For as long as they could remember the five men, Walt, Leroy, Jake, Leo and Pete, had been best friends. From their very earliest days, there was something about the five of them that had drawn them together. Maybe it was because their mother's had always been friends too but if you asked any one of them, why they were all friends, they didn't have an answer for it. It just seemed natural for all of them to gravitate to one another.
As soon as they'd been old enough to go outside on their own, there was no stoppin them. They'd be at each other's houses until the mother that had gotten all of them that particular day, got tired of them and off they'd go to someone else's home. The really odd fact about them that people often forgot was that they'd all been born in the same month, in the same year but in entirely different places. And if the truth be known, they were more like brothers then friends.
In the very early years, little things sometimes cropped up that would splinter and divide the group for a little while. Sometimes it was a piece of candy, a toy truck or plane that they fought over and when they got bigger, it might have been a bike, a fishing pole or something equally as foolish as that. If one had trouble, they all had trouble.
Then came the day that they discovered girls and this was the time that really tested their unity. But, after a couple of minor skirmishes with the "fairer" sex, the guys decided that as nice as they were, they, the girls, just weren't worth all the friggin trouble.
Walt was often teased by the other guys because girl's jist liked Walt. Maybe it was his "duck's ass" haircut or his smooth way of talkin to the fairer sex but Walt even though he liked girls too, he always remembered his grandfather's sage advice when it came to girls. "Remember one thing Walt, most of them females ain't worth the powder to blow em tah Hell!" By the time they reached high school, the die was pretty much cas and they knew so much about each other that they were closer then brothers.
They were all on the varsity basketball team and the coach, Mr. Grant, had his hands full dealing with the five of them. They all took Driver's Education at the same time too and this nearly drove Mr. Davis, the drivin instructor crazy. He was countin the days till these kids graduated! It was June 12th, nineteen fifty-nine and Vietnam was hanging over their heads like a well-tied hangman's noose. The day after graduation, they'd all agree to hike to the top of Haystack Mountain and toss around a few ideas about what they were going to do for the future.
Because the elevation of Haystack Mountain was only slightly over a thousand feet high, folks really didn't think of it as being a "mountain" and it was often referred to by the locals as "the anthill." It was a relatively easy climb for even the most inexperienced mountain climber and most folks in the surrounding towns had climbed it at one time or another. One of the guys had snuck into his father's storage room and stolen a couple of six packs and another had talked his mother into making some tuna fish sandwiches and a couple of them had even thought to bring along some sleeping bags. They were going to make a day and maybe even a night of it, each testing the other to see who might be brave enough to spend the night on top of an anthill.
Bright and early the next morning, after stopping at Jimmo's Grocery for some "butts," and a couple of pizzas, the five of them piled into Walt's rattletrap pickup, with three in the front and two in the back, and the squealing of the truck's tires could be heard all over town as he made a quick turn out onto the Presque Isle Road. He floored the gas pedal and they soon left Ashland behind as they flew down the tarred road at breakneck speed. And town folks, upon hearing the sound the truck made as it flew past their homes, gasped, held their breaths and made a silent prayer that they wouldn't have to be picking those boys up out of a ditch somewhere along the road.
It wasn't very long before the "anthill" loomed up in the clear air ahead of them and Walt slowed down a dite to make the left hand turn into the parking area at the bottom of the "almost" mountain.
They piled out of the truck and gathering the butts, beer, pizzas and sleeping bags, they pushed and shoved each other in good natured humor as they quickly made their way up the overgrown trail to the summit.
Even though it was small by mountain standards, it was always exhilarating to actually stand on the edge of a teetering precipice and gaze off into the clear, blue Maine sky and be able to look for miles into the Aroostook County country side and to see the "real" mountain, Moun Katahdin, that Maine was known for by visitors and locals alike, standing proud and majestic in the forests to the south.
It wasn't too long before Walt, always the "real" leader of the group, sent a couple of them back down the ant hill to gather some branches to build them a fire. Before going, the others argued amongst themselves if it was "against the law" to build a fire on the top of Haystack but Walt stood firm and it wasn't too long before they had a nice fire burning in the early morning sun.
