There's no business like snow business

TRUTH is that the early snows of a rugged Maine winter generally pass us by on the other side. Here at Back River's edge we're too near the ocean, and while folks back a few miles get buried up to the windmill fans, we'll have some rain. Maybe ice right around the freezing mark, so instead of a plow we need sand and creepers. Sharing with us in this late start of snow are the Joe Bushes, who live down-harbor and two necks over, and Joe is the man who once bought two truckloads of snow, proving that if you live in Maine and don't have enough, you can always get some delivered. Joe lived up in the town of Dexter before he moved to Muscongus Bay - Dexter being up in the approaches to Moosehead Lake where winter sometimes lasts right into the next fall. Joe owned a store on the Dexter main street.

This store had a lunch counter, and Joe employed a clerk who came early and served breakfasts, so when Joe arrived the place was already in business. And one morning in the deepest of Dexter December doldrums, Joe arrived to find several town trucks parked out front, each loaded with snow. The crew had spent all night clearing the business section after a storm, and now the drivers were having breakfast. Everybody spoke chummily as Joe came in, stomping his boots, and then Joe made a tactical error which we must charge off as amusing Dexter whimsy.

Joe said, ``What-cha charging today for a load of snow?''

With no hesitation whatever, one driver, geared to said Dexter whimsy, said, ``Fifty cents a load - how many loads you want?''

Joe said he'd take a couple of loads.

And right away he knew full well whimsy had struck him out. He knew he'd said altogether too much. The trucks were loaded and ready. But Joe was lucky, because the truck driver also went just that much too far.

The truck driver said, ``I'll set you down - when do you want delivery?''

So Joe was off the hook. He said, ``Make it the 25th of May.'' Even in Dexter, which feels closer to the North Pole than it is, this would be a safe date. Even if snow did fall that late, it would be a ``robin snow'' and wouldn't last long enough to scrape some up.

So the Dexter winter wore along, and every time it snowed the trucks would work all night and in the morning the drivers would be there for snacks, and as usual not only in Dexter, no further remarks were cast regarding the price and availability of snow. Joe hoped, but with suitable Dexter reservations, that the matter was forgotten.

Spring was less reluctant than usual that year. A couple of rainstorms took the snow down early, and the ice went out of Wassookeag Lake 10 days before the average. Lawns leaped into exuberance and crocuses burst with thunderous din. One man brought blossoms from his green pea vines to be put in the window of the Dexter Gazette. Unseasonable salubrity lifted all spirits. So Joe was unready when he came down to the store on the 25th of May and found two huge highway department trucks out front with temporary sideboards, nice snow mounded above the sideboards. The drivers were in the store, having their cereal, hungry after their long night drive into the uttermost townships to fetch their loads from the north side of Mt. Katahdin, where Boy Scouts can have snowball fights on the hottest of August days. Joe could see that a plan was afoot to dump this lovely snow on the doorstep of his store.

Joe made the customary greeting on his way to his desk, and he wrote out a check for one dollar, which he handed to the truck drivers without a word. And Joe wasn't at all astonished to find that the Dexter correspondent of the Bangor Daily News had been alerted and was waiting with camera and notebook. The next morning the transaction had nearly a full page.

Which is all right, and proves that you never have to go without snow if you want some - but there's a bit more to the story.

Joe had a small powerboat, and that summer he took it on a trailer down to Vinalhaven Island, where he would leave it for weekend purposes. At Rockland he drove his pickup truck, with trailer and boat, onto the ferry, and in due time drove ashore on Vinalhaven. He paused at the island's first filling station to gas up the pickup and to fill some five-gallon cans for the boat. The attendant noticed the home port on the transom of the boat and said, ``Dexter, eh?''

``Dexter,'' said Joe.

``Don't even know where the place is. All I know is some fool up there got his name in the Bangor Daily when he paid 50 cents a load for snow.''

``You don't say?'' said Joe. And that's all he said.

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