On How to Tell When It’s Spring


…around here, anyway.

First, the mud.

The snow melt began in earnest last week, with the temperatures leaping up into the 50s

Ruts.

–and one day, even above 60º.  The ruts sunk themselves into the driveway as they do every year.  The road down to my friend Nancy’s became a matter of life and death to me and anyone else in a small car, which, sadly, obviated any cups of tea I might have felt the urge to cadge.  Fortunately, as of yesterday, it was still possible to get down to the snowmobile club–big doin’s there–though it wasn’t wise to go very far into their driveway, and many people I spoke to preferred just to park on the road.  I understand this well, having got my car mired in the yard at the clubhouse a couple of years ago, a situation that required the stalwart intervention of three neighborhood girls (we grow ’em tough here) in hip boots.  I can no longer drive the length of the Cottrell Road, where the heathens’ father lives, and am forced to turn around in Betsy and Moe’s driveway:  that used to make Betsy, mother of my friend Holly, nervous, until she found out it was only me.  Just don’t end up in that ditch, she tells me now whenever she sees me.

Second, the sump pump.

It’s grumbling away in my basement as we speak, diligently clearing out the water that passes through the granite foundation of this 240-year-old house every spring.  Steady, but the point where it might have been a crisis is past.  Enough said.

Third, the monthly DUMC breakfast.

This, obviously, is monthly–third Saturday of every month over the course of the year here in town, which means it always falls on or close to the first day of spring in March.  It’s held at the snowmobile club, of course, that building being just about the only place in town that’ll hold such a swinging event.  Buffet:  baked beans, scrambled eggs, toast, home fries, bacon, sausage, doughnuts, pie (pie for breakfast?!).  The same people, every month, doing the same jobs:  Katie and Heather on the big range, keeping the eggs and bacon full.  Sheila cutting pies.  Lorilei washing dishes.  Robin taking money.  Nancy and I arguing over whether toast should be cut into rectangles or triangles (triangle toast rules, by the way, and not only because of alliteration).  It’s a good way to spend a Saturday morning.  It’s a relatively well-attended party, and good way to see people from town (and not just our town, either) that you mightn’t otherwise.

Fourth, town meeting day.

I got the town report a week or so ago, which I read voraciously, with the morbid curiosity such a thing entails.  Who was born?  Who died?  Who owes property tax?  What about that tidbit of town history?  Reports from all the officials, from the town treasurer to the sexton to the animal control officer.  (My most exciting Town Report moment was the time I found my own name in it, for coming in second in the skillet-throwing contest at the Bicentennial–but that’s another story for another time.)  The meeting itself is held in the gym at the Etna-Dixmont School, which means that, by a fluke of construction, half the Dixmont voters sit in Etna to do their business.  Usually the business is concluded in a relatively quick way (school business, which tends to be far more contentious, comes up in the budget meeting in June).  Then, traditionally, the Dixmont Scholarship Association serves up lunch.

Fifth, the clothesline.

I always hang out the first loads of clothes of the season on town meeting day.

Finally.

That, traditionally, is the first date on which I can actually get out the back door and up to the line, because the snow has receded enough.  This year, after the pounding we took from January on, I wondered…but the melt of the past week came just in time.  The back yard is rough, with the winter detritus exposed now to the sun; I’ll need to be doing quite a bit of raking and picking up in the next weeks, that’s clear (snow hides a multitude of sins, my mother always used to say, and oh, how true that is).  Still, there’s something hopeful, even exhilarating, about pegging that first bunch of laundry out.

Sixth, the auction.

The Dixmont United Methodist Church, up around the corner from my house, is 150+ years old, a Greek Revival beauty that has rocked and shivered on the hill through all its winters.  In past years the auction–at the snowmobile club, of course–has raised funds to fix the roof, to put a new carrier beam under the building, to build an addition at the back which houses (oh, joy) a bathroom.  The back wall was insulated at the time of the addition construction, but the goal is to insulate the rest.  So in the late afternoon on Saturday, most of the bunch from the breakfast in the morning reassembled to raise some more money.  All the swag is donated:  handmade items; gift certificates to local businesses; cords of wood cut, split and delivered; original paintings and photographs by local artists; hunting and fishing equipment.  My contributions were a couple dozen homemade bagels, which went quite high, and my usual soap basket.  This year there were 110 items on the auction list, which kept Fred Sale, the auctioneer and owner of the antique shop here in beautiful downtown, talking at a brisk rate of speed from 6:30 until nearly 10.  Meanwhile, my neighbor Sonia, who is a member of the church, of the ladies’ club, of the snowmobile club, of the historical society–of far too many organizations to name, quite frankly–ruled the kitchen, turning out pies (more pies!), cinnamon rolls, bread…not to mention marshaling her forces to feed the auction attendees with hamburgers, chicken burgers, bean & frank dinners, and the most marvelous BLTs in the history of the world.  (By the time I got around to having mine, though, the auction itself was in full swing, and the kitchen staff out on the floor.  Nancy and I had a joke:  the amazing self-service BLT.  I wrote out my own order ticket, leaned over the counter to put my own money in the cash drawer, then went back to make my own sandwich…though Larry the grill guy did toast the thick slabs of homemade bread for me.)

A full day here in downtown Dixmont.  All the same, I’m glad it only happens once a year.  Otherwise, it would kill me.

Postscript:

This year, we could throw the Supermoon into the mix.  Outside the clubhouse after the auction, the night was brilliantly illuminated, though with the kind of light that bleeds the color out of the world.  Eerie.  I had forgotten about it, though, in the craziness of the day.  It was nice to come out after all was done, and realize that yes, there it was, the closest moon to the earth in decades.  I resisted the urge to howl, though, in case my neighbors had gone to sleep already.  It is, for the most part, a quiet town.

…and, by the way, that’s why I love this song, “Same Ol’ Town”:  sure, and it’s about someplace in Ireland, but the spirit’s the same.

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