The guys opened the beer, smoked a couple of butts and settled down to enjoy the first real sense of freedom that they'd ever known in their young lives. No more school, no more taking orders from their parents, no more pain-in-the ass jobs like pulling mustard, picking rocks and picking potatoes for the local farmers! No-sir-ree, life was calling them and they were more than ready to answer its call, whatever that might be.
As the feeling of freedom took over and the alcohol loosened their tongues, the guys began talking about their hopes and dreams and plans for the future. As the day wore on and the sun got higher, and the booze ran out, they realized that "freedom" wasn't all that it was cracked up to be. A man still needed to have a job to be able to eat and finding one in Aroostook County in nineteen fifty-nine didn't hold that many options.
Long about four o'clock, they decided to call it quits and it was a very subdued group that made their way slowly down the ant hill. Amidst swearing about the never-ending mosquitoes biting every exposed piece of flesh, bellies grumbling for food, heads aching from too much sun and beer and lungs rebelling from too many cigarettes, they stumbled down the rocky outcroppings; stopping every now and then to watch as a chunk of loose rock fell off into the abyss and thanking God that it hadn't been one of them going over the side.
A week passed and their lives were forever changed. Leo, Walt and Pete had taken themselves off to the recruiters in Presque Isle and joined the military. Walt and Pete were Army bound and Leo was headed for the Marines training camp in Pendleton, South Carolina. Jake had tried to join the Army too but his childhood bout with Rheumatic Fever had left him with a heart murmur that the Army doctor didn't like hearin at all and he had decided to join his father out to the lumber mill in Portage. That left Billy and he soon headed for Canada where he figured he could work in the woods or the mines bordering the United States and Canada without worrying too much about anyone looking for him there as a deserter.
As life is want to do, time slipped away as did the years, and the guys slowly but surely returned home one by one. Walt and Pete came home from Vietnam never the same again. Walt had been right in the thick of the fighting in Cam Rahn Bay and suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among other things. He'd seem just fine one minute and then something would trigger a memory or a smell that reminded him of the jungle and he'd jump and yell, "Get Down!" "Get Down!" and all hell would break loose until they could calm him down again.
Pete came home more half-dead than alive, after being held captive along the Ho Chi Min trail for the latter part of his service. He wouldn't verbalize his treatment by the enemy but one could easily see that most of his fingernails had been ripped out and he had multiple scars that he couldn't hide on all parts of his body and he suffered from uncontrollable tremors from time to time.
Leo was the luckiest of the three, he'd been stationed stateside for the duration of the Vietnam conflict on a supply base in Texas and he always felt guilty about that. Jake was still out to the mill and was now the father of three kids. Billy had taken a job in Thetford Mines and had nearly been killed when a portion of the mine he'd been working in collapsed. He was more than happy to return to the daylight and look for a job that required being above ground, even potato pickin seemed like a good idea to him now.
One by one, they returned to the only life they'd ever known and to each other. And it wasn't very long before they were hooked up again and to some, it was as though the war had never happened. As in everyone's life, things just sort of happen; girlfriends happen, wives happen, kids happen, careers happen, marriages happen, everything happens. It seemed as though before they even knew it, the other four had joined Jake in marriage, kids, huge responsibilities and the drudgery of dealing with everyday life.
They loved "the County" as only a county born person could. They began taking fishing trips together every spring and hunting trips together in the fall. These trips had taken them far and wide across the vast timberlands of "the County" and it was Jake who finally decided to buy a piece of land up to Musquahook from the Great Northern. He'd scouted the area many times as a hunter and when he found a spring that happily bubbled up out of the ground and after tasting the water, he knew this was where he wanted his camp. They all pitched in to help and it wasn't too long before the one-room cabin was all done and their hunting trip soon became an annual event.
