Maybaskets and other Spring Things

DSC08797The sun is higher in the sky now and it makes Twitchell Pond look like a layer of diamonds as it bounces off the blue water, so welcome after months of cold, ice and snow.

The month of May brings Ma’s mayflowers, which always make her smile as she gathers a few for the kitchen table.  This is when our Greenwood Center ball team goes into full swing. May isn’t as showery as April, but we still have patches of mud but that does not keep Curt or Rex from bringing out their baseball bats. Rex always puts some kind of oil in his glove and keeps rubbing it in…I think he says it breaks it in for another year. Maybe they get stiff over the winter.

I think one of the more exciting things to look forward to are the Maybasket hangings. It is so much fun to fill a basket with candy of all sorts and to sneak up to a neighbor’s house and yell “Maybasket” and run until the person catches you. Usually you yell the person’s name after you yell Maybasket.  Sometimes at school, we plan the maybaskets. Usually we hang them on a Friday or Saturday night as most kids can stay up later. We all pool our money and buy penny candy either at Hank Leach’s store or Arthur Vallee’s store and we just squirm with excitement as we think of the fun we will have.

One year, the tables were turned on me!  I was sitting at the kitchen table and suddenly I heard, “Maybasket, Sandra” . Oh, no! Dark as pitch out and I did not see car lights come into the yard. I found out later it was parked up the road and everyone sneaked into the yard. Well, I out the door and I could hear the shouts and taunts echoing across my Grandfather’s pasture. How could I ever catch them all in the dark? I think if I caught a couple, they might help me get the others. The person close to me was shouting and taunting and I recognized the voice as John Chase. Well, I ran after him and over the barbed wire fence he jumped. I knew I could never jump the fence, so decided I could squirm under it. I was on my stomach trying to accomplish all this and he was within a stone’s throw laughing,which of course infuriated me. Suddenly, the seat of my dungarees caught on the fence and ri-i-i-p-p-p, what a sound and what a feeling! I yelled out loud, “My pants are ripped…” and John laughed even harder, so hard in fact, he tripped over some brush and down he went. He was captive #1. The chasing went on for what seemed like forever but at least John helped when he wasn’t laughing at the flapping seat of my pants.  I think we chased for an hour and then everyone came out of the hills like worms out of the ground and gathered at the house. We all shared the candy but there was enough left for at least a week to munch on.  The basket was yellow, pink and light blue crepe paper all beautifully wound around with long streamers. I kept the basket long after the candy was gone just to remind me what fun we had and what good friends I had.

Fishing is usually the topic of the day. Dad has just bought a Martin outboard motor to put on Uncle Louis’s boats so he can troll for brown trout. That is very peaceful because I always sit in the front of the boat and just look at the camps as we pass by. Eichel’s, Nick’s Point, Wagner’s, Jacob’s, Cushman’s…there are so many and some I do not even know who owns them. Many people come from Berlin and Gorham, New Hampshire and Dad says they drive too fast down our road which is all pot holes and frost heaves.

We take a Chase & Sanborn coffee can and go over behind Grampa’s barn. There is a little area we call the worm place. One push of the spade and there are gigantic night crawlers and worms of all sizes. Sometimes we sell the night crawlers to the fishermen who come to Birch Villa Inn in Bryant Pond.  We have a mixture of dry mustard and water that we use at night. I don’t know where Tink learned about it, but it works. We find a worm hole in Gram’s lawn and put a little down the hole and out comes the night crawler!!  I usually hold the flashlight for this operation. When it rains, we walk the road and find worms, too. This is fisherman heaven, I tell ya!

Peanut, Tink’s old tomcat goes off for weeks and comes back battered and cut up and usually with one ear hanging down with dried blood and all. Dad says one of these days if he doesn’t stop “tomming” he will shoot him. Well, none of us want that. Peanut is a good old cat and does what comes natural to tomcats. He would be much more handsome, IF he did stay at home that is for sure.

Ma has taken down the kitchen curtains and washed them and I helped her hang them on the clothesline.  Tink is going to buy linoleum for the kitchen floor to make it easier on her to keep the floor clean. I try to scrub it sometimes when they are working but the rough wood makes it hard with the old rag mop.

