MVC-025SThis is the little house of my childhood; until I was in high school, it had no porch, so imagine six people in three tiny rooms and an attic. We thought nothing of it, having learned to find our way around elbows and outstretched feet.

The kitchen table was round, covered with oil cloth and before electricity, an Aladdin lamp, with its fragile mantle, sat at the very back. My father had “his” chair. When we were not eating, one would find him sitting sideways in the chair, legs crossed, cup of coffee within reach. His shirt sleeves rolled above his elbows or nearly so, hat slung on the back of his head and his mind going a mile a minute.

Because the house was small, I was one to go outside and stay out for most of the day. Ma and Dad taught us boundaries. In my mind, those boundaries were very important and must never be crossed. I could walk “down” the road as far as the ledge on the tarred road and then , with bared feet, mince my way over the gravel section to my Uncle Roy’s house. I was never to go down past his house. Never!

If I walked “up” the road, I could go as far as Dan Cole’s farm because I delivered the Grit newspaper, but never should I go to the Lester Cole farm and bother them unless I saw Danny or Elwin and was invited.  Never!

I was taught that to bother a neighbor was probably one of the worse things a kid could possibly do. It reflected on them, so unless invited, I never went to a house and rapped on the door. Of course, in my mind, that did not include my cousins’ house. I hopped and skipped through the woods on the path between our houses, paused to smell the trilliums and the red Stinkin’ Benjamins, passed the ledge, hopped the brook , around the corner and there was the house! That was not off limits as long as I did not overstay my welcome and of all things, if a family was getting ready to eat, you did not stay…leave immediately!!

I loved Sunday afternoons because my Grampa and Grammy Martin usually had visitors. If my Aunt Cecile and Myron Winslow came to visit, Dad always went across the field to visit Myron and always came home laughing at some joke they shared.

I overstepped my boundary one Sunday when I was at Grammy Martin’s. There were some people I did not know and I thought about going home. Frank and Leah Waterhouse asked if Beryl and Ethel were my parents and I said yes. Well one thing led to another and I stayed a few minutes longer. Oh, boy when I got home, Ma asked if she had seen a car drive up Gram’s driveway so I had to tell her that yes, they had company. I told her what happened but that did not spare me the half hour I was forced to sit in the kitchen chair until she told me I could get up.

There didn’t seem to be any boundaries when we got in the car with Dad.  Other than the many trips we took to East B Hill, his favorite of all places, he liked to take us to Greenwood City. He liked to talk to Wilbur Yates, who ran the little store and gas station and we picked out a dime’s worth of penny candy. Dad would joke on the way home and call him Wheelbarrow Yates to get us laughing. He had an awful sense of humor, but Ma shushed him a lot and told him to behave himself in front of us kids.

Once he drove us down to the Martin Road and then took us up a back road to an old abandoned farm. He loved to look for Indian artifacts and we attacked the apple trees. Oh, the apples were huge. He said they were “Woofrivers” which I think in later years I learned were Wolf River apples. I don’t know. I have not seen any in years and the apples were so huge you held them in both hands. I think we also got some grapes as Dad seemed to know where all the old abandoned farm houses were as we motored along. Maybe one was Bert Morey…I don’t know as he always pointed out Tracy’s Flat, the Penley Place and the Ames Road and told us some history as we rode along. I think when Ma and Dad were first married and some of us kids came along, we lived in logging camps. Dad and probably one of his brothers built the house we lived in and God knows he was no carpenter. It was a square box, evenly divided down the middle with stairs to the attic for the marking point!

The other place we were allowed was in Locke Mills at the school house and any functions we were in at the time. I did join a 4-H club which fizzled after a short while. I like to think my attempt at making mayonnaise had nothing to do with the woman giving up her leadership.

Boundaries and respect. I can’t think of anything more important that was drilled into our heads. We might not like that summer people were now occupying our fishing holes, but we were to keep quiet and find another.

That was a long time ago . I can still feel the hardness of that kitchen chair when I did not adhere to the boundaries. Somehow it stuck long enough so that I tried to instill the same theme to my own four children ..boundaries and respect…..and the look on my Ma’s face if I forgot!!

