Johnny Cash (one of my favorites) famously sang: “I’ve been everywhere, man.” I haven’t been everywhere, but I have been to Easton, New Hampshire. Can you say the same? On a magical Saturday night a couple of weeks ago, the Kinsman Valley Club hosted the community and me. We shared stories. Easton — population 266, up around Franconia and Landaff way — turned out in force. A group of about 90 people gathered (not all of them from Easton, pretty sure). How we laughed!
On the way to town, passing through the still smoldering Lost River Valley (wild fires on the side of the mountain, so sad), John Rule and I somehow timed our drive just right. We saw a bear lope across the road in front of us. A bear. So excited, I announced to the crowd what we’d seen.
They were not impressed.
Evidently, bears are not an uncommon sight in Easton.
Nevertheless, a resident told this story: She heard scratching at her glass patio doors. There was a bear on hind legs, asking to come in. She declined. Next she her a scrabbling at the back door. It was the bear. Again. Interested in being admitted. She declined. Couple minutes later, she looked out her window, and there was that same bear swatting at her laundry on the line. The bear grabbed a pair of her husband, Henry’s, undershorts, stuffed them in his (the bear’s) mouth, and was shaking them side to side like a big dog with a chew toy.
The bear disappeared in the woods.
A few days later, Henry was downtown when a friend said that same bear, they thought it must have been the same bear, has been seen up a tree by the town hall. Henry was dubious. “Was he wearing my undershorts?” he said
This one is especially for those who remember blackouts during war time. In a town that is not Easton, discussion at town meeting turned to streetlights on Main Street and whether the town should continue to supply them with electricity. The vote was no. No more street lights.
Later in the meeting, discussion turned to the air raid siren and whether that should be maintained. The vote was yes. Keep the air raid siren.
The legislative body stopped, briefly, to ponder an oldtimer’s pertinent question: “If we don’t have no street lights, what do we need the air raid siren for?”
And then there was the story of Mrs. Moulton, also not in Easton, a traveling nurse who sometimes carried urine samples in little Chivas Regal bottles. And who sometimes failed to lock her car doors while on her rounds.
One more Not-in-Easton-Probably story. The position of constable in this (unnamed) town was elected. As it still is in a few New Hampshire towns. Only now we call it chief of police. This particular year, nobody ran. But a fella named Joe, from away, got two write-in votes. Voting occurred and votes were counted during the morning of the actual town meeting. This no longer happens in New Hampshire as it is too time-consuming, but for a hundred years, give or take, this is how all town positions were filled. Joe from Away was not well liked in town. He was kind of arrogant. Some people thought he was a New York City cop in the witness protection program.
When the votes were counted, townspeople present were pretty dismayed at those two votes and the prospect of Joe as town constable. Joe, as it happened, was not present at the meeting. The moderator calmed the legislative body down. He said, he wouldn’t tell Joe he’d been elected if, and only if, everybody else in the room promised the same.
No one every told. Joe never knew he’d been elected. And never served.
The next year, the town eliminated the position of constable.
Can you stand a couple more? Easton was full to the brim with stories. Jim, town moderator, had a few that really got us thinking. And laughing. He started by saying to the gathering, “This is the first time I’ve ever faced a friendly crowd.” This is one of Jim’s classics:
Jim and his wife Barbara are not native to Easton (few are). They moved to town about 35 years ago. They’d no sooner backed the trailer up to the door of their house when an old fella in a pick up sporting a knit hat and a yankee attitude pulled in behind them. Turned out to be Mr. Silver, the part time police chief. “You buy this place?” he said.
Jim, being sensitive to local customs, replied in the local vernacular: “Yup.
“You gonna live here?”
Jim, sensing there might be more that Mr. Silver, part-time police chief, wanted to say, said. “What do you do when you’re not being chief?”
“How much do you charge?”
Jim called to Barbara to bring the checkbook, but Mr. Silver declined the payment. “Nope,” he said. “Ain’t done any watchin’ yet.”
Another of Jim’s true stories:
Ben and Fontelle are fondly remembered in Easton and sorely missed. Ben was a handyman who did mowing around town including cutting the grass at the cemetery. Fontelle was well known because she served as tax collector.
Jim asked Ben about the job of maintaining the cemetery — wasn’t it tough all that mowing and trimming around the stones? Ben agreed that the job was not an easy one and presented problems. But, he said, “I solved the problem of the trimming.”
“How?” Jim asked.
Ben explained that he’d put a gas generator in the back of his pickup to power an electric string trimmer. He could drive it all over the cemetery. “Worked good,” he said, “after I taught Fontelle how to use it.”
But that’s not the end of the story. One day, Ben spotted Fontelle on a grave mound, with one leg in the ground up to her knee. Something, presumably the coffin lid, had given way.
“What did you do, Ben?” Jim asked.
Ben, it seems, was stymied. “Didn’t know whether to push or pull,” he said.
Judy told about the lady walking through that same graveyard who happened upon a nearly finished grave in the process of being dug. It was a deep one and as she approached the gravedigger popped his head out. “She screamed and fainted,” Judy said. On Sunday at church, the poor soul took another turn, when she recognized the deacon. “Yup,” he said, “I’m the dead guy.”
And finally, our old friends “Bert and I” continue to inspire. Nancy recalled being on Mount Desert Island, down Maine way, at famous Beal’s Lobster Pier in Southwest Harbor. There you can find the lobster cars and traps and a local to cook ’em up for you right there by the sea.
Nancy was on the pier enjoying the ambiance when a white minivan with Indiana licence plates drove up beside her. The driver said to the lobster guy, “Do you know how to get to Beal’s Lobster Pier.”
Nancy said there was a pause, 1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . 4 . . . and then the local said, “Don’t you move a goddamned inch.”