Traditions Wrap Us in Warmth
In the winter of 1976, we lived in a cottage built for summer on the shore of Keoka Lake in Waterford, Maine. The lake froze solid by January, and at daybreak I would rise from beneath layers of blankets to stoke the stove. In a few hours the windows would defrost, and we could see the lake again. Every few days I would carry two buckets to the lake, cut a hole in the ice, and fill the pails. In the house was a 40-gallon plastic container, designed for trash but fine for holding icy lake water. I heated enough water each day for general washing and dishes, but for a deep, satisfying clean we waited for Fridays at Dave’s Sauna in South Paris.
Dave Graiver was tall, lean, bearded, and long-haired, a former CO during Vietnam, who’d moved from suburban Boston to a cabin in the woods. He cut wood, split it, and opened his public sauna in an area with a tradition of Scandinavian families. The town of Norway was barely five miles distant, Denmark less than 30. From the day Dave opened for business in 1976, the sauna was where we all gathered to thaw, physically and in spirit. Frigid nights disappeared beneath the fragrant, bone-deep heat in the tidy rooms lining the corridor. A hose in each wood-fired room coursed icy water over us if we desired its refreshing prickle, or, if we wanted, we just stepped outside to the looming banks of snow and rolled around. You make friends easily in a snowbank on a Maine winter night.
Dave presided over his public sauna for more than 30 years, easily the most recognizable person in the Oxford Hills. He died in 2008, but his three kids have kept the sauna the town’s enduring center of winter life. Today there’s a spruced-up food-and-drink area, and nine bucks per person buys you a private space for “as long as you can stand it.” The scent of wood and heat still falls over you like a bath. It’s where everyone gathers–which is why Dave built it so long ago.
20 Paris Hill Road, South Paris, ME