Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Was She His Wife or Not?

The couple in this photo spent a week at Katahdin Lodge, during the winter of 1968-69. The week they were at the Lodge, this "married" couple were the only paying guests there. He was an Italian man who owned a nice Italian restaurant in New York City, and he said that the young woman was his young wife and that she helped him to run his restaurant. But she was definitely not Italian.

All that week they were at the Lodge, as usual, everyone at the Lodge were all steadily interacting socially as we ate three big family style meals each day together, played card games and Yahtzee (no real gambling ever), or watched something good on the TV. It was during those hours of fun that the “married” couple slipped up a few times in conversation and revealed that they most likely were not actually married at all. The kicker was when the young woman and a local Mainer man who was up to visit for the evening were discussing where and how to store, handle and enjoy the best of wines, whiskeys, homemade beer (the Mainer's forte') and other spirits. The "wife" didn't know where the restaurant stored and babied it's private, most desirable reserve stock of extremely expensive booze.

My Aunt Marty was partly in on that conversation, as she stood and partly leaned against the table next to where the Maine man and New York woman were talking. Marty could hold her own in any conversation what would arise at the Lodge. She heard her Mainer friend begin to discuss what kind of an area in his home was best for storing the little bit of semi-expensive private stock that he kept on the nice, cool, bottom shelf of his wife's pantry, and had stopped on her way into the kitchen to see if she could learn something about storing top shelf booze. The Mainer man had cocked his head towards the Italian man's young female companion and politely asked her whether the best booze in their New York City restaurant received its required long periods of rest and recreation in a cool wine cellar or in a refrigerator or where. That flustered the young woman, because she didn't know! She obviously didn't really work in the restaurant. Just then, the Italian man, who was sitting next to his young woman but was talking to someone else about something else, just then he slides into the conversation between his woman and the Mainer man, and the New York Italian man begins telling the local Maine man about how and where a good Italian restaurant stores its best booze.

You know darn well yourself that the wife of a top notch restaurant owner usually has something to do with the care and treatment of their top shelf ignorant oil--even the best of boozes can trick you into acting ignorant, if you drink too much of it. As that young "wife" was sitting there all flustered and at a loss for words about where to store top shelf booze, my Aunt Martha was standing next to her and looking quite surprised by how the young New York woman didn't know where the restaurant she worked for, and her "husband" owned, stored its best booze. I can still see Martha Clarke standing up straight from her leaning against the table, and walking into the kitchen, while shaking her head and I can still hear Marty muttering, "sheeeshes", in disgust at realizing how dumb the two New Yorkers were for trying to pass themselves off as a married couple.

In 1968-69, unmarried couples were NOT permitted to do the double-backed beast, or to even be alone in a bedroom together, at all, at Fin and Marty’s Katahdin Lodge.

When that Italian guy had to stealthily slide on into the restaurant wine cellar vs. pantry shelf conversation to save his mistress and himself from being exposed as unlawful fornicators, it was the 3rd such mistake in 5 days that they had made. Marty had heard enough. She then knew for sure that she and Finley K. had been duped into allowing those two New Yorkers to come up for a week and take immoral advantage of Katahdin Lodge and Camp's "Best of hunting, fishing and backwoods hospitality."

But the week was almost over, the Italian man's money was good, and the New York man and woman were two fully-grown adults. They weren’t welcome back there though. Marty later said that if they ever called for a reservation again she’d turn them down.

That Italian guy’s major pet peeve in life was how Jewish grandmothers conduct themselves in the best restaurants. "They always send something back to the chef. They make a big deal of their entrance into the crowded dining room, fuss over and try to refuse the first table offered to them, and they always eat about a third of the entree' then complain about it, until the waiter tromps on back into the kitchen with it and informs the p.o.'d chef that the old lady was gonna' raise holy hell about the service there with whomever in city government she actually did know and occasionally bribe. The chef and maitre d' always agreed to allow the bamboozling silver/blue/aqua-marine haired matron to have a new, larger chunk of entree'." Then he said something about the inevitable dismallity of the tips garnered from such a trying, but regular customer.

The clandestine couple from New York and I did some good rabbit hunting over in the woods across Rural Route 11 there in front of the Lodge. There were two beagles living at the Lodge, but only one was ever taken out of their slat wood and chain link fence dog pen to go hunting with, or for any other reason. They were permanently sequestered up there at the wood line behind the Lodge but with a full view of the front driveway and Lodge. There number one doggy duty was to bark a lot at anything coming out of the woods behind the Lodge and at everyone driving into the dooryard. I had never rabbit hunted before I moved to Maine in the fall of '68, but it wasn't no problem getting to learn how to do so with a dog. First rule I's taught is don't shoot the dog or allow anyone else to.

