Down East 2013 ©
In some parts of the world, Valentine’s Day coincides with the end of winter. In Maine, however, mid-February feels as much like spring as a porcupine feels like a pillow. Here, we eat our bonbons and raise our champagne flutes when the sun is still low in the sky, and the mercury even lower.
I like this about where I live. Who says you need green grass and crocuses to invite romance? Mainers know that any celebration of love is better earmarked for midwinter, when we’re all huddling together for warmth.
I met my wife C.C. on a cold snowy night five years ago. Mutual friends had invited us to join them for dinner at Espo’s, an Italian restaurant in Portland, and I was lucky enough to nab the seat next to her. I’d already heard a bit about her from my friends: she’d been an English teacher in Brooklyn before moving to Maine to learn carpentry. Her first construction job was with the crew that was building Scarborough High School.
I was impressed by this intrepid career change, but, because I didn’t want to seem overeager, I didn’t let on how much I knew about her. Conversation started slowly. We stuck to safe topics, like the cold weather and the impressiveness of the Espo’s meatball (it’s the size of a grapefruit).
After dinner, C.C. and I trudged over snowbanks to our separate cars, and I immediately started scheming ways to see her again. The next weekend I summoned her and the others from Espo’s to my house for board games. As a single guy on a tight budget, I usually kept the thermostat at fifty-five (as a kid in Maine, my parents had trained me to wear a hat and sweater indoors), but for Game Night, I threw caution to the wind and cranked the heat up. I even splurged on a few bottles of red wine and some non-spreadable cheese.
She crushed me at Trivial Pursuit, which inspired me to ask her out on a real date. I decided that a trip to Twin Brook in Cumberland for some cross-country skiing would be the perfect way for us to get to know each other. When we set out on the trails, we were both bundled up so completely that only our eyes and noses were showing.
Neither of us skied regularly, so by the first incline we were both too winded to talk, and on the downhills, one or both of us would veer off track, nearly crash into a tree, and pitch headfirst into the powder. After a while, she must have begun to wonder why I had invited her to go skiing if I myself didn’t really know how to ski. But we didn’t talk about this, of course: we were too winded. And did I mention we were mummified in woolens?
My next idea was to bring her to one of my basketball games. That winter I was coaching an indefatigable crew of girls at the Waynflete School in Portland. C.C. raced to the gym after work just in time to catch part of the fourth quarter. Luckily we won — I was hoping she’d think me a better coach than skier. In the post-game excitement, I asked her to attend the team dinner at the captain’s house, which, in retrospect, must have been my way of testing her fearlessness.
An hour later, C.C. and I were sitting at a table surrounded by high-school girls, munching tacos and sipping virgin margaritas. My players were raising their eyebrows and giggling and wondering what to think of their coach’s girlfriend. They had no idea C.C. and I had barely just met. C.C. was completely unfazed — she cracked jokes right along with the girls. If anyone was being tested, it was me.
Later that night, C.C. and I took a long walk in the sleepy neighborhood near Deering High School. There were no cars out so we walked right down the middle of the street holding hands, moving from one pooling streetlight to the next, the snow crunching beneath our boots. The subzero temperature was of minor concern. Spring was still months away, but Valentine’s Day was right around the corner.