The Snow Cometh

It never mattered that snow fell every year in Greenwood Center, Maine. One felt the first bite in the air sometime the last of October and by the time that Lester Cole’s chicken landed on our Thanksgiving table, there were snowbanks and frozen bogs. Yet, somehow, my father never seemed to grasp that eventually the ice would replace the rippling waves of Twitchell Pond and the house would be a virtual ice box. Behind the house was a pile of trees he had cut randomly when the thought occurred, piled high, snow covered, with limbs sometimes attached as if another idea occurred to him in the midst of it all and he just left the tree where it fell.

He supplied the “kindling” by bringing home a bag of “blocks” from the mill, all of which my mother appreciated since she was the early morning fire starter and coffee maker. 

Each day after school, my brother Rex headed for the back yard and loaded the trees on to the sawhorse and used Dad’s bucksaw. Meanwhile, my oldest brother started the wood fire and I stood at the kitchen table, peeling potatoes for supper. There is nothing as cold as peeling wet potatoes in a cold kitchen…well , yes, there is. After I finished that task, I helped Rex with the wood by holding on to the end of the tree while he sawed to make sure we didn’t break Dad’s saw blade. When we figured there was enough to fill the big wood box at the end of the kitchen, we carried it in, snow chunks falling down the sleeves of our coats until our mittens were soaked and wrists red. By then, the kitchen was beginning to get warm, so we held our hands over the stove  long enough to get us through another trip to the back  yard.

Ah, but you’re saying, that is awful!  We didn’t think of it that way. Did we like it? Not really, but those were our chores each winter day.  This was before snow blowers and little pick up trucks with plows attached, so Dad left the car by the road and between the six of us coming and going, there was usually a trodden path between that and the house.

I can’t think of anything more splendid than sliding in the moonlight. We had a Speed-Away sled which we shared and one vintage sled which was mostly a couple boards and two runners, which sufficed.  Oh, how we loved the crust! We started behind my Grandparent’s farm way on the pasture hill , gave the sled a running push and flopped on it to slide all the way down the hill to the road.  Our cheeks were red and stinging with the cold, but we continued the sliding until Ma called us in the house.

Even though Roland bought ice skates for me, I was never good at it. I loved the tires burning, sending a stench through the neighborhood. I loved taking a few strides and thanking the Almighty I hadn’t fallen on my face. Roland could skate forward, backward, spin..oh, he was good. I tried to stay upright. The neighbors did not complain about the tire stench. Sometimes I saw my Grammie Martin standing on her porch, the kitchen light behind her, watching us around the fire.

I think every kid loved crust back in the 40’s and 50’s. Oh, we could walk everywhere through the pastures and not sink in until the winter sun finally shone. Give us a big piece of cardboard and we sailed down  the hills twirling around as we went. We forgot about the wood cutting, the cold potato peelings and the snow chunks down our sleeves when we were sliding, skiing and skating. Remember how we kept our skiis on? Well, I didn’t because that was another sport that always found me floundering around on my back. My brothers cut rings from innertubes and fixed them about the toes and back of their feet to keep their skiis sturdy. They were stored on the stairway and each brother knew which pile was his. They looked the same to me.

To attest to the fact that my talent flagged in winter sports was an unfortunate incident later in life when I was in my senior year of high school. I was fortunate to become Queen of the Carnival Ball. So when the Winter Carnival was going to take place, I felt I should participate in some way, shape or manner. I scanned my options and knew deep in my heart, that the word FAILURE was stamped on them all. Still, my pride remained. I would enter the snowshoe contest. If I fell it wouldn’t be far…how much damage can one do on snowshoes? Dad agreed that I could borrow his snowshoes but be sure and “bring ’em back”. There was one other girl signed up for this event. She appeared with a pair of bear paw snowshoes. COME ON!! My Dad always said they aren’t snowshoes unless there are  tails on them. What a woos she was to bring those things. Well, long story short. We stood poised at the starting line. Away she went on her little bear paws; I took probably four steps , the tails crossed and I plunged face first into some crust. That stung. It purely stung. I succeeded in getting into a position to take the dreaded LONG TAILED snowshoes off, meanwhile watching a gathering of fellow students studying my face which apparently resembled a lattice work of little cuts .

Jeannie Mills insisted I come with her to their farm, which was near the event. I cannot remember the treatment she gave me, but it eased the sting and my pride. I probably was the only “Queen” at the Carnival Ball with a beautiful blue gown and a checkerboard face. Looking back, I was more concerned that my face wouldn’t sting all that evening during the ceremony rather than what it looked like…oh to be young again!

