Dateline: Spring, Maine
Every spring, I come out of hibernation, thawing out in sync with our Maine spring.
I crawl out of my house, my warm winter cocoon, stretch my limbs and turn my face to the sun. Another winter out of the way.
There are rituals in Maine, "Come Spring."
I made my trek to the sugaring barn a couple of weeks before "Maple Syrup Sunday," preferring to shop for my shining bottles of God's amber nectar sans the elbow-to-elbow crowds. Driving to the barn through the sugar maple-studded hills brings back mind-pictures of "the Thousand Trees," as we called our maple grove in those long ago days up on Tucker Ridge. Tucked down in the forest, Grampa would pound the metal spiles into the trees and hang them with the galvanized buckets.
Grampa didn't do the sugaring off on the farm. He sold the sap. Folk with horse-drawn great stainless steel tanks would come down to haul off the raw sap. For our own supply of syrup, we had a huge "witches cauldron" in the grove. A goodly fire was kept going underneath it for boiling down the sap.
We also had two huge sugar maples back up by the farm house. These, my brother and I were allowed to tap and every day, first thing, I would run out with my cup for a drink of "sugar water." (The other day, while "jaunting" around the internet, I happened upon an article on a country store that now sells 16-ounce bottles of sap for a drink! I wonder why that hasn't been done long ago. When you think that it takes 40 gallons of sap for one gallon of syrup, and calculate: "Sixteen ounces is a pint, 2 pints to a quart, 4 quarts to a gallon, equals 128 ounces to one gallon (eight 16-ounce bottles), times 40 gallons makes — well do the math. As we say in Maine "some shmart."
My second annual Spring Jaunt is to Liberty Tool Shed. Although, had it not been for my grandson, Michael, I may not have bestirred myself enough to go this year, or at least not this early — and early is the time it should be done.
He called me Sunday morning a bit after 8 and said: "Hey, Gramma, what if I bring you a cup of coffee and a Weaver's doughnut and we head on out to Liberty Tool?"
Now there's an offer I could not refuse. Michael grew up in my house out here, and as a young boy, he would go with me on my trips to Liberty Tool. Since then, he has lived and traveled up and down Europe, while a sky soldier in the Army Airborne, and then lived in Texas for several years before coming back home and now lives down the road a short string. So I got dressed lickity-split and was ready when he came down the driveway and off we went, just like those long-ago days.
And so we prowled up and down and through the top three floors of the Tool Barn like two kids in a candy shop. He was hunting for old records on Maine towns and old histories, mainly. I was poking through everything just to see what I might see with a firm resolve not to buy anything. I don't need anything. My house is overflowing with "things."
I found three things we had on the farm back in the '30s and '40s. First was a curling iron. These had been around long before electricity. Indeed, the power lines had not yet been put down the Ridge.
I remember curling Grammie's hair. You heated the iron, which is made somewhat like a pair of scissors except instead of blades, there are two steel rods. You heated the rods over the top of a kerosene lamp chimney and then curled the hair.
The rod I found at the Tool Barn was a whole $2. Now how could I not get that?
Then, up on the middle floor, I spied a kerosene lamp, complete with chimney and new wick. I was an exact match to one I have at home, like the ones we had on the farm — an antique one that is made much better than new ones. And, oh dear, the price tag said $9. Nine dollars? The last one I bought, at a yard sale, was $20 and I thought that was a steal. So now I have a matching brace.
I had seen, on the porch coming into the store, a wooden sled with the metal runners and steerable handles that I exclaimed over. I told Michael: "This is the kind of sleds we kids had," and went on to tell him how superior the design is to the things made today. For one thing, your tailbone wasn't bumping down the frozen hill and for another, you could steer it. I've come across some at yard sales and antique barns over the years, but they were pretty pricey or not in great shape. This one was in excellent shape, except it had a yellow plastic rope. Sacrilege. The price was more than reasonable but I decided I'd give the old "think about it for a day" routine.
However, as we were checking out, Michael told the clerk: "Oh, I'm getting that sled." So now it's perched proudly in the snow bank in front of my Quonset hut. But that yellow rope has got to go.
Michael's prize was a volume on the Civil War, by Horace Greeley, written and printed during the war years: "American Conflict: A History of the Great Rebellion. 1860-1864."
Then he drove us back to town and took me to lunch. Following that, he took me to a delightful little tea shop across from the theater. (He had become an aficionado of teas in Europe and Afghanistan.) Oh, dear. Not only is it filled with teas from everywhere and blends you won't find in the stores — Michael had previously given me several to try and the chamomile/lavender is my favorite — but there are bone china tea cup sets everywhere. That's another of my weaknesses.
On bringing me home, we found my dog had strung garbage all over the floor. I had forgotten to secure it. He is a dog that has every toy he's ever had. He doesn't destroy them nor does he touch or chew anything he's not supposed to. Except food. When food is involved, all bets are off.
My grandson cleaned up the floor and also took the week's garbage cans out to the road for me before he went home.
Now I ask you: Am I blessed?
Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award-winning columnist, is a Maine native and graduate of Belfast schools. She now lives in Morrill.