Mayflowers, Maybaskets, the blue of Twitchell Pond, apple tree blossoms….it is a beautiful month in Greenwood Center.

(Note) One of  my fondest memories of the late John Chase was the Maybasket. He never forgot the time I ripped my pants and when we saw each other as adults, he always started laughing and reminded me. Do kids make memories that last any more? If not, they are missing something precious.

Rainy? Keep Yourself Busy!

IMG_1117That was one of Ma’s favorite sayings when we were growing up. If we complained about rain, she brushed the flour off her apron, looked exasperated and said, “Keep yourself busy.”  In other words, she had plenty to do and there was no need for us to complain that we didn’t. If we complained too much, she vowed she would find something to keep us busy!

One of my favorite times for it to rain was when we would be visiting Winnie on Rowe Hill.  Curt and I would walk up the stairs, past the little dining alcove and on to the kitchen. She seemed to know we were at loose ends, so out came her glass jar full of choclate “bits” and an invitation to take a handful.

As the rain pounded down, we discovered the magic through her ViewMaster which had photos of far away countries. One click of the finger and another picture popped in front of my eyes. We were very careful to put each reel back in its proper envelope. Occasionally, we cranked up her phonograph and listened to some Gene Autry records. She had one rule: if we started a record, we had to listen to it all the way through. Yes, even if we did not like the song, we had to listen to it. No listening to three words and then replacing it with another record. I think that is the only rule Winnie ever gave us..and a reasonable one at that.

Days went quickly with the rain pouring down when we visited Winnie. We watched Wilmer, her brother, go to the barn and return with a pail of milk. What a treat for us because at home Dad had all the milk because of his ulcers. Sometimes Rex and Roland worked for Wilmer in his field of cucumbers, picking them at the right size for the pickling factory in South Paris. Those were long days in the hot sun.

At home, when it rained, the days could be long, but usually I sat at the kitchen table and cut out paper dolls from the old Sears catalogs that Gram saved for me and it was a special treat when she gave me her catalog of wallpaper samples. I could draw and cut out my own dresses from all the designs and the paper dolls looked splendid.

Sometimes the rains came with heavy thunderstorms. Oh, boy! We watched as the lightning danced off Rowe’s Ledge across the pond and Dad told us if we were ever in a boat or near the pond and a thunder storm came, to run like the devil for home! One time Lewis Cole, who had a cottage on the other side of the pond, was severly hurt by lightning.  Dad worked with him and was very upset.

We knew when it was going to rain as we could hear the train going up the track near Bryant Pond, as clear as a bell!  Soon, we’d  see the rain hit the pond way over by Moose Cove and watch it come across the pond in our direction. Ma said she could smell the rain in the air before it came. Dad said that was the Abnaki in her and she said he could be right.

It sounds like a strange combination but if Sunday was a rainy day, I was happy. I remember one Sunday morning, Dad came back from Gram’s, sat down with another cup of coffee and said “Fred Davis is over at the house.” That’s how he always referred to Gram’s farm. Ma wondered how long he was going to stay and Dad replied he had no idea and probably Fred didn’t either. See, I really didn’t know who Fred Davis was. I only know that when he came to visit, he brought his banjo and there was music. So if it was raining, I’d run over the path and into Gram’s kitchen to see if Fred had his banjo out and plunking a melody. Nine times out of ten, he would have it on his lap and some time while I was there, he would play a tune or two. I’d sit on the wood box lid and listen to the grown ups talk and Fred plunk and just keep quiet. Kids were made to be seen and not heard, Ma always told us, so we remembered that when we were visiting anywhere! If it were raining, no one was out doing any chores, except barn chores morning and night, so the music went on longer than usual. 

It seems that no matter where we were, we were never bored, rain or shine. Our imaginations ran wild and before we knew it, the day had gone and it was time for Ma and Dad to come from the mill. 

If I have one special memory about rainy days in Greenwood Center it is going to sleep in the attic lulled by the rain on the roof.  I would love to hear that again.

Spring, Smelts and Warm Again

the oneSpring has come at last to Greenwood Center. Twitchell Pond is slowly releasing its grip on the ice and each day more water appears at the edges. The first snow to go in our yard is on the bank of the brook and how wonderful it is to feel the crisp, brown grass under my sneakers. I walk as close to the brook as possible, lean over and break off a bunch of pussy willows. Ma will say this is a sure sign that spring is here at last!  I love the velvety touch of them and put them in a canning jar for the table. Ma always moves them to the window sill because our table is so small and there are six of us after all!!

