Hiking and Halloween

dadI am twelve years old and this is Halloween week-end. All week long, my friends at school have talked about trick or treating. We don’t do Halloween in Greenwood Center..at least my brothers and I don’t.  I took my younger brother, Curt, last  year because Ma said we could go to Gram Martin’s and to Charlie and Grace Day’s house and that was all. I was not to ask, but Curt could because he was “little”. We each got a big, fat cookie from Grammy Martin and a bright shiny apple at “Aunt” Gracie’s.  This year, for some reason, Curt doesn’t want to go. I think he just wanted to see what all the hoopla was about and once he went, loved the goodies, but doesn’t want to go again.  We don’t even have a pumpkin to carve into a jack o’lantern, but that’s ok. I can’t carve and it would be messy anyway or so I told Curt.

So here I am, in the front of Uncle Louie’s boat this Saturday while Dad trolls for trout the last time. He told me he didn’t think he’d get a thing but he wanted to get “out on Twitchell” one last time. You go awful slow when trolling and it gives me a lot of time to think. Dad is very quiet as he sits by his Martin motor( and he is proud of that motor). I am thinking how strange it is that I am the only girl in the whole of Greenwood Center. Since my cousins moved, there have been two girls..but they come and go. Eugenia came for one school year to live with her Aunt Grace and Uncle Charlie. It seemed so good to have another girl here and we sometimes played ball, passing it between us on their front lawn. One day it rolled in Grace’s flower bed and she was not amused. We were banished from ball tossing the rest of the day! Then Eugenia left. I was alone again! Then another girl named Peggy came to live for awhile in the house where my Uncle Elmer had lived. Too soon she had moved. So here I am on this Saturday afternoon with the October sun beating down on us in the middle of Twitchell Pond.

“Muff? Did  you hear what I said?” Well that brings me out of my daydreaming right away. “What do you like best about Rowe’s Ledge?” Well, Dad knows what I always point out! “Pie Rock,” I answer. There is this piece of rock on the left of the actual ledge that is shaped just like a piece of pie and I have always called it that. “How’d you like to go up there?” I can’t believe Dad just said that.

Before I can catch my breath, he heads the boat towards Brooks’ Beach and we drift in to rest on the sand. “Are we really going up there?” I ask, not quite believing that Dad and I can actually go that far up …it looks really far up.

Dad grins, but says  nothing as he secures Uncle Louis’s boat to a tree bent over the water. He leads the way and I follow . The first part is not looking too bad..really kind of flat and I am disappointed. But, before long, the flatness turns to slightly uphill and soon it feels like my feet are higher than my head. Dad makes sure none of the branches comes back to smack me in the face. Before long, I can see a piece of rock and wonder if we are really there.

Dad looks back and grins. We are really there!! We are standing on Pie Rock, looking down on the world. Oh, what a feeling as the ledge hawks scream at the intruders near their nests. It feels like we are standing at the very top of the world and way down there is the pond. Our little house looks like a speck in the woods. Grammy and Grampa’s farm stands out because the pasture and fields are cleared around it. There are the summer homes on the shore of the pond. It is a beautiful sight to behold. I can hardly wait to tell Curt I was standing on Pie Rock!!!

I am a little disappointed that there is not much to see on the rock itself. Dad asks what I expected to see on the rock and I tell him I’m not sure, but more than the little evergreen that is growing in the back. There is a giant crack in the rock which you would never see from our front yard!!  I will concentrate on looking down and forget that the rock itself is pretty bare and not much to see as it sits covered with pine needles.

“We got to be heading back, Muff” Dad’s voice lifts me out of the little wonder world I had entered. So down the mountain we climb. I call it a mountain; Dad calls it a slope. It probably is a slope to him, where he hunts on Overset , Spruce, Pine and all the other mountains around. To me and to my tired legs, it is a mountain and not a slope!