Good Snowshoe Rabbit Beagles sniff and sniff and dig into snow and go and go all round till a rabbit jumps up and runs. Then the dog instinctively runs that rabbit in circles in tighter and tighter circumferences in towards their shotgun toting human partner's field of fire. The dog keeps it up till the bunny's shot, killed or crippled and flopping around kickin up snow clouds whilst skaaahrreeemmming at the top of its tiny, pink lined, internally bleeding lungs.

Or the rabbit gets away scott-free.

'They' say that the absolute optimum most clever thing that a rabbit hunter can do is to always allow the dog to come in and make the kill on any wounded and sqwaukin Bugs-Bunnies. The dog always zeros in on the squeals, zips right in and snaps the hare's neck bone with a canine's natural precision and skillful mercy. This, 'they' say, will make the dog a better hunter. I believe them.

The illicit lovers from New York and I went ice fishing one day out on Grand Lake Matagamon. It was all three of our's first time ice fishing. I put the Lodge's three snowmobiles onto our blue Chevy stake-body farm truck, which was equipped with tandem rear wheels, an 18 foot flat wooden bed, a four-speed transmission with a two-speed rear axle. For snowmobiles, we had a Ski Doo double track, a Ski Doo single track and a Moto Ski single track. We were using old time pop up flag ice fishing traps. I can't even find any on the ice fishing web sites, so they must be illegal now. Those ice fishing rigs had X style cross sticks to set across the hole in the ice, you reeled out some line, baited the hook, dropped it in, set a springy little flag pole back onto a catch, and when a fish hit the hook the flag popped up. I suppose that was too easy of a way fishin, so I can't buy one off the outfitters on the web right now.

When we three first time ice fishers zoomed out onto Matagamon on the snowmobiles we stumbled right onto several already augured holes in the three foot thick ice. The surface water in the holes was only froze an inch or so thick. I looked all around that wide expanse of flat, inviting lake surface and saw not a soul. I hollered over top the reeng-reeng-reenging sounds of three snowsled's hard throttled engines for them two to stay there and set up the fishing gear we had. I throttled up the sled and flew on across the snow blanketed ice to an island there with a small campfire spot that had a tin can hanging by some baling wire where anybody could melt snow in it to make boiling hot coffee or tea. And I had plenty of tea bags and sugar with me.

By jeeze now I tell ya, I t'weren't a'workin on starting a fire for more than second or two when I heard the sounds of two snowmobiles heading hell-bent-for leather in our direction. Those two screemin machines were being jockeyed at full horse power towards us for some reason. All of a sudden one splits off and makes a b-line straight at me and the other rider went straight to the "married" couple. The rider coming at me was 'all up in his stirrups' and taking quick stock of what I had in my hands and what I was fooling with in the snow. It was then that I realized that a game warden had me in his legal-eye sights. He was looking to fine me for anything I was doing outside of the law.

I chuckled softly at their impressive abilities to skillfully peruse that lake surface from way over there while staying completely unnoticed at the shoreline. Their dogged determination to check us all three out in a flash, so we could not stash any illegally caught fish in the snow was rather unnerving, but welcomed, and that was how they wanted it. Many a fisherperson has built a fire to cook and eat fish caught out of season, over or under sized fish, fish caught by someone without a valid fishing license or perfectly legal specimens that a fisherman could eat a few of while catching more fish so they can take home the daily catch limit but still over catch for the day. As I realized all this, I involuntarily let out a laugh, slapped the palms of my thickly mitted hands onto the three layers of warm pants upon my thighs, and I happily rolled back into the snow covered island and pulled out my valid fishing license for the warden. Them two finest kind of Maine woodsmen and Maine Game Wardens had scoped us out and swooped down upon us good and proper.

The wardens left us and disappeared just as quick, after they checked our fishing licenses and all.

It was a fine afternoon just outside the north eastern edge of Baxter State Park. I got a little camp fire going up on the island, and we three ice fishers each drank several cups of hot tea from melted snow water. In about four or five hours of fishing, we three each caught one or two apiece, kept a couple of real whoppers on our stringer for dinner later, and rode on back to the truck. It was parked in by the dam keeper's home.

Then I couldn't figure out an easy way to ride the sleds back up onto the long, wooden truck bed. The Lodge hardly ever trucked any sleds anywhere. If we had, then Finley would have made some solid and safe custom ramps for it. I had used high snowdrifts back at the Lodge to ride up onto the truck, and it was easy to jump the sleds a foot or two down onto the highest bank in the gatekeeper's driveway. Then I saw just where I could motor up enough speed to climb a snow bank and pop onto the truck. But I had to drive out the driveway and go turn the truck around to be able to back it up to the makeshift snow ramp where the sleds could be ridden onto the truck.

