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Chapter 006 One long and two shorts

One of the first things I noticed about camp was the ancient black desk telephone. When we bought the place, the realtor instructed us to, “answer it only if it rings for one long ring quickly followed by two short rings,” since we were on a party line – a line shared by many different families in our same rural area, each with a different ring pattern. It took some getting used to not to answer the phone when it rang, unless it was one long and two shorts. And if you wanted to make a call you had to gingerly pick up the receiver and listen to see if someone was talking and hope you didn’t hear something like, “…and her gall bladder was the size of a grapefruit.”

Every year or two, our phone service was improved by reducing the number of parties on our line. This invariably involved a new ring pattern. Over the years, the number of parties kept dropping until it finally became a private line.

During our five decades at camp, our number stayed the same – Hopkins 5-3736, and when making local calls, only the last five digits needed to be dialed. The number later morphed slightly into a more impersonal 207-465-3736. Because of its longevity as the camp number, it took on a life of its own, which was the reason for my reluctance to cancel the service, even after each family member had a mobile phone, and no one used the camp phone anymore except to call a misplaced mobile phone, which could then be tracked down by its ring. But I did cancel the service recently, a bit sadly – the end of an era…

That phone service was remarkable in two respects. First, although we had several power outages every summer (hey, camp is in the woods and trees fall), I don’t ever remember the phone service going out. I have no idea why that was so – wires are wires and the electric and phone wires were both strung above ground. It’s a mystery I shall take to the grave with me, as to why there was always phone service to call and report a power outage. But the fact we still had phone service didn’t spoil the pleasant feeling of isolation and primitive connectedness we felt as we lit our old kerosene lanterns and candles and settled in for a hotly contested game of Scrabble by dim, flickering light. “Sure hope the power stays off just a little bit longer,” was a common refrain. The second remarkable thing about the phone service was more understandable. During thunderstorms, the phone would jangle in unison with the flash of close lightning strikes.

But there was one particularly close lightning strike and phone jangle I cannot explain. “Holy shit!” I exclaimed with pounding heart, when, just as the lightning flashed, the thunder boomed, and the phone jangled, a mini lightning bolt, incandescent and jagged, danced down from one of the ancient ceiling electric light fixtures into the camp’s living room, right above my head – as if it were after me. It came down about a foot-and-a-half into the room, and then receded – the whole event taking two to three seconds. A soft, “Wow,” was all I could muster breathlessly once I recovered enough to feel confident that Thor had in fact missed me – this time…

That happened before my hippie days, (even though it was the 60’s, it was the early 60’s), and I’m sure it could have been witnessed by others, had others been present. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I chalk this event up to what I now refer to as Maine Magic – the first of many events I experienced at camp that would fall into that category. 

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