The old adage of, “Life is a journey not a destination,” rings true in many of our ears. For others, our lives are like the journey of a river, where the water never touches the shoreline twice, but instead continues to flow further and further away from every point it flows by.
For longtime Marco resident Sonny Cushman, neither phrase is actually accurate. The son of generations of fisherman from Port Clyde, Maine, Cushman has led a life of hard work, adventure and love of his family and friends. His upbringing in the small harbor village on the rocky coast of Maine and his return there the last two summers has allowed him to touch those same banks of the river of life more than once, or at least the memories of those adventures.
In the last two summers Cushman has returned to his roots in Port Clyde. In 2016 he drove up for two months in the summer and this last year he spent just over four months sitting on his back porch or down at his grandfather’s fishing shack at the pier. Sonny, as he’s known to his friends here on Marco and in Port Clyde, no longer is involved in the fishing or lobster industry, but he still does enjoy consuming the fruits of others’ labor with family and friends, while they reminisce about the “old days,” sitting down by his grandfather’s fishing shack at the harbor or on his porch at home.
Cushman was born and brought up around an industry which is hard on those that choose to make it a lifetime endeavor. Those that participate in that vocation sign a pact with the sea, as they pull out before the sun rises over the Atlantic and don’t come in until the sun sets over the mountains to the west. However, before the Cushman family were lobstermen, they set out to collect harvests of sardines from those same waters, a venture which was equally as grueling.
In 1952 there were 46 plants packing 3.2 million cases of sardines with 100 cans to the case. In 2016 there were only 14 processing plants left, putting out only 700,000 cases. That downturn caused some of those same individuals who made their livelihood from the sea to turn in their nets for the heavy lobster traps they haul onto the decks of their boats today.
Cushman, like many young men of his generation would join the military and do service in Vietnam. There he would meet a number of good friends before returning home.
In 1970, after his return from Southeast Asia he would leave Port Clyde and move to the Michigan area and join up with one of those friends he had made in the military. You might say a couple of collisions with larger vessels while out fishing for sardines helped frame that decision and give him the incentive to try his hand at doing something a bit different.
He would join with his good friend from the army, and like many of his age would try his hand at a number of endeavors, one of the most interesting being a seven-year run at the famous Playboy Hotel Resort on Lake Geneva in Wisconsin, which had opened in 1968. It would be here that he would start his 40 plus years in the food services and hotel industry. He would also meet the love of his life, his wife Barbara, and they would have three children together.
After enduring a number of Midwest winters, the Cushmans would venture south. Amelia Island Plantation would be one of their first stops. Sonny would continue in his work for a number of fine resorts in Florida and South Carolina before landing a position at the Marco Island Hilton, but only after having his first resume rejected because they thought he was “too qualified” for the job.
For 14 years the Hilton and his staff would become his extended family, until two years ago when Sonny would take a little more time for himself and concentrated on improving his skills at cribbage, one of his favorite pastimes which he has a passion for.
Now, safely back on Marco for the winter months with Barbara, his greatest challenge is attempting to remember where the everyday items he requires were put before he left. His daughter Alicia, who is a successful real estate agent on the island, laughs aloud as he complains about not finding the things he put away back in the spring.
His thoughts often slip back to the summer and his memories of the last four months and of growing up on the rocky coast of Maine. He and Barbara will yearn for the gentle breezes from the Atlantic, the bonfires in the back yard and all of their family and friends which gathered around them as they made that mystical journey back along the banks of the river of life, while reminiscing about those memories and the nights they would sleep under the same roof that Sonny had so many years ago, and plan for the trip they’ll make next spring.