I don’t tell stories anymore.
I can’t. It wasn’t bad when I lived in Bangor. Some people would ask me to tell them stories. “Hey Stowaway, tell me the one about your brother! Have you ever outran a cop in the County? (The County being Aroostook County, the top half of Maine)” People liked my stories. I enjoyed telling them, because I never had to make up a single detail. Most of the memories were seared onto my brain.
Now I live in Detroit, Michigan. I like it here. I have a good job. It’s a great place to stay.
But it isn’t home. And I can’t tell them stories of my home. I’ve tried. They just humor me and smile politely and wait for me to finish so they can escape. They think I’m lying, or crazy, or had a drugged up childhood. They can’t fathom driving on tires so cold that the flat spot stays in for a mile. They’ve never ridden on a schoolbus that had chains on its tires. Their grandfathers never marked their ‘secret’ fishing holes with half a mile of neon logging tape. Their fathers have never stapled red pantyhose to a load of lumber so the cops wouldn’t pull them over for an unmarked load. They’ve never cut, chopped, split, and dried their family’s wood for the winter.
I don’t fault them for that. Good for them! But I can see why they think I’m making it up.
Sure, I’ve made up stories before. Once, coming home from college in Rhode Island one night, I told my friend Mishuan to watch out for moose. The large linebacker from Connecticut gave me a suspicious look; “what about them moose?” he rumbled. I told him they were fourteen feet tall, and they have red eyes. They have sharp fangs and their hooves are sharp, and if you are driving with your arm out the window, they can run up to sixty miles an hour and take a bite out of you. My childhood friend Amy was riding with us, she laughed and told him to not listen to me. I was asleep when we hit Bangor, but I woke up when I felt the truck slow down. I looked over to see Mishuan with his eyes open wide and his face drained, as he scanned the road. We were driving down 95 in the middle lane, traveling at around 30 miles per hour. I sleepily asked him what was up. He rolling up the window and said, “I just saw a moose crossing sign, man, I’m getting ready for them!”
By the end of the trip, he learned not to listen to a single thing I said. You never know though, beavers COULD throw sharpened chunks of wood at you when you get too close to their house.
Just the other day, I slipped up. We were talking about school plays, and I mentioned one of my school plays. It was Lil’ Abner, I was playing one of the redneck cousins (I think I’d been typecast). The character I was playing was supposed to shoot from offstage, then take off running. Being a practical man, and it being a simpler time, the play director (and band leader/music teacher/private lesson tutor/band instrument salesman/set designer/soundman/ my brother’s former boss and current co-worker) Mr. Hall asked if I had a shotgun. When I agreed, he told me to bring it to the play. On opening night, he cut the primer off a shotgun shell and handed me my new blank. The next night, he told me to bring my own.
My co-worker’s eyes got glassy, and I cut the story short. He wandered off with a distracted air, no doubt making a mental note to call the med clinic and get my urine tested.
Jimmy D and I flew out to visit Mike Oscar at his workplace in Denver once. He had a nice office, and people liked to swing by and hang out. He had told them a few stories about our upbringing before, but they had just given him polite smiles. When James and I visited him at work, some of his co-workers came in to listen. We were going to get some chicken for lunch, which led us to talk about partridge hunting. I recalled the time that we had been driving out to a gravel pit to bird hunt/try out our new potato gun. The brush had grown in close to the sides of the truck, so it was a narrow drive. We came around a corner to see a partridge strutting up and down the road. Our doors wouldn’t open up because of the tight confines, and the shotgun shells were still in the box. So Mike Oscar skinned out the beer window and started loading up the potato gun. Thankfully I got a shell in the gun and hung it far enough out the window to blast the bird, otherwise, he would have been dead and stuffed in one shot.
That got us to talking about the time that we had engaged in a fireworks fight at Mike Oscar’s parent’s trailer. Fireworks were illegal in Maine at the time, but it hadn’t mattered. I smuggled a bunch home on break from Bible school. Many of the ones we had were illegal even in New Hampshire where we’d bought them, but if you knew who to talk to, the right store owners would open up the closet behind the candy rack and use the cherry of their cigarette to point out the heaping piles of bottle rockets and cherry bombs.