Door to Door

indian It is a hot dog day of August here on the farm. The grass in the lower field has turned brown and crisp. The few showers pelt down so quickly, any good rain runs right off the top of the ground. The three boys are outside. Their cousin, Mark, comes each day during this summer and they are delighted to have someone to play with besides each other. Debbie is in her room and reading. She has inherited that gene from me.

This day began as most days on the farm. I was up before the sun to ready the bottles for the milk to come in from the barn. After straining it all with my cheesecloth, it is put inside the refrigerator and the task comes to washing the strainer and using boiling water to make sure it is absolutely clean.

The kids are early risers and after Mark arrives, they find plenty to do outside. This morning we had a pleasant surprise. An unexpected visitor came into the yard and no one recognized the car, so great excitement reigned throughout.

The man got out of his car, turned and brought out a huge valise. Oh, no, he was selling something and I don’t need anything and if so, did not have the extra money. However, it is the practice to be friendly to anyone trying to make a living in these days of the Sixties, so with a smile I invited him in to sit at the kitchen table and show me his wares.

Oh, the variety and color turned the kitchen table into a rainbow of color. By this time, the boys were curious and came in to take a look from the kitchen corner. There were greeting cards, knick knacks and every kind of salt and pepper shaker one could ask to have. Suddenly Mark came over and leaned a bit on me and pointed at a set of shakers. “Can I get those for Mum?” he whispered. “Do you think she wants that set?” I asked, because they did not appeal, at all, to me. He shook his head emphatically that he really wanted them as a surprise present. The salesman smelled a sale and announced they were only a dollar. I was reluctant to part with the dollar but thought what a thoughtful little boy to want to take his working mother a gift.

The salesman left, dollar in his pocket, and I handed the shakers to Mark. He grinned all over and placed them carefully with the rest of the things he had brought for the day. “I didn’t know your mother liked mice,” I ventured as I handed him the ceramic rodents. “She doesn’t. She’s scared to death of them.” he replied and all the boys ran out the door, and Mark’s laugh echoed back. Oh, boy, I am glad I am not going home with him and the shakers tonight!

We do have some salesmen who come on a regular schedule. The boys get so excited when the Cushman truck comes up the hill. Their favorite things are the raspberry turnovers and I usually need some bread. Vance Bacon , from West Paris, is the driver and he stops to visit a few minutes with the kids and me each time he comes.

We usually butcher every year but if there is a year when that is impossible, there is a man with a meat truck who stops by. His prices are reasonable and the meat is very good, but the kids don’t get quite as excited when there are no raspberry turnovers inside.

My mother told me last week she has purchased a portable White sewing machine “from a man who came to the door.” She is really excited about having a machine she doesn’t have to treadle!!

The Rawleigh man stops at the farm occasionally and if I am in need of a bottle of vanilla or something inexpensive, I buy from him. Even the Watkins man has found his way up our hill.

All these people are trying to make a few dollars during hard times and I hate to say no, so I try and help out as much as I can. I remember the days of my peddling Cloverine Salve, Rosebud Salve and the Grit and how good it felt when I finally could count out my profit!!

It is getting hotter and more muggy as the afternoon draws on. I call in the kids and pour them a jelly glass full of Kool-Aid and soon all five have a purple moustache. They take their glass and go sit in the shade of the big elm by the lilac bush.

It has been a long day and still supper to put on the table. I think I will have a little Kool-aid myself and read the Lewiston Sun which just came in the mailbox.

August can be brutal.

Wood Stove and August Heat

boo1book2The air is almost stagnant this August morning, even though the nights are beginning to cool a bit, leaving a little dew on the grass out front. The leaves are barely moving, as though they have had enough heat for the summer and Twitchell Pond seems to just lie there as if it doesn’t have energy enough to ripple.

It is Saturday and my older brothers have gone; one to work in the woods and the other to help a farmer with his haying. Curt has already eaten his Puffed Wheat for the morning and is out playing with trucks in the dirt. Dad has gone over the field to Gram’s in hopes of getting the latest copy of the Advertiser-Democrat. It seems he has heard there’s an article in there about the Ice Caves he wants to read.

Ma and I have finished cleaning up the dishes in the black iron sink and she declares she supposes she has to bake something and had better do it before it gets too hot . I can’t stand the heat, she says, already wiping her brow. 

