Sugaring-off when I was a kid was a sure sign of summer’s on the way. Nights below freezing and days in the low to mid 40s made the sap run in the sugar maple trees. In those days, we donned snowshoes and hiked from tree to tree, boring a half-inch hole in each trunk, hammering in the spile, then hanging a collection bucket from an attached hook.
We collected the sap into barrels on a horse-drawn sled hauled through the woods. Hiking along on snowshoes, we gathered the sap, emptying the buckets into the sled-borne barrels.
Back at the sap house, a roaring wood fire heated a huge pan built onto the top of the furnace. Sap was dumped into the top of the slightly sloping pan, and by the time it got to the bottom the water had turned to steam and what was left was Grade A, Amber, syrup. About 40 gallons of that clear, sweet maple sap was needed to make one gallon of syrup for pancakes and waffles.
There are few treats as wonderful as a snowcone made with fresh, still-hot maple syrup poured over a cone domed with fresh-scooped snow.
Maple syrup season turned into mud season, when snow melted from the tire tracks and the exposed once-frozen ground took on the consistency of reheated skins-on potato soup. A trip to town meant tall rubber boots and a slog through the muck to the family chariot parked out at the hard road.
Years later, when I ran my own photography business and the fellow in the brown truck found that final half-mile impassable, he dropped my packages at My Wife’s Place. It was not really my wife’s place; it was Jake’s wife’s place. The rumor was it was so-named because Jake’s wife was please to have her husband with a place to be that was not under her feet.
Mornings, it was where several of the town’s elders gathered to drink coffee and discuss the important issues of the day, and poke fun at folks “from away” who did not understand why all the locals seemed to know each others’ business. At the morning meeting, one could learn whose son was coming home from the military, who was getting married, and whose wife and girlfriend were different women.
It was quite a contrast with a place I lived during my Navy career, where one wag complained he had lived in the same condo for three years and never met the person who lived on the other side of his bedroom wall.
At My Wife’s Place, there would be little mention of the goings-on in Washington, D.C. but plenty of discussion of the potholes on The Barker Road, some of them so old and deep they often were referred to by the names of residents who had driven into them.
My Wife’s Place was where you could show up, drink a couple cups of coffee, eat a Danish you had unwrapped and heated in the microwave, and then, when you felt a need to get on with your day, stop by the counter and say, “Set it down, would ya, Jake?”
Which was country talk for, “I left my money in my other pants but I’ll be by to pay you.”
And Jake would pull a pad from under the cash register and “set down” what you owed, knowing you would be back.
I think, now and then, of going back some spring for sugaring off, and stopping at My Wife’s Place to see whether the current owner still has a pad under the register.