Kirk Klasson

The Peeper Pool

The Peeper Pool

by Kirk M. Klasson

Plainfield is a quiet place, quieter still once winter settles in. Not the winter when the holidays begin, when the days are still tinged with anticipation and the snows are brief and tenuous and autumn’s chores aren’t quite done. Hauling boats, stacking wood, topping the hydraulics on the plow, marking where the drive-way ends and the well head stands, things that won’t be found again until April comes around. But the winter of sunless days and endless snow where the world and all that’s in it has left to find a better place. Then things get very still.

So it falls to those who remain, those with nowhere to go or simply to stubborn to leave, to invent things to look forward to, events to anticipate, occasions to celebrate, days to mark, places to go. Even the most trivial of occasions are memorialized. A trip to neighboring Farmington to visit the library or a bit further to Waterville’s Walmart become an tantalizing adventure. Town Hall meetings. Church benefits. Craft fairs. Card Clubs. Meat shoots. By February the tedium grows more numbing than the cold. Even mundane everyday events assume a strange significance, the routine becomes remarkable and the ordinary assumes an ominousness all its own. A notice goes un-posted, a light goes out across the lake, a strange car parked in front of the superette are suddenly invested with significance. Occasional encounters with other locals become prophetic. A casual “how are you?” from an odd acquaintance becomes news to those who missed it, portending larger events, a web of moments that have yet to occur, worthy of a story of their own. Deep in mid-winter, every encounter is an event, every conversation a sign, every bill board a psalm to sooth the din of a deafening monotony.

Few remember how it got started. Others still argue about its beginnings. But most say the Peeper Pool came about due to a bunch of disgruntled Ice Out players. Ice Out is a big deal in Plainfield and has been since folks first huddle around these lakes year round. What started as winter distraction became an institution all its own and the basis of an annual town-wide wager. Not only did Ice Out signify the official start of the season it was when the town itself came back to life, rekindled by the return of the summer residents. The only trouble is that most years no one could agree on exactly what it was or when exactly it occurred. Traditionally, Ice Out meant that all the ice had gone from the lake, not just the shallows but the deepest parts as well. So to declare it, someone would have to get on the lake and travel from point to point to confirm it was clear of ice. And that was largely dependent upon who was available to go out and that was subject to who could trust anybody to make the call fairly when almost everybody had money in Ice Out pool. Only recently did that change when the state’s Parks Department stepped in, partly as a way to eliminate the bickering and bad feelings, and made a yearly declaration of when Ice Out officially occurred. Not that it stopped the disagreements. They were essential to the drama that the pool provided.

But by then it was too late. Some quit from boredom or complained about the stakes or grew tired of the unresolved disputes and lasting resentment due to arbitrary declarations of when the ice had officially left. Both before and after the Parks Department got involved. It was after one such especially contentious wager that a small group decided to forsake the Ice Out pool and start a wager of their own.

Each year, in February, the players would make their way to Garrel’s to reaffirm the rules and make their bets. The Peeper Pool started with ten original players but after a couple of years as folks dropped out, to avoid what happened in the Ice Out pool, participation was by invitation only. And invitations were few and far between. In truth there weren’t any at all and after awhile it was quietly understood that the pool would eventually end as the players passed along.

Keeping with tradition, the idea for this new pool was basically the same, a wager on when spring arrives, a certain event with a random beginning, a game of chance rooted in the faith that from the desolation of winter the world would be renewed and the warmth of lingering summer days would finally be restored. The only difference was that establishing the beginning, the moment when spring arrived, couldn’t be arbitrary and had to be beyond dispute and that’s where the peepers came in.

Garrel’s was the only breakfast place open year round, one of the few surviving shops in a mostly empty strip mall about one hundred yards up from Parlan Creek facing the shallow end of the lake. By January, the holidays still recent memories, winter becomes Plainfield’s most enduring feature. Simple things no longer work. A couple of days below zero and tires flatten, batteries die and the ball bearings in the steering column squeak and squeal in their frozen grease. The locals view this as an opportunity to exercise their faculties and stress their sensibilities to see is they still matter. Beyond Garrel’s parking lot is the main road, and beyond that Cashing’s gas dock and the lake. In January the lake spreads out like a butcher’s marble slab creased with pale gray fractures and punctuated by an occasional clump of ice shanties.