I got into the truck and they followed me out the driveway on their sleds. I turned right at the road, stopped and signaled them to wait there by the snow ramp, and I moseyed on in towards the northern entrance to Baxter. There was about a foot of hard packed snow on the road with maybe eight inches of new, soft stuff. A pickup truck had cut tire tracks into the loose powder.

It looked OK to me!

I got stuck down at the bottom of a slight hill that levels out in front of the park gate. The gate was closed for the winter. It had to have been a four wheel drive pickup that made the tire tracks. The four tandem rear wheels of the farm truck were just wider enough more then the pickup truck tracks to get me into trouble. Consequently, what happened was my truck's front tires rolled along nicely while the wider tracked rear ones experienced just a little too much resistance from the snow.

I had never put snow chains on a vehicle in my life. I struggled and struggled down in under the sides of the truck bed while trying to put the set of chains on. There was always a good set of chains behind the seat of every Lodge owned truck. I'd cram the end of chains in under a tire, try to force it as far as I could with my freezin fingers then climb up into the cab and try to ease backwards onto the chain—inch by inch. Maybe woulda got it if that Italian city slicker had had enough sense to ride in on the snowmobile to see where the hell I had gotten to?

I just gave up and walked back to the dam keeper’s house. My two fishin partners were in there warming up with cups of hot coffee. When the gatekeeper heard of my predicament, he apologized for not coming to look for me. The New Yorkers had figured that I had gone for a joy ride in the park, so they told the dam keeper I was just young and goofing off.

When the middle-aged dam keeper there saw my truck, he knew that his pickup could not pull it out of there. So he drove us fisherpersons the 20 some miles back into Patten and then the 10 or 11 miles up Rt. 11 to the Lodge. The Italian sat in the middle of the bench seat with his woman setting on his lap. I was scrunched in against the inside of the passenger side door, and the dam keeper was practically pushing the driver’s side door off the side of the truck. It was cramped in there. We had quite an overload of human mass in the cab of that truck. It was rough country roads all the way, and that little lady there kept worrying about cracking her man’s nuts. She kept adjusting her doubled up body this way and that between her man, the dashboard, windshield and roof of the cab. She kept saying, “Ooh, sorry. Did that hurt? You all right? Here honey put your knee here……….” and on and on for 30 freakin miles.

I thought the not only was the dam keeper very kind and generous to us, I was under the false impression that he was enjoying all of our company. He kept smiling nicely. When we arrived in the Lodge’s driveway, the driver refused a 20-dollar bill from the Italian.

As the man and women walked across the dooryard toward the Lodge, Marty stood there in the open doorway looking for answers to several important questions. The first being: where is her farm truck? I was taking a moment to really look that driver in the eye and make sure that he realized that though I was not a native Mainer and country gentleman, I was no city-brained ignoramus who wasn’t willing to return the favor any time. As soon as Marty got a sketch of the facts from the NYC love bunnies, she walked on over and offered the driver a cup of hot coffee. He said yeah, but he had to have it to go.

While Marty fetched him a cup the guy says, “Jayzzus! Those two are somethin else, ain’t they? Did you hear her? That crap really got on my nerves. Didn’t it bother you?”

“Shoot man! I thought you was drivin along havin a good old time over there. You was smiling all the way.”

He shook his head and said, “Keeeyryst almighty! I wanted to climb out the guhdamned window before we was even so far as Fifefield's (Wildland Store). I kept lookin over at you to see if you was just as miserable as I was. That is one aggravating beech with a lame ass excuse for a man, that’s for sure.”

He eased up on that when Marty was close enough to hand him the cup of coffee through his opened window. Marty chatted with him some and they exchanged tid bits of small town gossip real quick. Marty wasn’t dressed for the cold night, and as she said bye to him and scooted on back into the Lodge, he wheels the truck around, looks at me one more time, rolls his eyes up at the stars, and quips, “And you gotta live with them two for week! I hope you can take it. See ya later.”

Fin was out of state on National Guard duty at the time. So the next morning Wayne Birmingham came up just about daybreak to get me. He drove a mid sized six-cylinder car, but was taking me out to where his Skidder was parked back in the woods, and he had a logging job going. I was darn lucky that he was cutting pulpwood that close to where I got stuck. That was the first time I rode with him, and he was one of the most highly skilled drivers up there. Didn’t know it at first though. I was fearfully fidgeting around all over my side of the front seat as he drove on snowy road faster than I ever knew was possible. It turned into white-knuckle time for me. I can still see a faint image of his huge, chuckling grin as he pointed at the knuckles on my right hand as it gripped the dashboard as tight as I could.

