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Mr. Pater Holidays in Maine

by Charles C. Cole

We owned a few rustic cabins on Burnt Meadow Pond, “southwestern Maine tropical,” prime getaway country. The “noisy” season was late September when a gusty day would rattle the dried husks of milkweed pods just beyond the picnic tables.

I don’t care who you were: after a weekend there, you’d leave in better emotional and mental health than when you’d arrived. Word gets out, which is why I wasn’t surprised one Friday when this tall, quiet fellow in a familiar hooded black robe stood on the porch of the office cabin with an apparent interest in recharging. I approached with mop, bucket and toilet brush in hand; a working manager like my father before me.

“Didn’t hear the car.”

“Don’t use one,” the fellow said.

“The entrance is over a mile, yet you managed to hike it, all in black, without attracting a smudge of road dust. They say miracles never happen.”

“Do they? I’m here for a cabin,” he said, with no further explanation. There was an otherworldliness about him, a fish out of water, maybe it was his vaguely foreign accent spoken like a whisper.

“Let’s see what we got.” I reached into the open window and grabbed the guest registry, spinning it around. “You can dress as you see fit, whatever your religious restrictions, but you’re going to be awfully hot in that medieval getup.”

When I turned back to him, he was wearing a plaid shirt and jeans. Again, no explanation. Perhaps he’d whipped off the robe and tossed it into the covered compost barrel nearby. I didn’t ask, because there was no good answer. He was bald with no eyebrows, a vigorous and towering sixty.

“You’re in luck! Thought we were full-up, but looks like we’ve got one cabin.”

“As I expected.”

“How’d you hear about us?”

“A gentleman named Mike Letourneau mentioned it.”

“Not recently. Mike’s gone, sorry to say, about a year ago. Heart attack on a hiking trail. Died with his boots on.”

“I was there.”

“Found him, did you? Must have been a shock. Never met anyone more grateful for the gift of life. A side-effect of having survived a brutal war, I suspect.”

“That’s when we first met.”

“You were in the service?”

“No, just passing through, assisting the wounded.”

“Can I have a name? Whatever you want to call yourself. Something for record-keeping.”

“Dis Pater.”

“Dis? Well, Mr. Pater, welcome! Hope you fall in love with the place and come back every year. Good for both of us.”

“I’m usually too busy, but Mr. Mike was persuasive. You might say we had a deal.”

He gave me his deposit by reaching deep into his pants pocket and withdrawing a wad of crisp, unfolded twenty-dollar bills, looking straight off the printing press. I was suspicious, but happy for the money. I’d never seen counterfeit currency and couldn’t imagine someone wasting it on my little business.

In his days with us, Dis mostly kayaked in lazy circles, his legs across the bow, leaning back and admiring the sky, the hills, the swaying cattails. We had a few other families at the time, with young kids cavorting in the damp sand on the water’s edge, a couple of old gents who played horseshoes and cribbage from sunup to sundown, and a newlywed couple who kept to themselves and rarely stepped outside. I picked up toys, chased off snakes, checked on open car windows during afternoon showers, and mostly worried, so the guests didn’t have to.

One steamy day, when our two gentlemen were off for a hike and the other families were on a quest for ice cream, I was raking the horseshoe pits. I looked up and saw Mr. Pater standing in the kayak in the middle of the pond. He held his right hand palm-up, and a crow alighted there! They appeared to be conversing!

“Mr. Pater,” I called out, “around here when we kayak, we sit! On your bottom, sir, if you don’t mind.”

The crow fluttered away.

“Just a visitor. He saw a snapping turtle and refused to land lower to the water. I tried to reason with him, but he’s a crow, a prisoner of his fears.”

“Do my nerves some good and bend those knees before you fall in and scare the fish.”

The kayak rocked and Pater lost his footing. To recover, he stepped away from the commotion, like dodging a mosquito, and walked quickly over the water’s surface, bee-lining for me! I held my tongue until he’d run aground.

“Almost fell,” he muttered, good-naturedly. “Not a good look if you want to be intimidating.”

“And what about the kayak? Someone else might want to use it.”

“The turtle will push it back, I promise. He owes me; I showed him some convenient ducklings earlier, more as a distraction than a delicacy. One man’s feast for the soul is another’s dinner. The crow didn’t know the turtle was still quite sated. One way or another, nature fills full the spirit, doesn’t it?”

“Mr. Pater, not to sound rude: if you’re who I think you are, don’t you have places to be, people to scavenge? Not that we’re not grateful for your patronage.”

“We all need a little time to appreciate the big picture, Mr. Burle,” he said, “even me, but I get your point.”

“You’re not on duty, are you? Not that I could stop you. These are good people who trust me to take care of them while they’re here.”

“Just a social call, a mini-vacation.” He smiled, but he could see I didn’t trust him. “Walking on the water was too much? I’ll leave in the morning. I just needed a few days. Hope you’ll be as warm and inviting in the future.”

“I will be. As I said, all are welcome here, even ducklings.”

He was gone in the morning. The kayak was on shore. The busy-as-ever children were playing in the sand, unsupervised but, for once, I wasn’t worried.

Copyright © 2019 by Charles C. Cole

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