Usually, around 11am on a Wednesday, sometime around Valentine’s Day, the players would convene. Its not as if they had somewhere else to be so it was a kind of welcomed visit, one they all looked forward to. Of the six remaining players all of them were long time natives. All of them, except for maybe Harley, were past their sixties and for the most part were of an independent sort, little if any immediate family save their dogs. If you craved more than solitude, Plainfield was more than enough reason to leave. Spouses, siblings and children often did. What was obvious about this group was that the company they most wanted to keep was their own but not without connection, the affordances of fellowship, a shared sense of familiarity just without the cloying obligations that went along with it. And this wager seemed to provide some of that. Along with a tradition that bridged the longest months of the year, as the group would not meet again until late in April, sometime even May, to settle the bet.

Protocol, what little there was, dictated that John Hammond, in his capacity as the unofficial secretary of the pool, was usually the first to arrive, giving him the opportunity to witness the entire meeting and not just the official parts of it. John was most often remembered as a volunteer firefighter but his tenure in town started long before that. He arrived years ago opening a millwork that serviced surrounding towns and several large commercial customers to the south, met his wife at a church social and became a bulwark of the community in no time flat. At one point or another he had held most of the public offices the town maintained, had the confidence of a priest to go along with it, his respect was such that he had no local nick name as nearly everyone at one time or another had benefited from his confidence or kindness. He lost his wife to cancer several years back but stayed even after his children left to find other opportunities. Powerfully built, quick to laugh, he was immediately familiar and disarming. He probably knew more about what most locals wanted hid than any other person in town and in spite of their curiosity and much to their chagrin, he did nothing with it. Local indiscretions, petty larceny, debts, affairs, pregnancies, the secrets behind a suicide, he kept them all.

The next to arrive was often Coco LaFarge, obviously not her real name and variously rumored to be a stripper or a sex worker from Quebec who, the wags maintained, married a local to disappear from the authorities. She had an unusual fondness for guns and saw them as practical solution to a number of everyday problems, as in “if you hold real still I could probably shoot that mole off your chin.” She may have once had some looks but they long since vanished leaving behind a permanent scowl or maybe it was just her way of warding off strangers. Her face seemed to droop from a crease in her forehead, melting ever so slowly to a slightly crooked underbite that never fully closed. It’s said that she married shortly after she arrived and her husband passed shortly after they were married. By all accounts he went on his own but she would occasionally talk about the “purple juice” which she said she would imbibe herself when the time was right. She also went by or rather was known by “Pinky”, perhaps a professional reference, or “Penquie” which some believe was where she might have gone to high school. A conjecture she routinely denied.

Next was Mrs. Knowlton or Mrs K. An elderly waif whose wit was no longer subject to the inhibitions of routine social conventions. Something she seemed to enjoy. She was quick to the essence of everything and everyone and wouldn’t hesitate to share what she found whenever the opportunity presented itself. Consequently, she never suffered fools, something there was an abundance of in Plainfield especially in the off season. Privately, but always respectfully, even affectionately, she was referred to as the Dowager because it seemed that whenever the town needed an improvement or ran a little short she would find a way to get the thermometer in front of town hall up to the top. Almost nothing was known of her husband other than he restored for her one of the finest homes in these parts, an antique from the 1800’s built in the Italianate style that was then still popular. Two stories of 12 foot ceilings and arched 8 foot casement windows with a shallow slopping hip roof finished with a railed widow’s watch and glass encased cupola. Built on knoll on the eastern side of the lake the front with the parlor faced west to capture the setting sun and the back with the kitchen faced east to watch it rise.

Harley was about as local as they come, he was younger than the rest of the Peeper Pool by nearly a generation had done a turn in the service which he didn’t care to speak of. He looked as if he had just stepped off a commune. Unshaven, unkempt and basically as unconcerned as one could get over just about everything. Which caused him to be more optimistic than the rest. He seemed to have but one set of clothes which he wore all the time and had no visible means of support other than some steady under the table jobs. Excavation in the spring, mowing and lumbering in the summer, hauling boats in the fall and plowing some of the fire lanes that the town wouldn’t get to every winter. His family, generations past, owned most of the land to the north of town and east of the lake and it was understood that every now and then he would sell something off to a lumber company or a developer and be set for the next several years. And he always came to the betting thinking this was his year.