The camp contained just the necessities that a man might need for a weeklong or weekend trip into the north Maine woods. It was roughly about fourteen by twenty with an overhead loft built on one side for sleeping. The lower floor had two windows that overlooked a small porch that ran along the front of the cabin. The oblong room contained a Glenwood cook stove that Jake had begged off his mother, some cupboards on one wall, a couple of single bunks were built along the side of the room and a makeshift counter with a small sink was built across the other end of the room. It was tight and cozy and that was all they needed. Nothing too fancy here, this was a man's camp.
Now the camp wasn't anything too grand purposely by design because the guys knew that their wives would want to come along if it was too nice and the men made a pact that was always kept upon returning to civilization and wimmen. It was agreed that when asked by their better halves about the camp, they were to exaggerate beyond belief the horrible aspects of the hovel where they'd just spent the entire weekend. The unrelenting swarms of midges, mosquitoes, bees and hornets, the unending swaths of poison ivy and poison oak. The incessant howling of the large bands of coyotes, wolves and moose and the brazenness of the skunks, porcupines, beavers, wolves and bears that constantly circled and threatened the cabin. And they never failed to point out how terrible it was to have to use the outhouse when the "no-see-ems" were in season too.
The men brought odd items to the cabin every once in a while, like pictures of their kids and wives, a patchwork blanket that one of their mother's had made, a better pillow or a really good book that they couldn't leave behind.
From time to time, that distant cabin became a focal point of many of the marital disagreements with the wives growing ever resentful about the time their better halves spent up in tha woods. And it wasn't too long before an angry husband, who'd been drug over the coals a couple of times, for one inconsequential matter or another, would pin up a picture of his spouse on the cabin's wall and to get even, they'd all take turns throwing darts at it.
As the years slid by and the men aged and their obligations at home lessened somewhat, they took to the cabin not once or twice a year as in their younger years but as often as they could run away from their lives. The modest cabin became a place of refuge from the rest of the world in general and their wives and kids in particular.
As the large lumber companies made inroads into the northern Maine wilderness in search of better timberlands, they improved the roads and now it was possible for the group to drive nearly up to the doorstep each time they visited the place.
And as men are want to do, whenever there was an altercation at home, be it wives or kids or bills, they'd throw some grub into a backpack, grab a case of beer and head for the woods. If their wives dared to complain, they'd not just stay away for the night, they'd make a weekend of it. As soon as the first one arrived at the cabin, he'd build a nice fire, sweep out the remains of the last visitors, place a call by CB to the others and extend an open invitation for the rest to drive on up. Then, he'd sit back, drink a few brews and scratch any place that itched without fear of reprimand or embarrassment by his spouse.
When they'd first built the cabin, they'd christened it "The Club" but as the years wore on and their passion in their marriages had cooled and solidified, the name was gradually changed to the "B.T.B Club." Leo, who was especially good at carving and woodworking, had secretly gone down in his basement at home and made them a lovely sign that he'd sanded to the max and varnished until it hurt your eyes to look at it when the sun was shinin.
When it was finished, he'd carried the five foot by ten inch sign up to the cabin and hung it over the front door and the men had had a "christening" party to christen it and they didn't just christen it in the customary way of pouring liquor over it either. They christened it by having a competition to see who could urinate all over it from a standing position. All five of them tried and all failed but that didn't matter, the camp was secretly called the "Bash the Bitches Club" from that day on.
When the men were at home and another came for a visit and the club's name was mentioned, the wife, upon hearin the words the "B.T.B. Club," would immediately ask the visitor what the letters stood for. The two men would eye each other covertly, take a long swig of beer and blow her question off. They never blabbed because they all knew that if one of the wives learned what the initials stood for, they were all gonna die, that's for sure! And they knew that if the news got out to the other wives, they'd never be allowed to return to the cabin again.
Unbeknownst to the husbands, the wives had some meetins of their own and the husbands would have been surprised to learn that some mighty fine food and drinks were consumed at these impromptu meetings at one another's homes while the husbands were off in the woods.
