Thanksgiving Past

greeIt happens every Thanksgiving. After the bird is in the oven, my mind wanders back over the years when there were big family gatherings on this day. Oh, what a chore in the days preceding the big event!  The tradition began even before my four children were born, but it got really interesting after I toted them along!! It was in another life time, in another marriage and a tradition that seemed difficult with the small ones, but after  years of acquiring knowledge, I realize how wonderful a tradition it is to have family in one place, under one roof on at least one special day of the year.

My mother-in-law was Rowena Dunham who was the hostest with the mostest, as they say. She was a stickler for tradition and loved these holidays with a passion, but everything had to be perfecto down to the last place setting.

Let me begin by saying every year I was in charge of making the pies…if I remember , there were a total of three or four pies . My sisters -in-law, Sylvia Dunham and Elouise Howe had their assignments. Sylvia was to make her fruited jello and Elouise her infamous brownies. Grammie Dunham( a name I adopted from my kids when they came along) was in charge of everything else and had a walloping good wood stove to do it all.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we had four children, four pies, two adults and a VW bug . I cannot describe the placement of everyone and everything, but that bug carried us all safely to Lockes Mills and the Dunham household. It also allowed me to turn almost completely around to deliver several messages to the fabulous four in the back seat on behavioral policies for the day.

Never before nor since have I ever tasted rolls as sweet and light and fluffy as Grammie made. I have the recipe and I might as well toss it out the window. They are just not the same. I have always believed she put the love she felt for her family right in there with the yeast and the flour.

There was a tremendous table with a gorgeous tablecloth awaiting the hungry and eager. The best of china had been taken from the corner closet and gleamed. The turkey was taken out the oven at precisely the right time, so that when one entered the door, he was hit with that absolutely delicious smell to make the stomach growl even a bit more.

I was always the one with the small babies and not being familiar with semi-formal family gatherings in my childhood, I was a bit nervous. Debra was a mere 5 months at her initial gathering; the next year she was 17 months and Brian was 5 months. Grammie always had a couch and a day bed ready for her precious grandchildren and how she did love them!  The third year , just to make it interesting, Gary came along , at the age of 6 weeks , to make the mix more interesting. How she laughed when he lay on the sofa, kicking his legs and she said he never stopped smiling!  Less than two years later, Alan joined the festivities.

There were mashed potatoes, Gram’s rolls, salads, stuffing, turkey and peas.  Always peas. Those little green veggies gave us all a memory we still chuckle about on this day. The entire Dunham families and Howe family were seated at the table and suddenly Gram stood up, as if in shock. All heads swiveled to see, as usually once seated, servings began. Her hands went in the air and she said, “Oh, No!” We could not imagine as she swirled, housedress flying, to the kitchen. “I forgot the peas,” she cried. She returned , dish in hand, tears in her eyes. For someone who wanted everything perfect for her family, this was catastrophic. She was so upset that several of us assured her that we could still add them to our already overpacked plates.

It was not a formal setting and yet there were unspoken rules when it came to the dining. I think my childrens’ father probably created the biggest stir; my children will agree that none of us ever believed that he would be the rule breaker at the Thanksgiving feast. As I said, the table was big and very long and someone asked for a roll. Usually, the dish would be passed, but as it were, the rolls were in front of him. He reached down, grabbed a roll and tossed it the length of the table to the receiver. I have no idea whether he thought he was back on the baseball field pitching or what went through his mind, but just as quickly, he resumed his eating. There was a collective gasp as the roll sailed through the air.

Memories. A grandmother who absolutely adored her family and enjoyed the role of matriach. A grandmother who actually sat back and watched her daughter and two daughters-in-law clean up and do the dishes after the feast. A grandmother who occupied a chair in the dining room in full view of her china cabinet to make sure each precious piece of china was put back in its rightful place for the next feast.

She loved her grandchildren beyond words. Only good people can make you feel warm with memories on Thanksgiving Day. …and I have always given thanks for her help and her blessings.

 

 

 

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October, Hunting Season, December

dadThat was the way it was…no such month as November. From the first day to the very last, it was hunting season. This was the only time of year my father rose before dawn, downed a cup of coffee and was out the front door by the first early light. His .348 or “elephant gun” as he liked to call it, was his pride and joy and he often said it was so powerful he did not have to hit the deer, but let the bullet come close enough to create a vacuum and the deer couldn’t breathe. He had several versions of that particular tale.