Finally, there was George DeCosta most often referred to in private as The Professor, because during the course of normal conversations he had a habit of speaking in asides, mostly to himself, citing obscure references. His conversation was full of places and people and things seemingly familiar to him but no one else. This might have been simply a habit of age and circumstance, living alone doesn’t furnish many options for conversation. But evidently, he surmised, not entirely incorrectly, that his thoughts lacked sufficient context to be understood on their own. When he first arrived in Plainfield, he alluded to a past position at what was either a private college or secondary school or some institution constructed with numerous buildings arranged in neatly ordered quads. To his credit, he looked the part. Prominent chin, mangy beard, aquiline nose, thick brows permanently piqued in anticipation beneath a wave of thick, grey hair. And he spoke in a thin, high-pitched voice, with the aristocratic affectations of a member of the ivied-schooled class, something most locals either couldn’t discern or, if they did, didn’t care for; it only made him seem more peculiar. He had a well earned reputation for bouts of aberrant behavior often centered on celestial events, conjunctions, oppositions, occultations and the like. Totally harmless by all accounts. He seemed obsessed with the motions of the planets and the moon. During summer nights he had a habit of frequenting public places and building fires, often in the trash drums, just to watch the sky turn which annoyed local volunteers who had to make sure it wasn’t something that needed putting out.

By most accounts it was George who caused the pool to adopt its current set of rules. His instincts were uncanny and he won several pools. Since most dates tended to be clustered into one or two weeks, usually in April and rarely in May, the players thought it reasonable to make it an “exact date or nothing” proposition, referred to by some as “George’s Rule”.

Once assembled John was quick to begin the proceedings. He’d rise in front of the players and in tone, “Let’s get started, beginning, as customary, with the affirmation of the rules. Starting with the betting.”

“All bets will be written, month and day, and initialed by the player on a uniform piece paper. Today we’ll be using some of my old business cards.

The cards will be placed in a hat. George, can we borrow yours for today’s drawing?”

George sheepishly doffed his red checkered hat, exposing a matted mess of hair.

“The cards will be placed in a hat and the hat will be passed to each player and that player will withdraw a single card and announce the month and date. The card will be returned to the player who made the bet. The hat will then be passed to the next player who will draw the next card and this process will be repeated until all cards have been drawn and returned to the players who place the bet.

Only one bet can be made by any player for any given date.

So, in the event that two or more players have selected the same day, the first player whose card was drawn shall have the option to surrender or trade that day for any consideration the other player or players might wish to provide so long as the terms of such arrangement are finalized in the presence of all other players and no other player objects.

Any player who surrenders or trades their date can then select a new date so long as it is not already been drawn and announced. This process will continue for any other duplicate dates based on the order in which the cards were drawn until all bets are for unique dates.

Once all dates are finalized, the players shall post their bet by putting their name or signature on the corresponding block on Garrel’s calendar and registering their bet by signing their name and the date of their bet, along with their e-mail address, on this piece of paper along with providing their wager, in cash, to me. No IOU’s can be accepted. Once the register is complete, it will be passed around to all players so they can attest to its accuracy and then returned to me until such time as the contest is finalized and closed.

After today, no bet can be changed. No wager can be transferred or assigned to any other person or party. The bet belongs only the person who made it. This also holds for any person who wins the pool.

The wager will be the same as last year, $50. And I’d appreciate it if there weren’t any singles involved.

“Ok, any questions?”

“You know, years ago”, Mrs. K volunteered, “down in Boston we had this thing called the Rose Bowl. Each year we would bet on what day Rose Kennedy would pass, nearest date in the calendar year would win. Trouble was they shut the place down before she ever got around to it. Rumor was that she was so pious a soul that before He took her God asked her if she had one final wish and she said she did. She said she didn’t want to go, so He turned her into a tunnel and buried her next to the financial district.”

“I thought they called that the Tip O’Neill tunnel”, John replied.

“That’s right”, said Mrs. K, “cost more and took longer than Solomon’s mine. I guess it wasn’t His finest effort. So He moved Rose upstairs to a park near the Aquarium”.

