My oldest granddaughter was named after me and her other grandma - her first name, Caroline, after me, and her second name, Alice, after her paternal grandmother. I’ve always liked the name Alice, I guess because it reminds me of the adventures of Alice in Wonderland. Ah, the place where things are not what they seem to be. (Which reminds me of that Gilbert and Sullivan line my dad used to sing: “Things are seldom what they seem. Skim milk masquerades as cream.”) In Wonderland, you never know what to expect and things could turn topsy-turvy in the blink of an eye. I always imagined how it would feel to be in a setting so incongruous that you wonder if you have stepped into another dimension.
Well, I finally was able to experience that out-of-body/mind experience today. Maine is under a winter storm warning, and we are expecting loads of snow and freezing rain changing to rain to descend upon our entire state momentarily. We made a trip to the grocery for necessities, and all we had left to do was replenish our fatwood and BioBrick supply. (For the uninitiated among my readers, probably you warm-climate dwellers, fatwood is resin-treated sticks used for kindling, and a BioBricks are recycled wood byproducts shaped into bricks to be used in a wood-burning stove.) It is indeed the middle of March, but every good “Mainah” knows that we are still in the throes of winter, and tonight’s forecast emphatically reminds us of that. The highs today are in the 20s. Snow is still piled up in parking lots. Everyone is bundled up against single-digit wind chill.
We have 3 places in our little town where we can buy these items. We tried the nearest one. We walked into the corner where we knew the fatwood was prominently displayed in its burlap bags. There in front of us lay....well, basically empty shelves. That was disappointing, but not shocking. The shocking part was the apparent reason for the empty shelves - for immediately adjacent to the place where the fatwood should have been, there were shelves of - ready for this? - CHARCOAL! Yes, folks, we’ve just stumbled into Wonderland.
We made haste to get out of there, almost tripping over the GRILL and LAWN CHAIR displays. OK, so maybe we hadn’t heard the forecast right. Maybe spring came when we weren’t looking. Maybe all that white stuff outside is, uh, cotton that somehow got carried by the winds to Maine from Alabama.
So we tried the second store, a big Home Depot. We went straight to the aisle where we had previously seen fatwood and fireplace accessories. The good news is that their shelves weren’t empty. Hurray! The bad news is...they were full of LAWNMOWERS. Now why didn’t I think of that? That snow and ice in our yard has needed mowing for the longest time. The whole thing was so incredulous, it took all the control I could muster not to collar an employee and say, “DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHERE YOU ARE????” But in my gentlest, most non-accusing voice, I just approached the customer service desk and asked where the wood-stove supplies went. The lady pointed to a 2-shelf display shoved in a corner a few feet from the desk. “That’s all we have left,” she said, as she resumed her work.
Again, we walked out of the store, noticing the seed packet displays and the countless fertilizer bags stacked high. We stopped to take our bearings. We live in Maine. Check. It is still winter. Check. We are under a major winter storm warning. Check. We can’t buy kindling but we can buy a lawnmower. Check. Yes, the facts seemed evident, but obviously we were still in Wonderland, or its modern counterpart, the Twilight Zone.
The third store, our last, final, desperate attempt to restore our sanity, was closed for staff training. I hope the first thing they train their staff to do is keep the store open during staff training. I hope the second thing they train their staff to do is to be able to step outside and guess what season it is.
So that was our day. As I write this, Ed is valiantly trying to keep the fire burning without fatwood or BioBricks, and me....well, I’m deciding if it’s worth sitting out in my lawn chair while my steak sizzles on the charcoal grill. At least I’ll have a front-row seat to enjoy the blizzard. Pass the iced tea, Alice. It’s gonna be a long night.