I've been a sports writer and editor for a New York-based magazine for 30 years. If someone asked me how I ended up helping Pamelia create a quirky shop and exploratorium on the Maine coast devoted to nature, science, art and a curiosity about the world, part of my answer would be simple: Dad.
His name is Henry Neff, and he helped instill in me a love of nature, an appreciation for plants and organic gardening, an inquisitiveness and a capacity for really hard work. His own story is unlikely: After a hardscrabble, Depression-era, city childhood in the Hartford, Conn., area, he and my mom, Jean Neff, raised my brother, Brian, and me in a couple of small towns in Connecticut (Tolland and Roxbury) where we could spend hours exploring the woods and helping with the gardens.
This was our family's approach: Despite being complete novices to vegetable gardening, Dad and Mom planted a one-acre spread in Tolland—totally organic, of course; who wants to spray poison on their food?—and made fresh produce the cornerstone of our diet. Because we grew so much of what we ate, our weekly food bill for a family of four was $14.
We made our own maple syrup. We composted, decades before it was fashionable. Dad took us camping, tried to identify wild plants, talked to the birds on our property by whistling back to them. He kept track of which animals showed up at certain times of the day or year and came up with his own explanations for their timing and behavior. He was, in his own way, an amateur naturalist.
He worked at companies that sometimes required employees to take their entire allotment of annual vacation in the first two weeks of August. We always went camping in either Cape Cod or Cape Hatteras. I quickly grew to love the ocean and dreamed of someday being able to live on one. Dad set the stage for my move to Maine.
And so, on this Father's Day, I say a gigantic thank-you to my 82-year-old dad—who, I should add, made the seven-and-a-half-hour drive up here with Mom two weeks ago just to help Pamelia and me get The Naturalist's Notebook ready for its season opening tomorrow. They worked dawn to dusk on every thankless project we could come up with. I just wish they could have stayed longer.
As I write this, Pamelia is pulling out photos of her dad, William Markwood, a thoughtful, world-traveling engineer who died in 1984 and shaped her global-mindedness, her interest in science and art and her love of great food and seeing the planet. She is also digging through shots of her late stepfather, Robert Voris, whose fun, booming spirit and late-in-late love affair with the Maine coast enriched my life as well as Pamelia's.
It dawned on me that, like others of their pre-computer generation, my parents and Pamelia's don't show up on Internet searches. That seems unfair—a huge hole in the planet's collective knowledge of extraordinary, ordinary people. I will hereby change that by putting their full names in this as Internet tags.
As Pamelia and I put in a 16-hour final day of preparation for the re-opening the Notebook, we will be thinking of our fathers and how lucky we have been. I love you, Dad. We love you, Dads.