So winter back in Greenwood Center, Maine, was a double edged sword. It had its ugly side with the snow chunks, broken buckles on our overshoes,( clang clang) but it was another world when it came to play time. We didn’t mind the cold when we were doing something we loved; only when the chore time came around.

Men and their shovels were recruited to shovel drifts around South Pond that the town truck could not plow through; jokes were made that Roy Millett only used a tablespoon of sand on our icy Greenwood Road. But bless the man. He held the job for years and I don’t know what we would have done without him. 

It’s inevitable. The snow always cometh.

 

Dad

Remembering the Soul Mate

I like to remember him when he was little.  He was my responsibility when the parents went  to work each morning at the mill. I was to feed him, see that he came to no danger and be ready to report when Ma climbed out of the car at the end of the day. She always brought home a bottle of orange soda for him, as if to make up for the fact she had to leave him each day. He always handed me the bottle and told me to “take a sip.” 

I remember standing by the chair where Ma sat, holding him, just home from the hospital. “Stand down here. Don’t make him look back at you or he’ll be cross-eyed.”  I still remember and I was two months shy of five years old.

I like to remember the first and last part of his life. How many times we sat in the ditch on the “flat” and picked strawberries until our enameled cup was full enough to share for the noon lunch. Barefoot and dirty, we spent the summer days rolling tires up and down the tarred road, knowing it was rare there would be any traffic.

Ma sent us to Sunday School/church each Sunday at Grampa and Grammy Ring’s home on Rowe Hill. It was never suggested that the two older brothers go along. Perhaps Ma knew way back then that her two youngest were the kids who would need the most structuring in life. We went, learned our Bible verses, rejoiced at the Christmas feasts of popcorn and fudge in the home made draw string bags and said nothing.

We spent nights together with our “Aunt” Winnie and Ray Hanscom. We popped corn, made fudge and watched the world go by with her ViewMaster.

Life went on. School, high school, marriage for me. I did not see him as much any more until he started working for Miss Hobbs at Indian Pond. Then each morning, he stopped in to visit and have a snack before going down the hill. Before I knew it, he was in high school and graduated the year I was pregnant with my last child.

He had problems he brought to me. We talked. He got married and had a family. He still dropped in. Once he brought a kitten he found on the side of the road while working.  His humor was the central part of my soul mate as he grew into a man. One day I was proud that I had polished my furniture with Pledge, new on the market and smelling like lemon. He came into the house, stopped, sniffed and said, “This house smells so good, I could lick the furniture.”

And the time he offered to give me a jack for my car, but the handle would cost me $10. I think about his loaning me a car so that I might get to my restaurant job in Bryant Pond. It was designed for a handicapped person and the gears, located on the wheel, were on the left side. He also told me to “gun it up the hills as the fuel pump was on its last legs” and so I did…and also through the stop light , if possible, in the middle of town.

I don’t dwell on the middle part of his life nor my own. We both hit bumps that he found insurmountable, while I kind of worked my way around mine. Diagnosed with lupus, his life rather went down the drain and he only blamed himself…at least to me.

I fast forward to the last few years. There was a soft side that few people saw. He lived in a trailer in the woods, but took in an old stray cat and sent pictures. Oh, the pictures! He loved taking photos, sending them to me and asking if I could paint them for him. I painted…poorly…but to him they were Rembrandts and my last visit to the trailer showed them all proudly hung where he could see them. I think they ended up at a dump somewhere..and probably rightfully so.

He loved tulips and flowers and managed to make a garden in the woods to grow. On opening day for fishing in April, he always tried to catch brook trout. Sometimes, wading in a snow bank to get to his favorite spot, he was determined to succeed. If he did, that night at precisely 7:30 he’d call and tell me they were in his freezer for my next visit. Oh, and the Lockhorn cartoons. How we laughed until we gasped for breath at Loretta and LeRoy.

Along with the crisply fried trout, he always made a trip to Tom House’s for some provolone cheese, because he knew I loved it. We sat in his living room munching on cheese and his telling me of his plans to improve the trailer and how he hoped it would all come together.

We laughed at some of the things that had happened to both of us because we always had. Our humor was identical in that we both saw the funny side of a situation that no one else seemed to grasp.

He called twice a week at exactly 7:30. I always bought him a bag of strawberry candies. Oh, how he loved those things.

He had his demons and some overtook him at times. I like to think that the last few  years he was free of them.  We all have demons; some worse than others.