Life took several twists and turns during this month. My brother, Rex would pretend to be sick after the parents left for the mill and I had to lie to the teacher. He wasn’t sick.  One year I was so disgusted when the teacher asked if he was sick, I said, no he went hunting. The teacher didn’t even blink. I guess he had heard that before. He probably wished he was out there tramping in the woods.

Dad could barely wait until the week-end when he could get out and hunt. This necessitated a busy Friday night and the kitchen became the strategy room. Sitting in “his” chair at the end of the table, coffee at his elbow, cigarette burning out in the ashtray, he drew the plan out on a paper. Curious fellow hunters leaned in, asking questions. Who would drive? Who would be waiting at what place? As the evening drew on, the smoke was as thick as pea soup and the coffee pot was slowly draining away to dregs.

One particular night stands out as Ma had bought a glass perculator and it looked splendid on the old wood stove. During a pause in the strategy meeting, Dad got up, got the new perculator, filled his cup but somewhere between the table and the stove, decided to drop into a sort of Canadian Clog as he called it. Ma  yelled to be careful as his feet moved faster, his hand holding the glass perculator ahead of him. Fellow hunters watched slack-jawed as he neared the stove. There was a huge click as glass hit just the edge of the stove. Fate intervened and the perculator landed upright and still in one piece. Ma told him to stop his foolishness and get on with the business at hand. I heard her mutter something about it was a good thing it was Pyrex or there’d be nothing left of it. My father took pride in the clogging he learned when he worked in the Aroostook potato fields..or at least that is where he said he learned it. No one knew for sure.

To top off the busy month, there was always the Thanksgiving dinner. We never knew how many would be at the table. It made a difference if a deer had been wounded, then all the hunters would be trailing it because my father would not let a wounded deer just wander off. He moved mountains to try and find it and usually did. Rex and Roland were hunters as well and at times Ma, Curt and I ate Thanksgiving dinner alone and kept three meals warm in the oven.

It was such a process to cook the chicken to begin with, that it seemed a shame not to have everyone at the table at one time, but priorities you know and hunting season was not to be taken lightly. A good sized deer meant many meals during the winter. I remember Dad coming home from Lester Cole’s farm, chicken in hand, feathers flying. Ma had the water boiling and she dunked that chicken in so we could pluck it. What a stench! I’ve written about it before. Ma was expert at cleaning the insides, which thankfully ( at that age) I did not have to do. We plucked the bird clean and there were the dastardly pinfeathers…Over to the wood stove to remove both burners on the left to make room and Ma dipped the chicken in to singe it. Out came the poor chicken and we made fast work of the pin feathers. It was then Ma could prepare the bird for the oven, now really hot with the stick propped under the oven door. Now with all that work, just for the bird, you’d think hunting season could come second..just this one day, right?

Whenever they came through the door was when they ate and as always, Dad referred to the bird as a “road runner”. He had his own language and actually had names for people. My younger brother, Curt, was known as Horace Oscar or Oscar Pepper when he was young. I was always “Muffett” and shortened to “Muff” my entire life..well up to now. When he first came to see his first grandchild, my Debra, he looked at her and said “Her name should be Francella.” I asked him why and he said “Because I saw that name on a gravestone on  the way over here.” Try to figure the man out. One of the things in life he was very serious about and never joked  was hunting season. He demanded safety; he drilled safety into his two hunting sons and hated to see a car with out of state license plates located on the road anywhere near he was going to hunt for the day.

I don’t know how many deer my Dad shot in his lifetime. He loved the hunt; the chase, but I think he loved being out in nature. When he drove in the yard and the trunk was up, we’d rush to the front yard to see what he had tagged. The next step was stringing it up in the old apple tree next to the brook by the house. Then a cool day was set for someone to help skin and cut the deer. Everyone shared in the meat. A hind quarter was nailed to the side of our house high enough to be out of the reach of dogs or other animals. The best part was when it froze a bit and Dad went out, sliced some off with his hunting knife and brought it in for Ma’s already hot waiting frying pan.

