It’s coming, the dreaded age of darkness when the light bleeds out at 4 in the afternoon.

About the same time, the winds grow cold, the clouds lower themselves close to the tops of the trees, and old men sniff the air and mutter, “I smell snow.” Soon after, the Farmers Almanac hits the stands and fear wraps its icy fingers around our hearts.

Only lovers and cheating husbands like the dark. At this time of year, and especially this one, COVID seems to lurk in the dark alleys and doorways of our hearts.

Driving down Main Street in Hallowell on a sunny day, I sadden when I see the diners, foolish old and young, stunned by a seductive sun, filling the tables under the umbrellas at Slates and the Quarry Tap Room. In Waterville, the patio tables outside the Silver Street Tavern, Last Unicorn and Cancun Mexican Restaurant are jammed.

There they sit, chatting, munching and sipping, elbows on the table, masks in their pockets, all loosey-goosey, as my mother used to say.

The joviality is infectious, smiles spread across unmasked lips. Yet I’m reminded of the Chinese trope: “See the man who is laughing. He has not yet heard the news.”

And the news is: “Winter is coming, Jon Snow,” and you’re younger than springtime, still this winter is going to be the darkest winter of your pink-cheeked lives, particularly when supper time rolls around.

Someone once shared with me the delicious secret to a happy marriage. It’s how often one says these three words, “Let’s eat out.”

Love affairs grow thin after years of meatloaf and carrots and a hand-cooked meal by invisible strangers at the back of a café touches weary hearts.

Diners sit in the extended outdoor seating for the Lion’s Den Tavern at The Concourse in Waterville in September. Diners should enjoy the ability to eat out — outside, that is — while they can since winter is coming. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

“Let’s eat out.” Ain’t it the truth? She and I haven’t eaten out in a restaurant since Eric’s on College Avenue in Waterville closed down last April.

I mention Eric’s specifically because it was the most popular eatery for folks of late and final middle age syndrome, in Central Maine.

Eric’s was famous for “feel good” food. You know what I’m talking about, mashed potatoes and gravy, meatloaf, the best pea soup in the universe and, hold your breath, liver and onions. You could even get sauerkraut at Eric’s and a chicken pot pie big enough to cover a pot hole.

You couldn’t get my two daughters to eat any of those items if you bought them a new car and a puppy.

But Eric’s soon fell under a blow from the Damocles sword that hung over the restaurant business since the Wuhan’s blue plate special came sliding into Maine.

It was March and April then, and things looked bleak. But when summer came with the high and vibrant sun, resistance faded.

Local entrepreneurs here in Waterville, like Silver Street Tavern’s Charlie Giguere, Last Unicorn’s John Picurro and Cancun Mexican Restaurant’s Hector Fuentes got the city to block off Silver Street so they could add more tables in front of their cafes. The Proper Pig and OPA moved outdoors as well. A successful summer emerged.

Nothing lasts forever, someone once said — Elizabeth Taylor, I think — and when the snow piles up, pilgrims all will seek comfort indoors, packed into sweet smelling eateries.

They remind me of Randy Newman’s 1967 bitter ballad, “The Debutantes Ball.”

In a hall filled with light
So poised and polite
They twist and they twirl
In dresses of white
They dance through the night
In their tight little world

Faces full of wonder
As they play the game
And all you need is a number
Followin’ your name

And the numbers are growing.

Enjoy your halls filled with light, practice social distancing and wear your mask until the food is in front of you.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 

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