Some delicious liquor like, Jack Daniels, Jim Beams, Seagram's and Chivas Regal to name just a few were downed by their better halves. The wives didn't lie on the dirty floors next to their flea-bitten dogs and whine about the friggin roads their lives had taken like the men did either. They mixed their drinks with ginger ale and loaded the glass with ice and they were golden! And their dinner wasn't just a piece of over-cooked venison or some under-cooked chunks of porcupine or beaver.
Theirs was a five course meal of prime western beef, a Caesar's salad, hot dinner rolls and hot apple pie ah-la-mode for dessert. All the wives agreed that it was wonderful to have the bed completely to themselves and not to have to answer to anyone for two whole days.
The men had a solidarity about the camp that would have put most unions to shame. They'd agreed on many different rules when they'd first built the cabin and one was followed specifically. That was, that the first man to get home at the end of the weekend was to set up the scenario for all the other men before they returned.
Upon arriving home, filthy, unshaven, smelling of body odor, dead animals and still hung over, he'd grab his few belongings, straggle out of his vehicle and head for the house. Upon entering the kitchen, his wife would slide her eyes over his filthy self and ask how his weekend had gone? The kids would gather around excitedly clamoring to be heard and ply him with questions. "Did yah see any deer dad?" "Did yah kilt any bears?" "Did yah see any bigfoots dad?" "Gee dad, you smell!"
The guilty husbands would then carefully recite a memorized litany of excuses like, "the weather was too hot," "the lumber companies had scared the deer away," "his gun had misfired," "the bullets were too weak," "the sun was too bright," "it had rained too much" or "there were too many hunters "from away" in the area. They always had an excuse why they didn't bring home any game.
Then the father would rumple his kid's hair, pat them on the cheek and head for the shower and bed. If his wife followed him to the bathroom and make a comment about how filthy his clothing was, or how badly he needed to bathe, he'd turn in the bathroom door, and say, "Well, I woulda changed my underwear if you'd remembered to pack some for me!"
Outraged by the blatant lie, his wife, with temper flaring and eyes snapping, would eye the fool for a long, cold moment and reply, "For your information mister man, I did pack you extra underwear. I tucked it in your gun case where I was one hundred percent sure you'd find it!"
With that final volley from his mate settin the mood for the rest of the evening, he'd slide the shower door shut with a bang and his wife would hurry downstairs to call the other wives to report the latest homecoming.
The years slid by one into another and very little changed with the guys except for the fact that they were growing older. Everyday life in rural Aroostook County was as slow moving as the seasons and everything was ruled by potatoes, it was either spring and time to plant the prolific spud, or midsummer and time to cultivate or spray the bastids or it was fall and it was time to dig the bastids up! The inhabitants of Aroostook County and their everyday lives never seemed to be very far from that particular tuber. And once the spuds had been harvested, the long ordeal at the potato houses would begin with the dumping of the potatoes into holding bins and then the selling and bagging of them and the loading of the bagged potatoes onto the waiting railroad cars, to the hiring of the crew who would come to the potato houses early every morning to cut them into seed stock that would be stored for the upcoming spring and planting. Potatoes had made Aroostook County and nobody could ever forget that.
But nothing ever remains the same, no matter how much we want it too and camp was the same. As the kids grew and got older, the boys would beg their fathers to "take them up to tha camp" with them and the wives, upon hearin this oft repeated request, would stop whatever they were doing, give the husband a strong look that said; "Whatever do you all do up there that you can't take one of these kids off my hands for a day or a weekend?" And the husband, feeling more than a little guilty, would finally capitulate and the whiner would soon find himself happily ensconced on the front seat of his father's vehicle, headin for the north woods, while the trapped father would be swearing under his breath and tryin to figure out a way to explain why his kid was there to the other fathers.
As soon as the truck carryin the kid pulled up to the cabin, the father would send the inquisitive boy off on as many "wild goose" chases as he could think up and once the kid was out of sight, he'd head for the cabin to hide all the Playboy and "girlie" magazines, pick up the empty beer and liquor bottles and any other questionable items that the kid might see and blab about to his mother when he returned home.