“Ok, let’s move on to deciding the winner.

First, only one date can win. It must be the exact date. Nearest day doesn’t count. If no exact date can be determined, wagers will be returned to the players.

Next, a winner can only be declared if at least two players, who don’t own that date, hear the peepers and report on the same day or within nearest 24 hours. Both of these players must be in Plainfield at the time when they declare they have heard them. Such declaration must be provided to all the bettors in the pool via e-mail.

When a declaration has been made and confirmed, I will reconvene the players back here, to award the prize or return your wagers, which ever is appropriate.

Are there any questions, concerns or proposed amendments?”

“OK, Mrs. Knowlton, would you please pick the first date”, Mrs K pulls a card, “April 19th .”

“That’s me”, says Pinky.

“Ahh, Patriots Day.”, George notes, “ An ever popular but seldom winning choice. The Sox will be at home. More’s the pity. In Kenmore the women come and go talking of Dom DiMaggio.”

“Shut up, George”, Pinky replied, “this ain’t your year.”

“Maybe”, George smiled, “Let’s leave that to the frogs.”

Harley took the hat and pulled a card, “April 13th ,”he announced.

“That’s me.” Hammond replied.

“A bold bet, but early for these latitudes”, George observed.

“What did we get in January, 33 inches?” Harley asked, “Another big one in February and we’ll be up over 100 by the end of the season. That’s gonna take a lot of sunshine to make April 13th happen.”

“Sure, but it happens”, said John, “a couple warm days in a row is all it takes and something tells me this won’t be a typical year.”

“You’re not reading the Almanac, are you?” Harley laughed , “That thing’s always wrong.”

“Nope, I save my money to play the frogs, Harley”, Hammond replied.

The hat was passed to Pinky. “April 23rd .” she read.

“That’s me”, said George, “A most auspicious day indeed. If only Brian, blessed St of Clontarf, could see us now.”

Pinky passed the hat to George, “Auspicious but a loser just the same.”

George pulled a card. “May 1st .”

“That’s mine”, said Mrs. K, “May Day.”

”A most promising choice,” George offered, “I almost picked it myself. But the moon argued against it. Felicata colpi il Forentino e salve la sua anima.”

“What’s that suppose to be, George?”. Harley asked.

“It a recipe for sauteed fish with spinach”, George replied. “If you’d like, I’ll send you a copy.”

“Do you always consult the moon?”, Mrs K scowled at George. “Not always but on this occasion.”

“You know they have a word for that. Most folks call it lunacy. But here’s what I know. The vortex is setting up deeper in the south and the jet stream is gong to wrap around the coast from Columbia to Caribou. We’re gonna be looking at the wrong end of a very cold wet fetch for the next few months. When you leave here best hit the library and the liquor store, you’ll be glad you did. ”

“Actually, that’s pretty good advice on most occasions.” George said passing the hat to Hammond.

“This won’t be like most occasions,” Mrs K replied, “and I trust my instincts more than your pagan superstitions. Every deal has a price, eh, George?”

“Wagers aren’t deals, they’re games, Mrs. Knowlton.”, George replied.

“Well, yours always seem to be some kind of deal.”

Hammond pulled a card. “April 21st”, he read.

“That’s me,” said Harley. “A full month past spring. If they can’t get it done by then they’re just being lazy.”

The hat came to me where I picked the last remaining card, my own, April 24th.

“That completes the drawing.” John declared, “ No duplicates. Please initial the calendar and record your bet in the register. I’ll deposit the wagers with Skowhegan along with instructions first chance I get. Good Luck. Stay warm. We’ll meet again in April or May.”

I handed George back his hat.

“I doubt things will be as hard as Mrs. K makes them out to be,” I said, “we’re already half way through winter ”.

