Last week, I filled in at the front desk for Linda, who has been the trusty receptionist for Yankee for many years, the voice everyone has come to recognize when they call in. “Good morning, Yankee Publishing, how may I direct your call?” she intones hundreds of times daily. She also runs a little store up there in the front office, selling calendars and books and other Yankee and Old Farmer’s Almanac products to folks who wander in. Linda had to go to Maryland to be with her mother while she underwent surgery so, always game for a new experience, I said I would give working the front desk a try. She coached me on the basics and set me loose.
I spend most days up here on the hill where the action consists of a few turkeys strolling by the window, deer grazing in the meadow or the occasional car passing by the house, usually going too fast. But the front desk in Yankee’s reception office faces the street and the main street of Dublin is actually Rt. 101, a major east-west highway. Cars and trucks, also usually going too fast, pass by the magazine’s windows like a moving river. I found it hypnotic, as I sat, stemming the tide of incoming calls. Even while talking on the phone, I could watch the action. There was a surprising lot going on, on any given day.
For instance, directly across the road from Yankee is the Dublin town hall, a gracefully designed building from the 19th century. This week, two muscular young men scraped and prepared the front of the building for a new coat of paint. Last week, they had given the church steeple, on the other side of the road, its new coat. The work required a big crane-like lift, an enormous vehicle that resembled a prehistoric animal, moving on four wheels but concealing a long neck and head which is retracted when not in use. In all, it resembles a dinosaur without a tail. The behemoth could be driven around the building and positioned at certain points. The young men stood in a basket (the animal’s head) and did their work. I suppose steeplejacks, hanging from the peak on straps and a prayer, are a dying breed. In any case, last week, the painters finished their spruce-up at the church and, in an apparent twofer deal, on Monday they positioned this beast at the edge of the highway and prepared to cross over to start work at the town hall. Our beloved town police chief, Jimmy, stepped out into the highway and brought the traffic to a halt, allowing this strange vehicle to move, snail-like, across the road. Motorists were patient as it backed and forthed, all the while making a big beeping racket, until it was in place. And that is where it stayed for the week as the town hall changed from shabby to shiny.
The week went by like that, as I watched the silent movie of the town’s affairs. I saw our church minister, wearing t-shirt and slacks (at first I did not recognize him), cross to the town hall. He returned shortly, leaving me to wonder of his mission. I saw patrons come and go from the library, carrying stacks of books, somehow a soothing sight. From the garage that is cattycorner to Yankee, I watched the mechanics (they are a cheerful group who love their work) peer under various hoods and test drive certain vehicles, short trips out and back from home base. And, inside the building, people stopped in to buy Yankee products and sometimes they would tell me where they were from (Quebec, Iowa) and sometimes they just wanted directions. It was a kind of a big week as the annual edition of the Old Farmer’s Almanac (“Useful, with a pleasant degree of humor”) was about to go on sale. The phone calls were pretty predictable (sales, advertising, subscriptions) except for one elderly lady who called from Idaho to ask the Old Farmer’s Almanac when she ought to plant her rutabagas and another man called from Texas to ask if I could tell him what the Almanac was predicting for weather in July of 2010, on the date of his daughter’s wedding. That was easy, I looked it up in the regional forecast section, under Texas, and found that it was going to be “sunny, hot.” Which is what I told him and he laughed and said, in a hearty Texan accent, “Well, I could have told you that!” Another man called from a newspaper in Grand Rapids. He wanted to write about the little hole that appears in the corner of the Almanac, and wanted to know why it is still there. I told him I had always thought that it was there so you could put a string through it and hang it from a nail in your outhouse but I wasn’t sure. So I connected him to an editor who could verify that.
And so it went. By Friday, the town hall was newly painted and the big hulking creature that had assisted the boys in their painting jobs had been stashed in the empty church parking lot, awaiting an escort back to home. I returned to my hilltop and my occasional turkeys, glad for the chance to have played Linda for the week, a slice of life I relished.