Duckpuddle Road, a Maine Story

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A group of eight "20 somethings" come together on a isolated, rural Duckpuddle Road in Maine. What they learn from each other proves to be comforting, unifying and infinitely transportable.

Other / Drama
James T. Kenny
5.0 7 reviews
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Storm Guests

I could smell the snow. “That’s how it works,” Sam Mitchell had once told me; the way you reckoned a storm’s approach. Sam was a native Penobscot and knew these things. I inhaled the moisture, felt it too, when I headed out earlier to get some kindling. Drift started coming in about mid-morning. Guests from upcountry, northern Maine, were due that afternoon.

That morning, me, Jim Sullivan, “Sully” I’m called, was sitting in the downstairs bedroom. A few weeks back, Janet Nason, a visiting friend of certain gothic tendencies, had said that old timers called the downstairs bedroom the “dying room.” I remembered that only because I had been thinking some about death. I looked at the big, oak-framed bed. My eyes wandered to the wooden floor with its wide planks and eight-inch baseboards. It was so old, this place. Outside, I could hear the growing strain of a trumpet wind.

Sam told me that he and his brother had once left their home island reserve for a trip upriver. Three or four hours out they saw a red fox moving restlessly on the bank. It was pacing, barking, really disturbed. The brothers glanced at each other nervously, and without a word turned their canoe around and headed back downstream. A relative had died. Sam told me things like that; talked slowly. He tried to teach me about animal voices and sacred places. I had known Sam for three years. I first met him on a gusty spring afternoon as I was fishing off a point on a bend in the big river named after his tribe. I turned to put on a new fly and there he was. Moved quietly for a big man. Sam introduced himself and we talked some about early season brook trout as we angled the same stretch of water. We met there again, got to know and like each other. After that, we spent a few hours discussing life and the nature of things. We talked easily as we fished sometimes continuing our chats over coffee at a little side street cafe in Old Town. Still, it was hard for me to understand some of what Sam said, especially when he went mystic as he sometimes did. I tried to think about him and the meaning of his words, looking out that big window on a long-ago, winter morning. I was sitting on an antique, a leather-ribbed overseas trunk. I was alone and relaxing. I didn’t often do that back then, at age twenty-four. I watched the snow fall. I watched it fill. Out front, it filled the right angle in a seam of frozen ground and stone fence. It covered the spaces between house and barn, barn and shed. It soon covered the kennel run. The dogs weren’t there. I knew they were in the kitchen. Bane and Miss Polly Pander, our two German Shepherds, had the good sense to “go to ground” in bad weather. They were in a double doggy curl, living spoons, under the big oak table. The cats were somewhere, I guessed, in some other cozy spot. Real survivors those kitties were. Our farm kitchen radiated from the warmth of a large wood stove, a thing nice to be near, man or beast, when the great nor’easters came calling.

I watched the whitening of the stone fence. That bulwark, running to the road from the west side of the house, kept Malcom Pierce’s cattle penned during the warmer months. Yes, warmth, it was a nice thought just then. The wall, built to keep cattle in, was now keeping snow out; out of the pasture, forcing it to pile up in the dooryard. A lot of snow to shovel, but, I figured, nobody uses front doors in the winter. Let it stay there, heap up till April. When it melts, I’ll open the front entrance and take down the spruce wreath too, the one Ethan made, if it hasn’t blown away by then. The wind could be so brutal.

In the storm’s girth, I saw waves of snow drift across our un-surfaced lane--Duckpuddle Road. It didn’t all drift. A blizzard’s beauty is its breadth, its chaos, its restless urge to change. There were neat cyclonic swirls and, at times, heavy gusts with snow driving harder, more granular. Mostly, the fall just kept coming in on the wings of its host storm. With only a mile or so of woodlot between us and the ocean’s edge, the message was one of seasonal courtesy and courtship. We were being kissed by the wintry North Atlantic. Large windows iced. They shivered.

