Interview with Jay York

Summer camps in Maine are a special part of life up in this corner of the country. After a long winter – that often seems like a year in itself – we embrace spring and summer with robust enthusiasm. That explains why you see so many white legs in shorts on a sunny day in March.  It’s a short season and one Mainers don’t want to miss a second of. Families descend upon camps that have been gathering places for generations. Old games are dragged out of out buildings, canoes and boats brought to the water and tables are filled with old family recipes to enjoy over festive conversation.  

Jay York has been photographing his family gatherings at their summer camp for years. His colorful stories are often peppered with happenings at Aunt Dot’s Camp. Heartfelt thanks to Jay for sharing his photography, stories and windows into his special family gatherings at Aunt Dot’s Camp. 

My maternal grandmother had eight siblings. They grew up on a dairy farm in Norway, Maine and lived for most of their lives only a couple of miles from each other, the farm, and Pennesseewassee Lake. The story I was told was that my great Aunt Dot bought a cottage that was next door to a corn cannery in Waterford and had it towed down to the water’s edge of Little Pennesseewassee in the 1940s. She lived only a couple miles away with her husband Fremont in what remained of the family dairy farm. Most of my great aunts and uncles didn’t have children so when my mom and her younger siblings started having kids we all got brought to Aunt Dot’s camp to learn to swim. Eventually Aunt Dot sold her house to her nephew and spent her time between camp and her trailer in Florida. When she died she left the camp to my Mom and her two sisters. For a while in the ’80s and ’90s there would be four generations of us at camp gatherings.

Always so much going on with swimming, boating, eating, music, and drinking. That is when I started photographing the family at Aunt Dot’s camp. 

 The chairs were out after being cleaned in anticipation of some of my great aunts and uncles coming over for a gathering. Always a chair for everyone but the kids rarely wanted one. 

My uncle Bruce performed at bars doing Hank Williams songs. And one of my cousins plays classical guitar. A record player and lots of old vinyl at camp. Boo Cowie and I hung out one summer and at camp she and my uncle would get the guitars out. 

I found a couple of Sevylor inflatable rafts at Goodwill and they were a big hit for about 8 years at camp. And not only with the kids. I grew up playing with an old wooden row boat at camp. We’d rock it until it flipped and then swim to the air pocket under it. The rafts were quite a bit safer. That is my Mom reading the newspaper in the raft. 

My Mom loved Scramble and Rummikub. And if she could put a game together she would. Mostly the women folk played. 

Dogs love trucks and camps. Tucker lived to be over 17 and had the longest run as the camp dog. But many other dogs enjoyed Aunt Dot’s. Julie’s dog Roo would swim to and climb up the ladder to the float. 

The float Mom is sitting on was built by my brother George and I as a Christmas present to the family. It lasted almost 20 years. But it was heavy and hard to get out of the water requiring a gathering at camp in the fall. The photo was made in 2016 and I was still recovering from my knee injury so the float hadn’t been put in yet. My Mom was the glue that kept the extended family together for over forty years. I’m now the oldest and not much of a replacement for her. 

My earliest memory of Aunt Dot’s camp I believe is from 1960. My family had spent a rare night at camp and I remember being with my brother in bed in the front room with the lake out the windows watching Hopalong Cassidy on the b&w tv. My favorite memories are of all the times when so many of the family and friends were together at camp. Especially the many birthday parties! 

In the ’60s there were always car tire inner tubes at camp. Aunt Dot made all of us cousins practice swimming before we could play with them. She’d stand in her leg braces on the dock as we swam back and forth until she was satisfied. 

Pretty much everyone did what they wanted while at camp gatherings. My Mom was the oldest of the three sisters and “organized” the camp events. Her sister Linda was at camp almost every day during the warmer weather and she knew what need doing around the place. And it was always a very special occasion when the youngest sister, Sharon, was up from Florida. Linda’s husband Bruce would buy a couple dozen lobsters to cook over a fire. My cousin Mark would usually grill burgers and dogs. We’d have a pot of baked beans, bowls of slaw, and potato salad. Jars of pickles. Quite often my Mom would bring one of her special desserts. I’d bring beer. 

Dorothy Record (Aunt Dot) was a tough one. Wore leg braces for most of her life. Hunting, fishing, smoking, and drinking. Ran a little “tea room” on the shore of Pennesseewassee Lake with her sister Frannie. Went to college for a couple of years to study art.  

Now all the other family properties have been sold and I’m the oldest of the eight cousins who own the camp and only two of us have children so gatherings are much smaller. Aunt Dot’s camp is the only place remaining in Maine that my cousins who live out of state can come home to.