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Chapter 009 A general store-gas station-post office

At camp, we got our water from Great Pond. Every spring we’d screw in the top left fuse in the kitchen fuse box, run a hose into the lake and suspend it off the bottom with a rope slung from an overhanging pine tree to minimize sediment, and prime the old electric pump under the porch with a bucket of water. Then we’d flip the overhead switch next to the pump, hold our breath and wait to see if suction had been achieved. If primed correctly, it sucked water from the lake for the kitchen and bathroom sinks and the toilet. We had the water tested, and the results indicated it was very clean but slightly above recommended bacterial limits for drinking water. We used it to wash dishes, make coffee and tea, boil lobsters, make pasta, and every other kitchen use of water except for… well, except for just drinking a glass of water. My brother, Jerry, did drink it that way and with no apparent ill effects. But the rest of us drank well water, and the place we got that was the spigot outside of Anderson’s 3-in-1 general store, Texaco gas station, and United States Post Office.

It was just three miles up the road a piece from camp, and where we’d also get our mail. If not for the Texaco gas pumps and American flag flying high in front, it would’ve looked like just another rural two story home, which it was prior to becoming a place of commerce. But back in the early days of camp, although we did the bulk of our shopping in the nearby town of Waterville, Anderson’s was the place where we bought our milk, bacon, boat gas, outboard motor oil, hunting and fishing licenses, and that North Country delight: rat cheese. Rat cheese was, and still is, a local New England made, hard, extra sharp white cheddar cheese that comes in 20 lb wheels and is often displayed on store counters under glass, like pastry. You could get a pound or two chunk of this ambrosia lopped off at your request, and we frequently did just that.

The store was run by Charlie and Dot Anderson, a middle-aged couple we became friends with over the years, although the first decade or so of our relationship was a bit formal. Charlie was also a licensed electrician and did all our camp’s electrical work. I guess that made their place a 4-in-1. Or maybe it was a 5-in-1, since they lived upstairs in the same building.

Charlie was a pretty good fisherman, and one of the few people whose fishing know-how my dad respected. Consequently a shopping trip to Anderson’s often turned into a conversation between Charlie and Dad. “Havin’ any luck?” Dad would ask Charlie. “A bit,” Charlie would respond in typical succinct Maine fashion. “What’re they biting on?” Dad persisted. “Frogs and crawfish,” Charlie revealed. “That so?” said Dad. “A-yuh,” confirmed Charlie. “When?” Dad queried. “Mornin’,” offered Charlie. “Uh-huh,” agreed Dad, since Charlie’s information had just confirmed what he already knew, but he enjoyed the discussion anyway. And so it went with those two master fishermen. They relied on knowledge and technique over flashy gear, and each almost always caught his limit.

They sold all sorts of stuff in that store. One day, when I was 18, I saw an item that caught my eye. It was a Winchester Model 1894 30-30 (thuttythutty) carbine – the gun of my dreams as a kid who grew up watching westerns on TV and in the movies. “How much?” I asked. “Fifty dollahs,” responded Charlie. “OK,” I replied, gave him the $50, and he gave me the gun – end of transaction. This was Maine, where people are neighborly and trust each other, and the murder rate in the state is very low – practically zero for people who don’t know each other. Or as my Cousin Matt says, “If there were no dating or marriage in Maine, there’d be almost no murders at all.”

***

Because of cost cutting initiatives from the USPS, post office closures were imminent, and the offices selected for closure were the ones that sold the least amount of postage. So in those days before email, my dad and my Uncle Charlie, both lawyers, bought all of their stamps at the North Belgrade Post Office. Despite Dad and Uncle Charlie’s considerable efforts, the nearby Oakland, Belgrade Lakes, and Belgrade Post Offices sold more postage than ours, and the North Belgrade Post Office was closed. For several years our mail delivery was shuttled between Belgrade and Oakland, eventually settling on Belgrade, where it remains to this day. Anderson’s store and gas station carried on for awhile, but ultimately passed into oblivion along with the passing of Charlie and Dot themselves. End of another era – sigh…

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