... light dawns on a young couple
Why would anyone packup two small children, ages four and three years, to move to Piermont, New Hampshire in late November? Why would anyone sacrifice the security of long-term employment, friends and family to travel to the harsh climate of the White Mountains? My answer is, "Crack, as in crack cocaine."
Although both natives of Melrose, Russ Jr. and I had moved from our third floor apartment in Wakefield to Saugus in order to provide our small girls with a place to play and a garden. It was not long before we became aware of the type of business our downstairs neighbor was operating from his apartment. The telltale signs of all-night traffic and loud, aggressive behaviour were confirmed by the police as being indicative of "crack use", but they were at a loss as to how to complete a raid or bust. That was all we had to hear before we started to look for another place to live. Where should we look, if even Saugus was not a safe place to live and raise children?
Our answer came by a phone call from Russ' brother, Bill in Piermont, wanting to know if we would consider moving in with his elderly neighbor to help Mr. Vernon make it through the winter on Cape Moonshine Road. The offer was sweetened by the promise of work which Bill said he would ensure through his lightning protection business and various carpentry contracts. Bill and his wife Darlene had bought a piece of land on that road, built a house and lived there for several years. The area was familiar to Russ and Bill because they had spent their teen age years working for a local vacation camp for the children of privileged city dwellers from all over the Northeast.
If we were not so desperate to find a safe place to live, facing a housing shortage and subsequent high rental rates in our area, I don't think we would have been so rash as to move into an isolated, broken-down farmhouse to spend the winter with Mr. Vernon and 23 feral cats. Our story is one which might come right out of a "Little House on the Prairie" script, but as they say up here in North Country, "It's all in the telling."
Russ had forayed north a few times with truckloads of sheet rock and insulation in order to carve out a cozy sleeping space for us in the immense attic of this circa 1846 building. In the meantime, Mr. Vernon occupied himself with figuring out what he could charge for rent, "seeing as how we were making changes to his property and all." He waited until we pulled the U-haul van into his driveway, unloaded our two kids and our few belongings, then announced we had to pay one hundred dollars per month for rent for the improvements we made to his property. This was in addition to the previously agreed upon duties of chopping, hauling, splitting and stacking his firewood and maintenance of the property. He knew we did not have any choice, at that point, except to meet his demands. What we did not know was how these demands would escalate and how difficult it would be to live with him on a daily basis. However, our lives would be carved and shaped by the raw beauty of this mountainous area.
Our first day of the many months to come started at the crack of dawn, 5:45 a.m. with a whooshing sound unlike any I had ever heard. Russ and I leaped to the window, but the blackened sky and landscape revealed nothing. Russ ran downstairs quickly, only to return ushered in with all of the glory of The Star Spangled Banner being played on Mr. Vernon's TV, one floor below us. The morning news was silenced promptly at 7 a.m. The noon hour news was followed by two hours of soap operas, then not heard from again until the 6 p.m. news and various television shows until 8 p.m. Needless to say, Mr. Vernon had set a timetable for the entire property and we learned to adjust to it as best we could. There were many times when I tried to drown out his noise with my noise, but to no avail. You can't fight a noise war with a partially deaf man.
We could take showers on Tuesdays only, when Mr. Vernon went into town and was gone from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. He never bathed and didn't see the sense in wasting the propane to heat the water, or in having his ancient septic system overflow. I entered the bathroom on that first morning armed with Lysol and Comet. Russ went out to buy a shower curtain. I don't know if Mr. Vernon ever realized all four of us made it in and out of that shower in shifts while he was out and about...he never mentioned it.
This saga will be completed in next month's issue.
March 7, 2008