I climb into the boat while Dad loosens the rope and soon we are back on the pond. “Think the trout have gone to bed, so we might as well head home, Muff.” I suppose it is getting a little late and Ma might be wondering where we have been. She probably thinks we drew up to Holly Cushman’s camp and visited awhile. I wonder if she will believe me when I tell her Dad and I climbed to Pie Rock!  I bet she will say, “Oh, you did not. You’re just like your father, always telling the tall tales.” 

Ah, ha, but this time it is the truth and I can hardly wait to run up to the house to tell Curt all about it! I went hiking with my Dad!!

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Sentimental is good

violetsI decided to clean the bottom shelf of the china closet. There are things that have to be moved, dusted, tossed and as time goes by more things are added and more dust collects. It is then I pick up the little cherub holding the urn of plastic violets and my cleaning stops.

I sit down with the cherub in my hand and run my fingers over the plaster of paris urn and straighten the plastic violets. The years tumble and I am back on the farm on Rowe Hill in the mid sixties. There are cows in the field, pig in the back sty, barn cats and one dog and I am in the middle of a typical farm morning trying to ready four kids for the school bus.

Three of the four are attending classes but the oldest son, Brian, is going on a field trip this spring day. Where? Where else!! The Rumford Wild Animal Farm is awaiting him and his class mates. He is excited but, at the same time, a little nervous as usually his big sister, Debra, is with him and Brian is shy.  I make sure three have their lunch boxes and Brian has a little paper bag with a snack. I was told that they would all have a picnic lunch provided, but I worry and he is so small!  Debra has been there and has told him about the animals and that there is a little store where he can buy a souvenier or some candy or ice cream.

He has his paper bag and I give him fifty cents tucked in the corner of a “baggie” for the little store. With his still looking a little concerned, I reassure him that I will be waiting to hear all about his adventures. I watch as they disappear down the driveway, past the lilac bush and old elm tree. My heart is in my throat and I hope all will go smoothly for my shyest child. Do mothers ever stop worrying?  Never, not even when I know that his teacher will make sure that he is comfortable and that he will be with others.IMG_0654

The day passes with the usual routine of making beds, sweeping floors, checking to make sure the cows are still in their pasture and not wandering to the neighbors’ fields, but my mind still wanders to Brian at the Rumford Wild Animal Farm. I will be glad when he gets home.

Soon enough, I see the four little people coming up the hill to home and Brian is making big strides ahead of the others. His face is looking excited and my fears have vanished.

“Did  you have a good time?” I ask him. “Yup,” he answers as the three gather around to hear about his day.  He still clings to the brown sack I gave him this morning and I ask if he ate his snack. “Yup,” he says. “Did you go to the store?” I ask. “Yup.” These one word answers !!!! “What did you get yourself?” I ask. His hand dives into the bag and I am waiting to see what he brought home to remind himself of this first visit to the Animal Farm. “Nothing. I got this for you.” In his hand is a little cherub holding an urn of plastic violets.

I sit here holding my precious little cherub who has moved over the years with me. It reminds me of a little boy who thought of his mother and spent his fifty cents on her instead of ice cream or candy. 

You can’t beat that for a memory; Yup! Sentimental is good.

Here’s to Memories; May They Last Forever!

IMG_0672This October day, I try to capture my mother in my memory as I first knew her..and then I realize how little I really knew her. Her life, as a child, was hard.  She accepted that and seldom mentioned it. It was years later I learned that neighbors on Rowe Hill made sure she was warm and well protected from the cold as she walked to school past their houses.  My grandfather did the best he could and it was evident all my life that she loved him deeply; that she held no malice because she was given the role of housekeeper looking out for her siblings with a sickly mother and doing all correspondence for her father, who left school at age seven.  Instead, as I grew older and we rode together over Rowe Hill and down into Velvet hollow, she’d tell me tales of how she and her father took the sled in winter and walked to Bryant Pond for bread and molasses. She loved sliding down the hill; the hard part was making sure the molasses stayed on the sled on the way home.

Early memories are of Ma getting ready for work with a “kerchief” tied around her head and wearing a housedress. It was years later that she began wearing slacks to the mill. She was first out of bed in the morning, warming the kitchen for the family, and the last to go to bed at night. Her final chore at night was lining up four paper sacks on the short cupboard counter and making a lunch for her four children to take to school the next morning.

