On Maine Maple Sunday (March 25), Juliette and I took a drive up to East Dixfield, Maine, for a pancake breakfast hosted by Hall Farm. The clear day and recently fallen snow made for a scenic and serene drive over winding roads. There was little else around to distract us: a church tucked away here, an abandoned, collapsing house there. But as we approached our destination, we were surprised to find parking as scarce as signs of civilization had been a minute earlier. I vaguely remembered riding out to rural parts of Maine as a kid, through similarly sparse expanses to sample warm maple syrup in strangers' shacks. But my recollection didn't prepare me for the crowd we encountered waiting in the cold alongside Route 2 at 9 a.m.
The folks in line seemed less surprised—as well-acquainted with each other as they were with the apparent ritual of returning for breakfast there year after year. One family near us had trekked out at the behest of their mother, who was too sick to join but left it to her husband to carry on without her. Juliette and I were anxious for pancakes, too. But we were also hoping to hear a story or two about what made this part of Maine home. Acquaintances and friends exchanged greetings, and those who came together speculated about how long the wait would last, but otherwise folks were focused on the task at hand: shuffling ever-closer to food and warmth.
The wait lasted about 45 minutes, and the line still reached the roadside when we reached the door. As we were approaching I was trying to determine what this building had been in a previous life. My rudimentary understanding of architectural history told me this building ever-so-slightly wanted to suggest a Greek temple rather than a farmhouse or other purely functional space; perhaps a library or a school.
School, it turned out, was the correct answer.
Information just inside the doorway recorded the building's history, and the classroom that now housed a buffet and long communal tables still had chalkboards on the walls (the other classroom across the hall had been converted into a maple products shop). What did not become abundantly clear for Juliette or I was whether we would be able to spark conversation with our tablemates. For an all-you-can eat affair, the turnover was brisk. We were preparing to leave when a new group sat down beside us. An older lady next to me mentioned to her companions that she had attended school there. Of course I had to ask her about her experience. And that's where this story comes from: an old schoolhouse in a town where attendance is still mandatory for some on at least one day of the year.