“You know”, George said,“A while back I heard about this guy, I think he lived in New Hampshire and had a reputation as a gardener. The story goes that he organized his front yard into a series of beds, little islands he filled with trees and flowers, birches and bee balm mostly. The only problem was that his power line threaded through these islands and as the birches grew, when it snowed, they would drape themselves over his power line. The good news was, having grown so tall, it was the only opportunity he had to prune them. So, on those occasions when there might be a blizzard, his neighbors would see him up to his knees in snow, casting about with a pole, pruning his bent over birches. Apparently on one such occasion a storm that he was working tuned to thunder-snow and as chance would have it a nearby strike wiped away his vision, the world and all that’s in it disappeared, with one enormous flash of light. His sight was so impaired that his next lunge at a bough brought down the power line and they found him about a week later, pruner still in hand.”

“What’s your point?”

“Losing the pool’s not the worst that can happen.” then with his chin tucked in his chest and his eyes just beneath his brows he added, “I like your choice. I almost picked it myself. Good luck!”

And with that he got up, fixed his flapped hat on his head, took his gloves from his pocket and laughing in his soft, clucking way went out the door without saying goodbye.


February can be cruel in these parts. Its not unusual to have at least one major nor’easter that produces two feet of snow and sometimes they arrive back to back moving up the coast and off the great lakes, less than a day apart, or even worse, merge in the gulf of Maine and mere survival starts to factor in. Occasionally one comes through where the snow starts like sticky clumps of wet cement until the wind, pulled by a gathering low, turns into an incessant howl of frozen dust that stalks the woods and scours the higher ledge. At the height of these storms, off in the woods, you can hear the ancient, barnacled oaks start to crack and crumple then thunder to their knees, shattering on the rocks below and shaking the very kingdom they once surveyed. Year-rounders expect a big one and prepare accordingly laying in enough to get through it. Wood, gas, food, booze. In the event that all else fails a snow mobile over the lake could get you to the superette in about 15 minutes, worst case you could snow shoe the two and half miles and be back before the stove goes out. But there’s always a chance something goes awry. The week after the players met in Garrel’s and the wager was set, we had that storm.

The hardest part coming back from a storm like this is the first thing you always have to do. Nothing. Stay off the roads. Stay in your house even after the skies begin to clear. Give the state and county a chance to open up the roads. Nothing’s more dangerous than a fool with four wheel drive in three feet of snow. Next is to let the power company restore what they have to. It may not be much but a bucket truck on a state road is a road that’s closed. No matter where you think you need to go, you won’t be getting there. The last part requires some local coordination as home owners and road associations clear driveways and private fire lanes. The town can’t send public equipment down an association road but often helps coordinate between private contractors and associations to make sure that occupied fire lanes get cleared. Some associations give their contractors carte blanche when it comes to plowing which can get expensive. Most associations with year round residents leave it to whoever’s physically there to make the call on when to plow.

Harley had agreements with at least a dozen residents. Driveways and associations. As a courtesy, once he cleared the snow, he’d ring the door bell to see if anyone would answer. If he couldn’t hear the door bell and no one answered, he’d report the power out or pass along the observation to the fire department. Some residents insisted that he call before he came, Mrs Knowlton being one of them. He’d start off by asking her about the driveway, one of the longest in Plainfield, and then ask her how her roof was holding up to which she always replied, “Don’t worry about the roof, when it goes, I’m going with it.”

George was the only year round resident on Fire Lane Six, a gravel path that meandered from east to west off the county road on the North end of the lake. He was also his association’s designated person to approve plowing, so Harley, as agreed to, tried to reach him first. Then he started his other jobs and when he was finished tried to reach him again but still couldn’t get an answer. Then he headed home to find the number of another owner on Fire Lane Six, a Mr. Howard, a summer resident who lived down in Virginia. He left a message for Howard but didn’t hear back until the following day.


A few years back George had asked if I’d drop off a package he was expecting. A routine request around here. It was a bright and cloudless December day and, as was often the custom, his house door was open in anticipation of my visit with only the glass of the storm door keeping out the cold. Standing on his stoop waiting for him to respond to my knock, the sun at noon, nearest its lowest point of the year, slanted deep into his front hall.

He emerged from somewhere in the back of the house, opened the door and insisted I step in. The sun on the floor was intense. You could feel its warmth radiate, its light perfectly centered in the narrow hall, not grazing either wall.

Handing him the package I said, “It’s nice here in the hall.”

“The house faces south so it’s always nice this time of year. We’re only maybe a floorboard shy of the solstice,” he said pointing to the end of the hall, “Do me a favor, wait here just a minute.