Robins always make a nest under the eaves of Gram’s shed. She pointed it out to me the other day and said she likes to keep track of the little birds as they hatch, grow and especially the day they take their first flight. She says there is always one little bird that the mother robin has to coax out of the nest!

Another sure sign of spring is the smelting season. Dad likes to get his net and bucket ready and each night he takes a flashlight and goes across the road to see if they have started coming up the brook from the pond.  He would like to get a head start so he can get his limit before too many find out they are running. It is a noisy bunch once the word is out. Cars park on the side of the road, bumper to bumper, as if there were a grand concert. Some of the smelters wear waders and it is said that after they get their limit in their bucket, they hide some in their waders just in case a game warden comes around checking. Dad doesn’t have waders and he says the limit is enough for a “good mess” and plenty to eat.  Sometimes a smelter will get too eager and fall into the brook and Dad says it spoils it for everyone as that is the end of the smelt run for the night. I know when that happens as I hear him come in the door, and say “damn fools”.  I learned some of my first swear words from his smelting experiences.

I do love the way Ma fries up the smelts all crisp. She rolls them in corn meal or flour, whichever she gets her hands on and they snap in the hot grease in the iron frying pan. I could eat them three times a day!

Brook trout are just as good fried up nice and crisp, but sometimes on opening day, the snowbanks are hard to climb over to find a brook that is running. Dad usually is not much of a one for brook fishing, but the urge to fish comes over him and since the pond still has some ice, he tries it. Dad is not a patient man. I think he expects the brook trout to stay in one place and wait for him to grab it and bring it home. I haven’t told him that, though!!

Oh, and the spring cleaning. Gram has been out washing the outside of her windows, with her white rag swishing in the sunlight. She says she used to wipe them with newspapers and they really shone, but now the ink is different, so she uses old rags. She beats her rug on the clothesline pretty viciously. All we have is a wooden floor in our house, so at least we don’t have to beat a rug. Soon I will see all her curtains swishing on her clothesline.  She really goes at it when it is spring. I think she is beating winter right out of her life when she starts her cleaning!!

I walk up the path toward my cousins’ house to find the white trilliums. There are plenty of the wine colored ones we call Stinking Benjamins. They would look pretty in a bouquet if the Benjamins weren’t so smelly. Ma was on her knees the other day, scraping aside some old dead leaves and looking for her mayflowers in her little patch. She does love mayflowers and says they are her favorite flower. She usually picks just one or two and puts them on the table in a tiny little jar. They smell beautifully for such a tiny blossom.

Dad says spring doesn’t last long enough before summer arrives. Mr. Kenyon is one of the first people to arrive in his cottage across the road.  He has cement sidewalks leading up to his front door and around the side of his cottage. I love skipping on the sidewalks until one day I see the big car with the out of state license plate and I know that my skipping days are done this spring.

School vacation is this week. We call it “mud vacation” or “mud season.”  When Rowe Hill Road gets too muddy for Cass to get his van up there, then we have a week off from school. Everyone hopes that the road will dry up and be dragged in that one week time, but there are always ruts to dodge even after vacation. It is like a quagmire up that road and some of the other back roads where kids live.  I love this vacation as I feel warm again and feel like getting outside and let the sun kiss my face again. It has been a long winter. They are all long!!

Ma gave us our “worm medicine” last night. She brewed up some poplar bark and we had to have a tablespoon of that stuff. She said I would not have to take the poplar bark medicine if I would take a pill. It is purple and the biggest pill I have ever seen in my life. I tried but I couldn’t swallow it and I had purple all over my mouth and tongue and finally Ma, just plain desperate, told me to never mind. She grabbed the soggy pill, told me to open my mouth and in went the ugly poplar bark mixture. None of us has ever had worms so I guess this prevents them. I don’t know. I just wish she would forget some spring and that awful Father John’s medicine.

I always say leave well enough alone..well I don’t say it out loud that’s for sure.  Spring is here and soon we will have nothing but green grass, apple tree buds and Twitchell Pond will look as blue as the sky. Life is good.