What are you going to make, Ma, I ask all the time  hoping it is something sweet. She hates molasses because she says that is all she had to eat when she was a kid. But during the war, we had to eat a lot of it and I still like it. A molasses cake, I guess, she answers as she pulls down her brown recipe book and starts thumbing through it.  Your father will eat that and you know how fussy he can be, she mutters, as she continues to flip the pages. I also know she is making the molasses cake because she has the ingredients and because her molasses cake does not need any frosting.

Throw some more wood in the stove, she directs me, since I am wondering what my part might be in her cooking campaign. Make sure the stick is poked up tight under the oven handle or the oven will never get hot enough to bake this off. 

Down she reaches into her flour tin and thank goodness, no mice this time. I do not want to see a repeat performance of the time she discovered the whole mice family and ran with the big tin, mice and all, with her screaming into the front yard.  I don’t know if she was screaming because she was afraid of the mice or mad because she had to throw away the flour.

What about the oyster stew Dad wants tonight? I ask this rather timidly because the sweat beads are already forming on Ma’s forehead . She has all her ingredients lined up for the cake in the three feet of counter space. Her metal mixing spoon is banging against the metal bowl as she mixes all the ingredients.  She still hasn’t answered, so I guess I had better let the subject drop.

Suddenly, Ma bangs down the bowl, hands on hips and turns and says, did you see your father last night? That show he put on? I am a little thunderstruck as Dad puts on a lot of shows with or without the aid of his Old Narragansett beer and last night there was no beer. What is she getting at? Ma wipes the sweat off her brow with an old towel and says, he wants oyster stew. That calls for milk. Well I will just have to see if there is any milk left.

Ah ha! Now the picture is getting clear; the fog is lifting. Dad goes to bed early and reads his western paperbacks. Sometimes, his ulcers really kick in and he hurts, so up he gets, wanders to the kitchen and fixes a bowl of crackers and milk. He sits there in just his underwear and spoons it in, says he feels better and back he goes to his reading.

Last  night, he was in the middle of his spooning and headlights appeared in the front yard. Now when you come in our front door, turn left and there is the kitchen; turn right and there is the living room and my parents’ bedroom. So if you think about it, Dad is at the table in just his underwear and the front door is between him and his pants, as it were. Ma said, for heaven sakes, Bob, get in the bedroom, there are lights. Then a car door slammed. Dad crouched, but Ma claimed he could be seen through the kitchen window, so in the end Dad crawled past the front door on his hands and knees to the bedroom to retrieve his pants, and Ma greeted the visitors.

So that was the show she is still sputtering about. She goes back to her mixing and says she hopes he has learned his lesson and will at least pull on a pair of trousers before he comes into the kitchen at that time of night. Bad enough the kids have to see him like that. Well, the mixing is done, the batter poured into the pan and she opens the oven, leans down, tests the heat with her hand and face, I guess, and the cake goes in to bake.

She is through with her recipe book so I ask her if I can copy a cookie recipe in it. She keeps the book in a little drawer at one side of her cupboards and treasures it, but says Roland has copied some for her, so I can if I want.

She puts another stick from the wood box into the old stove and glances at the clock. Pretty soon the smell of molasses cake will fill the kitchen and right out the front door.

No time to linger  though. It is Saturday and the boiler has been on top the wood stove since early, early morning heating  to do the wash. I put the treasured recipe book back in the drawer and get ready for the next hot August chore.

A woman’s work is never done.

Into The Working World

DADNMEIt was 1955 and I was 17 with a high school diploma and no where to go. I was stuck in Greenwood Center the rest of my life.  It was taken for granted that if one was out of school, it was time to find a job. I was offered one at a summer “camp”..for lack of a better word. It is one of those jobs that is blocked out of the mind after a few years because you just do not want to remember how miserable it was. Suffice it to say, I lasted two weeks of rising at 4 a.m., working all day with a half hour rest and getting back into bed around 9 at night. It included taking care of the guests at meal time, doing laundry etc. I thought my experiences with Miss Hobbs would help, but my employer was not cut from the same mould. After one very upsetting morning trying to learn to use a “mangle” to iron a sheet, I decided this was not going to be my life long career. I had previously taken a civil service test in Rumford and passed with flying colors with my typing and secretarial skills, thanks to a very persistent Mrs. Crockett, my business teacher in high school. No matter how well I did, I was too young to be employed by the Federal Government. So I was fighting to iron a sheet the quick way.

