When I turned 10 or 11, I got one of my very first summer jobs at the Maine Lobster Festival. It was setting up chairs in front of Fisherman’s Memorial Stage, for the Sea Goddess Coronation. It was my job for three summers running. To me, it was a very important job and I had a great deal of pride doing it.

It was very hot in the sun, standing on blacktop. I was paid with books of tickets for the rides, thinking this was better than money.

Here is the best part of my luck:

I was assigned to work under Captain Ote Lewis from Owls Head. Ote was with the festival in Rockland Since the first one 1948. He could’ve been from Central Casting in Hollywood.

In fact, in 1948, there was a promotional campaign that was top notch. There were group and individual photos of each princess taken professionally, including Captain Ote in his yellow slicker and jaunty so ‘wester with the Sea Goddess.

Ote was my boss, but he was very kind, and told me about lobsters and fishing. He was the one who told me the story of the old lobsters called “groundkeepers,” way off shore in deep water. “When they get big and old, they stop moving inshore and back. They stay where they are and protect their ground.”

Nice.

Ote made sure I got a “rocket lemonade” when I got hot.

I can’t say I ever saw him doing any heavy lifting, but he did some amazing things that most cannot do. Charisma comes nowhere close to whatever the good Captain had going. Every time I would turn around, he would have a crowd of a dozen or so people from all over America forming a circle around him, as he would begin spinning his tales.

Festival-goers from every state came to a very interesting place; a place where the tide goes out and comes back in, and live lobsters that are not red. They meet a beaming Maine character more than willing to hold court.

I wanted some of what he had.

One morning, I came down to the stage to begin setting up chairs. I looked around, and Captain Ote was nowhere to be seen. I kept working and looking for him. Finally, a volunteer checked in on me, and I asked him, “Where’s Captain Ote?”

“Oh, he quit.”

I could not believe it. The volunteer had no time for me, leaving me near tears.

I sincerely believed the festival would not be able to go on. I asked everyone I could to find out what happened to Ote. Why would he quit?

Finally, someone picked up on my sad face and came over and knelt down and said, “don’t worry, Glenn, Ote quits every year. He gets mad and goes away. He will be back.”

Sure enough down over the hill, a white 65 Plymouth Fury Sport Coup came down over the hill, Captain Ote Lewis at the helm.

Festival saved!

Ote scooped me up in his car, and we made a run to E.L. Spear to pick up paint. We zoomed up the hill with great acceleration. He did a lot of that. As a matter of fact, he was on and off the gas so much, he would have made Jonah seasick. From that day forward, I vowed to be smooth on the gas when I got old enough to drive.

I learned so much from the festival and Captain Ote. Everything is not always as it seems, and lots of storms soon blew over.

Two years without a festival has been tough. Two things I will tell you for sure: Captain Ote Lewis is still with us, and the Lobster Festival will be back.

It always comes back.

Correction: The photo that originally ran with this story was incorrectly labeled as being “Ote Lewis.” In fact, it was a photo of Irving “Mike” McConchie. The Courier regrets the error. 

Glenn Billington is a lifelong resident of Rockland and has worked for The Courier-Gazette and The Free Press since 1989.