Josna Rege

14. Everett the Ice Man

In 1970s, people, Stories, storytelling, United States on March 8, 2010 at 1:19 pm

winter on Walden Pond —

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.


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  1. Jojo
    I read that no one had responded about this story about Everett, and thought I would take the time to do so. Having met Everett a number of times when doing an “Ice Run” for the old Coolerator, through your description I was able to recall his gruff outward appearance and attitude, that was classic “old New England”. His barn/Workshop was indeed a collection of the finest old human powered tools many of which Andrew and I had seen in the old Shop at the Estate, but had not always known its use or method of use. The story about Henry David Thoreau was always a special treat having walked the tracks from Concord Carlisle High School (near Everett’s) into Concord many times, passing by Walden Pond. It gave a special local insight into an aspect of one of the Classics that most would never even have considered.

    • What a lovely response, Michael. Thanks so much for posting. I had forgotten that you had met Everett too. And I had forgotten about your walking the railroad tracks (which comes back hazily to me now), although I do have a memory of you walking all the way back to Natick from Concord once, on a visit back East from New Mexico. You definitely remember his workshop and tools better than I do. When he read this, Andrew also mentioned the old tools back at the Estate–in the legendary bay pits? x J

  2. I love this story. Thanks for reminding me to check back – it had come through my email in a busy time for me so I had missed it. Since you have asked, I will say that “Everett, The Ice Man” is now a fave, along with the story about hitching over the Donner Pass. But I have so many favorites…

    Here is a thought, you could make a podcast of the top ten. I think your fans would love it and you would gain many new readers/listeners as well.

    • Thanks for the votes, Norah. A podcast–that’s a scary but intriguing thought; you’re always spurring me on to new territory. x J

  3. Adding my vote that this entry be a candidate for future podcasts.
    Am here reminded (via Everett) of my resolve to visit the Hadley Farm Museum, which apparently preserves/honors many of the tools that Everett probably used. (Have you ever been?)
    Oh, and I should mention that Everett’s “Thoreau-was-a-fraud” tale was in heavy circulation in my American Studies program in the ’90s.

    • No, Mary, I’ve never been there, after all these years. Perhaps we can put it on the list for a future outing.
      Poor Thoreau. There aren’t many writers and philosophers who have lived up to the ideals they espoused in their work. But, as my friend jenny reminded me, they produced the work itself, and that should count for something.

    • PS remind me to tell you more, when next we meet, about Thoreau’s reception in his hometown, and to ask you more about the tales of him being told in academia.

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