My brother, Rich, and his wife, Cheryl, took a road trip this summer from their home in Jensen Beach, Florida, to our camp at Cross Lake, Maine. We were excited about their visit and although they had been here with us at the lake years before, well, it had been a bit too many years and we looked forward to this reunion among the pines and potato fields, loons, kingfishers and bald eagles.
What was especially rewarding was that the rest of the family was at camp and interaction abounded, whether barbecuing ribs, evenings at the fire pit, or the day Rich and Ron went out on the jon boat to rescue our neighbor Laurie’s sailboat when it let loose from its anchor.
One morning, Rich and Cheryl took a ride to Fort Kent, a mere 20 miles or so from camp, to get a look at the bridge over the St. John to Clair, New Brunswick, and, well, just to snoop. They arrived back at camp and told us about the Lunch Box, a small diner on Main Street where they stopped and had a two-fisted sandwich and the best time. They talked with the Fort Kent chief of police at an adjacent table and everyone was so friendly, they said.
The Lunch Box was closing the next day, moving to larger quarters, and Rich and Cheryl were especially pleased they had the opportunity to stop in when they did.
Ron and I kept our eyes open whenever we were in Fort Kent, hoping to find the new location of the Lunch Box. Our Cross Lake neighbors Alan and Lynn Voisine, told us the Lunch Box was now called “The Whistle Stop” and had moved “around the corner” to Market Street. The next day, just two days before we were leaving Cross Lake for home, we were on our way to Fort Kent to wrap up a few errands and stopped for breakfast at the new digs, opened just three weeks before.
Red-cushioned wood booths line two walls, and tables with maple chairs reminiscent of the early ’60s fill the middle of the floor. What immediately catches my eye, however, is “Grandma’s Corner.”
I find out later after talking to owner and chef Gaetan Oakes (everyone calls him Gil, our server tells us) that “Grandma’s Corner” is a loving tribute to his wife, Carroll’s mother, who passed away 2½ years ago. Her photograph is on the wall next to a piano that is surrounded by an accordion, a xylophone, and numerous older musical instruments. Three spoons rest on the piano top, and a trumpet, sax, flute, trombone and a few guitars are displayed around the plate glass windows looking out on Market Street. A love seat, easy chairs and rockers reach out to the visitor to come sit awhile. Oakes invites me to play the piano if I’d like and tells me that his mother and father-in-law played a lot of music in their time. The tribute to them is fitting.
Oakes tells me that on a busy night diners wait to be seated congregating at “Grandma’s Corner,” while 8-track tapes play on a vintage (I suppose an 8-track player is now considered “vintage”) console with a base of flashing colored lights that his wife bought at a yard sale for $10. A crate in front of the console is overflowing with 8-track tapes.
I dig into a plate of the No. 2 — two eggs over easy, corned beef hash, four sausages, home fries and two slices of buttered inch-thick homemade bread — while Barbara Mandrell lets me know that she was country, when country wasn’t cool.
I call my brother from our table, and leave a message:
“Hey, kid, you and Cheryl have to schedule another road trip to Cross Lake next summer. Wait until you see the new Lunch Box. It’s renamed the Whistle Stop, adjacent to the old railroad station. Serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. You’re gonna love it.”