I knocked on the door, and the old man opened it and seeing the big ham I had for him said “what’s that for?” “You” I replied. “Jeez, you didn’t have to do that” he said in his downeast Maine drawl. You didn’t have to show me how to get to that pond either” I said as I handed him the Christmas ham. “Now we’re even”. “Ha Ha, ok then, we’re even” he said as he shut the door.
I wonder if that term came from the Great Depression, or even before, when people did a lot of bartering and trading instead of just outright buying things. It certainly has persisted here in Maine. “Making it right”, “settling up”, and “we’re even” are still used quite a bit. Often times a passer by will do something to help someone out, for example, a few years ago my truck slid off the road during a snowstorm and one of the people in town that was driving by helped to tow me out. A few days later I bought him a bottle of rum. I “made it right”.
The old man owned a sand pit where he would crush rock and then sell it. He had a big front end loader and a dump truck. It appeared that he did all the work himself. There was a small road going through the pit that led to a very large tract of woodland that I was using for hunting and fishing. I was always thankful when he wasn’t there when I drove by, I had the impression that he was ornery. It appeared that he had been irritated by the ATV’s that had been accessing the same woodland that I was, so he went up there with a back hoe and dug a big hole so they could get through anymore. In addition, he took a chain saw to one of the old wooden logging bridges up there as well. I didn’t want to cross him.
I was on vacation for a week from work, and was up there each morning. And each morning he would drive up near where I was, and then loop back around to where he was going to work for the day. I thought it was a little odd. So, one morning I walked up to his truck as he was looping around. He rolled down the window, and showed a bit of surprise when I asked him if I was in his way where I was parking. “Hell no” he said sticking his head out the window. “What are you doing up in there?” he asked, looking me over. I replied that I was doing a little hunting. “Do you ever hunt coyotes?” he asked. “Sometimes….” “Well”, he replied, “the state ought to give you a medal for doing that.” I laughed. We actually talked for some time, and I could tell that he thought I was OK. Finally he put the truck into drive, and as he was pulling away he told me to park there any time I wanted.
We would see each other on and off when I would go up there – now he would wave from inside of the cab on the loader. He was a Mainer, tried and true. An old cap jaunted to one side, with a black lab that was always with him. Pierce blue eyes that had energy in them, and looked younger than the rough skin surrounding them. The inside of his truck had probably never been cleaned, and had a layer of dust, receipts, and other flotsam and jetsam within it.
There was a pond up there I had spied on a map that I wanted to get to. I looked at the layout of the land surrounding it, and tried to make it in there on a couple of occasions without success. One day I was talking with the old man and I mentioned I was trying to get in there to check it out, but I couldn’t seem to make it. “What do you want to go way up in there for?” he said and without waiting for a response – “you can’t find a place like that on your own, someone has to SHOW you….c’mon hop in”. It wasn’t really a question, so, I hopped in. As we rode down the woods road he was telling me hunting and fishing stories, and reminiscing about what it was like there when he was a kid. Finally we got to where we couldn’t drive anymore and we got out and started walking. The path was barely discernible and quickly faded out as we headed deeper into the woods. He told me it was a very old hunting trail, and showed me the faint axe marks on the trees made many years before by the people that hunted in there to mark the way. Eventually, he seemed to be lost, and started swearing. I was a little nervous that he was going to have a heart attack from the exercise, or that we would end up spending the night out there, lost. But eventually after much meandering we found a couple of the marks on the trees and pushed on, eventually making it to the pond. It was beautiful and remote, just as I hoped it would be. I looked down and found a giant moose antler there near the bank. We looked around a bit and then made our way out.
I wonder why the gruff and ornery old man decided to show me how to get to a place that was obvious a place that he considered “his” . Perhaps he was showing me because he thought I would use it “right”, or perhaps because he couldn’t get up there much anymore. Regardless, he was passing information to me that he considered secret and sacred. So, when Christmas came a month later, I bought a big ham and delivered it to his house for him and his family.
We were even.