to know how much we cared to connect with his past. He would laugh at our "Nancy Drew Detective" work! He would have been proud.
Our last day in Maine still brought another sweet surprise. We stopped at a quaint restaurant called "Coach House" for a delicious breakfast. As we were paying our bill, the sweet lady behind the counter asked us where we were from. We told her our story about Dad, running the race in his honor and visiting the places he grew up. She asked, "Well, who was your Dad?" We told her, "Robbie Robinson, he graduated from Brewer High School in 1958." The smile on her face was priceless. "Robbie Robinson?!? I knew your Dad! He and my husband were good friends and one of his best friends, Everett, comes in here every Friday!" The perfect ending to a perfect trip.
This week was special for so many reasons. Not only was I able to share it with my best friend, my sister, Brenda, it was special because we were able to share it with our Dad.
I leave you with this. Jimmy, as Dad would call him, told us every time he asked Dad how he was doing, he would answer, "I'm Great, except when I'm Magnificent!"