It Takes a Village …or a Hamlet

006It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child and I found this to be so true in our little hamlet of Greenwood Center.  In an area where most parents worked in local mills, kids were often left alone to fend for themselves as early as seven years of age. In my own case, as I’ve stated before, I came home from school and often started the fire in the wood stove at that age. I knew the dangers of kerosene and how much to use before blowing up the house and parents coming home to a pile of cinders. It was not so much by their telling us all these things but by my watching and listening to conversations that swirled around.

On those rare days when I felt alone, I found my favorite rock on the shore of Twitchell Pond and used the alder my older brother cut for me. There were times when I came home with a stringer of perch; most times I could carry my loot in one hand or two pockets. There on that rock, I dreamed of what I wanted to be when I grew up; I wrote poetry in my mind. These things remain, but what is remarkable is that I can still smell the waters. It is a smell of water-logged weeds at the shore and a tinge of something soothing. There IS no way to accurately describe what I remember.

With my parents at the mill during the summer, some days were long and my brother, Curt and I  walked up and down the tarred road inspecting this and that; in other words, killing time!  Grandpa Martin sat on his porch and sometimes would holler as we passed, “Sandra, Sandra” so up the hilly driveway we went to sit on the porch with him awhile. He always wanted to know the news so we told him as much as we had heard. The neighborhood was a sleepy place and not an awful lot happened but we tried to make him happy. Grampa walked with two canes which were covered with Black Jack gum he had chewed. They weren’t the prettiest things on earth, but they let him walk and that was all that mattered, Ma said.

Sometimes Grampa was in the barn and Gram would call to us and she had just taken some filled cookies out the oven. Oh, they were so good. She cooked the raisin filling on the stove and put a little bit in the cookies and then pricked the top so they were as pretty as they were good. We made sure to thank her every time. Sometimes we sat on the wood box cover and visited while she cleaned up her baking dishes and put them in the iron sink. Water came down from the pasture through a pipe into a holding tank in the corner by the sink. There was a huge hole there where lightning hit once and must have traveled right down the pipe! Uncle Louis was standing there and he told us, at the time, that it scared him out of his wits. Lucky that no one was hurt but Curt and I thought of that hole every time there was a thunder storm.

Grace Day was out in her flower garden one day as I was walking and called to me. We got acquainted over her lilies and she asked if I would like to have lunch with them when Charlie came home at noon. She was going to have Welsh Rarebit. To my ears, that meant we were having rabbit, but I thought it sounded really good to have a nice, hot lunch. Oh, they were so good to this eight year old little girl. The “rabbit” turned out to be something nice and cheesy and Charlie kept smiling at me. I felt as though I belonged there.

Every week end I waited for my friend, Gladys Bailey, to come home to my Uncle Roy, so I could go and visit to hear about her week at work in South Paris. She always gave me a hug and made me feel as though I was the most important person in her life at that moment.

At that age, there was a dividing line in my mind of the “haves” and “have-nots”. I thought the Cole family a half mile up the road were rich because they had a telephone. The only reason I went in that direction was to see my great Uncle Elmer Cole and to buy the Smith Bros. cough drops he sold as a side line. I always said in a loud voice, “This is Sandra, Ethel’s daughter” and he smiled and welcomed me in. How could he have been so cheerful in his world of no light. Blinded in an accident, years before, he seemed to be organized and moved around so well. I always bought the Smith Bros. black cough drops because Ma hated the smell and she would swoosh me away if I had one in my mouth. It was almost like a game and she hated the smell all her life!

I found refuge at my Aunt Norma and Uncle Glenn’s house by traveling through the well worn path in the woods. I can still see the white trilliums in the spring and the wine colored “Stinking Benjamins” growing along side the path…then down a little hill, with a ledge to the right, hop across a very wet area , around the corner and there were my cousins. How many plays did I write for my cousins, Louise and Carmen!! The picnic table was our stage and we played by the hour. In front of the house, my Uncle painted and hung a huge sign displaying a bear and the fact that he was a taxidermist. Not only that, but he cut his own  special reeds and wove packbaskets and baskets that were so pretty. My cousins moved away and there was an empty spot in my heart for a long time.