An early and severe winter, this 1963. Our friends, my wife, Becky’s friends really, had come down from Aroostook, Maine’s northernmost county. It was a long tug. I hoped they’d be okay. True enough, though, December had been a bitch. It was now the week after Christmas, but I still remembered how frozen my feet got bringing in the tree a few weeks back. Ethan and I had cut it in the woods out behind the farm, a deceptively large balsam fir. It took the two of us and Becky to bring it in. We walked on bear paw snowshoes using ropes and halters to tote it back through the weald, over the stone fence and up the sloped, icy pasture behind the house. We cut about three feet off the top, Becky insisted on that, and then anchored our trophy in a roofing tar barrel loaded with ballast bricks. Becky came up with a few tree baubles, but mostly we made the decorations. It was a humble totem.

A month earlier, we had set our letter box in about the same way as our tree. Like most rural Mainers, we depended neither upon the good aim nor good will of county snow plow operators. Seeing not a few planted mailbox posts kicked flat by snow blades, we went with the conventional wisdom. The best thinking in our part of the country held that a box and its post should be a more migratory affair. To be really secure against the plow, the post had to be set by the side of the rural route in a potato barrel. This unlikely structure was stabilized with field stones tossed into the barrel around the post; the big stones were everywhere on saltwater farms such as ours. Such a rig, once knocked over, could be easily upended, put “right as rain” before the carrier’s next visit.

The steady snowfall was hypnotic, a mantra whose rhythm slowed me down, set my thoughts adrift. Unfortunately, they didn’t drift too far, just back some weeks to late November. Everything since then had seemed so sad, so much like endings. I was still in a kind of shock, an emotional paralysis from the main event, our generation’s fall from grace. Then, we didn’t call it “the day the music died.” The wound was still too raw for such a flimsy poultice. It was, for me, for many of us, a hard extraction, a gaping, dry-socket of grief, the murder of the President, our President. “Kennedy’s been shot!” That’s what I first heard. On that clear fall day I had been sitting by the dispatcher in the Sheriff’s Office in Rockland waiting for a deputy. I was a social worker back then and part of my job was to assist law enforcement officials with the transportation of youngsters in the Court’s custody. In moments, the deputy and I would be in a cruiser heading to Portland and Juvenile Detention with an recently-sentenced boy named Chester. I felt as helpless with his problem as I did facing this national calamity. We drove and listened, heeding the constantly updated radio reports. “Is he dead?”

“No. Wounded, they’re saying he’s wounded. They’re heading to a hospital. They’re there. They’re at the hospital.”

“They gonna’ operate?” That was the level of exchange. We didn’t really say so much, the deputy and I. Neither did Chester. We listened. We drove southbound fast as hell, but history quickly overtook us. Soon enough, we heard the tragic news across the airwaves. Our local station was WRKD Rockland. We knew its signal would fade as we got out of its limited broadcasting range so we had locked in WBZ, Boston. Boston, itself, was about 150 miles southwest, four hours by car, but reception was always great on BZ because the signal was strong and beamed straight across the Gulf of Maine to our section of the coast. It was, until that day, a bright beacon of sound, no land barriers. I had always liked BZ. Sometimes, I would stay up on summer nights listening to Guy Manella’s show. He came on like gangbusters booming, “This is Guy Manella, Speaking of Sports!” Guy was a decent radio personality. He did reviews of the week’s games with tons of stats and celebrity interviews with stars like Sox pitcher Bill Monbouquet, call-ins. The idea was still fresh then. It was a great show and there was always a clear signal coming over BZ. The signal was exceptionally clear on that sullen, sunny day in November.

The news from Dallas was as grim as grim could get. Years later, I would get to know one of the nurses on duty that day at Parkland Hospital and hear more of the story. But for then, what I had was my station’s open NBC line. Jack Kennedy died, Officer Tippet died, Oswald died and we lived, and that was that.

Those first days after the assassination were pretty horrible. For me, Monday was the worst. Bradley Freeman, a neighbor, quarter mile down Duckpuddle came over. He had off, we all did, the day of the internment. He walked into our kitchen looking sort of sheepish and said something awkward, something silly. I can’t remember what. That was his way. Brad was really okay until he opened his mouth.

