*Some of the stories shared on this page will probably never be seen in the literary magazines. However, I feel that they have some value and I’m glad to share them with you. “The Long Dirt Road” is the beginning of a series that appeared on my Facebook last year. These stories are about growing up in the Maine woods in a cabin at the lake without electricity or running water in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. Writing them brought me back to that time and I was able to re-capture some of the thrills and the challenges faced. I hope you find some thrills in reading them.
Voices From Near and Far Away
Summer Story Series Part II
by Kristy Gherlone
Living in the woods, like I did when I was growing up, I had to find ways to entertain myself.
Most times, it wasn’t any trouble at all. Who could be bored with a cove full of fish? Who couldn’t find anything to do with a forest full of wonders and a bog full of frogs? Who could sit still when there were miles of dirt road to explore on my bike? Those were day things, though, and evening would stroll on in, nudging me with telltale signs, long before I was ready.
The breeze that skimmed across the water during the day, creating foamy whitecaps that crashed over the rocks, would suddenly halt, as if it had been scolded and chased off.
Sky turned orange blaze would begin to slip below the mountain as mist crept in and around the pines. The lake became eerie glass that sent smoky wisps up into the darkening sky as the warm water did battle with the cool air. I tried not to imagine what things lurked under the surface there late at night, and what spirits might be cast out from their watery graves. Ghosts, slippery eels, and stinging catfish chased me often in my dreams.
Giant bull frogs would begin to ga-gunk. Back and forth they’d argue, provoking others into debate, drowning out the sounds of loons and crickets.
Just when it became hard to see my way through the maze of pathways between our camp and the neighbors, my mother would stand on the screened in porch and ring the old school bell, calling me home. I’d snatch a few fireflies to stuff in a jar later, and start running. My heart would nearly pound out of my chest as I ducked under the flutter of bat wings as they came out of their roosts for the night. They would just be heading out as I was heading in, and we didn’t much care for each other.
The flickering glow and popping sound of the gas lights would greet me as I bolted in, letting the door slam behind me.
“Wash your hands,” my mother would say.
Rolling my eyes, I’d go over to the cast iron pump in the kitchen. Throaty gurgles and high pitched squeaks filled the room as I drew the water up from the lake. Satisfied when I was clean enough, I’d start bargaining; “If you’ll play monopoly with me tonight, I’ll go swimming with you tomorrow,” I’d say to my sister.
“I’m reading,” she’d tell me.
I’d slump onto the couch, “I’m bored.”
“Why don’t you get on the radio and see who’s out there,” my mother would suggest.
We didn’t have electricity, but my dad was a crafty man. Early on in our camp life, he’d set up a row of solar panels on the roof. They charged a battery that ran our CB, a few lights, and our small black and white television. The CB was our only means of communication with the outside world. It not only kept my parents in touch as my dad drove to and from work each day, but it kept us in contact with the others that lived on the many lakes in our area. It was a place for swapping recipes, sharing gossip, and keeping the loneliness away.
Suddenly brightening, I’d go and snap on the CB. Most times I’d find a conversation already in progress.
‘Oh yeah, carrots are popping up real nice. Yup, that trick you told me about the fish worked pretty good. Papa Grouch said he had a whole slew of rabbits sneak in and eat his last week. How’s things on your end of the lake? Over.’
I’d sit there *rubbering, waiting for a turn to cut in, and finally, I’d get my chance.
“Muffin here at the *foot. Anyone got their ears on?” I’d ask, trying to sound like a professional operator.
“Hey, hey, it’s muffin! How you doing this evening? Tell your mother I said hello.” Someone would answer.
“I’m good,” I’d say. “I will.”
“Tell her that loon came back again last evening.”
And so on, and so forth, until my mother would take over. It was a conversation meant for her, after all!
We made a quite a few friends this way. We’d invite them to our camp and we’d get invited to theirs. It was how I got my *handle; making muffins for our guests from the fresh berries I picked on the road. Naturally, I was dubbed ‘Muffin’.
Later on, my dad added what’s called side band to the radio. It broadened our reach range dramatically and suddenly I’d be listening and talking to truckers on the highway and people from all over the United States! Voices carried in the air over great distances landed in my ears each night, from Southern drawls to French accents. I met so many people, and on a clear evening, once, I even got a man down in the Gulf of Mexico!
How exciting it was to hear about places I’d never visited, and I’d sit there imaging what views they were looking at as they talked to me. I always bet that mine was better, but how I wish I could have jumped through that radio just to see for myself!
Times were different back when I was growing up. Some people might have called us unfortunate for going without the modern conveniences of town, but I’m smart enough to know that I was the one who was fortunate.
The lessons and skills I learned at camp all those summers long ago couldn’t be gained by watching television.
Besides, who else can say they were a radio operator at ten years old?
*Rubbering – an old-fashioned term for listening in on someone’s conversation. Typically used when there used to be party lines on the telephone.
*Foot – the lake I grew up on was quite large. There was the main part or head of the lake, and our cottage was at what was called the “foot” or the end of the lake.
*Handle- made-up names, used for talking on the CB. Even back in those times it was smarter not to give your real name to strangers!