Down East 2013 ©
One of the many good things about living in Farmington is the Titcomb Mountain Ski Area. It’s just a little place, owned and run by the nonprofit Farmington Ski Club since 1939, just two miles from home. I love the lodge, an echoing post-and-beam building with a medieval fireplace or two and a cafeteria run by volunteers, mostly. Even when it’s empty you can hear the boots stomping and the kids shouting — those sounds are part of the woodwork now, 70 years worth, very nearly.
Titcomb’s all about kids: lessons, ski racing, dances, you name it, one of the reasons Mt. Blue High School fields competitive (and often champion) Nordic, alpine, and snowboard teams every year, and one of the reasons Farmington produces shredders like Seth Westcott, son of one of my old UMF colleagues (also Elysia’s first dance teacher), Margaret Westcott. He won gold in the 2006 winter Olympics, as you may recall. But surely that honor can’t compare to the glory of the signs our town’s put up at our several portals, city limits: Home of Seth Westcott.
Titcomb has two t-bars and a rope tow with kid-friendly handles on it, also ten or so miles of cross-country trails nicely groomed, and a certain amount of snowmaking, night skiing, too, all for an unbelievably inexpensive ticket, impressive civic will at work. The runs are short, but some are pretty hairy, and there’s seldom a line for anything.
And if there is a line, there’s also the Farmington Phenomenon, which applies in the grocery store and at the movies, too: every third person you see, you know from somewhere or other, many of them good friends, or the children of good friends, or the parents, or grandparents. Who minds waiting for the lift when you can find out what happened when so-and-so did such-and-such to thus-and-that?
And let’s not forget the thrill of getting on a t-bar with a four or five year old, the bar hitting you about mid-calf and the conversation for the three-minute ride all Spiderman or Fairytopia.
In the spring, don’t miss the dummy races. The kids make fantastic creatures from robots to nurses to rocket-propelled monsters to effigies of the high school principal. These creatures are attached in various ingenious ways to old skis, then launched one by one from the top of the wide, steep slope directly in front of the lodge.
You haven’t lived till you’ve seen a giant papier-maché dog flying backwards down the hill with his functional jaw opening and closing to emit recorded barks, the whole invention so heavy that it knocks down the protective fence, spins three times, hits the tow hut, and explodes into a shower of fragments with a thunderous boom! And the dummies that fall over after six yards or so, heads rolling! And the ghosts and witches and Jesuses who take wild turns and ski into the crowd! (I personally tackled a Whistler’s Mother look-alike some years back, before she could take out the ski racks.)
One year the Prentiss boys made a dummy that was in fact more of a float, a barge of an invention that included fireworks and a large amount of tinder. Beautifully stable on its multiple skis, this monstrosity was in full flame halfway down the slope. It not only stayed on course, it exceeded the course, no one wanting to try to catch it, and slid blazing all the way across the flats to the old railroad causeway (now the Whistle-Stop Trail of the snowmobile club), where it lit a young balsam fir on fire, thirty feet of fragrant flame, altogether spectacular, hilarious, too, even the adults among us had to admit, except for the possibility of the whole forest going up, herd of old guys with fire extinguishers too late to save anything.
Love those Prentiss boys!
But that’s the thing, isn’t it, in small towns everywhere, the kids finish high school and then they disappear. The college crowd heads away in September. The adventurers even sooner, in fact the very afternoon school’s out. You grow fond of those who stay—the kid who works in the hardware store, the kid who works with his father in the woods, the kid who runs her mother’s sewing shop, acorns fallen close to their tree. But the rest, all those other people from 18 to 30 years of age, the acorns who fell into the river and floated out into the big wide ocean, well, they just go missing, leave a hole.
Or toggle back-and-forth from all the exotic corners of the world, plans gone awry, dreams proved fragile, degrees but half in hand, jobs exploded, plans on hold. A month, a season, a year in town and their vision gets restored, hope having sprung yet again. They’re off again! Farewell again!
Is it my imagination, or are there a lot more homecomings in hard times?
At a party at Titcomb the other day to benefit the Farmington Ski Club (keg beer and a band, lots of dancing), I was pleased to see Sara Brightman back—I’ve known her since she was twelve and here she is 27, more beautiful than ever, big hug for her scruffy old neighbor, pats on the back. “I’ve stopped smoking pot!” she announced, first thing. A masters degree in its own right! To match the one she’s earned in accounting, though her latest job imploded: Lehman Brothers. And there coming across the room was her old friend Millicent Kellogg, two little kids in tow, very handsome husband from away—all the way away—following after, the two of them just turned thirty, back to live in Farmington after some wandering years in Asia, and a job loss out west. Welcome back, welcome back! We need all the folks who’ve seen Tibet we can get in our little town! We’ll find some kind of work for all of you! There’s plenty to do here! Oh, and here’s gorgeous Leslie Makepeace and her fiancé, these dazzling young people returned, returned, hooray, wedding this June, plans otherwise unsure, returned!
He recognizes me: “Oh, golly, dude,” (okay, he didn’t say golly), “You’re the guy I almost shot that time.”
I thought I’d recognized him, those intelligent eyes. But the truth is he didn’t almost shoot, not even close. He’s an excellent hunter and when (some several Novembers past) I popped up out of the streambed on my backcountry skis in the woods far behind my house, he didn’t even raise his rifle. When I skied up to him his heart was still pounding—I could see it in his neck. We talked a good long talk right there and slowly relaxed, and I found I liked him rather well. He didn’t need to think about whether he liked me or not—I’m more of a fixture you just accept, like a big boulder in your stream, or a stop sign full of buckshot holes, or one of the more scraggly trees in your woods.
“Dude, you were wearing like a brown jacket!”
Leslie beams — she’s heard this story before, and now here’s its star!
“Not true, not true,” I said. “It was a blue Carhartt vest. And I wore an orange hat, always wear an orange hat.” But you could see his story had been told a million times, and wasn’t mutable, not any more, so I didn’t argue much.
Me, I’m just happy to have him back in town, and Leslie too, back in town, and all the other kids of a certain age, back in town for better or worse, for shorter or longer, for now or forever.
Bill Roorback lives in western Maine and is the author of Tempe Stream and Into Woods and has contributed to books published by Down East, including Today's Best Maine Fiction.