Winter Six Months Long

It always seemed that way. After Christmas in the little house, the winter dragged on merciless, with keeping warm the main objective.  We woke to a cold house, warmed quickly enough by my mother’s kindling and a drop of kerosene from the little blue metal container kept by the end of the wood box. Snow had melted from the wood so after the kindling caught, Ma found the driest wood to get the wood stove hot enough to heat water for the morning coffee. How wonderful that coffee smelled as it circled up the stairway to the attic where I slept. 

I dreaded leaving my “covers”as we called them. I was fast on my feet, dressed in a flash and down the stairs to stand near the stove, but just out of the way of my mother who was busily frying eggs and sliced potato for my father’s breakfast.

Dad hated the winter and made no bones about it. The car sat at the main road with a narrow path shoveled to the house, so he could haul the blocks from the mill for fire starters. Another path was shoveled to the outhouse, which sat at the edge of the woods.

Roland, my oldest brother, made sure that my younger brother, Curt and I were neat and clean for school by scrubbing us thoroughly around the neck and ears and sometimes the water felt downright cold.  Then on with the long brown stockings Ma made me wear all winter. We were bundled up so we could hardly move to wait for Cass Howe and the school bus van. The boys had the woolen leggings, some with red and some with green stripes at the top and the rubber buckled boots over their shoes. Sometimes a buckle would be broken and it would click clack as they walked. Someone had given me over shoes that slipped on over my shoes  and the snow sometimes soaked through the bottom of my brown stockings.

We took turns watching for Cass to pass by and turn around and we ran furiously to the main road to climb aboard. Cass , many times, had a cigar lit and I hated the smell. One time I was sick and didn’t go to school and the next time I climbed into the van, Cass looked at me and said, “Did my cigar make you sick?” I was scared of Cass for some reason and shook my head NO and sat down on one of the benches that lined the sides of the van. Maybe he had noticed my face looked green some mornings. But, no, it was just a winter germ that got me and not Cass’s cigar.

January crept like a snail into February and there was Valentine’s Day to look forward to at school! We decorated a box with pink, red and white crepe paper with a huge slot on top! Some kids had valentines that came in packages all separated. Ma said she had to buy the books of valentines that we could punch out and sign. She said they were just as pretty and I am sure they were, but oh, how I wanted to have a box and let them spread out on the table while I selected the best ones for my very best friends! Oh, and there were the valentines with a lolipop attached. Life did not get any better than that!! Ma said we were lucky we had any to give so be happy!

I wondered if our camp at Indian Pond was snowed in and what it looked like in winter. We only went once in the late fall when Dad said we would find cranberries in the bog behind the camp…and we did! When my brothers were older, they snowshoed into the camp with friends and stayed a week-end. It was rumored they ate the liver of a hedgehog or something or other, but I did not want to hear of it. Dad told them just to leave the camp standing and not burn it down. They did leave it standing and they didn’t burn it down.

We had the usual nights of sliding in the moonlight and the tire burning skate sessions on Twitchell Pond. Roland built a ski jump and could soar over it without falling. But after weeks and weeks of cold and snow, we were ready to see  spring come.

I wanted to walk the half mile to my Uncle Roy’s without the wind from the lake hitting like an icy whip in the face. We were all tired of smelling wet mittens dry on the side of the wood stove and boots lined up by the front door. It felt like we were in prison.

Spring always arrived and with it, joy of our mud season vacation. The weeks when Rowe Hill and other unpaved roads became a rutted picture of chocolate pudding. Even Cass, cigar and all, threw up his hands when that happened. School was closed for at least a week and again we could see the little green shoots come sticking up around the patches of snow by the brook.

That is when I first began to realize that winter does not last forever; it only feels like it sometimes.


Grams Indian Pond camp at outlet

Our Social Media

I can’t imagine what my parents would have thought about Face Book and the “posts”. Well, to begin with, my father would not have contributed.  He was the man to go to when the black and white televisions gave “up the ghost” and off he went with his carry case of replacement tubes. But computers?  I don’t think he would have cottened to them..I know he would not have used social media whatsoever. He loved to talk too much and was pretty much a story teller…true and greatly embellished at times.

He suffered casualties, of course. One tale led to his companion biting off a bit of my father’s was such an example of insufferable embellishment that the man simply lost his mind temporarily and sunk his teeth into my father’s ear..not in private, mind you, in the mill yard in full view of passengers on a passing train.

My mother, on the other hand, was pretty much the opposite. She “ran” the Popular Club Plan where her mill friends paid a dollar or two a week, depending on how many “turns” each wanted and when all were paid up, she made out her reward order. She “earned” towels, sheets and occasionally even a dress for herself.  At home, she let Dad do most of the talking while she went about her business.

We ate our suppers as a family around the little kitchen table most week nights. Dad and Ma were both tired from work; we kids were tired from school and the after school chores.  There was little small talk and concentration was on the food.  However, there was one night that burns still in my brain after all these years.

We were all eating, when suddenly my father put his fork down and looked at us. This was so out of character that forks were poised halfway in mid-air and all eyes turned his way. If it were low keyed before, it was deadly silent at this point.

“Which one of you kids told that I shot a deer?” Talk about a thundering silence. Yes, he had shot a deer out of season, but it was because we needed the meat.  It was a silent rule that you said nothing because it meant food on the table.  I knew I hadn’t. My younger brother probably had no idea when deer season was legal at that point.  My oldest brother!  I remember staring at him. He was the last person on earth who would say a word!  But he owned it. He admitted he had told his best friend and of course the best friend was sworn to secrecy, but told his father, who went the mill and teased my father about it. This was the worse crime we could commit.

