Monthly Archives: July 2012

Jack and Pal guard the woodshed, February 1969. I would join them in September 1972.

The screen door from the kitchen to the woodshed always slams four times behind me: once with authority, then a pause followed by three quieter slaps in rapid-fire succession. SLAP – slap-slap-slap. Closed. This is the sound of running outside into summer at the farm.

There are two steps, covered in green carpet, in the woodshed. The first step is slightly below the height of the kitchen door, and a jar of kerosene always sits on it. Just left of the steps is the wood box. We fill the wood box in the shed, and pull the morning kindling and logs out of the box in the kitchen. A rolled up copy of the Kennebec Journal, a little kerosene, a flick of a kitchen match and the woodstove roars to life, taking off the dawn chill.

On top of the wood box are my grandfather’s work gloves and a can of OFF! Hanging to the right of the door are threadbare leather leashes for their dogs Jack and Sally. Both Jack and Sally are now deceased, but Max, the giant retriever owned by Dennis, who lives in the log cabin up the road, will be lying in the grass outside the shed, panting and alone.

The woodshed is dark, and always smells of fresh sawdust from the endless stacks of firewood. I love this part of the shed. Directly across from the kitchen door is the door that leads to the attic above the woodshed and also the door to the henhouse. I am terrified of this part of the shed.

The attic is filled with bric-a-brac that feels old and creepy. Rattan baby carriages with iron wheels, porcelain dolls with noses or eyes missing, broken wood and wicker chairs, plastic deer lawn ornaments. It is blazing hot and stuffy up there, and I always feel like I’m about to fall through the floorboards.

The henhouse entrance is worse, though. There is a dust-covered grain barrel, then a slatted wooden door, and then the coop itself, dirt-floored and rickety, with hens charging me as I open the door with a scoop of grain in a trembling hand. The sound of the hens squawking as I approach fills me with the kind of fear that makes my ears pop and my heart race.

But, at twelve years old, I am running away from the attic and henhouse and toward the lawn. The barn doors of the woodshed are always latched open, thus I have no time to adjust to the blip of dark in the shed between the kitchen and the outdoors. The door slams (SLAP – slap-slap-slap): I am down the green-carpeted steps, and I take one step on the plank floorboards of the woodshed, and then I’m outside.

Immediately I have to jump over an oblong semi-circle of mud. Then, like a wide receiver, I do a cut move around Max on the lawn by the cellar bulkhead, and I’m across the dirt driveway to the big lawn. Here are the lawn chairs, picnic table, kettle grill, games of Wiffle ball, Nerf football and the general joy of summer in Maine, thousands of miles from our new Florida home.

To this day my ears pop and my heart races whenever I get near the door to the attic and henhouse. So I don’t. I stay close to the wood box, bounding out to the lawn in three steps and keeping the slap of the old screen door in my head, keeping all the summers of my youth close at hand.



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Image Source: Andrea Westbye

Blink and you’ll miss it. But if you do blink, the parade turns around and comes back for a reverse lap of triumph. Just don’t blink and miss that.

Sure, there are small-town parades on the 4th every year. But none of them are the Whitefield, Maine July 4th Parade, held every year on the birth date of this great country and also on the birth date of my brother Eric.

Whitefield, Maine, sits on the Sheepscot River in Lincoln County. It’s about halfway between Wiscasset and Gardiner, so it’s mostly lumped in as a Capitol area town, since Augusta is only about fifteen miles away by Rt. 17. It is small (population 2,273 as of the 2000 census), with a surprisingly mixed population of farmers and artisans. The town was named after British evangelist George Whitefield, who apparently never ventured anywhere close to his own town. Whitefield was settled in 1770 and officially incorporated in 1809.

The sculptor Roger Majorowicz created a magnificent installation in a field along the Sheepscot, featuring his interpretation of Don Quixote astride Rocinante. This collection has greeted motorists entering Whitefield on Rt. 194 out of Wiscasset for as long as I can remember.

Whitefield is small enough to be serviced by the fire departments of Jefferson, Coopers Mills and King’s Mills, and naturally all have a major fire truck presence in the July 4th Parade.

Here is the 10,000’ overview of the parade: 10:00 Sharp (the sign doesn’t lie!) fire trucks with sirens on 11, livestock, antique cars, random protest float, patriotic floats, antique tractors. Turn around and repeat.

From each float you will be pelted with bags of Swee-tarts, Pixy Stix and Werther’s Originals, and you risk losing a finger by A. foot or B. tire in the stampede to grab as much candy as humanly possible. This is if you are still upright after hours of heatstroke, CO2 inhalation, hearing loss and claustrophobia, of course.

And then it’s time for games, shopping and eats! Bean bag toss, pig scramble, pies, hot dogs, home-made paintings, History of Whitefield books alongside old Jackie Collins masterpieces alongside Loverboy cassettes, town gossip and innuendo…brother, walk a block and the world is yours!

Eric usually loads up on post-breakfast/pre-lunch dogs, and then we head home. His day has always been a bacchanal of friends and family, presents, grilling and general American merriment. The day goes on, and is ultimately taken over by sparklers and fireworks on TV.

It is an occasion on the calendar second only to Christmas over our years. His day is our day in the sense that most of America embraces it, of course. But the fact that it’s really HIS day only makes it OUR day that much more. Just don’t blink: the day only comes around once a year.