FEATURED COLUMN by John McDonald: A life changer for Perly Leighton

By John McDonald

It was the dawn of a day that would change his life forever, but as the sun began coming over the stand of pine that lined his lower pasture, he was not yet aware of it.
It would be the last time the sun was seen that day; soon the skies would cloud over, and it would begin to snow, then rain, then go back to snow, then change to freezing rain and back to snow.

Perly Leighton awoke like always that March morning and began his daily ritual — put out the cat; put on the coffee; load up the parlor stove; fire up the Queen Atlantic in the kitchen; and read his thermometer by kitchen window, the barometer by the bathroom and the precipitation gauge on the deck, entering all their numbers in his well-worn journal.
Perly had been keeping track of those numbers for over 40 years and still couldn’t think of one good reason for it. He knew from history that both Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin had kept such records throughout their lives and that was fine, but at this point in his life, Perly didn’t think that — for him — it was a good enough reason any more.
As the weather went from one form of precipitation to another, Perly looked out his kitchen window, across his barren field and knew he was in for one of those March days that push us Mainers right to the edge and almost over it — those days that make us think seriously of living somewhere farther south, even nasty New Jersey.
After a breakfast of oatmeal and reheated beans, Perly made himself some tea and sat in the rocker by the kitchen stove to drink it and think of something useful he could be doing that day. He tried to put the present weather conditions out of his mind and thought instead about the garden he’d been planning to put in this spring. Every year around this time he planned his garden. On this morning he hoped this would finally be the year that the garden he planned in February would, in some way, resemble the garden he planted come Memorial Day weekend.
He knew he wanted his peas planted first, but he couldn’t decide if he should plant them early and take his chances with an early May frost or wait till the end of May like the pea-planting traditionalists.
He’d always been among the Memorial Day weekend pea-planters in town and over the years had even been known to ridicule the early-birds of pea-planting society down at the store. On this particular March morning, Perly was feeling more contrary than normal and felt like doing something completely different. Still, it wouldn’t be the timing of his pea-planting that he’d scratch that itch with.
Around this time, out of the blue, Perly’s phone rang. The sudden sound of its sharp ring nearly gave him a coronary since Perly wasn’t used to getting calls at such an early hour. In fact, he wasn’t used to getting calls at any hour. His friends knew Perly preferred talking in person and only kept the phone around for emergencies.
On the other end of the line was Wallace Watts, who wanted to talk to Perly about town business. After almost an hour of cajoling, Wallace managed to convince Perly to do something that would — for good and ill — change his life forever.
Perly had agreed to run for second selectman at the town meeting in March.

John McDonald is a storyteller and the author of several regional bestsellers, including “The Maine Dictionary” and “A Storyteller’s Guide to Maine.” Contact him at 207-240-8324 or maineauthorjohn.mcdonald@yahoo.com.