As I grew older and in high school, I appreciated my mother more. She worked all day in the mill but did not hesitate to load me in the car and drive me to the Woodstock High School gym so I could play a basketball game. Being a typical teenager I did not appreciate how very tired she must have been as she sat on the wooden bleacher and cheered as loud as the next person.

Sunday afternoon, we took in a few summer baseball games between towns played here and there..or if a Doris Day musical was playing at the Bethel Theater, we did not miss it!

It is strange the memories that are stored…she loved Gene Autry and his singing “Back In the Saddle Again.” I remember my “Oh, Ma, puhleeze” and she defended her choice.”Hey, he knows how to sing.” When she returned from a rare visit to Boston, she handed me a paper bag. Inside was a 78 rpm record of Tony Bennett’s “Stranger in Paradise.” Yes, I remember squealing and the look of delight that came over her face.

Oh, we had our ups and downs as most teenage daughters and mothers.  She had little patience with her only daughter who would rather play baseball then learn to sew. It must have been a great disappointment for someone who made her children coats from discarded adult coats given her.  Ma could sew anything..no pattern..she “eyeballed” it. Hey, that’s what she said.

The day came when I became a mother and slowly all her sacrifices seeped into my mind. I understood her moments of impatience; her frustration at not providing what she thought her children should have.

Oh, but the funny memories creep in and I smile. I HAVE to smile. I was riding shotgun the day she took the wrong turn and we ended up gong the wrong way on the Jacques Cartier Bridge. I yelled while she put the car in reverse. I fell in love with Canadian truck drivers that day..they actually blinked their lights and slowed as we backed off the bridge. Phew!  We didn’t tell Dad about that one.

–And the time we went camping in Rangeley at a lake I want to say was named Cupsuptic…beautiful country. Ma was indignant to think our fireplace was almost non-existent. She waited til dark and took one rock from each fireplace in the camping area, and the next morning we had the best looking fireplace in the area. NOOO I didn’t help her. I called her shameful while she laughed and drank her coffee.

The last adventure in Maine was in 1976 when she, noticing my yearning for the Maine coast, reserved a cabin for two nights. We wove our way through Augusta, right down the middle line until she could decide which way she wanted to turn.  Tthe cabin turned out to be fly infested, the breeze from the ocean so hot, we sat with beads of sweat on our brows. Not to be defeated, we jumped in the car and found an air conditioned restaurant. It was inevitable that we return to the cabin where we spent a sleepless night, whacking at huge house flies. We packed for home at 5 a.m. and didn’t bother to ask for a refund.

Later on, after I left Maine, Ma came to visit. We spent week-ends visiting garage sales and returning home with treasures. There are tales that could be told regarding those sales! Sometimes when she visited I knew, in her heart, she still saw me as her little girl. As we shopped, she’d reach into her purse, draw out a bill and tuck it in my pocket. The first few times I protested violently until one day she said, “it’s the only thing I can do for you now” and I realized even though I didn’t need the money, how much it meant for her to give it to me.

It was during her last two or three years that I noticed, out of the blue, she suddenly would look at me and say, “I told God I wanted a little girl with blonde hair and blue eyes and my prayers were answered.” She realized that I had mastered the bumps in my road and she knew I understood, at last, some of the decisions she had to make and the hardships she endured. Gone was the impatience at having a tomboy for a daughter.

So, Ma, here’s to your donuts draining on the kitchen table, the Thanksgiving hen we singed in the woodstove , the red jello cooling in the snowbank, your pumpkin pies and fluffy biscuits. Here’s to the edge of the porch you backed into with the car, the snake you killed with the shovel in the shed and here’s to your four feet , ten inches of just plain guts and courage.

You left us eight years ago today, October 16, 2007. Here’s a Mayflower to tuck in your hair. Thanks for the memories.  I love you.

October

gram mI am ten years old and in the sixth grade this October of 1948. I have always loved October because of the beautiful leaves. I told Grammy Martin that Rowes Ledge looks like one of her patchwork quilts with all the different colors. Twitchell Pond does not look quite as beautiful blue as it did in the warmer months, with its tinge of gray.

