Wishing Wells and Christmas Trees [Part VIII]

By Haven Lindsey  in  blog  on  11.27.2022

Like every region and state in our country, Maine has its particular, and peculiar, nuances. It’s those national nuances that I not only notice, but I also embrace. I’d never lived in a place where it is common for the heavily-accented demographic to not pronounce an existing ‘R’ at the end of the word yet add the sound to an otherwise softer word – as if to make it harsher. The word cellar was softened to cellah, the word idea was hardened to idear. Later when we moved south, it was at a local garden shop that I realized the plant, hosta, didn’t end in an ‘R’ because it was by and large pronounced hoster in Maine.

Having relocated from my aforementioned Basketball and Jesus upbringing of the south, I noticed things that New Englanders – having grown up with the particulars and peculiarities – didn’t seem to notice as much. For a boy born and raised in Maine who had limited exposure to life outside of the state, Justin noticed the nuances too. For every oddity I pointed out, he would match me with another one.

Life had continued to amble and speed along as it tends to do. No longer malnourished, Justin ran track in the springtime and was on his high school football team. His grades were better than mine at that age. He loved the movie Rudy and country music – it was his mom’s favorite too. He went through every conceivable teenage phase as he discovered who he was and who he wanted to become: rapper dude with baggy pants, preppy boy with khakis and blue oxford shirts, and sweatpants with flannel shirt guy – as if he were a couch potato from the waist down and a logger from the waist up.

It was his enthusiasm for life that I loved the most. Unlike many teenagers, Justin was never embarrassed to be out with then husband and me. We’d sit in restaurants during the holidays wearing those thin paper hats that come from British Christmas Crackers. His laughter was infectious, his curiosity unwavering.

He had taken to writing down positive and inspiring quotes on those little square Post-It notes and they covered nearly every surface in his rooms (the one in our house and the one in his, beside my office). You can say you can or you can’t, either way you’ll be right. I have not failed; I have simply succeeded in finding a way that doesn’t work. If there wasn’t any darkness, we’d never see the stars.

The quotes came from everyone and everywhere, including things I had said to him. The first time I saw a yellow sticky note with words I had said to him, I touched it with my fingers – lightly, as if I would rub the ink off.

It was Justin who first asked me about the wishing wells. One of the particular peculiarities about Maine is that people often adorn their yards with wooden wishing wells. As Justin pointed out over and over, “but they’re fake, they’re not even real!” and they weren’t. They were purely decorative and typically had flowers in them. Then husband would comment that they were just one more thing to mow around.

We had driven to Rockland to explore and eat pie along the way at our favorite roadside diner when Justin started, obnoxiously at first, pointing out the wishing wells. “Wishing Well!” “Wishing Well!” “Wishing Well!” Oh my god, this kid is going to drive me crazy, I would think. But that laughter of his, the antidote to seemingly all things, would consume me every time. It soon became a game – the one who could spot the most wishing wells won. You’d score a point if you saw it first which meant that these wishing well adventures devolved into mostly a car full of people yelling, “Wishing Well!” at the top of their lungs – the decibels becoming as important as the actual spotting of the wishing well.

Holiday time was no different – the wishing well game was replaced by the Christmas tree version. Another nuance of cold, dark winters in Maine, and oddly antithetical to keeping the coveted heat inside the house, many, if not most homes, did not have drapes or window coverings. It was easy to walk or drive by homes in the late afternoon (already dark outside) or evenings and see into the quaint New England-style homes and, during the holidays, spot their Christmas trees. A quick errand to the store or dropping Justin off at practice during December was nothing more than a drive from Point A to Point B, yelling, “Christmas Tree!” at the tops of our lungs.

It was a time before Steve Jobs and his smartphone invention would disrupt and forever change our ways of being in the world. We were present and we saw and participated in the world around us. We played goofy games in the car and no one sat at dinner checking their phone. Justin had blended into our dynamic and he was eager to learn and grow. He was easy to be around. Then husband’s business was thriving and we worked together to help it grow. He moved into my previous space – as planned – and my business relocated to the back of our building in a space we had refurbished. I was married to my best friend, living in a beautiful home we had built, and playing high-level tennis each week. We had cats and dogs who kept us busy. We hiked and explored. We traveled. We cross-country skied in the winter and water-skied in the summer.

It was a busy time in our lives but it was not hectic or chaotic. It felt successful. I felt successful. We were all dreaming and achieving and with Justin’s presence, there was a great deal of laughter in our lives. When I thought of our collective futures, I was full of optimism.

That optimism, however, would be short-lived. A veil was about to be lifted and a dormant darkness I never knew was lurking was about to change everything. As I enjoyed the wishing wells and Christmas trees of our lives, I had no idea what was coming. I had no idea the laughter was about to die.