Bradley and I did some things together back then. We fished, hunted. We both knew dogs. He had some nice ones and knew a lot about things like dysplasia in the larger working breeds. I particularly admired his choice of a Pointer bitch, Nicki, as a family pet. Nicki was loved just a bit more than Rowena, his wife. Brad was of average stature in all regards. He was mildly handsome, light complected and topped off with a blondish crew cut. He was a young man who tried to act like an older one, a bad act. It didn’t work, but he persisted. In his speech, he had affected this kind of thoughtful pause. He could pull off a sympathetic but superior look and did this deliberate double nod. It was a patronizing thing that showed whomever he was talking to that his was the greater understanding of whatever was being discussed; like he lived on two planes and had a grasp of the deeper meaning of things. While tying flies, which he did on winter nights, he always held a pipe clenched in his teeth. He was just fine when talking about hunting dogs or fishing, but he never quite understood his own limitations. For some reason he always felt the need to discuss, mostly lecture about, the higher order abstractions with anyone who would listen. Bradley had a “study” in his house; you could smell the pipe smoke.

On that bleak, funerary Monday, we sat in my kitchen, my spacious kitchen with its wide oak table, big farm sink and its great view of the barn. We had coffee and molasses donuts which were almost as plentiful as field stones in Maine. He asked me if I wanted to go hunting in the adjoining woods. Brad was a fundamentally good man who just couldn’t make certain kinds of connections. I allowed that I’d walk through the woods with him, but taking into account the nature of our national tragedy, just didn’t much feel like exercising my right to bear arms. He gave me a strange perplexed look. So, his 30-06 Savage and my Model #94 stayed behind and we went out for a walk. He really wanted to talk. That’s what he wanted, so he did, and I listened as best I could. As we walked, Brad said the most obvious things in a slow, important way, almost like revelations, “Do you realize, Sully, that nobody’s safe anymore if they can shoot the President of the United States” and “You know, Sully, I think that Ruby’s an emotionally disturbed man, maybe...just maybe, as disturbed as Oswald himself”... double nod. Well, what could you say? “Yeah, Brad, he’s strange, but a straight shootin’ son of a bitch.”

Bradley was a civics teacher, a man who made things worse. It wasn’t that he ever intended to. Ethan, a close friend, usually stayed at our place for the holidays or between semesters at Fishwick College, up north, where he taught. Ethan was authentically bright. He spoke eloquently of strange-sounding things like “existential anomy and humankind’s transactional barriers.” He did this by quoting some of his all-time favorites, people with names like Camus, Tillich and Kierkegaard. Ethan was a scholar; a real, live, card-carrying intellectual. Bradley was no Ethan, but he had a greater, darker talent. He could actually create, project, in a frightful way, the kind of existential reality that Ethan loved to talk about. Without even trying, Bradley forced you to the conclusion that the only real question was suicide. You could be with him and feel more solo than when you were actually alone. In every word fighting its way free of him, every cliché, he wore you down. As his listener, you fell into his alienation. I felt for his students.

I tried to listen as we walked, but just couldn’t after a while. Too sad to respond, I cried to myself, for myself and all of us, that fall Monday in the woods. In the presence of my neighbor, I desperately needed to keep company with me, only me. It seemed better that way. The signal was clearer.

I guess we all felt something in us die; the pain of crushed roses, shocked beauty, matted crimson on pink. My generation’s best ideal had been splintered and shattered at an unremarkable intersection by the Texas School Book Depository. We had to face truths both powerful and dark. Soon a conviction would creep into our minds, come to inhabit our bones; the consciousness that the problem was us, Americans, how we were, what we did and the almost inevitable consequences of what we did. Outwardly, we continued to believe, but slowly, piece-by-piece, some of us were becoming estranged; an outlaw band within a nation. We had come as victors to the banquet. Now, we believed, we were being asked to leave.

We were being expelled from the civic polity like beggars in the cold; cold, like a lonely day in January. By the trembling window that stormy morning, I thought of another death in the fall. Cap Haskell had passed on the month before the assassination. Cap was a poor man, a very poor one. He had not been mourned by the many. Cap was Esben and Eleanor Putnam’s son-in-law. The Haskells and Putnams lived outside of Warren on the other side of the St. Croix River, a cascading stream that annually hosted a strong run of alewives. The Putnams kept foster children, that’s how I knew them. Their kids used to trap the small silver fish in seine-like nets. The locals used them as lobster trap bait or as vegetable garden fertilizer. Cap was a large quiet man. Illiteracy and poverty made him that way. He worked in the deep woods with Esben cutting and hauling with Esben’s truck or with the dappled team in hard winter. With the older Putnam boys and his father-in-law, he cut hardwood, silver birch, maple, beech, some oak. He and Esben sold it as cord wood. I used to buy from them. Cap’s wife, Sally, was about thirty and was blinded with glaucoma. They had two small children. She depended on him. He had no insurance, no house of his own, no savings and no change of clothes. What he had was his work and that was his dignity, his life. He also had the love of his family.

