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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 in Cherryfield where the family spent the whole summer - from the end of June right through to the beginning of September. Dad, of course, went back and forth leaving himself three-day weekends. Then he’d take the month of August off. He was a dentist and could do things like that.
As difficult as it was we'd always manage to leave camp around Labor Day weekend, but we knew we could leave a few close-up chores undone, because we always returned over Columbus Day weekend to close up camp for the season.
At home, camp memories would begin to fade as we got involved in the new school year and all kinds of fall activities. But come mid-October, Columbus weekend, the family would head back to camp for the saddest weekend of the year, the weekend we drained everything that would drain everything that could freeze and seal everything that needed sealing.
A local handyman, Sherm Ames, used to help us open and close camp each year and he'd keep an eye on the place over the winter, too. Sherm knew a little about most everything. He knew enough about plumbing, electricity, carpentry, painting and window replacement to get by.
He was also as colorful a character as the State of 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 Milbridge to go lobster fishing. Once there he got right to work and 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 up 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 new words and phrases.
In school I learned that when you hear a new word you should always try and use it three times 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 several times in a sentence before the day was out, but I knew enough to avoid doing so within earshot of my parents, just in case is was a word they didn’t want me learning or using.
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 beam or 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 proper vocabulary for the occasion.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at or 899-1868.
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