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[at-l] Moose Sighting

As a child, I took a trip with my brother and parents to Rangeley,
Maine.  As I reflect back on this adventure, I was a terrible little
brat.  My dad must be a really patient man afterall.

I wrote this story from the perspective of a six-year old, so many of
the observations I have portrayed are through the eyes of my youth.

There's an old saying "What goes around, comes around."  It's true, I
can assure you.  My children think the same of me.

Let Us In!

Camping as a child could be a very rich experience, especially for the
parents.  Children could learn so much about themselves and their
parents when dealing with the basic issues of life.  Camping brought
out the best and the worst in each of us in our youth.

August had already passed, and school would begin the first week of
September.  I'd be entering first grade, and my brother, Doug, would
be entering seventh grade.  I loved school, only because I hadn't been
there long enough to hate it.  Doug and I loved to go school shopping
each year.  We'd always get some new shirts, sock, underwear,
dungarees and shoes.  Dungarees always had that magic smell you never
wanted to wash out.  When we were little, you weren't "in" unless your
dungarees were dark blue and starchy stiff.  Nowadays, if your
dungarees don't look like they've been used 82 years, you're a nerd.

Dad was a conservationist, which was a polite term for "downright
Maine stingy".  When he'd take us shopping for school clothing, he
knew where all the mill outlet stores were for a radius of a hundred
miles.  When it came that time of year to go shopping, we'd know we
wouldn't stand a chance of getting the clothes that were "in", they'd
be the clothes that were "on sale" or "seconds".

It was the week before school opened when Dad decided it was time to
do the shopping.  Coincidentally he also took advantage of an
invitation to visit with my Godparents in Rangeley, Maine.  They had
cottages by the lake, but they were full up during the last week of
the season.  Instead, they invited us to camp on one of the campsites
they had on the other side of the road on the ridge.

On the way to Rangeley, we'd be stopping at some of the mill stores in
Portland and Lewiston.  Dad couldn't pass on a bargain.  Doug and I
loved going to the bigger cities.  Since we lived in a little country
town, it was a real treat to go to the city.  Seeing buildings taller
than three floors was a big deal.  I almost envied children who lived
in the big cities, because it looked like they had everything.

We stopped at an army and navy surplus store in Portland.  Dad was a
whirlwind going up and down the aisles.  He wasn't looking for
anything that was pretty, rather he was looking for something that
would give him his money's worth.  The shopping cart was half full of
ugly khaki pants and shirts, irregular fit underwear, and Dad's
favorite navy gray cotton socks.  He wore those things seven days a
week, regardless of what he was wearing.  He must have been

Lewiston was our next stop.  We arrived in about another hour and
parked on the side of a mill outlet store.  Inside the makeshift store
were rows of tables piled high with towels, pants, underwear, shirts
and other dry goods.  In addition to getting us dungarees, Dad found
more of his all-purpose navy gray socks.  These were cheaper, which
really made him mad for having bought so many in Portland.  Mom would
have liked to buy some fabric, but a dress made of "painter coverall"
canvas wasn't in style that year.

It was time for lunch.  We were still in Lewiston at the time, and Dad
wanted to eat at the A&W.  He liked their root beer.  We pulled into
the parking lot and found a good spot down at the end of the row.  A
high school girl on roller skates raced down the pavement and came to
a stop in front of his open window.  With her order pad in hand she
jotted down the order.  "Four hot dogs, loaded, and four small root
beers."  Dad was the epitome of extravagance.  Our meal came quickly,
and we began to eat.  I scraped the onions off onto the floor of the
car.  Amid the noise of burping and belching, Dad flicked a quarter on
the window tray and blew the horn.  I was always amazed at how those
trays would stick to the window without falling off.

The old 41 Plymouth chugged its way down the long country road as we
headed toward Rangeley.  It seemed like an eternity driving at 35
M.P.H. through the dense forest, mile after mile.  This wasn't
excitement for a six-year old.  "Dad, are we there yet?"  You know the

We stopped for gas at a small roadside place.  There was a little
store and restaurant there too.  Doug and I really wanted to go inside
to see what they had, but that adventure was off-limits to us.  Delays
and unnecessary spending were not permitted.  Mom went to the restroom
on the side of the building.  I crossed my legs and decided it was a
good time to go to the bathroom.  For fear that I'd wet my pants, Dad
sent me to the bathroom.  Mom intercepted me on her way back, took my
little hand and led me to the bathroom.  I expected I'd be by myself,
but my Mom, of all people, had to go in with me to "help".  It was

Doug and I had never been to Rangeley before.  The lake was so big and
blue.  When we turned onto the dirt road leading down to the cabins at
my Godmother's place, the cool wind from the lake came in the windows.
In another month, Rangeley would have snow on the ground.  Some of the
trees had already been transformed to their autumn jackets because of
the chilly nights.

We all jumped out of the car.  Doug and I loved the back doors because
they opened on hinges on the rear edge of the door.  Dad called them
"suicide" doors, but we thought they were neat.  Anyway, they opened
really fast if you opened them when the car was racing down the
highway.  Godmother Muriel and Godfather Dwight greeted us at the
steps.  She wore a long dress with a red and white checkered apron.
He wore his work clothes, dark green and simple.  His hat matched his
shirt and pants.  He was all green, and he smiled a lot.

"You must be hungry after such a trip."  If she couldn't smell the
onions from the hotdogs, I could.  She treated us with a chicken and
dumpling casserole, some blueberry muffins, buttermilk and ice cream.
I didn't care much for the casserole or the buttermilk, but the
muffins and ice cream were great.  We sat around the table forever.
All of the adults talked about "the good old days", and Doug and I
squirmed in our seats.  Finally the magic words flowed across the
table, "Why don't you two go outside and play.  Don't go in the
boats."  Godfather Dwight must have had a sixth sense about little
boys.  He was nice.