Cap never strayed far from home and Esben’s woodlot. He didn’t like towns and traffic. I’d see him at the Putnams at times. While the rest of us sat at the kitchen table with our coffee and molasses donuts, he would stand with his hat on by the door. He acted like he didn’t belong. I don’t think he said ten words to me in all the time I saw him at Esben’s and Eleanor’s. I figured he didn’t like me. He was never clean. He dressed in worn layers and a brown oil-stained cap, never shaved. He was a woods man.

The first time, in fact, the only time I saw him in town was in October when I came to visit him at the Knox County Hospital in Rockland; the week he died of stomach cancer. Until then I hadn’t even known he was sick. He didn’t complain until he became very ill. He couldn’t afford a doctor, just hoped the pain would go away. By the time they got him in and opened him up, the malignancy had spread throughout his system. Eleanor let me know he was at the hospital. I checked with Rowena, Bradley’s wife, who was a nurse there. She gave me the room number and visiting hours and I came in to see Cap about mid-week. It was the beginning of fall’s radiance, that stunning color time in rural New England. The more tragic, it seemed, that a man of nature was here, not there, living out his last moments in a colorless room, in a town he never cared for, no longer in control, now a pauper on a charity ward. He wasn’t doing well. They had him in a white hospital Ethane, white sheets. They had scrubbed him, but hadn’t touched his growth of beard. He looked a bit like Jesus by the tomb at resurrection. I stared. It just didn’t seem like Cap. We talked for awhile. Words had never come easy to him. They sure didn’t now. We spoke of the little things which can damnably become life’s biggest things. I stayed until he became uncomfortable, until I became uncomfortable. I left him, and then he left us that Friday--that Indian Summer.

I’ve never understood God’s scheme for the apportionment of human suffering.

Rowena told me that sometime after my hospital visit she had come in to check on Cap Haskell. She knew he wouldn’t be long in going. When they talked, he smiled and told her with certain pride that Mr. Sullivan, the State man, had come by to see him. “You know my friend, Mr. Sullivan?” Guess my visit meant something to him. I’ve not forgotten.

I don’t know if Cap ever heard Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, probably not. I think of him every time I hear that sad and powerful strain. I think of him, too, at the living season’s finale, when first crisp days whisper of last days, tell us of endings.

I thought some more about these things, then got up and left the bedroom.

Becky and Ethan were in the kitchen. The wind howled outside as snow blew from the lower barn roof to the yard below, a dazzling whiteout effect. Becky was having a Coke and a cigarette. She was a kinetic girl, and that’s how she relaxed. Ethan was being a morning monument. He was a late riser and a slow starter. He couldn’t even speak until he had a second cup of coffee in him. He was a faculty member at Fishwick College way up in Aroostook County. He was also single, a former professor and friend of mine and someone who liked to visit with us while the College was not in session, but for now he was a stone monument. He stared outward from his table seat, eyes and cheeks puffy, lips held in a tight thin line, looking a bit like a bearded elf. He had wrapped himself in one of his blankets. He and his bed, or his bedding, were not easily parted. He couldn’t speak yet. Rebecca, Becky, held up both ends of their conversation. It was easy for her. She had always been fascinated by psychology, the subject he taught at Fishwick. She did the talking. He did the nodding. They managed. I should have worked harder at understanding their relationship. Ethan seemed to aspire to be wholly dependent.

He had always seemed to me a fun-loving, sad man, selfish enough to do exactly what he liked, but what he liked most was to be melancholy. He could be convivial. He laughed. He enjoyed good puns and at times not so good ones. If you noticed carefully though, his smile was suspicious and at a moment’s notice he could turn sad, like end of the world sad. Music was often the medium. He played a cheap classic guitar, in that double strum folk way, singing a repertoire of drippy songs like Wayfarin’ Stranger, Go Tell Aunt Rhody, Greensleeves. Music didn’t soothe Ethan the way it was supposed to. No, what it did was expose the unhealed gash in his soul, made him bleed profusely. His singing, had he been allowed to stay at it long enough, would have led to his institutionalization.