He disappeared past the end of the light and into the shadows beyond.

“Here, I want you to have this.” He handed me a worn out pamphlet adorned with antique lunar depictions and entitled “The Moon: Ascensions, Declinations and Phases.”

I asked,”What am I suppose to do with that?”.

“I think you’ll find a use for it. The moon is the world’s oldest phenologist and not merely by coincidence the master of all life. Not just peepers.”, he took a step back and his eyes slightly narrowed, “You’re familiar with phenology, the journal of natural events, the chronicle of life? I thought all the players consulted it before making their bets.”

“No, I’ve never heard of it.”

“Well actually, in a way, that’s even better. You see the peepers keep a close eye on the moon. After the vernal equinox, if the moon is above the elliptic and ascending they will begin to sing between the waxing crescent and waxing gibbous phases. If the moon is descending toward the elliptic they will wait for the waning gibbous phase and try to bring it back. But even if all you can see is the smallest shaving of a waning Worm moon, the merest curl of light, they will sing and sing and try to bring it back. But never on Good Friday for its forbidden.”

“How’s that?”

“They may be adorned like Templars but they’re not always free to sing about it.”

“Look, I appreciate the offer but I can’t accept this.”

“It’s not an offer”, his look and tone assumed a more serious demeanor, “It is yours.”

“But I don’t have the skill or inclination to use it.”

“No, no, no,” George insisted, “It must be you. The skills are easily acquired. Take it home. Put it somewhere where you might forget. And the next time you think of it, read the first and last chapters. If a question doesn’t come to you, something that needs answers, put it back. And leave it there until one does.”

The package was clearly a pretext and the conversation was taking a familiar turn. People of a certain age sometimes look to place the things they value with a proper custodian, tucked away with someone who might care for it at least for a while before passing it on. You hear stories of strangers that politely say in passing “I like your barn” and in the right moment, the owner would look you up and down and reply “You do? Well it’s yours, please take it with you when you leave”.

Then it dawned on me it would be easier to take the pamphlet home and put it where I would never find it again than rudely refuse the gift, which is how these things often go.


Harley heard back from Howard the following morning. He said he had tried to reach George himself but didn’t have any luck either. It had now been three days since the end of the storm. Being holed up a week wasn’t that unusual. About two hundred yards down Fire Lane Six, Harley came upon a number of downed trees. Big trees. He called Hammond to let him know. He told him, “John, you’d better get down here and if you’ve got a 36” blade and some 1/2” tow chain you might want to bring it with you.”


Early that May, each of the pool members received a letter from a Mr. Loomis, a lawyer from Lebanon, inviting them to a meeting on May 10 , to be held at room in town hall. The letter explained that the meeting was to hear a portion of George’s will. True to form, the members arrived in the same sequence that they always do and sat on either side of a long table in the only meeting room in town hall.

“So, where did he end up?”, Pinky asked, “Did they put him in the vault?”

“They used to put you in the vault until the shad-blow bloom and then they’d take you out to show you what you’re going to miss before they put you in the ground.” said Mrs. K, “but they stop doing that a long time ago.”

“The vault in the north cemetery,” she continued, “that over looks Parson’s cove is still quite handsome. There must have been some money in funerary back then. They put ten foot blocks of Vinalhaven granite on either side of the double doors. It even had winged death engraved in the capstone, complete with teeth and sockets. I suspect George would be very comfortable in there, alone with himself, keeping up the one sided conversations he so enjoyed.”

“You know it might be time to change the nature of the pool.” Pinky opined. “Maybe, instead of the Peepers, we ought to bet on who’s next.”

“That would require some revisions to the rules”, Hammond smiled.

“So, Harley, how did you find him?” Mrs. K inquired.

“He was sitting at the kitchen table. Face down like he was taking a nap.”

“Was he reading?”

“Nope. It seemed he was tying flies. Had his stand all set up. There was a small pile of wooly buggers next to it and one in the clamp, thread still on it, bobbin just hanging there.”

“So the last thing that he saw was a wooly bugger?”, I asked. “Who knows. It seemed to be the last thing he was doing.”