So there you have it. October, Hunting Season and December. That was the calendar in the Martin household.  I bet it’s still the same in some houses back there in Maine.

That would be just about right.

A Little Help From Somewhere

wordpressYesterday I read an interesting comment on Facebook. I don’t believe in Angels, she wrote, people invent them to make themselves feel better or a situation easier to bear. The comment created an uproar amongst readers. As with most subjects, it is each person’s belief …real or not real?

The comment brought to mind a story….

It was the early 1980’s and I was still trying to adjust to living in surroundings completely alien to this country girl of lakes and mountains. It appeared to me that people were just not as friendly as those I knew back in my native Maine.  I wanted to make friends, but wasn’t sure just how to go about it.

It was time to make a move and I decided to sell Avon products. What better way to get to know my neighbors! I was lonesome, but was I that lonesome? I had never knocked on doors to sell anything…at least not in my adult hood.  I started knocking on doors and everyone was polite and yes, most bought something but there was something lacking. I just did not feel that I was making friends, but that I was looked upon as their Avon Lady!

One day I was feeling especially down and I couldn’t shake it, but I had orders to deliver, so jumped in our old car and headed for town. I was getting tired of the routine. I knew more people, but I still went home and received no phone calls or invitations. This was definitely not Maine! I drew my car up to the big yellow house I had visited several times before. The lady was always so nice and chatted up a storm whenever I stopped. Maybe this would cheer me up. But this day, the lady seemed quiet and a little down herself. I greeted her with “How are you today?”

She leaned forward and in a quiet voice said, “It’s been a little hard today. My father isn’t that well.” I told her I was sorry to hear that and suddenly, she put her hand on my shoulder and said, “You’re from Maine, aren’t you?”  I replied that yes, I had been living here only a few years. “Would you mind taking  a few minutes to say hello to my father in the other room? He’s from Maine and I bet he would like to talk to you.” Well what to do? I put my sales bag on the chair and followed her to find an elderly man in a recliner staring out the window.

“Sandy’s from Maine, Dad” the lady said as she left the room.

Well here goes nothing, I thought. “Where are you from in Maine?” I asked and the old man waved his hand in the air. “You wouldn’t know it.  Just a small place.” It was as though he were dismissing me with the wave of his hand. “Try me,” I smiled. “I know a lot of small places.” Someone help me out here, I thought.

The man paused and looked as though he were on an impossible mission. “Well, I can tell you, but you won’t know it. It’s a little town called Lockes Mills.”

I couldn’t speak and it seemed like forever before the words came out. ” I know Lockes Mills. I’m from Lockes Mills.”

“Nooooo, you have to be kidding me.” His eyes seemed to come alive and he straightened up in the recliner. “Do you know the East Bethel Road?”  I nodded my head and he went on, “There was a Coolidge farm out there and I worked years ago for them.”

I cannot tell you how long we visited or all the things we talked about. It was as though he had suddenly found the day. I felt as though one of my friends from Maine had come to visit me to let me know that everything was going to be fine.

I always made time to visit a few minutes with him each time I drove to that neighborhood. The lady said her Dad seemed to “perk” right up after each visit. What are the chances of my finding someone from that little town of Lockes Mills on a day when I was about to give up on trying to adjust. I never knew the man’s name because it didn’t seem important and I doubt he knew mine.

Years later, I have adjusted and found many friends in this area, but I will never forget the day I was lead to find a fellow Mainer when I felt so alone.

Luck of the draw? An Angel? Who knows?

Walking Tour of Greenwood Center..Circa 1948..with tidbits…

006Here I sit , sifting through memories at 77 years and trying to draw a picture of my beloved hamlet where I grew up at about ten years of age. Bear with me if a cog slips now and then!

Let me begin by saying that Greenwood Center was a peaceful, quiet little community where very little happened, but if it did, everyone knew! It was a contented little hamlet, with the ending of World War 11 and our soldiers were home with their families. As a child, if I wanted to go anywhere, my Dad said to use Shank’s Mare…his way of saying “walk”. That I did, because basically I was a loner. I was content with my own company and could always find something curious to explore or lose myself in a good book.