I asked Becky the whereabouts of our guests, our two friends, who had arrived yesterday, Alex Shapiro and Clair Kavanagh. She said they were upstairs. The two, senior college students at Fishwick, were an item. They had been to the farm twice since we moved in. Both seemed to like being together here, away from dormitory and frat house life. Becky and I had also met at Fishwick. That was during my senior year. I thought she was the prettiest girl on campus and that led to dating and eventually becoming serious. We got married the year after my graduation. By then, she had dropped out of school which surprised me because she seemed to like her studies.

Alex and Clair had driven down to the coast from Houlton earlier in the week and had been visiting with Clair’s grandmother in Camden. The thought of Alex as some unsuspecting granny’s house guest gave me a chill. Alex was a madman. He had a very thin line on impulse control and had no great respect for the conventional. Clair was a sweet girl from New Rochelle, New York. Alex was from Boston and weird to the bone. I had been close to him for a number of years, taking him under my wing at college and seeing to his care and feeding. I don’t know why I did that; I guess I liked his wit, the crazy things he said. I thought that he was bright though demented. Becky once asked me about our friendship. I tried to tell her that Alex appealed to a part of me that wanted to be wild, uninhibited, a something that wanted to be a bit more free.

Becky said the couple was upstairs, her nice way of saying that they were making out in one of our three, second story bedrooms. They were always playing kissy-face. It was a thing with them, an important part of their bond.

Ethan’s color appeared to be getting better. I noticed, too, a ragged smile beginning to warm his face. Becky said she was a little worried about her friends coming in this afternoon. Wasn’t sure what we should do--try to reach them by phone? Discourage them from driving down? I didn’t know, maybe we should call. We talked about it, but never did put finger to rotary dial. As customers of the very local Nash Telephone Company, we were on a party line. It was sometimes hard to get out. Besides, we figured they’d already be on the road. It was a four-hour drive. There was no interstate. Becky got up and tended the wood stove. That was my cue. I headed down to the cellar, split some more hardwood and loaded up the wood-burning furnace. I can’t say for sure, but think that Ethan sat there, motionless.

By afternoon the fall had stopped but conditions hadn’t improved that much. Snow was blowing, the sky was gray and it had become bitter cold. I threw the dogs out. They needed that. Bradley once told me that extreme cold was good for their coats, brought out the sheen. I really hadn’t been thinking of their hides. My motive, just then, was more basic, big pups, big puddles. I remember being troubled that Bane, my male Shepherd, couldn’t raise his leg, didn’t pee like a male dog. Some of us were a lot less comfortable with the gender thing back then. Bradley had this idea about bringing out a more mature dog to help Bane, maybe model the appropriate behavior. I didn’t have the patience. Bane was a good pet, my silver-sable sidekick, like a kid, almost. He used to sleep by our bed in the downstairs bedroom. He was a noisy sleeper and had a lot of bad dreams for a dog. We talked about it. We were that close.

By mid afternoon, the plow came rattling through blowing up lofty billows of the fresh fall. I watched the driver, Clyde Neally, barrel down Duckpuddle Road with a vengeance. He was on a mad tear. His big yellow truck was lost to sight in a storm of its own making even before it reached the Henderson’s place down the way. Clyde was finishing his second sweep of Duckpuddle. He had entered from the Bremen Road, come up by our farm and plowed down past the Barth and the Walker homesteads. As was his way, he turned around near the gravel pit at the juncture of the Woods Road and headed back widening his swath as he went. The Woods road, itself, was not plowed. It never was. It was a crude logging rut that ran through a low, flood-prone stretch of second growth forest. It was only passable from late Spring through the Fall. When usable though, the Woods Road could save you a mile on the trip up the peninsula to Waldoboro.