Some mornings there is frost on my attic window when I wake and I know it won’t be long before the sun will not be strong enough to melt it during the day as it does in October.

Grammy asks me to mow her lawn one last time for the year. She always tries to give me a dime, but we do not take money for helping her. If Grampa gives us a nickel during the summer for picking potato bugs, then Dad says it is ok because that is hot, dirty work.

Dad has been cutting some pine boughs from trees  on Pine Mountain  right behind our house and aptly named, because that is all a person seems to see..pines everywhere!  He will use the boughs at the end of the month to bank up the house for winter. Then by Thanksgiving, when we have snow, he will shovel that up around the base of the house with the help of Roland and Rex. The house seems much warmer, once it is banked. Our only source of heat in the winter is our kitchen wood stove.

I said that we have mostly pine trees, but Dad points out the spruce trees. He takes his jack knife out of his pants pocket and slices something off the side of the spruce and hands it to me. “Here, try this, Muff, you’ll like it.” Well, I usually like most things Dad has me try, but there have been exceptions ( like the time he shot the bear and that meat was plain awful). “Spruce gum, Muff. Chew on it. Good stuff.” Well, it really isn’t too bad and since we don’t get to stores too often for the store bought kind, this is pretty good.

Ma said Dad and I were disgusting once because we tried some coon meat. I don’t know where it came from, but Dad said it couldn’t be bad. I thought it tasted like chicken and Dad said the same, but Ma just harummphed around the stove .  He shoots rabbits sometimes, but all I can think of are pictures of bunnies in some of Curt’s story books and I don’t like to eat them. Dad does shoot quite a few partridges, but Ma says it takes at least two to feed our family of six. He pronounces it “patridge”.

With the cold mornings, Ma checks last winter’s supply of hats and mittens and says she hopes we have enough left to last til Grammy knits us more at Christmas. Every kid in school has mis-matched mittens at the beginning of cold weather so no one notices. We usually start wearing them the first of November first thing in the morning waiting for the bus.

A few days ago I helped Gram slop the pig. She has a big , big place for their pig to wander around on the side of the barn. He is huge and makes a big snorting sound. I don’t care much for pigs, and I think Gram knows it because after we carried the “swill” she picked up a handful of pretty leaves and told me how she saves them by ironing them on to waxed paper..but only the good leaves ..no holes.  Then after that, we went in to her kitchen and she gave me one of her gigantic raisin filled cookies. I can’t describe how good they are. She says she stands over the stove and makes the filling and lets it cool. Then she makes the dough and plops a bit in the middle and covers it with more dough. Sounds like a lot of work to me.

Uncle Louis has pulled his boat out of the pond for another year and it rests upside down in the field. Before he launches it next spring, he will give it a new coat of green paint, getting into every corner until there is not one inch of old paint showing. He is very proud of his boat and keeps it so nice. We borrow it on the Fourth of July and Ma makes sure we do not leave one scrap of waste or dirt clump in the boat, since he is so good to let us use it.

It is very quiet in October. The summer folks are gone and their cottages closed for the season. The plumbers have all come and shut their water off and cleared the pipes for winter. I walk down behind Wagner’s camp once more to sit on the rock where I fish before they arrive in the spring. It’s a good thinking rock.

Ma is pondering whether we should get another charge of her worm medicine, brewed from the poplar bark, but usually we can talk her out of that til spring. She checks her can on the shelf in the alcove under the stairs to make sure she has enough lard saved to warm up and put on Rex’s chest when he has croup. He always has croup every winter and whoops all night. Ma always has bricks on hand she has warmed in the oven for our feet and pieces of flannel saved and stacked near the can of lard for the croup boy.

I think October is my favorite month because it is so pretty everywhere and there is a nice smell in the air. The summer heat has been pushed away and it is like a newness has washed over the little hamlet. Soon the colors will be gone and skeletal trees will stand against the grayness of the sky.

I won’t think of that now. I shall live in the moment.