In the late 1970s, living the good life at White Pond in Concord meant living simply, practicing self-reliance, and using as little electricity as possible. Instead of an electric refrigerator we had a icebox, an old Coolerator that took 25-pound blocks of ice which we would buy from Everett the Ice Man.
Everett had a coal and ice business (coal in the winter, ice in the summer) that must have been a much bigger operation once, but had dwindled along with demand over the years and now dealt only in ice. By the 1970s there wasn’t much call for block ice except for summer barbeques, and we were his only customers who bought ice regularly for an icebox.
Everett always had time to talk, and he and Andrew would shoot the breeze for ages. I would listen, and do my best to keep up with the ice-related tech talk, but always felt as if I were on trial. Whether it was because he felt ill at ease with women or with the world in general, he tended to speak with a certain belligerence, as if daring one to challenge him.
“You know that Thoreau (he called him that Thoreau and pronounced it “thorough”) was a fraud, dontcha?”
Thoreau? The Thoreau—as in Henry David? I ventured to inquire what he meant and how he knew.
“What I said—a big fraud. Wasn’t he always making a big deal about how he was self-sufficient in that shack on Walden Pond?”
Yes, indeed he did—and it was a big deal. But why was he a fraud and how did Everett know?
“Well my grandma took in laundry and she used to go regular to Mrs. Thoreau’s place. She said that that Henry Thoreau was a spoiled brat. He wasn’t self-sufficient—not a bit of it. He used to bring all his dirty laundry back home to his mother.”
It never even occurred to us to question the truth of this tale, or to calculate whether it was even possible for Everett’s grandmother to have known the Thoreaus. Everett was a Concord native, and he was ancient: it must have been true.
One day we went to see Everett and he was raging. He had never trusted the medical profession, but because he was in a lot of pain, he had gone reluctantly to the dentist, who had removed one of his eye teeth. Now he had gone blind in the corresponding eye.
“Why d’ya think they call ‘em eye teeth, eh? Because they connect right to the eyes. That dentist messed up good. I shoulda never gone to him.”
I’m ashamed to say that I can’t remember whether Everett recovered his eyesight fully. His business wasn’t going to be around for ever and neither was he, and we were getting ready to move to the Boston area, leaving our icebox behind. He must have liked Andrew a lot, because one day he presented him with a gift, a set of specialized tools for cutting and hauling ice from frozen ponds. even though he must have known this would mean losing our business in the winter. But he also must have known that Andrew would actually use these ancient tools, and not just display or sell them as antiques. He was right. Andrew did indeed use the tools, and built an ice house on the banks of White Pond so well insulated that it held ice into June.
I don’t know what happened to Everett after that. Andrew’s father sold the house on White Pond and we had no call for ice tools in Somerville. But Everett surely lived on in Andrew, who, nearly ten years later on the farm in Winchendon, made his own zamboni to prepare the frozen pond for skating, using the massive blade of an old paper cutter.