Becky, noting this re-connecting of our lives with the outside world, asked me if I would be willing to “go out,” meaning “would I drive up to the Eastern States Farmers Exchange and stop by Nason’s Cash Market on the way?” We were almost out of dog food and she said her guests, who had still not arrived, were bringing both their dog and their cat. This didn’t seem strange. It even made some sense at the time, the more the merrier. Ethan had invited his spaniel, Socrates, Clair had Alex. Animals needed to socialize too. The winter was long and hard on all creatures, great and small. Besides, we could manage could always make another place at life’s trough.

I asked Becky what else we needed. I knew that we didn’t need potatoes. We never bought them. Becky’s dad was a potato grower in Aroostook County and we always kept a big sack of hand-picked russets in the cool of the summer kitchen. We did need a vegetable or two to go with the venison she was thawing on the sideboard. We were almost out of coffee and Ethan had eaten the last of the molasses donuts.

Not wanting to make the Waldoboro trip alone, I went upstairs to find Alex. He and Clair were lying on the big bed in an upstairs bedroom. They were fully clothed and making out. I knocked and walked in. They didn’t seem to mind. I noticed how cold it was up there. The windows had no curtains. I asked them if they felt like a road show. Clair didn’t care to go, but Alex agreed to come along and in a few minutes the two of us were headed outside. As we left by the kitchen door and felt the first sting of Arctic air, I heard, from the heart of our large frame house, a soft strumming and a sad voice, a most mournful rendering of Greensleves.

Against the wind and chill, I had sensibly bundled myself in a Loden coat. Alex wore a Marine Corps field jacket, a remnant of his military days. The air smelled clean. We shouldered two shovels and waded over to my green 1960 Volkswagen. We began digging. Getting plowed out by the county also meant getting plowed in. The snow, once pushed off the road, had to get somewhere and that somewhere was the driveway. The VW, with snow tires, had great traction and could really pull, get out of most any fix. We let the engine warm up while we shoveled. Then, with Alex pushing and me rocking, forward-reverse, we got out and onto the snow-packed roadway.

Alex suddenly jumped up onto the roof of the VW. His agility always amazed me as did his willingness to do things crazy, kinetic things without notice. From a prone position on the roof, he stared at me, upside down, through the windshield making a monster face. Ignoring him, I drove up to the front of the house. I got out of the car. Alex got off the roof and, together, we up-ended the mailbox, post and barrel then headed to town.

We made it down to the main road where we turned left to head up the peninsula. At that point, Duckpuddle ended on the shore of a pretty little bay. The vista was beautiful any time of year, especially so with fresh snow on the soft ice. We climbed a slippery hill without much trouble, but I over-accelerated on its far side and we went into a skid. Calmly, I tried to pull us out, turning into the skid. Alex pretended to be in a state of panic and started screaming and flailing his arms. I started laughing, instantly lost control of the vehicle, and we went off the road hitting a bank. Upon impact, Alex pretended there had been an explosion and did a pantomime of hurtling himself from the car into the snow. He liked to pretend he was dead, things like that. I got out to look things over. Alex now pretended to come to, and, from the snow bank, started screaming that I would be hearing from his attorney. When he settled down, the two of us rocked and pushed the car back out onto the road. We got to town in about fifteen minutes with some additional skidding and nonsense.

Nason’s Cash Market was well-stocked with the things that rural people needed to get by. There was lighter fluid, coffee, boxed cereals, fly swatters (not too much thought was given to seasonal re-stocking) baked beans, fly dope, canned beef stew, tools, a few varieties of canned soup. Nason’s was also a weigh station, so you could weigh your bear or buck once it got tagged. The scales were outside near the propane tank. We found canned vegetables including creamed corn and some green beans. These I took, along with some fresh donuts. People didn’t use plastic then and you couldn’t write a check in Nason’s. It was a cash market and that pretty much said it all. Most often, locals could get a short line of credit so long as they settled up on payday. The system worked pretty well.

Nason’s floor was pine board. Much of it was covered by old-fashioned rolled linoleum, but big chunks had come off over the years and the linoleum was likely to be missing in areas of heavy pedestrian traffic. That didn’t matter so much because the floor was dirty black where it was covered and where it was not. The most interesting thing about the store was, in fact, the floor. Frost had heaved up the foundation so that it sort of rolled up to the meat counter, inclined down to the cereals and climbed back up to the cash register. Getting around was tricky, like those rooms in the carnival funhouse at State Fair. The store smelled of beef jerky, pickled eggs and soured milk. It was strictly a Ma Mère and Pere operation. Mrs. Nason was French, from Quebec.

