My road to happiness was there all along

By

WHEN I bought this house, I was concerned about how close it was to the road, but in the busyness of moving in and getting settled, my concerns were pushed aside. Planting vegetables, acquiring a puppy, picking blueberries, building a chicken house, and stacking firewood - all these projects kept me outdoors. It wasn't until winter arrived and confined me indoors that I began to be aware of "the road."

It's just a Maine country back road, lined with old sugar maples and stone walls and assorted houses, but it's a busy road. To the north is the city, to the west the railroad and the turnpike, and to the south, the lure of shopping in Freeport. All traffic passing by my house is intent on getting somewhere else.

The road made its presence felt as an assault on the senses. I became aware of the rumbling of trucks, headlights at night, fire engines, ambulances, and commuter hours. From the living-room windows, I could see the green glow of dashboard lights.

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Snowplows would congregate in front of my house and pause to turn around, dumping sand and salt. Logging trucks, loaded with pulpwood, would tilt precariously toward the house as they careened around the corner and down the hill. Annoyed, I would mutter to myself, glare at retreating taillights, pull down the shades, and turn up the radio.

But while I was wasting time fussing about the road, the road was growing on me.

WHEN this house was built, 107 years ago, it was quite a landmark on this road. The road was dirt (all roads were dirt), and the surrounding countryside was all farmland. James True Woodbury, a farmer and carpenter, was in the right place at the right time. He bought land on the crest of what would become known after his time as Woodbury Hill.

In Woodbury's day, the area was called Eveleth's Corner because of two roads. One of them, opposite the house, went downhill to the railroad junction. The other, running past the house, was the main road into town. James built his farmhouse and an attached barn in 1895. A fine Victorian front doorway faced the road, to be used on Sundays to usher visitors into the front parlor.

I have one photograph of James Woodbury. He is seated outdoors in a straight-backed chair in front of the house, his hands quietly in his lap. By the looks of the shaggy grass and the vines on the house, it is midsummer, but Woodbury is dressed up in a hat, suit, and vest. There's a white picket fence in front of the house, and the dusty dirt road is visible in the foreground.

The dirt road has long since been paved; the barn and picket fence are gone. But the Victorian front doorway has not changed, and the house is just as close to the road now as it was in the old photograph.

Living so close to a busy road did bother me, but something began to happen. Fussing about the road modified not one thing, except perhaps my temperament. It gradually occurred to me that perhaps I ought to regard the road in a different light.

For example, the road brought me friends, such as the woodcarver who asked if he could have some of the dead wood from the butternut tree in the side yard, and then gave me one of his carvings from a piece of it.

The road brings me stories, like the town trash collector who stops his garbage truck in its Friday rounds to buy some eggs and to describe what it's like to collect rubbish along this road. Or the motorcyclist who says he always coasts by my house, to avoid making the kind of noise he loves to make everywhere else. Lost folks are constantly asking me how to find L.L. Bean.

If it weren't for the road, I wouldn't have neighbors - in the "neighborly" sense. This neighborhood happens to be about six miles long and one road-width wide, but that just makes it a long, skinny neighborhood. There's an art to being a good neighbor when the neighborhood is a road. You wave automatically when people toot a horn, even if you can't see who they are. You'll learn, eventually.

If you buy your firewood from Richard, who lives five miles down on the right, pay him on delivery. When Ernie, the chimney sweep who lives two miles down on the left, holds out a big sooty hand for you to shake, don't hesitate, even if you are hanging out the clean laundry.

Shovel out around your mailbox for Sparky, the mailman, and he'll be sure you get your mail that day, even if darkness has fallen. Buy candy bars (that you don't want) and greeting cards (that you don't need) from whatever youngster wobbles into your yard on his bike, raising money for his baseball team.

THIS road, which had at first seemed to represent only noise and intrusion, has gradually taught me a valuable lesson: It's a good idea to think carefully about something that annoys you. There might be more than one way to look at it, and if you do so, you might be surprised.

James True Woodbury knew what he was doing when he built this house so close to the road. His reasons, just as true as his middle name, had to do with farm life in the late 19th century.

Life in the 21st century is vastly different, but the need for community and belonging has never been greater.

I have come to accept the trucks and the headlights; they aren't the whole story. The rest is what happens when you make up your mind to become truly a part of a rural Maine neighborhood that's shaped like a road.

It's quite a gift, actually.

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