We used to walk together down to the boatyard with grandma in the village, trading gossip and good stories about things only locals knew about the lake. The long and deep winters burrow into you and you become reflective in the intervals between cutting and hauling wood for the fire. The snow falls night and day and you are steady and still as the lake frozen over. You listen to the wind whistling through the gaps. The world outside your windows is beautiful and unforgiving, and you develop a deep respect for the ways of the world, the season and its accompanying challenges. Some are keeping bees and tapping maples for syrup. Others are hunting and trapping. Still others are shopkeepers and schoolteachers. The many state and national parks are staffed by rangers and historians, though the groundskeepers are always the heart of any place, for they can remember how it all came to be.
Only they can keep the place running. You will know them by their oil-soaked shirts and plain stained pants, and a ring or two of keys. Only they are entrusted with certain secrets which more than likely will go to the grave with them – but their honeys know, too. My grandma lost her husband in the early seventies by a heart condition, and then outlived him by a quarter century. She ran an antique shop called The Barn in Melvin Village, NH. She traded in painted barrel staves and chests and American furniture from the 20th and 19th centuries. Sometimes I imagine her all alone up there in the strike of a desolate winter, getting by with the help of neighbors and friends. I can see her striking it up over coffee in the living room adjoined to the barn, with any of her favorite local all-around men. Serving them coffee in the peeking of dawn. I see the hardened swollen hands receiving and carefully encircling the ceramic coffee mugs, and sipping the coffee she percolated, black. I see both the pain and laughter in her eyes. The mutuality. Her love lost. And the easy conversation goes to shop matters and upkeep, and rumination over how long things will last. And god, do I miss her.