Several Christmas Eves ago I traveled north from New York to Boston on the Lucky Star bus. My sisters and I attended a party at our old next door neighbors from the South Shore. Everyone was in good spirits. I drank a little more than more but not more than everyone. It was a time of good cheer.
The next morning I woke at my eldest sister's house and we handed out gifts around the Christmas tree. The dinner table was set for eight. My sister, her husband, their two kids, her daughter's boyfriend, and my aunt and uncle. A baked ham was a departure from the traditional turkey, but a welcome change from the Big Bird.
Old stories of Maine dominated the table. My mother putting my brother and I on a train alone, my uncle throwing a dime at the Portsmouth tollbooth, my watching bears at the dump were only few of the legends reworked by the gathering. My niece's boyfriend was new to our family and the logging trucker didn't say much, although everyone was impressed by his present to my brother-in-law.
A set of gigantic moose antlers.
"Find them all the time on the back roads. They fall off in the fall. Thought you might like them."
"Like them?" David was ecstatic.
"They're great." I was jealous and said, "Back in 1995 I was on a good trip with my old girlfriend."
"Ms. Carolina?" asked my brother-in-law.
"Exactly." I knew he was partial to her cooking. She was a good woman. "We stopped at Govonis Italian Restaurant outside of North Woodstock."
"On Lost River Road." My uncle Russ knew the place. The little restaurant sat on a rocky gorge. It was the only good Italian restaurant between the White Mountains and Quebec.
"We had veal and a couple of bottles of wine. The place was packed, because it was Laconia Biker Weekend. We hadn't been able to find a motel room in Woodstock and I told the waitress that I was driving over to North Conway."
“Be careful about the moose," a biker warned in dead seriousness.
"I'm from Maine. I know moose." They were big.
We paid the bill and walked to the car. Ms. Carolina stopped in the parking lot crowded with Harleys.
“You want me to drive?” My driving scared Mrs. Carolina 1995.
“I've been riding these roads since I was six.” Most of them as a hitchhiker or backseat driver behind my father. "Gimme the keys."
"Only if you drive slow." It was a moonless night.
"I'm in no hurry."
The Kankamangus Highway was under construction and I drove at 30 mph over the mountains. Nearing the pass I spotted movement in the underbrush.
"Yeti?" My brother-in-law joked at the Christmas table.
“Moose.” The bull was10 feet tall with 15-foot broad antlers. An accident with him would have been a fatality and the bikers back at Govonis could say, “He said he knew all about moose.”
I drove away from the pass convinced that moose were the king of the road.
"Lucky you didn't hit one. They come through your windshield and you're dead man," my uncle spoke trucker spoke with authority. The thirty year-old had had several near-accident on the back roads off the West Branch of the Penobscot.
"Yeah, your next-door neighbor on the Lake had a patient who had hit one while driving a motorcycle." I was speaking to my brother-in-law. I needed him as back-up, since my family considered many of my stories to be myths. "We had been sitting with Carrie at the end of the dock, watching an August meteor shower. He worked at Maine Medical taking care of recovering drunks. A postal worker had been missing in action for several weeks and when he showed up again, Carrie barely recognized him. The man said he struck the rear end of a moose and his face was brushed away by its bristles. Said it cured him of drink for the time being."
"That would do it for me." My niece's guest said succinctly. Someone people might have thought Mike was brusque. They didn't know Maine or its way of speech.
"That can't be true." My aunt doubted the veracity of my tale, but my brother-in-law interjected, "I heard the same story. I don't know it to be 100% true, but Carrie doesn't tell stories like some people we know."
All eyes but my those of my niece's boyfriend gazed at either my uncle or me.
We were guilty as silently accused, however as I always like to say, "All stories are true if interesting."
Moose in Maine are traffic hazards. The big relatives of elk are responsible for hundreds of accidents in the Great State of Maine. The DOT suggest the following measures to avoid collisions with moose.
* Drivers should reduce their speed when it is dark.
* Use your high beams where it is appropriate
* Always have everyone buckle up
* Search the roadway ahead to identify potential problem
If you feel a moose-vehicle collision is inevitable, follow these suggestions from the Maine Warden Service:
* Apply the brakes
* Let off the brakes just before impact
* Aim to hit the tail portion of the moose
* Duck down to minimize injury