This is the winter that did it.
This is the winter that forced me to wear sweaters I had forgotten I owned. Since I got off the bus here, I have endured 30 winters of various sizes and shapes, some picturesque Christmas cards, but more like that dark basement in “Saw 2.”
She, who grew up here and has known more of them, agrees that this one was the winter from hell, but she says it’s mostly me. She’s right, and it’s me who wants to run. But to where? Is there a balmy paradise, and can you get there from here?
Over the years, I have see neighbors who moved away to distant terrain to “be with their kids.” They loved Maine. They grew up and raised their kids here, but then their Jack and Jane graduated from college and went to places where there were actual good-paying jobs. Now they live in Atlanta, Ga., Virginia or Kentucky, and politically shadowy places in the deeper South, where all the great foreign cars are built.
They retired, held massive garage sales where they sold the snow blower and shovels, gave away their parkas and rejoined their children in that mythical utopia called “Away.”
I’m told their dreams have come true, but with nightmarish edges. They are now essentially strangers in a strange land.
One such couple discovered that it wasn’t such a great idea after all. They found that those lovable grandkids had grown up and taken on the annoying habits of wired-up teenagers, and that even the children they raised and missed had become other people, with frightening new political views. So they came back.
But many do not. It costs money to move, so most adjust; and the next time we see them, they’re in the obituary pages with weird addresses such as “Spring Hills, Ark.,” or “Whispering Lake, Mo.” Was this option in the brochure, getting even older and dying in Whispering Lake, Mo.?
Did they like wandering through the produce section of a market called “Piggly Wiggly” in Missouri or “Winn Dixie” in Swamp City, Fla., just so they could listen to their beloved grandchildren talk to them with “Duck Dynasty” accents?
She and I take all of this into consideration when we sit down among a sea of puffer jackets in the lobby of the Olive Garden to discuss what’s left of our fading youth. At this point we have no grandchildren, just two progressive daughters happily engaged in productive careers and bonded with loving mates. They speak with the same accents they had as children. There is no Los Angeles accent. L.A. is a polyglot of ambitious, ever-moving children, from every place in the universe.
Should we return, we would not be confused, glassy-eyed pilgrims. We know the supermarket names and where the restaurants and movies are located. They’re in the same place, just monstrously bigger. The earthquakes are pretty much the same — frightening.
The air is somewhat cleaner now, and I’m told that crime is down. When we left, the Manson Family was just being tried, and I think most of them are still in jail.
My daughter is an actor’s agent, so I could go back to work, but as what? I’m no longer a “Young Leading Man.” I’m a … what? Each night I see old comrades doing commercials for erectile dysfunction, COPD, painkillers and other various ads for the elderly.
I’m healthy, but I can make something up. I always lied about my age. I can lie about erectile dysfunction.
She, who is happy anywhere where there are clothing stores and book shops, floats through travel adversity with a smile. I do not cope with change as well. I am grumpier now, and I need a lawn to “tell the kids to get off of.” We won’t have a lawn in the new L.A. We will probably check into one of those new retired film actor’s “residences,” with a game room where my busy daughters would visit once a week to make sure they’re changing my diapers and putting new batteries in my hearing aids and remote.
Then, one day, my Maine friends who are still getting their prescriptions filled at Hannaford will turn the page and see my smiling face.
“J.P. Devine, formerly of Waterville, passed away today at the Swaying Palms and Blue Lagoon Estates in Pasadena, Calif. At his request, there will be no viewing, just a retrospective of his many erectile dysfunction commercials.”
J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.