“Whenever skies look gray to me and trouble begins to brew
Whenever the winter winds become too strong
I concentrate on you.” — Cole Porter
And boy did they blow. They roared through the coldest November, and smack up against April, down my neck and up my pants and nostrils.
Thirty years ago I stumbled into town, and for 20 of those years, I grumbled through each of the six months of winter. Of course I cursed Maine, until I found out that North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming had worse winters.
That didn’t help. As my moods darkened, I concentrated on you, L.A., and the memories of your hot wind, warm tortillas, toasty stucco walls and red-tiled roofs. As I pressed my red nose against the frosted glass and watched my tears form icicles, I thought of the beautiful plastic-faced starlets of Beverly Hills, toddling along in the perfumed air.
Night skies full of police choppers? Hills full of barking coyotes and serial killers, the smog and traffic, sirens in the night, heat waves of 100 degrees that could come at Christmas, the fires in the hills that kept coming closer and closer to the city, the droughts that could last five years? Nonsense. That’s the stuff of cop shows. I concentrated on that sunglassed big-screen fantasy face you show the bus loads of flatlander suckers, who dream of you with your rainbow hair and tequila sunsets.
But the truth came to me late in the night, as I slipped and spilled wine on my extra-warm L.L. Bean woolen leisure slacks. I realized that I was no longer the man that women once sent cabs for. Little horrors began to creep across the shadows of my once perfect body.
My left knee, once the suntanned knob that knelt in warm sands, the one that I knelt on to propose to She, who thought it dashing, no longer liked the 14 steps to the upstairs. The left knee, always my favorite, because it has a tiny dimple Rosemary De Branco thought was so cute, developed a twitch of pain that came in the night like a burglar. Now both knees have similar twitches.
Then the ear thing started. Recently, after She, who has the patience of the pope, refused to answer me any longer when I asked over and over while watching television, “What did she say? What did he say?” insisted that I see an audiologist to either have them cleaned or get “some help.”
I’m no dummy. That means one of those tiny tan things that stick in the ear that say, “I’m old now.” It’s not me. Actors don’t speak up anymore; they mumble and whisper as if we aren’t paying to hear them.
Then the daughters came at Christmas and saw how tentative I was about walking on the snowy streets, how I had begun to wear two sweaters at night, both buttoned to the neck, and always sat directly in front of the space heater, even with the thermostat set at 76, how my eyes filled with tears as I hung California ornaments on the tree.
I saw them whispering in the kitchen as I sat before my uneaten Christmas dinner, finishing everyone’s leftover wine. I knew, when they glanced in, that it was all about me and the debilitating effect Maine’s winters were having on me. Nothing about her, of course, who has learned to mask her symptoms with flourishes of joy; no sir. It was all about me, the “old guy.”
So they’ve started sending us folders from “retirement villas” and Facebooking colorful slides of their sun-drenched patios. “It’s time,” they say, to come home where they can drive us to appointments (doctors) and pick up our various needs (prescriptions) so we can enjoy life (live out the rest of our lives in pajamas). No thanks. Their hearts are in the right place, but ours are here.
Yes, winter will come again and I’ll bore you with this same column all over again. Meanwhile, the grass needs cutting, the deck furniture needs wiping down, the grill is filthy with last year’s chicken wings, and we’ve got a garage sale to get ready for.
So, no climate change this year. Summer in Maine, let’s concentrate on you.
J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.