Abby Eisenberg

Famed Author’s Daughter Takes Visitor Around Town



Abby Eisenberg

From an overlook in Little Deer Isle, the view is strikingly the same as the seascape and wooded islands captured in “Time of Wonder.”

BROOKSVILLE — Much of Jane McCloskey’s childhood was like a children’s book — actually, it was the other way around.

She grew up on her family’s island in Penobscot Bay. This and the nearby Blue Hill Peninsula set the scene for some of the stories written by her father — the great children’s book author Robert McCloskey.

From the 1940s to the 1960s, McCloskey wrote and illustrated eight books, including classics such as “One Morning in Maine,” “Burt Dow, Deep-Water Man,” “Time of Wonder” and “Blueberries for Sal.” Most of them feature the author’s true family and friends in the starring roles — his two daughters Sal and Jane and his wife, Margaret Durand McCloskey, in particular.

Jane McCloskey, now 63, who has made her year-round home in Deer Isle for years, flips through her father’s books on a recent July morning. The resemblance is striking between the grown woman and the young girl in the stories. It’s the small, button nose and smile that give her away.

In the summer, McCloskey makes appearances in the Downeast region, where she reads aloud her father’s stories or discusses her own work, the biography “Robert McCloskey: A Private Life in Words and Pictures” (Seapoint Books, 2011, $24.95).

She said she wrote the book to come full circle in her relationship with her parents. A lot of the material she gathered after her father’s death, as he led a relatively private life.

“I spent a lifetime detecting and spying on my father, as he did on me,” she wrote. “Both of us spied on the world. I guess I have learned that we only know others and the world to the extent that we know our own hearts: love is the motivation, the means, and the goal of spying. In the end, the best we can do is do our best, and wish each other well.”

Her father’s books are beloved by readers worldwide, but stories such as “Time of Wonder” have special meaning for Mainers because they highlight and celebrate Maine landscapes and the way of life. Many of them grew up with stories of Sal and Jane. They, too, recall going blueberry picking with their mothers, getting ice cream at Condon’s Store, and knowing Burt Dow and his colorful dory, Tidely-Idely.

The appreciation will be demonstrated in a 60th anniversary celebration of Robert McCloskey’s “One Morning in Maine,” hosted by the Brooksville Free Public Library on Aug. 5. Jane McCloskey will be a featured guest.

In the story, Sal loses her tooth clam digging with her father one morning. The two then go to Buck’s Harbor with Jane to run errands and have ice cream cones before going home for a clam chowder lunch.

Today’s visitors can still observe the large double doors of what was Condon’s Garage, where Sal and Jane go with their father to have their boat’s outboard motor repaired. Down the road is the building that housed Condon’s Store, where the three meet up with Ferd Clifford, who cared for Sal and Jane as children.

“One Morning in Maine” happens to contain one of McCloskey’s favorite pictures that her father drew of her.

In the picture, Sal and baby Jane are having their breakfast at the kitchen table as their mother pours a glass of milk. Jane has spilled hers and is looking down at the cat, busy lapping up the accident. Their mother watches knowingly out of the corner of her eye.

This domestic scene may seem ordinary, but for McCloskey it is a treasured memory.

That’s really what their kitchen table looked like, she said, pointing, and those were their chairs and that was the sink. That’s really what her mother and sister looked like, too.

Other characters and scenes from her youth are canonized in her father’s work.

There’s Burt Dow, the deep-water fisherman who McCloskey met when she was 6 years old or so. He really had the boat called Tidely-Idely, which stood out with its bizarre painting scheme.

He got the leftover mismatched paint from the McCloskeys’ friend Ginny Walton, whose old house is now part of the Pilgrim’s Inn in Deer Isle.

She recalled that her father bought the boat from him, and set it up on the island to use as reference while he illustrated the story.

Her sister Sal still maintains the family’s island, a spectacular view of which can be found on a private outlook on Little Deer Isle. The scene is fantastically similar to the color illustrations in Jane’s favorite of her father’s books, “Time of Wonder.”

In the story, Sal and Jane watch a storm cloud pass over island after island in the bay, until it finally reaches theirs.

While some may feel uncomfortable with strangers everywhere sharing this kind of intimate knowledge of their family, McCloskey isn’t bothered.

“I love it, she said. “Some people have pictures to remember their childhood. I have my father’s books.”

Jane McCloskey Shares Memories

The Brooksville Free Public Library invites the public to celebrate the library’s 60th anniversary as well as Robert McCloskey’s childhood classic “One Morning in Maine” from 2 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 5.

The public gets to tour the former Condon’s Garage, sample ice cream at Condon’s Store (the old post office building next to the church) and visit Dick and Isabel Condon’s house, where Jane McCloskey will sign copies of the biography she wrote about her father. Tickets cost $15 per person (advance), $20 at the door. And children under 12 go free. Proceeds benefit the library. For more information, call 326-4560.

Jane McCloskey will speak about and sign copies of her book “Robert McCloskey: A Private Life in Words and Pictures” at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 23, at the Ellsworth Public Library. She also will sign some family songs on her father’s harmonica.

For more arts & entertainment news, pick up a copy of The Ellsworth American.

Fenceviewer Staff

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