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This year, for one reason or another, mostly another, we decided to close our camp during the coldest part of the winter. As we made up a list of all the little things to be done I was suddenly reminded of the camp-closing rituals of my youth.
Back then we had a camp way Down East where we spent the whole summer - from the end of June right through to the beginning of September. As difficult as it was we'd always manage to leave camp around Labor Day weekend, but we knew we could leave a few chores undone because we always returned over Columbus Day weekend to close up camp for the season.
At home, camp memories would slowly fade as we got involved in the new school year and all kinds of fall activities. But come mid-October, the family would head back to camp for the saddest weekend of the year, the weekend we drained everything that would drain and sealed everything that needed sealing.
A local handyman, Sherm Adams, used to help us close and open camp each year and he'd keep an eye on the place over the witner, too. Sherm knew a little about most everything like plumbing, electricity, carpentry, painting and window replacement. Sherm also was as colorful a character as Maine has ever produced.
Sherm had worked as a machinist for a company in Rockland, but in the 1950s he found the town too congested and noisy for his taste, so he moved Down East to go lobster fishing. He built his own house, built his own 34-foot lobster boat and built himself a few hundred traps to fish with.
In his spare time he and his wife Helen went to Moosehead to hunt and fish. Both Sherm and Helen had several handsome trophies hanging on their walls as reminders of those trips.
I remember when Sherm came over to close our camp for the winter there was always a lot of crawling under the house involved and he was always armed with wrenches and pliers and hammers to deal with things like spigots and valves and shut-offs. If I listened carefully as Sherm crawled around, I'd always learn a few colorful new words and phrases.
In school I learned that you should always try and use a new word in a sentence before you forgot it so it would become a part of your vocabulary. Following that rule I always tried to use the new words from Sherm in a sentence before the day was out, but I knew enough to avoid doing so within earshot of my parents.
Sherm would save his most creative word combinations for when he was crawling around under our house and his head would come in smart contact with a lead pipe or some other crawl-space obstruction.
This year, I decided to close up our camp myself and save the expense of a handyman. I didn't have all the correct tools needed to get the job perfectly, but - thanks to Sherm - at least I had the vocabulary for the occasion.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is mainestoryteller@yahoo.com.
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