God needed someone with a sense of humor to keep the angels happy and He called him April 16, 1998. For years after I expected the phone to ring at 7:30 and I started to pick up a bag of strawberry candies at the local store.

I like to remember the fun times; his goodness and the laughs that filled our lives. I will…on this day he would have been 73 years old.

 

CURT SANDRA

curt

Christmas Past

Sometimes it is necessary to rummage through the not-so-good memories to find that special one you’ve carried through the years. It was a rough patch in my life and my mother, who tolerated me through my teenage years and early marriage, emerged as a total different character in my eyes.

My father had died a few years before and she lived alone in her little house in Greenwood and ,as life sometimes hands, I was in rather a quagmire of my own. It was so that I moved in with my mother that fall of 1973 for the winter.  She worked at Ekco in Lockes Mills; I was covering stories for three newspapers at the time, so my time was more or less my own so I could plan my day.

We shared the duties. She left for work in the morning and each week, I tossed the trash in my little VW Bug for the town landfill and the basket of laundry for the laundromat. While the clothes were spinning, I spun the wheels to the dump and back to pick up the clothes. We fell into a routine that I never thought possible. I could cover the stories and still have her supper waiting when she came through the door.

But that is not the memory. Christmas was coming and neither of us had mentioned that fact much. We kept oil in the barrel to keep us warm and food on the table . Neither of us had money to spare except for the essentials.

I don’t know how the topic of a tree came up in conversation, but Ma thought we should have one. Just a small one, she said, there in the corner where it always used to be when we were kids. I knew there had been no tree in the corner since Dad died, so I figured I’d go along with it. My memory does not allow me to tell you where the tree came from or whether she bought, begged or stole it. I only know there was a tree on the front porch one night when I came home from working a story.

It was two days before Christmas so time was tight. Ma had supper on the table and suggested we put the tree up that night. Well, Christmas was not going to mean much for me that year, but why not go along with Ma’s plan? After all, she had offered me her house for the winter.

We dragged the tree through the front door and there it lay on the kitchen floor. The branches were a bit sparse, she acknowledged, but we didn’t need anything huge anyway.

I think we need a cocktail before we begin putting up the tree.” The air crackled with silence. Was that my mother suggesting we have a mixed drink?  The mother who threatened to disown me if I smelled a bottle of beer in high school?

Before I could answer, the little woman was bent over and reaching under the kitchen sink and producing a bottle of whiskey. Over to the refrigerator and she whisked out a bottle of ginger ale. Well, this was all coming together rather well, I thought.

It’s cocktail time somewhere and I’ll get the rope for the tree. ” Up the stairs she went and back down in a flash with rope and a small box of old ornaments and I swear a garland of colored ringlets that Curt and I made when we were in grade school. Out on the porch and back in with a small pail half filled with dirt…she was a whirling dervish.

It was time. We each took a sip of her mixture and I grabbed the tree. “Hold it up higher so I can get the pail under it and then drop it in the pail”…geesh, she was barking out orders like I had never heard. Up it went. Down in the pail it went.  We stood back and admired that it was upright….and took another sip of the mixture.

It was then the unbelievable happened. As if in slow motion, the tree was slowly sagging toward us. “Grab it,” Ma shrieked. I grabbed. We took another sip. Back in the pail and Ma got on her knees and pushed some dirt up around the tiny trunk. “That should do it” she gasped, pushing herself back to the kitchen table and another sip.

The tree refused to cooperate and started its slo-mo move again. “The rope,” Ma shrieked and it was then I realized that our sipping might have got a bit out of hand. I grabbed the tree; Ma grabbed the rope and slung it from one nail in the wall, lassoed the middle of the tree in a circular fashion and to the nail on the opposite wall. “There, you miserable thing, stand there”…suddenly I realized that the Christmas spirit had spiraled into an almost non-existent state. Ma grabbed the ornaments , looked me in the eye and said, “Let’s get these things on before that miserable thing falls over again.” We did. The tree stood resplendent in its beauty.

Fast forward to Christmas morning. We sat at the kitchen table, nursing our tea. Ma went in the bedroom and brought out a package. I went in by my bed and brought a package out to her. We sat at the table, and proceeded to unwrap. Each of us had given the same to each other but just different colors.

At different times, we had gone to Hathaway’s store in Lockes Mills and bought a turtleneck long sleeve shirt for the other. $1.98  —and it is one of my favorite Christmas memories. The year we had so little, but so much and the year I discovered a whole new side of my mother.

 

 

pictures from old computer 072