This is the second installment of a two-part story. The first installment is nearby in the bank of Newslog entries. Thanks for reading- TC
There were no visible signs indicating that I wasn’t free to stretch my legs on the river’s edge and visit the old cabins. I was confident that if confronted by some angry owner, broker, or transient hobo who might have taken up residence, I’d be able to schmooze my way out of incarceration or serious bodily injury.
As a professional peacemaker, I’ve been gifted with the ability to calm folks down, wind them up, and then calm them down— again— in the same short conversation. My first police chief marveled at my ability to walk away from heated exchanges with my pockets filled with long-lasting friendships. He would say, “For a while there, I had no idea where you were going with that conversation, but it worked out.” I’d look at him like I had only followed a specific plan. Internally, though, I felt the same way he did.
I can’t explain it because I was often sure the colloquies would end up with the laying on of hands, and I don’t mean that in the spiritual sense. My confidence in handling head-on angry exchanges was never rooted in some deep desire to end up grappling on the ground covered in someone else’s sweat and spit. It was more so that I felt sure that I wouldn’t have to be doing all of that if my gibberish found an attentive ear.
I walked toward the row of cabins slowly, as if strolling in— tardy— to a Sunday morning church service. I paced myself to make the short jaunt drag on as long as possible. Gravel, strewn about by the legions of DOT plow trucks that paraded up and down this road through the winter months, was punctuated with fragments of broken tree branches and sun-dried leaves. The eerie underfoot crunch added a touch of dread to what was indeed a moment of delight.
While I was entirely positive that I wouldn’t run into my grandparents, an inner voice, hoarse from being silenced for so long, urged me to pay attention when I rounded the corner at cabin number one. Was there a chance my grandmother might ask me to hold the corner of a sheet or a bedspread so we could tidy up the sour-smelling and sad little cabin? No. I knew better.
The tea-colored water flowed slowly toward the rapids and waterfall some distance downstream. I looked down at the stones and fallen branches that blanket the rough bottom. I caught myself searching for one of the many red and white plastic bobbers that the Little Androscoggin took from me as a six or seven-year-old boy.
I don’t know why I was looking for things as if I had just left them there yesterday. But dream sequences are not always foggy. The clarity added by the May sunshine, soft breeze, and a healthy penchant to remember it all for a few moments whisked me back to a place I had thought of so many times.
My sister Kim caught a giant snapping turtle on her fishing line only fifteen feet from where I stood. I remember how big her eyes were when she told us the story at the pine slab of a dinner table, probably over at the parsonage in Casco. I suspect we were eating a casserole, or maybe it was during Sunday baked chicken dinner with mashed potatoes and a lump-free gravy that my mother whipped up after church.
I sat down on the uneven and drably-painted porch of cabin number three. The door was open, and while I wouldn’t step inside, I could see a toilet bowl sitting disconnected and placed outside of the tiny bathroom near a double bed that was still neatly made. Trespassing is a crime, and while I had no intention of committing the heinous offense, I didn’t want to explain to anyone why I was hanging around there, uninvited by the living.
Could it have been a residual chill running up my spine from one of a few ghost stories shared with us by my cousin Joy during a grandchildren’s sleepover at the house across the street? I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I felt uneasy going through the wide-open door, so I didn’t.
Even with years of training and experience, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to physically repel a long-remembered apparition lurking just inside the dark closets lining my memory bank.
The truth is, I know I could have explained to any sensible human why I was there. I was just a bit too scared to walk inside all by myself. Maybe, I was just six years old for those few moments; I hope so.
The shabby little villas on the river have been through the hands of so many owners since August 1969 that it was clear to me that any of my quit claim deeded excuses could not hold up in a court of law. I never could explain to my co-workers if the local gendarmes had found me inside, fighting ghosts, without permission from the current owners.
My smoked brisket sandwich with a dab of real butter and a healthy squirt of yellow mustard tasted like August, maybe September, of 1969. There were no fancy mustards in Gramp and Nana’s kitchen.
A couple of months back, I had run out of stone-ground Raye’s Downeast mustard. Since then, I’ve been working on the remaining half container of last year’s French’s camp mustard; waste not, want not. Raye’s wouldn’t have been a period-correct condiment for this situation as good as it is. This last-minute trip back in time had clearly been pre-planned by someone.
I chewed a little, and then I listened a bit. There was no rush, and I saved the little bag of Pepperidge Farm goldfish crackers to snack on during the drive toward home. I took a long cold swig of spring water before sauntering further down the crooked path. I looked further down the trail to see if I might catch up with my grandfather, but he was too far ahead. Fragrant balsams darkened the area where he was surely walking.
I walked to a spot where I recall our swimming hole might have been. It was crafted with sizeable round river stones by a man who focused on safety first. He had already pulled too many dead men from cold Maine waters, and he wasn’t willing to do it again. The rocks were both a visual reminder and a physical barrier to keep us from getting too far out to where the current could sweep us away. I didn’t find any recognizable remnants, but I’m not sure I walked far enough. Rivers constantly carve new paths. Even well-intentioned, man-made protuberances are no match for their relentless flow. Time and moving water share that as a common trait.
August of 1969 was the longest single period I spent with my grandparents together. He made baked beans in a deep hole in the ground and showed me quartz and tourmaline stones picked from the granite cliffs behind the main house. Gramp kept a red steel box stacked full with them just outside the snack bar door—for sale—for tourists who came to the area seeking such delightful nuggets.
Every few days, he would open the glass candy cabinet and let me take a ten-cent Mounds candy bar to snack on while fishing toward late afternoon.
I can still feel my tongue working out the stubborn bits of coconut stuck in my teeth as he stood far back away from my spastic casts with my black and white Zebco rod and reel. With his hands folded behind his back, he would tell me what type of bird was whistling, or that supper was to be served at five-thirty. Of course, I’d need to wash the worm residue from my hands before sitting down at the table.
I heaved myself back up into the truck and turned on the radio. While there are times that the right song comes on, on this day, it did not. I sat for a few more minutes taking in the changes and doing some simple math that would lead me to remember how many years had flown by since my grandparents passed away. They were about my age when they owned this place.
Driving through backroads for the one hundred plus miles to home gave me time to connect a lot of dangling threads. Long about Hebron, Maine, Van Morrison came through with a soundtrack that had been blocked by the subliminal snapping of sheets on the clothesline that is no longer strung across the backyard at Snow Falls Cabins.
We had a good day, and we had a good visit.
“I’m a dweller on the threshold
As I cross the burning ground
Let me go down to the water
Watch the great illusion drown
I’m a dweller on the threshold
And I’m waiting at the door
And I’m standing in the darkness
I don’t want to wait no more
I’m gonna turn and face the music
The music of the spheres
Lift me up, consume my darkness
When the midnight disappears
I will walk out of the darkness
And I’ll walk into the light
And I’ll sing the song of ages
And the dawn will end the night”
“Dweller on the Threshold.”
Songwriters: Van Morrison / H. Murphy
Thanks for stopping by!
From the jagged edge, I remain,
Thanks for reading the stuff.