Down T'Home

'Down Time' in Maine

By Marion Tucker-Honeycutt | Jan 10, 2018

They say in Maine that's there's two seasons: "4th of July and winter."

There have been years when it seems like that but I think our springs, summers and falls are glorious. Especially, this fall — a great, long, warm one. But winter? I think of our winter season as "Down Time."

As I write this, Sunday, we're still in the deep freeze. But the weather man promises, starting Monday, it'll be in the 20s, 30s and even an occasional day in the 40s for the remainder of this season. I'm gonna hold 'em to that.

In olden days, and up on the farm in the 1930s and '40s, winter was a time to slow down. No fields to plow, no gardens to get in or weed, no hay to get in, no canning to put up, the wood was split and in the woodshed. Time to catch up on things that could most often be done sitting in the easy chair by the parlor stove after supper, when the early darkness wrapped around the farmhouse, cocooning it in the friendly wood heat and warm glow of the kerosene lamps.

This was the time Grammie Tucker would knit sweaters and hats and mittens and socks. And she would crochet her famous bedspreads with the pale rose or soft blue taffeta lining. She had an Aladdin Lamp with the mantle that lit up like a 100-watt bulb for the light needed for such fine work. The Ridge had not yet had power lines put in, so no electric lights. The farmhouse had once had gaslights, but they hadn't used them for some years.

A few years after we kids left the Ridge, Grammie wrote that power had come to the Ridge Road and that the farmhouse was now lit — every room. They had to have five or so extra poles run down the farm's road off the Ridge Road to the house. And where did that money come from? She paid for it all with her crocheted bedspreads. Imagine.

It was also time for making quilt squares. I sat by her knee knitting mittens and sewing squares.

Some proud I was.

One of my favorite winter evening things was eating apple slices with soda crackers. Grampa Roy would bring up Macintosh apples from the apple barrel in the cellar. (We didn't have basements; we had cellars, dirt-floored and plenty cool.) We would sit at his feet, fascinated, as he made a game out of peeling the apples in one long peel. We would hold our breath, wondering if he could get the whole peel off without breaking. To this day, I love apple slices and soda crackers on a winter's eve, remembering my dear Grampa Roy.

Grampa would catch up small repairs and he was a whittler. This is when farmers would whittle new wooden spoons which any legitimate cook would not cook without. To this day, I just can't cook soups or stews with a metal spoon.

Grampa was also a Maine Guide and there was one money-making article that guides, wardens and other woodsmen often spent the long down-time hours doing: knitting socks. These were heavy white wool socks that the woodsmen wore. In fact, even when I was in high school here in Belfast, we girls wore these heavy white wool socks with black, thick leather sole-less moccasins all winter. We greased the moccasins with rendered chicken fat that we made on the wood stove. When I last visited my cousin Berle up home just a few years ago, he was still knitting the whites socks. He was a retired guide and it gave him some extra pocket money. No one ever thought it strange, or if they did, they never said anything. Indeed, at a burly 6 feet, 5 inches, I doubt he ever had much guff from anyone.

I still knit during "Down Time," and I catch up on reading and such, but my favorite Down Time activity, or in-activity, is napping.

I'd really prefer to be a bear and sleep until spring.

Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award-winning columnist, a Maine native and graduate of Belfast schools, now lives in Morrill. Her columns appear in this paper every other week.

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