When I wrote my “Pumpkin” piece for the Lewiston Sun Journal, Handy helped me with some of the recipes and he also helped me bring all the food and props to the photo shoot. Little did I know he had an ulterior motive.
“Do you think the Sun Journal still has newspaper bags?” he asked.
“You mean like a paper carrier would use?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “You should ask Mark Mogensen” referring to my editor at the Sun Journal. Did newspaper bags, those large canvas bags with the wide reinforced shoulder straps, still exist? The carrier who brings my paper every day has a car. The only bag I ever see is the plastic one my daily sits in. And if Mogensen did have an insider’s source, why did Handy want one?
“Tools. I need a bag to carry tools up and down a ladder.”
The day we visited the Sun Journal, Handy made his request and Mark said he would see what he could do. He was non-committal and I wasn’t optimistic. Things had changed a lot since those long-ago days when I had two newspaper bags, one strapped across each shoulder.
I had almost forgotten about it and was hoping Handy had too. I wrote a couple other pieces for the Sun Journal, including a “holiday nostalgia” piece. I scheduled time to have the cookies and meat pie I baked photographed for the article and was pleasantly surprised when Mark mentioned “I’ve got a newspaper bag for Handy.”
I brought it home, wrapped it up, and placed it under my vintage aluminum tree. Handy hadn’t been over for a few days and when he did stop by yesterday, I distracted him by asking for his help with a pot roast and an errand to L.L. Bean. I promised we’d only spend “thirty minutes tops” in Freeport and true to my word, we were in and out of the iconic Maine outdoors store quickly. We were driving on Route 125, a road that runs through Freeport and Durham to Lisbon Falls, talking about Yankee swap gifts, Christmas parties, and home renovations. We laughed about how things had ground to a halt with projects we’d talked about at both of our houses.
You know that feeling you get when you realize you’re on a conversational path which is going to end in only one possible topic? That’s how I felt. I shouldn’t have asked Handy what projects he wanted to finish at his house in 2016. That topic could only end in Handy asking me about the “tool” bag.
“Hey, what ever happened to the newspaper bag? Am I going to have to look for a substitute?”
We had just passed Gooseberry Farm Antiques. I looked straight ahead and adjusted my sunglasses. That’s all I remember of that moment.
I didn’t say anything; we drove on in silence for a few minutes. I could tell Handy was looking over at me quizzically and let me tell you, I was not prepared with a lie or fabrication. In retrospect, it would have been so easy to say “Oh…let me check with Mark about it tomorrow,” and let it drop. But I didn’t think of that in the white heat of that moment and I must have looked like a deer in the headlights.
“You’re getting one. Just stop looking at me. It’s wrapped up under the tree.”
Just like that, I gave up the surprise.
Handy seemed pleased to know he was getting his newspaper bag. But with less than 10 days before Christmas, will it be possible to find another surprise for the man who often says “I want for nothing?”
Oh, Handy, just act surprised when you open your tool bag, ok?