The Way Life Is
The best thing about winter in Maine is the people.
On a bitter January night we trot to the car. It's too early to state publicly that we're tired of the cold, but spouse-to-spouse, anything goes.
"My nose hair is frozen," Erin complains.
"Whose idea was this?" I yell into my collar.
Although my wife provided the rally call, neither one of us wants to leave [for the rest of this story, see the February 2008 issue of Down East]the warmth of home. Each winter we revisit our choice to live in a less than hospitable climate for half the year. We've endured winter for weeks, and that Yankee dour has set in. What further harm could subzero temps bring upon our hardened souls?
Ultimately, we are lured by a dance party that just might be that blissfully warm distraction we dream of each winter.
We skid across Ben's icy driveway, arm in arm, and up the back steps of his spinnery. Our necks bend in search of the whirling hum of the windmill, which sounds like an approaching helicopter. As we duck inside someone gives Ben a congratulatory slap on the back.
"You're loving wind energy tonight!"
Ben, bearded and grinning, is dressed in a vibrant, slightly oversized sweater.
Our eyes peer toward the dance floor as hugs are passed around. Bodies of every shape and size bounce atop the wood floor to an infectious ABBA tune. I feel the music in my chest. During the week the post-and-beam loft is a gallery for local artists. A few nights a year the space is transformed for dancing. The room is lit with a few lamps and strings of white lights.
Erin and I exchange nods, instantly glad that we braved the cold.
I spot Jack wearing pointy dance shoes that match his angular jaw. I recognize other faces, too. I grew up socializing with many of them, but since getting married I have shifted away from parties to time with Erin. I see Hollister or, truthfully, I see his hair, that graying electric mass that rivals Einstein. I'll have to ask him about his annual fall paddle on Mooselookmeguntic. I do a double take when I notice Maureen, my high school Outward Bound instructor, whom I haven't seen in years. I never realized we had common friends.
Erin and I are among those who have dressed up in a skirt and slacks sort of way, yet the evening wouldn't be Maine without diversity. Carhartts, ethnic garb, and sequins commingle. Hawaiian shirts are a given. The skirts and long hair are not limited to women and one guy's beard is tied in a braid that hangs to his belly. The deejay, earphoned with head bouncing, dons leather pants and sunglasses. Barefoot children tug at his sleeves, making requests.
Erin and I weave through the gyrating mass. We begin with orchestrated twirls and migrate to jumping around. Winter blows in through the door as people come and go. Before long, I'm unbuttoning my shirt and wishing for a gust to reach my nostrils.
When our shirts are soaked, we head for drinks. Before long, I'm shaking hands with Bernie, who could easily be confused with Hollister due to hairstyle. Bernie sells firewood, and I ask for advice. Soon, Alex swings in; he's an electrician who heats with wood alone. By the time we start in on outdoor wood boilers, Erin has politely excused herself.
Someone has opened windows, and I shiver. As I try to convince Alex that outdoor wood boilers have a single redeeming quality, I glimpse my wife. She is dancing. Her wild red hair and swaying torso remind me of the night I fell in love with her, when my eyes were first glued as an opening grew around her on another dance floor.
"Who was that?" I'd asked my sister.
This is my Maine, one that surprises, lends gifts, and is familiar. My parents moved to Maine because of place. Thirty-five years later, Maine remains my home because of the people that fill my life.
Later, I find Erin talking to Rebecca, a fellow graduate student, and her husband, Will. Rebecca is pregnant; her child and thesis are due in the spring. Will is a pediatrician, and, like our host, he knits. As we chat, a mother checks her sleeping infant, who is cradled underneath the buffet table, while the father, down to a kilt, dashes madly across the dance floor.
"I didn't realize we knew the same people," Erin glows.
"We live in Maine," replies Rebecca. "It's just the way life is."
- By: Donnie Mullen