Saturday, January 12, 2008

Tiny Town

There are thousands of reasons why I love living in a tiny coastal Maine town (population 900, in the winter anyway). One of them is my neighbors’ ability to combine concern for each other with respect for each other’s privacy.

A couple of weeks ago, a lady in her mid-80s (we’ll call her Jane) ventured down her icy driveway to get her mail. On the way back from the mailbox, she either passed out briefly from a medical problem or slipped on the ice. Whichever it was, when she came to she found she couldn’t get up. So she left her mail scattered all over the driveway and crawled to her front stoop. She still couldn’t get up, so she lay there in the snow.

Four hours later, the sun set. A neighbor glanced out her window and noticed that Jane’s house was dark–no lights on. So the neighbor’s brother (or husband–reports vary) went over to see what was what. Finding the mail scattered all over the driveway speeded him up a bit. And there she was, soaking wet, still conscious, lying in the snow at the bottom of her front stoop.

By some miracle, Jane survived all this. (Apart from her native feistiness, she can thank her stars that this happened when the temperature was in the 30s rather than the teens, as it had been the day before and would be the day after.) She’s now staying at her daughter’s in Southern Maine while everyone tries to convince her she shouldn’t live alone anymore.

This tale reinforced our understanding that we need to watch out for our neighbors, especially if they’re old and especially if it’s winter.

Fast forward to last week, when some regular early morning dogwalkers noticed that another older couple’s chimney had no smoke coming out of it for the second day in a row.

This couple is extremely private. They’re lovely people, but they do not welcome visitors and have distanced themselves from just about everyone. They live in a small house with a yard that consists of a vegetable garden and a gazillion woodpiles. Once in a blue moon, the dogwalkers get to say hello to Mr. Jones (as we’ll call him), but usually they hear the door slam before they get close enough.

So there was the smokeless chimney on a cold day. And the truck wasn’t out front. Did that mean they weren’t home? Or was something wrong with the truck, so they were in there freezing to death with no way to get help? Adding to the unease was the rumor that Mr. Jones had been in ill health.

Nobody wanted to knock on the door for fear of upsetting Mr. and Mrs. Jones. So the dogwalkers went home and called around, finally finding the one family in town with whom the Joneses have stayed in touch.

Turned out the truck was in the shop and the Joneses were perfectly warm. They may not have gotten up yet when the dogwalkers passed by, and so hadn’t lighted the stove. Whatever. They’re fine.

And their privacy is slightly frayed, but basically intact.
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