All these decades have passed and I still remember the warmth that all the neighbors showed especially for me and my brother, Curt. They spread their arms and welcomed us in, dirty from playing, as if we were their own. 

No one was rich in those days, but neighbors shared what they had including love and patience for two kids with too much time on their hands.  I hope there is a hamlet somewhere full of people like that today.

Going Home for Easter

MVC-025STomorrow is another Easter Sunday and now that the years have passed, I find I don’t put as much thought into it as in years gone by.  But there comes a time when someone or some thing stirs a memory.

Usually there was such mud in the driveway that it looked like someone had run their fingers through a chocolate pie. Traces of snow lurked in the nearby woods and always a cool breeze blew across the snow to give your nose a tinge of red.

One fine Easter, my mother announced that she wanted to prepare Easter dinner for all her “kids” and “grandkids.” Now that was a monumental statement knowing the size of her kitchen, the kitchen table and the number of chairs needed to accomodate this gathering.  She was determined and declared she might wear one of her bonnets she liked to decorate and pop on her head for such an occasion. 

The day came and Ma was up at the crack of dawn peeling potatoes and getting the ham ready for the oven. Dad had passed away years earlier and I think Ma kind of wanted the whole gang back in the house again…even for one day. She had an electric stove and running water now..and yes, gulp, even indoor plumbing. After preparing food in the humble entrappings she used when her four kids were growing up, it must have seemed like a walk in the park.

There was one drawback, however. There was still snow on the ground. Snow mixed with now the chocolate pie looked like it had whipped cream on top. We were to hide Easter eggs. Yes, we would do this. That was part of Easter. So I helped her hide the eggs.

The whole gang slowly came together. Curt, Sylvia with their three offspring: Beryle, Tony, and Angie. Tink and Martha arrived with Mark. Rex and Donna came with their four girls: Julie, Jackie, Jeri, and Janel. The house was filled with kids all bursting to hunt for eggs, dressed in winter coats and knit caps and a few still wearing mittens.

Eggs and candy and all sorts of loot were found with plenty of noise and hoo-rah. Ma never stirred from her dinner making and we “girls” pitched in. Getting everyone around the table would not be too much of a problem if we sat the kids at another table. No problem, Ma declared. She spoke and it was done. The table, so full of food, threatened to buckle. We glanced to the cupboard counter and she had lined up three pies in a row. We ate; we laughed. My two oldest sons, Brian and Gary exchanged looks when they were eating their mashed potato but with a look of my own in their direction, did not mention the lumps. That was their secret joke…Gram’s mashed potatoes tasted great but they referred to it as Gram’s lumpy mashed potatoes. Debbie and Alan behaved. Ma beamed her way through the whole meal and couldn’t understand why we could not eat any pie…at least at the moment.

I will never forget how that meal ended. We all sat gorged, unable to move. Ma got up from the table and said, “Well, I am tired and I am taking a nap. Eat all you want that’s left.”….and she disappeared into her bedroom.  We all picked up the food, cleaned up and by the time she got up from her nap, her kitchen was back to “normal”…but there was an awful lot of pie missing.

A side note: After Dad died in 1966, I think the house was very empty for my mother. We started getting together for a “reunion” of sorts each year. We had picnics on the porch, played horse shoes and just plain visited and ate. I am going to post pictures that were taken at one of those “reunions” so you can see the whole gang that Ma loved to have in one place at one time…even though we all lived closeby. The year was 1974. There is a picture of Ma, her kids and spouses; one of her grandsons and one of her granddaughters. She treasured these moments and these pictures.bunch b2 b3Top Left: Ma(Ethel Martin) First Row l-r: Me (hidden), Curt, Tink, Rex, Joe Cole, his wife Jeannie, Back Row: Sylvia, Martha and Donna

Granddaughters:Front Row l-r: Angela Marie Martin, Janel Martin,Jeri Martin 2nd Row: Jackie Martin, Beryle Martin: Back Row: Debra Jo Dunham, Julie Martin

Grandsons: Front Row l-r: Tony Martin, Mark Martin, Alan Dunham Back Row: Brian Dunham, Gary Dunham

That Easter dinner will always live in my memory, but then, all the times the whole gang got together made for some pretty fantastic memories. The “kids” are all grown now, some with kids of their own. Where have the years gone?

That is why memories were made.