Mr. Nason was always trying to sell me something I didn’t need, like flashlights, can openers or whatever he had out on the cash register counter, his “hot” items. He was a decent man trying to get by. In the winter, he hand-tied some flies, mostly blacks and grasshoppers. These too, he set out on the counter. I bought a few once. It helped me to think of Spring, warm days and open brooks teeming with life. I think Nason counted on that and had his customers figured out. He was marketing milder thoughts of good times, promises, while days were grey and frost was still deep in the ground.

I made my purchase, spending a few minutes chatting with Mrs. Nason. When we left, we headed across the inlet, up the hill through the town proper, and out on to Route 1. I noticed that the major thoroughfare was clear of ice and snowpack. We passed Moody’s Diner, a Maine landmark and a good place to eat. At the time, it may have been the only spot to nosh on that long coastal stretch between Bath and Thomaston. I’m not sure. We turned on a town road then across the railroad tracks. There, on a siding, were three aging wooden warehouses. We pulled up in front of one of these at the office and store of the Waldoboro Siding Eastern States Farmers Exchange.

The Exchange, as its name proclaimed, catered to the needs of farmers. The firm sold seed, fertilizer, tools and light equipment of all kinds and, fortunately for Bane and Polly Pander, dry dog food in bulk. I liked the Exchange and had always thought they had a sound marketing strategy in locating stores at railroad junctions and sidings. A farmer had to come to sidings to ship his crops and what better time and place to sell to the grower than when he had money in his pocket and a just-emptied truck parked outside? I wasn’t a farmer, but state social workers weren’t sent away either if they had money to spend and an empty Volkswagen parked among the farm vehicles. Lord Huggins waited on us. We never called him that, “Lord.” He didn’t ask that we did. Huggins was from Gadsden, Alabama. A number of years back, he had finished up a tour of duty with the Air Force up in Bangor at Dow. He married a local woman, had children and just stayed on. The name that stayed on him was “Bama.” We liked to call him that. Maine people didn’t feel comfortable with his other name, Lord. It didn’t seem right calling him that, like blasphemy.

I think Bama liked talking to me. It must be lonely being perched away from town at the siding. The place wasn’t very busy in winter. Besides, not being a local, by birth, was sometimes hard on “someone from away” living in Maine. Anyway, it was good to get out of the cold for a few minutes and visit. Alex didn’t say much until Bama asked, “Sully, my frien’why you be buyin’ so much danged doggie food? Feedin’ it to y’all’s friends?” Before I could give a sensible answer, Alex started barking like a lab. He did this for a while. Bama and I continued chatting but then Alan followed up his opener with a loud, face-to-the-ceiling, wolf howl. It was a good one, but I could also tell that Alex was getting impatient. I paid for a fifty-pound bag which Bama located out back and brought to us. Alex hefted the sack and, without my assistance, carried it out to the car. By now he had come out of his dog incarnation and went outside. As I left, Bama whispered “Sully, ya’ know, ma’ man, that boy ain’t right?” “Well, he’s part of the Lord's creation, eh?” “Can’t ya’ll do nothin’ to maybe…slow him down? “No, he’s from Boston.” I added. “Oh yeah…Well say "hey" to that sweet lady of yours.” “Will do and you keep rollin’ Bama.”

It was dark when Alex and we got back to the farm. The dogs had managed to get back inside and Becky, Clair and Ethan were playing monopoly in the living room. Like all our rooms, the living room was sparsely furnished. We had built a big coffee table. We had a davenport, a single bed which served as another davenport and an old stuffed chair. In the game, Becky had just bought, or bargained for, an expensive property and wanted to build houses. Clair was whining about something, but Ethan seemed genuinely happy. Becky obviously had managed to get the guitar away from him. Joan Baez had taken over and was singing from our tinny hi-fi about a silver dagger and the enduring pain of lost love. There was a definite mood here with our preference for folk music, like something “Beat.” It was never discussed, just felt and shared. Monopoly went belly-up as people drifted away to cook supper or to avoid cooking supper.

