A jammed key

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(Host) Commentator Willem Lange and some friends have been going north for over 30 years to ski through the woods near the Canadian border. Their most recent trip was a little chillier than usual.

(Lange) Hunching my shoulders against the cold, I slid the key into the lock of the cabin door. In the fraction of a second it took the key to pass the point of no return, I recalled this was the lock that not only didn’t work, but never gave the key back, either.

Normally, the Geriatric Adventure Society travels north the last weekend of February. But this year it was the weekend of Valentine’s Day. Bad enough I should leave home on a winter weekend when awful things can happen to the house; to add the insult of leaving on a romantic occasion was bad karma. There would be repercussions. The jammed key was the first.

All week the weather reports predicted the arrival of arctic air. South of the cold air line, moisture was pouring in over the coast of California. It was a tossup whether we’d get the cold or the storm.

On Thursday afternoon we gathered at the house to put the food together. Mother makes up her famous Mountie Mix for one breakfast, and egg pie for the other. Lunch is cashews, banana chips, peanut butter, English muffins, bacon, kielbasa. Suppers are Mexican lasagna and salad the first night; barbecued chops, mashed potatoes, and cole slaw the next.

This year we tried a new wrinkle Thursday evening: a potluck dinner with wives after the trip food had been put away for the night. I wasn’t sure it would work out, but keeping in mind we were all deserting our wives on Valentine’s Day, I hired a barbershop quartet to arrive during dinner with songs, bon bons, and a rose for Mother. Pure genius!

Now, sixteen hours later and over eighty degrees colder, I cursed the frozen lock and rattled the key with numbing fingers. Then somebody tried the front door, and a few seconds later let us in from inside.

The cold had penetrated everything — walls and ceiling, kitchen sink drain, beds and mattresses. It would be 24 hours before we got the cabin up to a comfortable temperature; but by suppertime we could hardly see our breath anymore.

Next morning, sixteen below. The day’s bushwhack would be short, and didn’t start till nine o’clock. Two invalids stayed behind to feed the fires.

The skiers returned after six hours out in the northwest wind, hung their wet clothes around the stove, and relaxed with chips, dip, and Corona. As the sunset gave way to bright moonlight and the temperature sagged again toward twenty below, the evening passed with ever more improbable stories, the last one so unlikely that we began thinking of bed. The gas lights were extinguished one by one. The stoves ticked softly in the dark. We pulled blankets up over our sleeping bags and snuggled in warm goose down against the cold.

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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