We were all down at the Sit-n-Talk diner the other morning, drinking coffee while sitting and talking about the weather and wondering if the climate was really warming like Al Gore said it was and does anyone really know?
No one did.
After we’d exhausted the weather-related stuff, the mail still hadn’t been sorted across the street at the post office and no one wanted leave.
Then Ernie, a newcomer from Oregon, piped up and asked, “Does anyone know when Maine’s most dramatic temperature change occurred – when the official temperature in Portland climbed from 32 degrees at 5 a.m. to 86 degrees at 2:30 p.m.?”
The store went dead silent and everyone stopped what they were doing and looked over at Ernie, the newcomer. The clerk punching in someone’s Megabucks numbers stopped punching; the Megabucks customer stopped scratching his worthless scratch tickets and started scratching something else; the woman behind the counter stopped pouring coffee and the stock clerk blocking the aisle stopped stacking cans. They were all looking over at Ernie, the newcomer from Oregon. All wanted to know when such a startling 50-degree temperature shift occurred in Maine.
Poor Ernie is a quiet fella for an out-of-stater, and he became red-faced because of the sudden attention. Ernie was forced to admit to a store full of clerks and customers that he had no idea when such a temperature shift occurred. He said he just heard from his neighbor Wink Leighton that such a dramatic temperature shift had once occurred, but Wink couldn’t recall what year it happened.
Well, there. When Wink Leighton’s name was mentioned everyone in the store – in unison – heaved a loud groan of annoyance.
“Wink told you that?” scoffed Pearly Trumbull.
“Yes,” said Ernie. He and Wink had been in the yard talking about weather and at some point Wink started talking about strange New England weather happenings over the years.
Pearly then told Ernie that the only thing he knows for sure is that Wink Leighton has done stranger things in his life than New England weather has ever done or is likely to do, and that Wink wouldn’t know a weather statistic if it hit him up beside the head.
Hollis Strout said he remembered a cold morning when Wink told another newcomer about the time when it was so cold he took a pan of boiling water outside, set it on his porch railing and the water froze so fast that the ice was still warm to the touch.
Forrest Tucker said Wink would often tell people that the mercury in the thermometer by his kitchen window often dropped so low in winter that he had to go down cellar to read it.
Another local told of the time Wink told a fella from New Jersey that it would soon be shagimaw season and he should get himself a special shagimaw license so he could get himself one. When the poor New Jersey fella went to the town hall to inquire about a shagimaw license, the town manager – another Leighton and really, they’re all alike – made him up a fancy-looking bogus license and for days this poor fella was out in the woods cruising around every bog, tote road and lot line in the county looking to bag himself a shagimaw.
Eventually, he came upon a friendly game warden who got a chuckle out of the impressive shagimaw license but then straightened him out about the Leightons and their idea of fun. To make the poor fella feel better the warden told him he wasn’t the first newcomer and probably won’t be the last one sent into the woods by the Leightons to hunt the elusive animal.
A shagimaw, by the way, is an authentic Maine mythical critter that, according to several mythical witnesses, has two feet like a moose and two feet like a bear. Those who’ve hunted it say the fact that the clever shagimaw can leave both moose and bear tracks at the same time makes it pretty difficult to track.
Back at the store, after the shagimaw story was finished, old Arthur Leighton, who had been sitting quietly in the corner, spoke up. “Shagimaw were once plentiful in Maine, ayuh, but it’s said they followed the loggers to Minnesota and beyond.”
By then it was time the mail was sorted so everyone went next door to the post office.
John McDonald writes books about Maine, and his latest is “Moose Memoirs and Lobster Tales.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 899-1868.