Even after just a few weeks in Maine, I could recognize the silhouette of a bull moose. I recoiled at the sight of nine candles sticking out of its mighty antler rack like a birthday cake. Maybe it was hard to see clearly on that dark December afternoon.Yes, a dark afternoon.My watch read 4:30 p.m., but it was as dark as night.Maine really should be in a different time zone, like Eastern Canada, but that would make the state even more cut off from the rest of the U.S.A. than it already is.It was not, however, a trick of the twinkling Christmas lights.The brass figurine standing absurdly in a shop window was what I had seen it for: a moose menorah. Oy vay!
I looked down Maine Street with its wide avenue, designed originally for horse-drawn carriages, and its cute little shops ending at the former textile mill by the river. Wyler gallery displayed artisan pottery and hippie-chic clothing right next door to the yuppie gourmet store.Gulf of Maine bookstore had a gay/lesbian aisle. A health food store carried produce from local farms.There were several delis and also a surprisingly high number of ethnic restaurants.Bohemian Coffee House attracted locals and drifting teenagers.Other than Rite-Aid and Dunkin’ Donuts, there were no chain stores in downtown Brunswick.
Was the year really 2001 or had I gone back in time?While seedy Bull Moose Music carried CD’s instead of records and its employees had pierces in a greater variety of locations, it otherwise could not have changed in decades.Wild Oats Bakery sold fresh-baked pies and whole grain breads across from Wilbur's candy store.Best of all was the five-and-ten, Grand City Variety, which reminded me of the old Woolworth’s on East 86th Street and 3rd Avenue of my youth before it became yet another Banana Republic.Oldsters, slurping burnt coffee from thick china cups, stared at me from the large windows frosted over with tacky Christmas decorations.Sugar sat on the tables in cut-glass containers with metal flip tops, not a single pink packet of saccharine in sight.Coke came from the soda fountain and hamburgers were greasy and uncomplicated by green vegetables.The clothes hanging on display looked as ancient as the diners did, as if I were still in the 1950’s.
The moose menorah store sold over-priced kitchen gadgets and a few locally made crafts.It was more geared to tourists than locals apparently as it was empty and clearly not doing so well.It was well below freezing and way too bitter to stand outside.Winter in New York City meant sudden gusts between tall buildings, but it was easy to warm up in the over-heated, crowded department stores.The cold in Maine permeated the buildings and your bones.It was a more permanent chill that was there to stay without moderation.It seeped in insidiously through old glass windows, retreating only from the blast of wood burning stoves.To save my frozen toes, I braved the realm of the moose menorah. Inside it was pleasantly warm.
The shopkeeper nodded at me. He appeared old to be still working but solid and healthy. His skin had that brownish leathery look of one who worked outside. His gray hair was thinning and his eyes were a watery blue, the same washed-out color as his faded button-down shirt.These eyes took in my shiny city shoes, my black sheepskin jacket and paused briefly at my red suede gloves.His eyebrows twitched as he struggled to contain a laugh.
“Yuh new heeyuh or jus’passin’ through?” he asked.The words dripped out slow as maple syrup.
I hesitated.I was new, but was I just passing through?