“I didn’t think he would tell,” and with that my oldest brother left the table.  In this day and age that would be called “unfriending.” There was no social media back in the late 40’s. It was a searing hurt that his best friend betrayed him and he had, in turn, betrayed his father’s trust.  There was no faceless confrontation where he could tell his friend in a written post how much he hurt.  My brother could not write my father, but instead had to look him in the face and admit his wrong doing.

Anyone who lived during that time period probably knew that deer were shot when meat was needed and the game warden feared more than a State trooper. My father had one fast rule that no matter how much meat was needed, he would never shoot a doe at the time of year of births.

We didn’t have a phone nor electricity, so our social life was centered around work, school and the neighborhood.  Perhaps sometimes not knowing the news was better. Once my Dad brought the DuMont black and white television into the living room, our world expanded somewhat. Well, it expanded when he went to the back yard and twisted the antenna in the right direction to get the news channel he wanted.  That was probably the only exercise program my father ever engaged in during his lifetime. Running to and from the back yard antenna was quite the work out.

We never dreamed there would come a day when one could view a picture of someone’s lunch or read what was being prepared for a meal. I don’t think we would have cared. Life was so simple and the every day problems seemed to iron themselves out without too much fuss. My father didn’t need social media to have friends; he collected them like dogs collect fleas. My mother had a few special friends but, in contrast to Dad, was on the quiet side.

Life as we knew it then would seem boring to most today. I embrace technology to a point. I like that I am able to sit and write my thoughts when the urge hits me.  I like that I can store it and go back and read it again and again without having reams of paper surrounding me. I like social media in that I can “talk” to my children scattered about and dear members of the family.

I think many people have become more outspoken to the point where meanness exists because it IS a faceless conversation.  Sometimes we forget that words can wound; we should ask ourselves..if we were talking face to face with that person, would we say what we are typing?  But, then again, this is a whole new world I live in now. It is a marvelous world of technology.

I still wonder what my brother would have written to his friend about the betrayal.  Instead he faced him the next day with the hurt on his face.  Somehow, I find that much more effective. I kind of like that way of “un-friending” a person. Out in the open…emotions bared.

Politics, in General


DSC08797It was a small house and I suppose, the few occupants within would not have made much of an impact on the world of national politics. 

Politics were never a general discussion around the supper table. Meals were not much talking and more just eating. But there was a few times when the subject of the President of the United States came up and my father,over his cup of Folger’s instant coffee, would voice his opinion. 

His opinion, usually accompanied by a disgusted snort, centered on Herbert Hoover from my earliest recall. I remember his disgusted, “car in every garage, a hen on every table” as being Hoover’s biggest lie. Of course, my father tailored every quote to his own liking. I don’t think Herbert Hoover cared if there was a hen on every table or not. 

FDR was another subject. Dad did not say much, because he had two brothers and God only knows how many nephews and cousins off fighting World War 11, so apparently it was a sign of patriotism to support the President and if you couldn’t say anything nice , say  nothing at all.

Harry Truman was another matter altogether. My father did not like him, the First Lady was ugly to the core and his daughter could not play the piano, no matter what the President had to say…and he was a damn fool for making such a racket about it. He had no use, whatsoever, for any of them. Subject closed.

He liked Ike. Maybe because the President had been in the military… I am not sure his reason and usually he did not have to have a reason.

There was quite a revelation in the kitchen one day when Dad started singing the praises of a local Senator. I stopped short because I had never heard him pass out praise quite as enthusiastically as this. Edmund Muskie. He was a good man.

“Beryl, but he’s a Democrat,” my mother protested. “Don’t matter, he’s a good man. Says what he thinks and does what he says he’s going to do.”  Subject closed.

Not quite. “No one is going to be better than Margaret Chase Smith,” my mother muttered as she shifted the dishes around on the cupboard counter top. “Maybe so,” Dad conceded,” but watch this Muskie guy.”

Well, politics never did play that big a part in the Martin household. There were those few discussions. I was in high school when Russia’s Stalin died. I still remember that I thought we were free at last. There were no more countries wanting to make war with us. I felt like there was a safety net all around me. No more worries!

Dad was more interested in local politics and town meetings than the national scene. He was contented to hear that Harry Swift was still a selectman; Roy Millett still the road commissioner.  He read the town report muttering at some of the items on the agenda and occasionally I heard “damn fools think that is going to pass?” and my mother hushing him up.

One of the few times I saw my father upset at the national level was three years before he passed away. I was married and living on the farm in Maine. I  was in the kitchen and the four kids were all in bed. As soon as I saw his car drive in, I switched on the kettle for his cup of coffee.

He came in, sat in his favorite blue rocker, balanced the cup of coffee on the nearby windowsill.  I pulled out the cherry/ivory plastic covered chair from Sears at the kitchen table and we exchanged a few words on the weather and how it was getting colder. He sat his coffee cup down,  put both hands together and shook his head. “I don’t know what the world is coming to, Muff,” he said, ” He was the best President I have ever seen in office and they had to go shoot him. Damn sad.”

There wasn’t much to say after that, but for the first time I saw my father as a vulnerable person. He could not believe that someone would shoot the President in his lifetime…if that, what next?

His feeling of safety had left him. Some things stay the same…different times, different circumstances, but still, some things stay the same.