It snowed all day last Saturday and you know what that means. Shoveling. It also meant any plans for happy Carnegie motoring were dashed. By Sunday morning, I was sick of snow and nursing a cabin fever.
“Handy,” I texted, “can we take a ride somewhere this afternoon?”
“I don’t see why not” was his response.
In another life, I must have been a Labrador retriever, happiest only when hearing the words “car” and “ride.”
But where to go? The afternoon sky was overcast and gloomy and municipal libraries aren’t open on Sundays. I went to my secret alphabetical list of obscure towns I’d like to visit, a few of them less than an hour’s ride from home. They are obscure only to me; not to those who live there. I narrowed my traveling list to three locations and presented them to Handy. After discussion, we decided on Hebron. What was there? The unknown. That’s the whole point of a Sunday drive.
We took Minot Avenue in Auburn to Route 124, or the West Minot Road, and then took a left on Route 119. The road is a long, slow climb towards Hebron Academy. We passed Slattery’s Farm & Maple Syrup Supply, but they were closed.
A bit further up the road and then to our right was Sturtevant Hall, one of several buildings on the Hebron campus designed by noted Maine architect, John Calvin Stevens. This beautiful red brick building, designed with combined Romanesque and Colonial Revival styles, is the visual centerpiece of the campus.
(We’ll encounter John Calvin Stevens again as we tour more Carnegie libraries.)
It was a cold and quiet day on campus after the snow. We only saw two students crossing the whitened green. We drove about a mile past the Academy and then turned around and backtracked down the road. As we passed Sturtevant Hall, now on our left, I said to Handy,
“Wouldn’t it be great if there was a little coffee shop somewhere along the way?”
He gave me a look and I realized this was the conversation we often have in the car. The conversation we always have about how nice a fresh and bold cup of coffee would taste. Or the chat about a homemade cookie.
“It’s the food desert thing,” he said.
The old food desert. Those long stretches of road in Maine where there is nothing but convenience store food. Ancient hot dogs rolling on greasy machines, carafes with hours old coffee, and stale plastic-wrapped donuts.
Sighing, I pondered out loud how wonderful it would be if “just this once” we’d find something out of the ordinary.
Handy looked at me and laughed and said “when you’re in the food desert, that’s a mirage.”
When we returned to the West Minot intersection, I asked Handy to pull over at The Village Trading Post, a large brown building, not built in any particular architectural style. A sign over the door said they sold pure maple syrup.
We made our way past the cash register and there in the narrow aisles was what could only have been a mirage. Cookies, donuts, and pastries of every kind. Some were packaged in bags and some were in cookie jars and small pastry cases. According to baker Angela Packard, the pastries are made right there! The store is owned by the Slattery family, who also own the farm and maple syrup supply store we passed on the road earlier, and the West Minot Sugar House next door. Angela told me “the date-filled cookies are really popular,” and the hand-cut molasses cookies are “an old, old recipe.”
In another part of the store, Handy noticed some prepared meals to go; he gave a thumb’s up.
I bought a few cookies (including the molasses) and a small container of milk and we headed home.
If you live in West Minot, the sweet fare of The Village Trading Post is “no big deal.” Maybe you even take it for granted that you can drive down to the corner store and get a fresh, tasty donut or a molasses cookie like your grandmother made.
For me, it was just short of a major miracle, this mirage in West Minot. The next time I’m in the area, I’m going to stop in again just to make sure it’s real. If you’re a local to the area, I’d love to hear your recommendations!