As a native Midwesterner, I was content with the laid-back, friendly, good-neighbor kind of lifestyle I'd always led. Self-sufficiency, industry, and resourcefulness were nice qualities, I thought, but they didn't have much to do with me. When my husband and I moved from city life to a small rural town in New Hampshire, however, the transformation to full-scale Yankeehood began immediately.
And it was unstoppable.
The first thing we noticed about our new habitat was the temperature, on average 10 degrees colder than our former spot. First to go, the city-slicker clothing for wool socks, thick sweaters, and heavy coats that blocked the wind.
In addition to being able to withstand the cold, New Hampshire residents must also take their trash to the local town dump. Only city dwellers are exempt from this requirement. Loading a week's worth of refuse into the trunk of my nine-year-old car - along with recyclable plastics and newspapers - was often messy and unwieldy. And it's much more difficult to bring things home from the dump with such insufficient cargo space. A pickup truck is the vehicle of choice for the dump run, especially useful for retrieving such treasures as old chairs, stools, a wok, and a chicken waterer.
Of course, when one has a pickup truck, it goes without saying that one gets a dog to ride in the pickup.
With a dog, a truck, and warm clothing, it became much easier to shovel out my friend's chicken coop to get the manure for my compost pile; to take my neighbor to the sawmill to get shavings for his horse stalls when his truck broke down; to haul wood from the building supply store; and, of course, to bring more things home from the dump.
And with manure, wood, and things from the dump, it became easier to build a deck on the side of the house and grow a garden. In the summer I wheeled a push mower, preferring the simplicity of the tool and the motion of the blades turning swish against the grass to the roar of a gas-powered mower.
In winter, no matter how bad the storm, I reached instinctively for a snow shovel to clear the driveway. I liked the peacefulness of being out on a sunny morning, the rays of light shooting through ice diamonds on the trees.
I knew I'd become a real Yankee after a big snowstorm last month knocked the power out in our area for several days. Because we have a well and a septic tank, it meant no light, no heat, no running water.
And no problem.
It was a simple matter to throw a few extra blankets on the bed at night. By day, we could heat soup on top of the wood stove in our living room and melt pots of snow for flushing the toilets. An evening of talking with my husband by candlelight was an unexpected treat that would never have happened had the TV or stereo been available.
A trip for groceries to the closest town with power showed everyone going about in true Yankee fashion, unfazed by the outage, stocking up on bottled water and stuff you could eat from a box. I didn't hear one complaint. Not one grumble. There was speculation as to when the power would be restored. There was talk about resurrecting old fondue pots and lighting Sterno to make hot chocolate. One woman, without boasting, explained how she had rigged up cow-milking equipment to her truck engine so the normal routine could go on without interruption.
After a few days of unparalleled quiet, I greeted the return of power with mixed reviews. As the microwave, answering machine, heater, and alarm clock went whirr, brrng, swrr, and green neon lights flickered, I pushed my manual typewriter across the kitchen table and headed for the computer. Back to the 20th century, I sighed.
Fortunately for my new Yankee sensibility, a tree had fallen against the side of our house during the snowstorm. A very tall tree with lots of branches. And our yard was littered with huge limbs from other large pines.
My husband surveyed the scene. "Do you think we should buy a chain saw?" he asked.
My heart jumped at the thought. A chain saw is the ultimate Yankee tool. On any given Saturday, the steady buzz can be heard through the woods, a gentle background hum that somehow fits in with the landscape and the scenery in a way that lawn mowers and snow blowers do not.
"Maybe," I said, not wanting to appear too eager. "Let's go check them out."
At the chain saw/tractor store I found the top-of-the-line models without much trouble. I eyed a 12-pound Husquvarna with curiosity, skepticism, and desire. A young woman from the sales floor appeared quickly.
"Oh, I see you've picked out a Husky," she said. "I've got two of them myself."
Instantly, a look of recognition raced between us. She, too, was a Yankee girl.