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, both phrases share meaning. He was a man who dared to craft his own journey, but has had the opportunity to revisit his past and touch some of that shoreline once again, until his passing two weeks ago. It was then that another would call him home, on a journey we are all destined to take.
The son of generations of fishermen from Port Clyde, Maine, Bernard “Sonny” 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 few summers has allowed him to touch those same banks of the river of life more than once, as well as the memories of those adventures.
In the last four summers, Cushman had returned to his roots in Port Clyde. In 2016, he drove up for two months in the summer and this last year, although in failing health 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, is no longer involved in the fishing or lobster industry, but he still enjoys 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 that 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, 46 plants were 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, went on to join the military and do service in Vietnam. There he met a number of good friends before returning home.
In 1970, after his return from Southeast Asia, he left Port Clyde and moved to the Michigan area and joined 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, giving him the incentive to try his hand at doing something a bit different.
He joined with his good friend from the army, and like many of his age, tried his hand in several endeavors. One of the most interesting being a 7-year run at the famous Playboy Hotel Resort on Lake Geneva in Michigan, which had opened in 1968. It would be here that he would start his 40 plus years in the food services and hotel industry. It was also where he met the love of this life, his wife Barbara. The two would go on to have three children together.
After enduring numerous Mid-West winters, the Cushman’s decided to put the cold winters behind them and head south. Amelia Island Plantation would be one of their first stops. Sonny continued 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 became his extended family, until 4 years ago when Sonny took a little more time for himself and concentrated on improving his skills at cribbage, one of his favorite pastimes, for which he had a passion for.
The summer of 2019 was a difficult one for Sonny. In failing health, his departure for his favorite haunts in Port Clyde would be delayed, causing him to spend more time away from his beloved back porch and more time at medical facilities, even after his return to Maine.
Sonny would always complain that one of his greatest challenges was trying to remember where the everyday items he required were put before he left. It became more of a challenge this year as Sonny and his wife had moved into their own new home just prior to departing for Port Clyde last summer. His daughter Alicia, who is a successful real estate agent on the island, would laugh aloud when thinking about his frustration.
It was a bit cooler there in Port Clyde this last Fall when Sonny and Barbra departed for their journey back to Marco Island, as he had spent more time in the hospital, delaying their trek back to Southwest Florida. I can only imagine the thoughts he must have had as they pulled out of their driveway late in the Fall. A last look down to the harbor and the small fishing hut of his grandfather’s where he had spent so much time as well as the picnic table on his beloved porch that could fill many journals with the stories of his journey through life.
I have been truly blessed to of met individuals such as Sonny and his family. To have been invited to of spent a day on that back porch and to of sat in that hut down on the docks at Port Clyde that had brought in the day’s catch of sardines and lobsters. You could feel the pride that the Cushman family had in this nation and their hometown, and the love that Sonny Cushman had for his family and his friends.
With any luck this next summer, I’ll venture off Marco and make another pilgrimage up to Port Clyde and look for him by that little shanty on the dock which helped to mold the man we all loved to call our friend.