Right about then a man appeared in a rumpled suit, wire rim glasses and a Chaplinesque mustache. “Good afternoon.” he said, “ My name is Ezra Loomis. I’m an attorney and I’m here on the behalf of the estate of George DeCosta. I want to start by thanking you all for coming. My business here should only take a few minutes.”

He proceeded to sit at the head of the table, then opened his brief case and removed a pad of paper and some documents, a stack of envelopes and a handful of business cards which he place at arms length on the table in front of him.

“Should any of you have need of similar services please help yourself to a card.”, he began.

“Per his will”, he continued, “I have been asked to give each of you an envelope and to do so while all of you are present, if at all possible, so you can all see them delivered, which is why I arranged for this meeting. If you would be so good as to raise your hand when I call your name, I will hand over an envelop to each of you. I would also like to ask that each of you, sign and date this form, attesting to the fact that you have indeed received the envelop that bears your name. I would also like to let you know that I have no idea what the contents might be or his reasons to distribute them in this manner, only that per his instructions that upon his demise the envelopes be distributed.”

As he called our names, he slid an envelope to each one of us.

It took a minute to sink in, as one by one the envelopes were opened. Then Mrs. K shot to her feet. Hands clenched, eyes fixed in a angry glare, she hissed, “That conceited little prick”, grabbed her coat, left the envelope, a piece of paper and a fifty dollar bill on the table and stormed out. Harley softly laughed. Pinky furtively looked around, tucked the envelop into her purse and left the room without saying a word.

After a moment, Mr. Loomis got up, walked over to where Mrs. K had been seated, collected the Dowager’s inheritance and put it back in the envelope.

John Hammond said, “If you’d like I can see to it that it gets to her.”

Mr. Loomis retrieved his list of signatures, put the list and Mrs. K’s envelope back in his brief case and sat back down.

Then looking at his hands folded on the table, Mr. Loomis resumed, “I appreciate your offer but that won’t be necessary. There’s only one more thing. It took awhile to locate Mr. DeCosta’s remains. The hospital in Farmington that issued the death certificate had his body moved to a local funeral home that due to circumstances could not hold it and so they forwarded it to another home in Waterville where it was deemed abandoned and cremated. It took a while but I’ve arranged with the town of Plainfield to have his remains retrieved. They will be interred in the East Cemetery on May 17th at around 11am pending the location of kin who may wish to make other arrangements. I’m fairly certain no other arrangements will be made. There will be no formal service but the public is welcome to attend.”

And with that, Mr. Loomis collected his brief case and made for the door, turned, and with a slight nod said, “Thank you again for coming.” and departed.

“Well, Pinky might be on to something”, Hammond smiled. “Any idea what’s happen to his place?” I asked.

“It wasn’t touched. Half the woods around it were destroyed.”

“No, I meant is it going to be sold.”

“I understand he sold it several years ago”. Hammond explained, “to an abutter and was renting it back as a tenant at will.”

“I guess he served notice.”, Harley concluded.

“I don’t know about anyone else but I’ll be there on the 17th . It doesn’t sound like it is going to be too well attended”, Hammond said as he rose from the table, “At any rate it’s gonna be a busy spring, what with George needing to get tucked away, might want to get your church clothes pressed.”


The reason winters last so long in these parts is the cold. You could have weeks of cloudless days but the temperatures never gets above twenty degrees. So the snow has no reason to leave. You can look at the roof of any shed and see each storm, one layered on the next, like ancient sediments. You can even make out which storm made them. After the big one in February we had two more storms nearly as bad and several lesser ones along the way, even one the first week of April. More than we might normally get but certainly not all that unusual.

Once it begins, the thaw is irresistible and the later it starts the faster it arrives. An urgency that cannot be contained. Eventually the temperatures even at these elevations hold above freezing and the gaps between the hills begin to fill with vernal pools. Some no bigger than a vegetable garden but others as deep and wide as a real pond even though they’re not. They’re only there to catch the melting snow and by July most of them are gone. And that’s where the peepers congregate and wait for the wet lands to be free of snow.

After several weeks, the sun finally wins and the snow disappears, leaving only a thin gauzy dross where once stood mounds of stubborn snow. If you look closely at this residue, you’ll find nothing of substance in it and the slightest touch causes it to disappear. In the right light it seems to be a kind of molted skin, as if the snow itself was just a nymph, a passing phase, and once spent, shed its useless coat to climb a greening reed, dry its tender wings and take to warmer air.

