First year there, we tried to winter over in an un-insulated summer house but moved when we could still see your breath inside the house at midday. Shortly thereafter our next-door neighbor blew his brains all over the inside of his fish house with a shotgun. Turns out he had an appointment with the IRS and couldn’t find the receipt for the new boat engine he had just installed. Two years—still there—we decided to buy a piece of land and build a house. We had very little money. No matter. I had been working in the winter as a carpenter and in the summer mackerel trapping with Junior during the day and looking for stop-seine herring with Henry at night—out and around John's Bay and the river. Joy was working as an art teacher in Damariscotta. And though teaching was what she loved, she had five hundred-fifty students in seven different elementary schools and no classroom. She also had no storeroom for her supplies, so the storeroom was our car—a green 1965 Dodge Dart with a white fender I had replaced from a junkyard when Joy had gone off the road on ice. She told me one of her school principals had raked her over the coals because she didn't know all the names of her students.
This was our life. Joy and I were at the national poverty level. Our combined income was somewhere in the $6-7,000 range. In the 70s, Maine was always neck and neck with West Virginia for the title of poorest state in the nation. But we figured out how to make money somehow every year and we had no doubt that we could keep doing that, if we wanted to.
In the spring, we borrowed $10,000 and spent $7,000 for the land. That left $3,000 to buy materials and build the house by ourselves. I pounded the nails and Joy learned to use a power saw that was loud enough to make you permanently deaf in one sitting and didn’t cut her hand off in the process. By fall we were out of money and facing winter in the half-built house, so I went to work offshore in a beast of a new fiberglass boat with a big engine, and learned about fear.
Read a sample of Door in Dark Water by P. D. Callahan