This day I am standing by the Cemetery a little over a half mile from home. As I walk toward home, on the left is nothing that one can see with the naked eye. However, when we drive by, Ma always says that the “Penley Place” stood there and that she and Dad lived there when they first married. Apparently it was some sort of logging camp, but I’ve never heard any more about it.

On the left is a tar papered house where the Tapley family lived . The children went to school with Roland,but I think the family moved before I started school. A few feet up the road , on the right, is the bridge that leads to my Uncle Roy’s house. I have spent many a week-end visiting Gladys Bailey when she comes up from working in South Paris.

There sits the old mill, a perfect decoration for Halloween. The mill has a long history and Dad said it once was very active. It is dilapitated and we have been warned by Ma and Dad not to go near. Well, you know I have been in there. Cobwebs hang everywhere and to the right is a tiny little room. I imagined that perhaps the boss stayed in that room or maybe that was where saws were filed. I never went very far into the mill, as I imagined it was full of snakes , mice or whatever goes into abandoned buildings. It would be my luck to go through a rotten floor board and stay there forever.

The photo is the foot of Twitchell Pond and many times I go down to the dam and just stand there. It is so peaceful in this little nook with nothing but trees hanging down and birds perched on the limbs. The Flint cottage sits above on the rocks.

The road is not tarred yet, so the dirt and pebbles hurt my feet until they have toughened in for the summer. If I know I am coming this far, I usually wear the shoes left over from the school year. On the left now, I see only trees, on the right a field that is overgrown with alders and such, but on the point is a beautiful cottage owned by the Sullivans.

I continue walking, pausing by the ledge to look the length of the pond and see Rowe’s Ledge in the sunlight. Here the road is tarred, so it makes for easier walking. On the left is a beautiful log home built by Henry and Janet Bowers. It is new in the neighborhood. Continuing on, there is the Prall summer home on the right and on the left is my Uncle Dwight and Aunt Tessie’s home. I remember my Uncle Glen working on the house. Next on the left is Charlie and Grace Day’s little bungalow and how I enjoy visiting them. She makes the best Welsh Rarebit!!!!

I know my Grammy Martin owns the field on the left, but right now it is a garden with rows and rows of potato plants and as I pass, I look to my right and there is the Wagner summer camp.  Across from their driveway is my Grammy ( Nellie) and Grampa (Rawson)  Martin’s farm. A few feet beyond is my house and on the left is the Jacobs’ summer home. It was owned by a Mr. Kenyon when I was much younger. Dad called him Kato and liked him very much.

Uncle Glen and Aunt Norma and all my cousins live in the next house on the left. He has a huge sign with a bear on it and the word Taxidermist on it. Across from their house is the path to Gram’s beach where we all go swimming!

The next half mile has no houses at all. We play baseball on the “flat” and then there is a little house on the corner. Several people have lived there including Ma and Dad, I think , about the time my brother Rex was born, because Ma speaks of buying eggs at the Lester Cole farm which sets back a bit from the road. To the left, as well, is the old school house now made into a home where Laura Seames lives . What a nice lady she is.  On a few more feet and there is the brown house that my Uncle Elmer Cole lives in with the wooden walkway to his shed and the rope he clings to when he goes out. He was blinded in a dynamite accident.

Sitting way back up on the hill is the home of Stan and Flossie Seames and if I walk a bit farther, on the right is the beautiful Case summer home. They provide an evening of fun, food and laughter for the Greenwood Center folk each summer. A stage is built and each person can get up and entertain. Irving Cole always plays the guitar and sings; Lillian and her sister Charlotte Cole always sing a duet. One is “Winter Time in Maine” which is beautiful. Everyone comes away with a full stomach and a good feeling!

There are no more houses until I come to Dan Cole’s farm on the left. I have never been in there but it is obviously a working farm. The Cole farm is used as a landmark many times when giving directions. To the right is the road that leads to the Rowe Hill community and off that road, a few feet in, is the road that leads to camps on the back side of Twitchell Pond.

I think that concludes my walking tour, written by request. I fondly recall the days of rolling tires, bare feet on hot tar, and our hands blackened by the fun. We sat in the ditch and played marbles and , on occasion, light a forbidden fire cracker around the Fourth of July. 

Such a simple way to live. Imaginations ran wild as we ran up and down that very narrow road. Using one’s imagination is a good thing. I hope it hasn’t disappeared.