We scurried out the door, leaving it to go "Slam!"  Other children
were playing in the sand on the beach by the lake.  Some of the adults
were playing horseshoes, while others were playing badminton.  I
spotted some toy trucks and cars in a pile of sand.  During the course
of the next half-hour, I managed to get sand in my shoes, socks and
underwear.  Doug occupied himself with some boys and girls his own age
at the water.  One girl smiled at him a lot, but she said nothing at
all.  She only smiled and giggled.

"Boys, it's time to go."  My mother's shrill voice could never be
mistaken for anything else except a howling cat in heat.  She was
second only to my Aunt Ethel.  She brushed the sand off my shirt and
pants, knocked the sand out of my sneakers, wiped my face and ran her
fingers through my sandy hair.  Doug's admirer waved as he headed up
to the car.  Godfather Dwight walked on ahead, crossed the road, and
led us up a dirt road to the campsite where we'd spend the night.  Dad
kept the car in low gear all the way as he stayed a few feet behind
this walking giant of a man.  Once in a while rocks would spin beneath
the tires, knocking on the underside of the car.

We entered a clearing that had a picnic table and a piece of rope
between a couple of trees.  A rock formation was at the edge of the
clearing, erected with cement and an iron grate.  That would be our
fireplace and cooking stove.  A brook was bubbling in the distance.
Dad thanked him for his hospitality and visit.  He promised he and
Godmother Muriel would be up later that night to check up on us.

It took a little while for Dad to unpack the trunk of the car and all
the stuff that was tied down to the roof.  Doug helped him to open up
the canvas of the tent while he barked orders.  The wooden poles were
fitted together, pushed under the canvas, and inch by inch, the tent
was erected.  It was a yellowish canvas that smelled awful.  Dad
pounded the wooden stakes in the ground, pulled up the ropes, and
presented us with our home for the night.  Before anything went into
the tent, he waterproofed the tent.  He did this with a fly sprayer
loaded with stinky waterproofing agent mixed with kerosene.  Whew!  We
wouldn't have to worry about bugs.

Four folding cots were set up in the big wall tent.  The flaps were
open on both ends.  Doug chased me through the tent after I'd kicked
him in the shins.  Dad got upset and sent both of us over by the
fireplace to sit down.  That didn't last long, because Dad got
distracted with putting more stuff into the tent.  As soon as the
lantern was hanging up inside, he stood back to admire his handiwork.
Dad put some tinder in the fireplace, lit a fire, and we brought him
some small twigs and branches we'd found on the ground.  Mom waved her
arms in desperation to keep from breathing the smoke. Doug and I stood
in front of the smoky fire, adding our contributions of more sticks.
We didn't care about the smoke.  This was exciting.

Dad brought out the marshmallows.  He cut some fresh sticks from a
nearby bush, sharpened the ends, stuck on a marshmallow on the end of
each, and he gave each of us a stick.  He toasted his to a golden
brown.  Doug did pretty well, but his began to drip.  Mine was on
fire!  Dad blew out the flames.  When it cooled down, I ate it anyway.
We finished the bag in a few minutes.  Mom spent the next minutes
wiping off our faces and hands.  My shirt was a mess of sticky
marshmallow and pine needles.

Dwight and Muriel arrived shortly after dark.  We could see them
coming up the hill, each of them swinging a lantern.  She brought some
molasses cookies and cold milk, and he brought some extra blankets for
us.  They stayed for a few minutes to talk, and Doug and I ate the
cookies.  The milk was icy cold and tasted so good with the cookies.
Before they left, Mom put Doug and me in bed, tucked us in and
returned to talk.  Mom and Dad sat by the fire for a while after
Dwight and Muriel had left.  Dad was complaining about the mosquitoes,
and Mom was complaining about the stinky tent.  Pretty soon they both
returned to the tent and got in bed.

We were asleep for a while, I guess.  Dad got up to go pee.  I wasn't
really sure what was going on outside the tent, because I heard some
strange noises on the other end.  I looked at the tent flap where Dad
had gone, and through the other end of the tent, a moose poked its
nose inside to see what was going on.  I sat up in my bed and
screamed.  The moose was startled, lifted its massive head, yanked up
on the end of the tent, and the post fell out of the ridgepole.  The
moose retreated, the tent fell on one end, and I was still screaming.
Dad was running, still zipping his fly, as he poked his head through
the other end of the tent.  Mom was screaming, Doug was screaming, and
I was running out of the tent.

Dad could have said, "What was that?" but he was so perplexed why
everyone was screaming and the tent was caving in.  I wasn't thinking
of anything but myself.  The car was my objective, and my little legs
took me to the back door of the car.  The door opened quickly, I jump
in, popped down all the lock buttons and huddled in the corner of one
of the back seats.  A minute or so passed, and I looked up to the
screaming face of my mother, "Let us in, let us in."

By this time the moose was a stranger to Rangeley.  Mom was still
hysterical and insisted we bunk up with Godfather and Godmother Sawin
down at the lake.  She wouldn't take no for an answer.  I reluctantly
opened the doors of the old Plymouth and permitted my family to join
me.  Together we spent a restless night at one of the unfinished

Many years have passed since that indelible experience.  Never will I
forget that look of terror on the face of that moose.  I suspect he
was as shocked at the screaming of this little boy as I was of his
massive head.

Madison Caldwell ? 1998

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