Need a Lift?
In small-town Maine nothing is ever forgotten.
To combat the stir-crazies of moving back in with my parents in small-town Maine for a month, I walk all five miles to Miller's general store, a log cabin on the main road, and back. Problem is, every third car stops to ask me if I need a ride. I figured that after four years of living away, I wouldn't know so many people on the road. Turns out it doesn't matter: people stop to offer the twenty-something girl with boots and a baseball cap a lift regardless of whether or not their kids went to elementary school with her. And then my mother wonders why I [for the rest of this story, see the December 2007 issue of Down East]think hitchhiking is probably okay.
Yes - small-town living has not changed, however much I have complained that we suddenly have neighbors and may even qualify as suburban in another eight years. I go to the store with my mother and it takes us two hours to buy groceries for three people; the supermarket, after all, is a social event as much as an errand. I walk in with a list and leave with milk, eggs, vegetables - and a small stack of library books, which Eva Campbell happened to have in her tote bag with her and which I will be returning for her when I go into Bangor tomorrow. I run into my ex-boyfriend's father in the produce section and catch up on two years' worth of news. As we're finally loading things into the car, my mother stops to speak to someone I don't recognize. "Who was that?" I ask her as we pull out of the parking lot.
"The UPS man," she tells me.
I relish the security that no matter when I go to the truck stop, there will be someone with whom to share a cup of coffee. There are times, though, when I would prefer a little more anonymity. At the post office, I have a one-in-five shot at getting helped by someone who doesn't know me personally. I lose.
"So you're still going to school in New York?"
"Yep. One more semester. How's Justin doing these days?"
"Oh, he's fine, fine . . . I'll tell him you're in town! He'll be thrilled!"
"Uh-huh. Yep." The last time I saw Justin, I was throwing pinecones at him from a tree while he and Robbie McDougal opened fire on me with a state-of-the-art Super Soaker. I won't mention how old I was. I think we stopped talking around the same time his mother started making pointed comments to him, usually in public, about "what a nice girl" I was.
"You should give him a call sometime!" She beamed at me. "So how can I help you today?"
"Uh, I'd like to get a money order. For, um, two hundred and fifty dollars."
"Oh! All right, now, that'll have to be with check or debit."
"Debit's fine. I'd like to mail that priority, if possible . . . "
"That would be, Stanfordville Town Court, department of motor vehicles and traffic violations, New York . . . "
Mrs. Justin's mother looks over her glasses at me for a heartbeat. "Zip code?" she asks me, suddenly businesslike.
At home, my father is in the kitchen showing off the latest strings of shotgun shell Christmas lights he's been making. "I met a guy at the diner last night," I tell him. He squints at me over the pair of pliers he's using to readjust a wire.
"What's his last name?" he asks.
"It had better not be Hamilton," yells my mother from the other room. This specification, though indisputably worthy, probably eliminates one in every twelve guys I might meet in this town.
I have a sixty-page thesis to be writing during these four weeks, so I can neither really go anywhere nor bring myself to concentrate on the project. I've gotten out another four pages without breaking my rule of coffee to page ratio - one-to-one - when the power goes out again. I curse.
At three-thirty in the afternoon, it is already starting to get dark; I light candles around my laptop and type as the battery dies. Within three hours we find out the cause of the outage, though it's another six hours before the lights come back on. I am reminded of the time seven years ago when I drove my car into a telephone pole in a snowstorm and was found only because I had knocked out the electricity with my impact. A neighbor, stopping by our house to finish making their dinner on our woodstove, hasn't forgotten this either, and mocks suspicion that I might be responsible for this outage as well.
Nothing in a small town is forgotten.
My laptop turns back on with the power, but I've lost my concentration and am restless again. I grab my coat and a flashlight. "You going out to walk again?" my mother calls after me. "It's getting awfully late."
"I'll be fine," I tell her. Besides, if I get tired - someone will give me a ride.
- By: Margaret Adams