Hi all. Barb here. I am in Book Jail. Book Jail is the place where writers must go when they have an imminent deadline (mine is June 1) and they have been bad, procrastinaty writers and are behind. Book Jail is a terrible place, where the writer is forced to feel sorry for herself and ask whiny questions like, “Why can everbody go out to dinner except me?” “Why can everybody go to the movies except me?” and, increasingly, as the weather improves, “Why is everybody outside except me?”
So, long story short, I’m rerunning a blog post past about the many rituals of opening up our Maine house every year. Enjoy.
For me, one of the joys that comes with seasonal home ownership is opening the house in the spring and then closing it again in the late fall. These mirror-image rituals mark the passage of the seasons and I find great comfort in their familiarity.
The Plumber: A few weeks before we plan to return, our first call is to Bill, our plumber. “This is Bill the plumber,” his answering machine says. “I’m not taking any new customers.” This has been Bill’s standard greeting for as long as anyone can remember. Non-New Englanders might find it a little abrupt or discouraging. Or, they might think it crazy to turn down potentially lucrative new business before you’ve even heard what it is. But this is just the Maine way. Take as much work as you can do well, leave the rest for others, and don’t pussyfoot around about it.
Fortunately, we are not new customers. In fact, Bill is the only person on the planet who knows his way around our ancient plumbing system, so I forge on. I tell him the date we plan to come up and ask him to coordinate with the town to get our water back on. The first indication I’ll get that the work has been done will be a bill from the town followed, a couple of weeks later, by an invoice from Bill. During this entire exchange we will never have spoken. It’s not that we don’t know Bill. Over the summer something is bound to require his attention (see ancient plumbing above), but our opening up ritual requires no live conversation between us.
The Cable Company: The next call is to the company that supplies our TV/internet/phones asking that we be taken off suspend and service restored. To accomplish this, I must imitate an 80+ year-old woman and keep my mother-in-law’s social security number at the ready so I can prove I am actually her. When we bought the house from my mother-in-law, we naturally took over payment of the utilities. Things went along fine when our cable was supplied by Adelphia, but then Time Warner bought them and had grave, grave misgivings about my husband or me making changes to the service.
“But we pay the bills,” my husband objected. “Oh, we let anyone pay the bills,” the customer service lady cheerfully responded. “You just can’t change the service.” Our choices, she told us, were to pay stiff fees both to close down my mother-in-law’s service and to initiate our own (despite the fact that no one at the cable company would have to leave their offices to accomplish this) or to drive to Rockland or Augusta, each more than an hour away, and present our drivers’ licenses to prove who we are. She never could explain how proving who we are would allow them switch the service away from my mother-in-law, so wary of a long drive with no results, we instead resort to subterfuge. I suspect I sound more like someone in a Monty Python skit than an actual eighty-year-old, but whatever makes Time Warner comfortable.
Three Inspections: So all is ready and we’re actually coming up. This year we attended a beautiful wedding in Portland on Saturday and stayed overnight at the home of fellow Maine Crime Writer Lea Wait and her husband Bob on Sunday. We talked for hours about writing, art, politics, old houses and Maine. It was such a great time. Then on Monday, we jumped into our car, drove to our house and began our ritual three inspections. The House, The Garden and The Town: What survived and what did not over the winter? Honestly, we are as disappointed when a favorite breakfast place doesn’t make it through winter as we are when we find our back steps didn’t, either.
Settling In: Putting out the porch furniture, stocking the refrigerator and cupboards, opening the shades, airing out the rooms.
Meeting with Stan: After we list the repairs needed, we meet with “our guy.” This is the guy every seasonal resident needs to hook them up with all the other guys in the area who fix stuff. Our guy happens to be a Stan. We know he’ll tell everyone we’re helpless as kittens but we don’t interfere too much and pay on time, so that’s fine with us. Stan has a list of his own of things we must do, and painting is always on it. Owning a wooden house by the water is a bit like owning the Golden Gate Bridge. Some part of it is always being painted. This year we’re lucky, it’s just the porch steps.
Living Life: Writing in the alcove with a view of the harbor, barbecuing dinner, waiting for our son and daughter-in-law to arrive for the long weekend.
It’s great to be back.