I’m looking over at this guy who I barely knew yet, cept for a few gatherings of 10 or 15 friends and family at the Lodge, and he’s looking at me the same way I watched comedy movies.

“Slow down Dave. We’re not in any danger. Look. You see that softer snow there on each side of the main tire tracks? Watch. I’m keeping the sides of my tires dug into it. Now just sit back and watch on this curve. The car is not sliding at all. OK. Now I’ll drive on the hardest packed part where the previous drivers kept their tires. Here it goes. Feel it start to slide? Don’t worry. Those snow banks will stop us nice and softly if anything happens. Now pay attention as I go a little faster with the tires just into the soft line of snow. See. No slipping at all. That’s all ya gotta do. Try it on the way out. You’ll see.”

That was one of the most valuable lessons anyone ever gave me. It wasn’t long till I was a pro at that driving technique. Gives me a lot of confidence, security and safety when driving in the snow.

The very best example that I can give you of that is the time that I went in to pick up my Baltimore County Taxicab to begin a twelve hour shift at a little past 5 PM, and there was a little less than a half inch covering of snow on everything. And the storm was starting off just right. The flakes were coming down small, steady and softly. No wind was howling and driving snow into everything to make it rough. It was dry stuff. Very artistically fluffy. It slowly sculpted, smoothed and distorted everything on every lawn. Inch by inch, hour by hour. All night long.

About two hours into it the snow flakes began to gradually take on some heft and heavy attitude. Now it was coming down in the very way that I enjoy the most. The flakes stay crispy dry the whole friggin time.

Three hours into my shift and there ain't much happening on the road. Cept me. That taxicab dispatch radio was Rock n' Rolling all night long through the early morning all the way till four hours after I was supposed to turn the cab back in. The cash was just a pouring into my eager paws. I was near as contented, relaxed and happy as I could ever be, during that rather rough stretch of my life.

I was in complete control of the vehicle the entire time. To top it off all nice and glorious like, I only had time to stop for one fifteen minute meal break during the entire sixteen hours. Nobody was out anywhere so it was easy to stop and take little leaks in the snow now and then.

When the level of the snow was rising past six inches, the world around me became so quiet and serene that my face developed a near permanent pleasant little smile. It was like all of roads, streets, alleys and highways throughout Eastern Baltimore City and County were reserved for my use only.

The cab customers were thrilled and thoroughly appreciative of the way I was moving through the storm so gracefully and without ever sliding or spinning the wheels more than a few sprits here and there.

The tires were bald. Not bald snow tires either. Swear to it. It was a North Point Cab. A junker. But it ran good that night.

Wayne and I drove on into the woods. It got much more interesting here because the average four wheel drive vehicle owner today would never have tried that trail. Wayne was having a bang-up-time treating me to a good dose of how the average man in Northern Maine drives to survive.

Wayne fired up his skidder and showed me a few deft moves with it. It was all center jointed with very tall tires. It went in around and through the trees with great ease. The snow in the woods was over three feet deep. But that skidder walked all through the woods looking sorta like a dog wagglin through sniffin out rabbits. Wayne ended the show with a brief little front end plow blade dexterity demonstration. He stopped to let me climb up onto the side of the "skidahh" and away we went

It was a one-seater piece of heavy machinery, so I had to hang onto the outside next to the driver’s door. That was one funny and memorable ride. I was hangin off and onto that big, fat, yellow, outer-space-insect lookin woods machine to varying degrees of all there and almost not there. Finally, I couldn’t take it any longer. I had to find out what would happen if I let go and flew on off into a snow bank.


And Wayne loved it. I did that one more time, when I saw this hill top and hill drop coming with the perfect snow drift piled against the snow bank and I let go and launched off right when the skidder hit that weightless kinda feel you get at the top of hills as you crest them and that’s where Wayne and I sealed our new friendship solid.

Then the crazy sum-b was pushing the farm truck back up the hill, from the entrance to Baxter, and damned if he didn’t snug the skidder’s little front plow blade under the tail end of my 18 foot flat truck bed and lift the rear wheels 3 feet off the road. He took complete control of how my truck steered. I kept turning around sticking my head out the window, looking back at him, laughing hilariously and yelling to him while trying to steer the truck straight. Wayne was in his glory. And it was then that top-notch Maine woodsman knew I was game for all that kindsa' horseplay. Wild and crazy horseplay, but done with well honed skill and actually very safely.

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