Dana Beal, Charles Alley, Melrose Beal and Mark Carver huddle around a well-worn wood table, where a steel cribbage board is the centerpiece, at Moosabec Video & Variety in Jonesport.
Each of the lobstermen silently studies his hand of seven cards, making sure to only show the “Hollywood Casino” logo on the playing card backs to the other players.
“8,” declared Alley, laying a card bearing that number face up on the table. The card’s edges have softened from so much use.
“15,” said Dana Beal, slapping a seven on the table without glancing at the other card. He moved a gold peg up a slot in the cribbage board.
Melrose Beal belts out “25,” causing Carver to chime “31” and move his peg up two notches. The men then quickly set down the rest of their cards to calculate their points and advance their pieces.
Whether it’s summer or winter, Moosabec Video draws waves of cribbage players young and old throughout the day. Some lobstermen will play a game over lunch after having been out on the water and hauling their traps since dawn. Some retired fishermen will settle in, sitting in and out of games.
When the convenience store’s previous owners passed away over a decade ago, Byron and Darlene Carver took over the enterprise, merging it with their business Moosabec Video. Moosabec refers to the water body by that name dividing Beals Island and Jonesport.
Located on Main Street, Moosabec Video & Variety’s back half resembles an old Blockbuster video store. Shelves are filled with DVDs. A white banner hangs over a window opposite the cribbage table. “Darlene’s Old Fart’s Day Care,” it reads. “Come sit down, enjoy the coffee, enjoy the stories, enjoy the puzzles, and play a game of cribbage. And don’t mind the smells; that’s part of life.”
“It’s called the retirement home,” quipped Beals Island lobsterman Mark Carver, referring to the mom-and-pop store. “She [Darlene] puts up with a lot. She loves it, though.”
Open from 4 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, Moosabec Video & Variety serves hot breakfast to order and lunch. Fresh baked goods are always for sale at the cash register. The store has become a hub for locals who grab a coffee and/or bite to eat, talk about the latest news or read the paper while waiting for their turn at the cribbage table.
Actually, jigsaw puzzles preceded cribbage. The puzzle craze got started when Darlene bought one in that she had received as a gift from her sister. Over six years, lobstermen assembled 628 puzzles, all of which were photographed and recorded in a scrapbook.
The store became known as the Puzzle Palace.
“The toughest one was the blueberries,” Mark declared while leafing through the scrapbook.
“Cats in the Basket was worse,” another lobsterman interjected from the back of the store. “I remember them Cats in the Basket. It was together, but it wasn’t right.”
When Darlene started serving breakfast and lunch, the puzzles were put aside to make room for food. Then cribbage, which takes up less table space, took off. Now there is a cribbage tournament every year.
Elmer “Hurkey” Wilcox has been the reigning champ for four years straight.
“Some people don’t stay too long,” Mark remarked, examining his cards. “They get beat and leave. They get intimidated.”
While a game is going on, Darlene darts about serving up freshly made crabmeat rolls and jelly and cream-filled Bismarcks to the players.
“It’s a lot of hours, it’s a lot of work, but these guys are great,” Darlene said as she prepared sandwiches in the kitchen. “If you’re a stranger, and you come here and sit down, they’ll treat you just like them. We wouldn’t be here without them.”
Darlene went to school with many of her customers who keep her store afloat today.
“It’s family,” Darlene said. “We know each other. We grew up together.”
Whether a puzzle or cribbage game is going, the shop is always alive with laughs, jokes and freshly baked Bismarcks.
“We solve a lot of problems here,” Mark said. “We create some, but overall, we solve a lot more problems. If anyone needs to know anything, they come in here.”