The Aroostook guests hadn’t arrived and I was getting a little more worried. After a bit, I speculated that they hadn’t left home with the weather being what it was. We were all getting hungry and so waited for them like pigs wait for pigs. We ate a big meal of venison, potatoes, vegetables and home-made bread. The dogs ate. The kitties ate. Everybody ate but we left plenty for the expected guests. After supper, Ethan moved into the living room and toward his guitar, but I pulled him into a conversation about out-of-body experience. I had heard the topic discussed on a BZ talk show earlier in the week. In the previous year, I thought that I had experienced something like it while lying on a bed dozing in a boardinghouse in Camden. I reported that event, telling how I had floated off the bed, around the room and found myself at the top of the bathroom door frame. Alex started to weird out. Becky came in from the kitchen, shook her head, accused me of having a super-active imagination. Clair told us about an allergic reaction she once had.

Ethan, alone, seemed to understand. He related my experience, and like-phenomena, first to Sigmund Freud and then went on to cite other authorities, like Karl Jung. The idea Ethan offered was of the vastness and long history of human experience. “Astral projection,” he said, “may have been a survival tool in an earlier version of our species; maybe a trans-generational racial memory shared by all--a set of skills pushed into the background by modern reason, our cognitive limitations and our terror of the unknown.” Spooky words, but he soon had it making sense to me. Ethan had the ability to break down a mystery and reassemble its parts, to give explanations for the seemingly inexplicable. He used philosophy, humanities and the disciplines the way a carpenter used his tools. He had a plane or awl to get at every kind of knotty problem. Ethan mixed and matched ideas from widely separate fields but always found logical reasons for things. It occurred to me that he really was something of a carpenter. It was his hobby and had, in fact, been his father’s trade.

The telephone rang, two short rings. That was our ring, our signal. Becky got it and began talking long distance, which is to say she began to speak loudly to whoever was on the other end. I think most of us tend to turn up the volume when people surprise us with out of town calls or are close by, but have just come from far away. There seemed to be some sympathy in her voice. Maybe her guests were stranded somewhere? She finally asked me to come to the phone and I did.

“Hi,” I said. ’I’m Sully, Rebecca’s worse half.” “Hello,” came back from the other end. “I’m Scott Salisbury, your very late guest. If you would give us directions to your home, we’ll plan to be there shortly.” “Sure, but...ah. It’ll be tough getting here on your own. Where are you?” I asked.

“We are at a restaurant.” To someone else...“I know that. I know that, Sarah.” Back to me...“Sorry, I am told that we are at Moody’s Diner. Ah...Is that fairly close to where you live?” “It’s not too far. We can be out there in about fifteen minutes.” " That will be just fine,” he said. “I certainly hope we’re not putting you to any inconvenience?” To Sarah...“Would you? ... You want to do the talking? Fine...OK. Here, take the phone, fine, Sarah...fine. It’s all yours”

“Hello, Sully, this is Sarah. I met you at the Akeley’s place last summer. We’re frozen. God, its cold,” she offered in full upper Midwest accentuation sounding more like “Gad it’s Cauld”. “Our windshield wiper isn’t working. The storm’s been just dreadful. We both have to get to a bathroom. Pleeeze hurry! Poor Scott is so cold he can barely talk. I need to get the poor guy somewhere, thaw him out.”

Engaging…seemed so nice. In spite of the strange to my ears accentuation, I loved the voice. It was sweet. I tried to be reassuring, and told her that we would be right there. Alex, Ethan and I left immediately. The main roads had been sanded, so we managed to get up to Waldoboro in jig time. It was frosty, but the cloud cover had lifted and stars were visible. We found the Salisburys in front of Moody’s huddled in a blue VW with their dog, Tuck, and their kitty. They really were chilled and tired. They both wore Levis, boots and heavy coats. Sarah had a long scarf and Scott a green brimmed hat. Their faces were red with cold and I felt sorry for them. They had driven through the worst of the storm, four or five hours of hard going, as Sarah said, with a bad windshield wiper. Their defroster also seemed to be out and Scott had to peer out of a small spot that Sarah had managed to keep free of frost with an old rag. With permission, I checked the engine compartment and found that their heater manifold hose had come loose which I could easily fix. We talked for a few more moments and then we had them follow us home, down the old Bremen Road hooking a left to Duckpuddle.

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