Just about when the trout lily blooms you can expect them to begin. They call them peepers for their sound. But that’s not the sound they make. It’s more of a “cheep” than a “peep”, like a thousand tiny bells ringing in the distance. On cold spring nights with the windows still tightly shut, you imagine you hear bubbles chiming in a crystal glass or the farewell of a cricket on an August afternoon or water falling in a spring fed stream. And what you hear are peepers.

Late on the afternoon of April 23rd Pinky sent out an e-mail. And a couple of hours later with the sun setting just below the Appalachians, Harley confirmed it. The peepers had returned. George had won the pool.


By the time the peepers do appear it’s not long before the burials begin. Once the ground is soft enough. And you can feel it coming in the waning dusk, well past the equinox when the light still lingers and the last of the cold from the remaining banks of snow brush your cheek, wishing you goodbye.

The East cemetery was newer than the north. It lacked it’s adornments, fencing and gates. If you didn’t know its location you’d miss it. Just two short stone pillars fronting a gently sloping meadow. Harley was already there. Hammond just a few yards from Harley and I was the last to arrive.

“Is that your hole Harlem?”, Hammond inquired.

“No, that one belongs to George.”

“I meant did you dig it?”, John tried again.

“No, that’s a road work hole, a back hoe special. My edges would have been a lot cleaner. Besides, you don’t go digging ditches in these clothes.”

And while he didn’t appear that much different it was obvious his clothes had a barely used look to them.

“I know what you mean.” I said, “I only have one pair of black, creased pants that I keep for such occasions. Maybe I’ll take them with me when I go.”

A pick-up truck bounced through the pillars and up the ruts in the grass stopping just a few yards from where we were. A young man got out, crossed over to the passenger side and removed a small brown plastic box.

“Where would you like this?”, he asked.

John pointed to the bottom of the hole and said, “In there if you don’t mind. Thank you.”

He walked to the small, shallow hole, got to his knees and placed the box squarely in the middle. Then went back to the truck, closed the passenger door and said, “I’ll be back in an hour to fill it in.”

Hammond looked at us and asked, “Would anyone like to say any words?”

Harley said, “I don’t know any but I imagine it would only be fitting”.

“I know a psalm that might work”, John continued.

“He is like a tree beside a stream, whose foliage never fades.
For the Lord cherishes the righteous and in season makes them thrive.”

He waited for a moment then asked, “Anyone else?”, and then quickly added, “I didn’t think so.”

And with that we started back down the slope to the cars parked on the side of the road. You could see the south end of the lake shimmering off in the distance.

About half way back to the entrance I said, “I don’t recall ever hearing that psalm before.”

“I don’t imagine you would have, I think I just made it up.”

“Did you ever find out what the dates in the envelopes were”, Harley asked Hammond.

“Not the dates but maybe the years. Let me guess. Harlem your date wasn’t for another five years.”

“That’s right.”

“And yours is the year after next.” “That’s right.”

“Mine is the year after yours. And Pinky’s is four years out. I know that cause she told me as soon as we left the meeting. So that would make Mrs. K’s date next year. But I don’t believe she’ll be playing. In fact, I would bet on it.”

“And why’s that, John?”

“Would you play a date knowing your chances were pretty good but you might not be around to collect?”

“Probably not. But Mrs K doesn’t strike me as superstitious.” I replied.

“She’s not. But her pride won’t permit it. Playing a date George supplied isn’t going to happen. Not next year. Not ever. And not just by her.”

“So, what?” Harley asked, “What if nobody plays those dates?”

“OK” Hammond said, “What if nobody plays those dates but they all turn out to be right?”

“Nobody wins the pool.”

“What an odd thing to leave this group.”

“I’m sure he didn’t mean any harm in it, and it must have been something he wanted us to have.” Hammond continued, “By the way, I meant to return this when we met with the attorney but after Mrs K left, things didn’t seem quite right. But here’s your wagers back.”

He handed me a fifty dollar bill and another one to Harley then added, “I wouldn’t save that for next year’s pool.”


Copyright 2021 Kirk M. Klasson


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