Days slid into weeks, weeks into months and months into years and the men began looking jist as ratty as the cabin they loved. Oh, there had been some changes over the ensuing years, like carpeting on the cabin floor, a portable television and a gas cook stove but that was about it. Jake had secretly installed a shower by the back door and the men all agreed that that had been a brilliant idea. But none of them would use it until just before they were scheduled to return home. Staying rumpled, unshaven and smelly was part of the lure of the weekend at the cabin.
Then came the day that finally signaled the demise of the cabin and the men's club too and it was Walt's wife that caused it all. She'd called all the other men's wives only to find that they already had plans for the week end and she couldn't think what she should do to make the time pass quicker. She walked from room to room in her home and she couldn't think of a single thing that she needed to do and as she was stirring the cream into her coffee, the thought came to her. "I'll jist hop in the car and drive on up to the cabin and surprise Walt!" she thought to herself.
Having driven there a couple of times over the years, she had a pretty good idea about how to get there and after driving for nearly an hour, she finally pulled up behind the pickup-filled yard. As she parked the car behind the last truck and slid out the door, a mangy looking dog suddenly appeared on the top step of the porch and it began the long, drawn out call that the Bluetick Hound is known for. The dog, smelling a stranger, bayed at full force and this brought the men running out the front door to see what tha hell was bothering the mutt.
They all came to a screeching halt at the sight of Walt's wife standing there by the porch steps. Walt, having been the last one out the door, slid his bottle of home brew behind his shirt and gaped at his wife. "Jaysus honey, what are yuh doin here?" "Is everything alright at home?" "Well, I was home all alone and I thought that you just might like some company."She replied.
Upon hearin her words, Walt swallowed hard and looked beseechingly at the other men before he answered his wife. Jake grabbed his still wailing dog and drug him off the porch and out behind the shed. Leo and Billy, headed for the woods with mumbled excuses about checking out the new deer blind and Leroy, suddenly remembered that his wife needed him back at home and he took off for his pickup.
Jist as his wife set her foot on tha front step, Walt remembered something. He remembered that he'd pinned up his wife's picture that very morning to the back wall of the cabin and it was still hanging there, filled with darts that the men had thrown that very morning!
Sweat rolled off Walt's brow like rain on tha face of Mount Katahdin and he dropped the hidden bottle of home brew onto tha floor behind him. He tripped on the bottle and stumbled and his wife, mistaking his clumsiness for drunkenness, pushed him aside, kicked the bottle down the steps and stepped into the cabin.
Given the darkness of the interior, the overwhelming smell of home brew and cigarettes, it took her exactly ten seconds to realize what was sticking into her picture and she never said a word. She turned, glared into her husband's dumbfounded face and slid on past him and out the door. Walt's face was turning blue before he was able to draw some air into his tortured lungs and trembling a little, he groped for a chair to sit down. He heard the car door slam and the gravel shoot through the yard as his wife spun the car around and down the dirt road. Wondering when he'd have the nerve to go home again!
One by one, the cowards returned to the cabin, jist waiting for the explosion that never came and upon seeing Walt, slumped into his favorite chair, they carried on as though nothing had happened. Finally, long about midnight and after a lot of homebrew, Jake asked Walt what had happened. Walt, bleary eyed and drunk, looked at his lifelong friend and replied; "Jaysus Jake, I've faced wild animals, tha View Kong in the jungles of Viet Nam, angry boyfriends and vicious mother-in-laws but I've never seen anyone as angry as my wife was today! I don't know what I'm going to find when I git home tomorrow!" "In that case Walt, have another brew!" and Jake handed Walt another bottle of beer.
And as life is want to do, even the hardest times are eased by the memory of the good times and Walt returned home to a wife who was as cold as the north side of Mount Katahdin but being the smart man he is, the promise of a little trip to Prince Edward Island did a lot to thaw her out.
Martha Stevens-David Column Magic City
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