There was only one way to go and that was to the local mill. I was terrified to think of walking into that big grey building in Lockes Mills known as the Ekco Company. I had been awarded two scholarships at the time of my graduation, but one must remember back in the Fifties, you either had money for the essentials and education was not necessarily one of the essentials or you had encouragement and money to get somewhere in the world. Finding neither, with my Dad at my side I slowly walked into the mill the first day. I had no idea how to punch the time clock and word had it that it was “tricky.” Ma worked in another section of the mill, so it was left to Dad to show me how to “clock in”.

Since I was too young to run a machine, I was put in charge of Ansel Jordan and Merle Lurvey in the sorting department. I crawled up on a stool with Lil Young on the other side, who made me feel at ease right away. I knew my Dad was on the other side of the giant wall behind us and was cutting the rosewood that would come down the shoot to the tray. It was our job to take out the bad wood and push the good into the bag hooked to the side. When it was full, one of the men would come and take it away and haul it down to where Ma worked and she would put it through a machine to make a knife handle. All those years I looked after Curt while my parents worked at the old mill and now Ekco and here I found myself doing the same thing.

Dad came around the corner a few times and said, ” How ya doin’, Muff?” I always said I was ok but I could see he knew the work was not as easy as some thought. Lil kept joking and that made the time pass more easily. I had to remember that I was earning 75 cents an hour!! This beat working for ten dollars a week. There was a silver lining after all in this dark cloud.

When winter came, Dad gave me gloves to wear while sorting as the ice chunks came through with the wood. Dad said the wood came from Brazil and I told him if he saw any strange spiders or whatever with lots of legs to keep them on his side of the wall!  Soon, though, work lessened and I was laid off. No more 75 cents an hour.

Enter my second experience at mill working. At this point the cold winds were blowing, snow was piling up and it was as miserable as a Maine winter can get. I was married and living on a farm on Rowe Hill. I was 18, young, healthy and wanted to work. Dad sent word that they were hiring at Penley’s mill in West Paris.

By this time I was used to time clocks and found the one at Penley’s easier to use. Up the stairs and there were rows of machines. Surely most households have used clothes pins made at Penley’s mill in West Paris, Maine! Well there were two types of machines..I was shown how to insert the spring and the two sides and put my foot in the stirrup to kick and voila! a clothespin. If I made x number of gross a day I got paid $1.00 an hour. Those women who had worked there a long time had machines which one just hit a pedal and , if I remember correctly, there was a puffing sound and the clothespin was made. I have always been very good at “piece work” and once I got the rhythmn of the machine, I was in hog heaven. I never failed to make my dollar each hour. Junior Farr was my boss and a very good boss he was…patient and kind or maybe I just looked pathetically young and inexperienced.

The women were unbelievably friendly to me and when word came out that I was pregnant, well a surprise baby shower awaited me after returning from lunch at the local drugstore one noon!! That pregnancy, however, cut short my clothespin making because of their insurance policy.

The worse part of winter working and living on Rowe Hill was a storm during the day and the roads weren’t plowed up to the farm. I cannot remember the times we left the car and waded, sometimes well above the knees, through the snow to get home. My husband was not well versed in fire making and since I had been building a wood stove fire since age seven, I took over that chore. So after his working all day in Locke Mills and my working all day in Penley’s, we stood over the old wood stove in the Rowe Hill kitchen waiting for the stove to get hot enough for at least a cup of coffee and enough heat for some kind of meal!

The miserable cold weather also had a silver lining. I seldom thought of the letter I received on my 18th birthday offering a job to work with the Navy in the Pentagon. Another one of those “what if’s”… but , in retrospect, I am quite sure I would never have been comfortable living and working anywhere in a city. As it were, my days working at Ekco and at Penley’s showed me the many sides of people and I learned a great deal from it.

If you learn from every experience, then it is a good thing.