It started with firecrackers thrown back and forth, and a few smoke bombs. I had one smoke bomb in my hand, preparing to throw, when we discovered that this particular brand exploded when the smoke ran out. Ow. My brother lit a pack of firecrackers and threw it at me. Since the wick still had a good ways to go before it hit the firecrackers, I caught it and threw it back. Last but not least, I lit a roman candle that was two feet long, two inches thick, and boasted only five glorious shots. They were going to be some good shots. Since the fireworks were old, the wick fizzled out once it got to the first charge.
Through this whole spectacle, the dog that Mike Oscar had been dogsitting for a friend had been watching us. She was a small husky mix, pretty easy going and bored. She was sitting next to her dog house staring at us with an unamused eye. So in an effort to fan the wick alight again, I started wildly swinging the roman candle bazooka around. My friends, being of a more forecasting frame of mind, all hit the deck. After a few seconds of this, the wick caught without my knowledge. As I swung it back for another pass, it fired a high explosive shell, which proceeded to part the dog’s hair. That poor pooch hit the back wall of that doghouse so hard, that she slid the whole thing back a couple feet. None of that mattered to me, because at that point, I had four shots left and a lot of targets in the fetal position.
We talked about kayaks down frozen mountain trails, drunk uncles shooting themselves in the backside, and motorcycle shortcuts that crossed active runways. More and more people came in until there wasn’t any room in the office; it was one thing to hear a co-worker’s crazy stories, but something else entirely for two other guys to show up and tell the exact same story.
I love Maine. I make sure to go home at least once a year and remember my roots. I drive the back woods to Fort Kent, I dodge moose on a trip to Van Buren, and I drive past the Melody Roller rink and remember loves won and lost there. I worked at Ruby Tuesdays and tried my first alcoholic drink there (I thought it was a milkshake, but it was actually a Ruby’s relaxer. There’s nothing relaxing about coughing seven kinds of booze across your friends). Come to think of it, Chris polished off his first drink there (pink lemonade means different things to different restaurants. And Chris is a happy drunk) too. I’ve been pulled over in Washburn, Presque Isle (couple times, once for the crime of having my tire fall off. And I’m not talking about the spare), Caribou, Mars Hill, Houlton, Ashland, and all points between. I learned how to snowboard at Big Rock, and hit many chicks there (I’d like to say ‘hit on’, but let’s face it, I was better at starting my run than I was at stopping it). I’ve fallen in love with girls from all of those towns (notice I didn’t say ‘dated’; I was a shy child).
The County is in my bones. County mud runs deeper than blood. When I come home, my accent returns, my arms start moving more with each story, and I say , “wayan!” a lot more. I point out destinations by who’s had an accident there (yeah, by where Junior hit the bank that night he got drunk ‘cause his cousin broke up with him!).
They can’t understand my stories because their home is not my home. They’ve never had a moose steak. They’ve never had roadkill deer. They’ve never gathered potatoes that had been left behind by a harvester, nor had school shut down for a few weeks because of that same harvest. They’ve never met anyone with missing fingers, toes, and limbs from frostbite and farm machinery. They’ve never drank from a spring in the ground, or eaten a Wise potato chip. They’ve never went parking at the foot of Haystack before (maybe that isn’t a common thing. I had a hot date and not enough gas to get very far out of town, so that is where the magic happened).
We live tougher and love harder than any other place I’ve been. We’re proud of where we come from. It ties us together, it makes us strong. I’ll gladly travel anywhere in the world and tell them I’m from Northern Maine, even though many people aren’t aware that Maine IS a state. Yep, I’ve run into plenty of those.
I’ve rolled a potato barrel, I’ve ridden in a potato barrel, I’ve worked a peavey, and while I’ve never driven a skidder, I’ve worked around them. No one I know here even knows what any of those things are! I’ve ran into a bear on foot, I’ve walked through a field at midnight that you could see as well as noon, because of the moon shining off snow, I’ve seen the northern lights and watched a sky full of stars, and that’s something that most city folk only know about on Discovery specials.