Night of the Thrasher

campIt’s been so many years  and yet I remember every nook and cranny of our Indian Pond camp as I knew it as a ten year old. In later years, my father added new siding and a roof, but this picture shows it exactly the way I want it to stay on the shelf in my mind. There is the bench my Uncle Glen built…the porch railings where I sat and watched moose slosh in the waters of the aptly named “Moose Cove”. There is the stump on which I sat, waiting to hear the sound of my parents’ car horn to let us know they were home from work and soon would be riding the waves in the little motor boat. Time to make sure that the potatoes were boiling on the little wood stove, even in the heat of August. Ma would slap the iron frying pan on the stove and while the fat was getting hot, roll last night’s harvest of fish in corn meal or flour and into the pan they’d go. In a few minutes we’d all be sitting at the little table with the potatoes and crispy fish all ready to be eaten.

As you may have guessed, fish was pretty much the constant food on our table and we never seemed to tire of it. However, there was one time my father brought a delicacy back to the camp that was met with a wary eye.

Horn pouting was a great way to fish particularly if there were a full moon and, in my case, someone to take the fish off the hook. When we were at home in Greenwood, Dad would take us to Hicks Pond or perhaps it was Mud Pond in Greenwood City and we’d fish for hornpout from the shore, but at Indian Pond we went into the murky waters of the bog or Moose Cove.

This particular night, the moon was shining, but not bright enough but what the kerosene lamps were twinkling from the camp as we rowed to Moose Cove. It was chilly so an extra light jacket was necessary and a couple of flashlights. The lines were dropped and it seemed as though we had sat on the boat seats forever when my father got a tug on his line.

“Ah ha” he yelled. (This was his favorite exclamation when after a half hour of sitting , he might get a nibble…) Well, this was doing some thrashing around in the water and I grabbed the flashlight per Dad’s command. “Shine it here, Muff,” he yelled and I shone it there….oh, yes, I shone it there..just in time for him to bring up this awful looking thing over the side of the boat. Slithering everywhere and chaos erupted between my  yelling, Dad’s cursing..that thing was slithering.

“It’s a snake,” I remember screaming and my feet went up on the other seat and I was suspended in mid-air trying to remember to shine the light where Dad wanted it. He was moving from one end of the boat to the next seat and finally  his boot went down on the slithering creature. “An eel, Muff, it’s an eel!”  Excitement tore through every vein in his body while I tried not to retch. “Well, throw him back” I yelled back. “No No, they are fine eating” he replied, and got the hook out of the slithering creature.

We both agreed that our horn pouting session had ended and Dad picked up the oars to head back to camp, with the creature slithering around the bottom of the boat. My feet were still up in the air and I prayed it stayed on the bottom of the boat. I knew nothing about eels and did not want to know.

 By the time we reached camp and Ma, reading by the lamp, the slithering had stopped.  Ma took one look, rared back as if struck by a hammer, and informed my father that he could take that thing outside and there was no way she was having anything to do with it.

I think, in that moment, she was recalling all the different animals, the many organs of strange animals that my father just had to try …and always after reading some of his dime novels of the old West. The eel was the end of her rope.

Apparently, Dad realized this as well. The next time I saw the creature, Dad was standing by the little wood stove with the eel frying up nicely, but I swear it was still moving in the pan. When I questioned him, he said that “was natural.” Well obviously it was not natural to the rest of us.  We took our crispy perch and potato and sat on the porch for that evening meal. Dad remained inside at the little table.

We never knew whether he ate it or not, but none of us ever saw the thrashing eel after that moment. I believe , in his bravest moment, Dad probably backed down and somehow got that eel out of camp and probably buried it in the back down by the swamp. No one ever asked; we were too happy that it was gone.

I do remember his asking Ma to fry him up some potato before he went to bed that night , so I’m thinking that the slithering and thrashing even got to him.

Not that he, the frontiersman, would ever admit it.


Winter Worms a’Gnawing

gram mI do pretty well until the middle of February each year. By this time I am beginning to pause in mid-chores and my mind wanders back to Greenwood Center…maybe the fact that I will have been on earth for 78 years come next week has something to do with it. This gaining a year in winter just adds to the agitation.

There is the photograph of my Grammy Martin. I dearly love this photo right down to the little blue sneakers she always wore. Behind her is the huge rock, divided by nature, where I used to sit and day dream. There is the chicken coop …that magic place where shiny glass eggs sat in the nests and Gram laughed when I thought it was the real thing. Near the rock was a little green garden, ever growing, and she broke off a long green stem each time we passed. Each time we chewed them, I told her it tasted like onion. It sure does, she always answered.

Gram was a central figure in my growing up days but she couldn’t be with me every minute. That is where imagination came into play. Ma bought Shredded Wheat cereal, which I hated and called bales of hay, but I loved the little cardboard drawings and stories that separated those bales of hay. I believe they were called the Teenie-Weenie family and at age 6 or 7, I spent hours in the dirt with my own little family of stick people living in the little stick and rock village.  After Ma graduated to buying puffed wheat in a big plastic bag for Curt, I promptly gave up the stick family and concentrated on the two trucks my brothers owned. Rex and I played in the tiny dirt area in front of the house and pigweed made up the logs in our trucks as we hauled them to the make believe mill.

A lawn never got a chance to grow because we were always outside, always building tree houses, waging battles with the cousins or playing ball. Ah, baseball. One old bat, one old glove and we were set for a game. The “game” consisted of two people: pitcher and batter. First base was a pole, second base a rock half way down the driveway and third base was a piece of cardboard or whatever was handy placed near a tiny flower garden I had grown from my Grammy’s offerings.

We had so little in comparison to today’s youth, I often wonder how we survived! Books took us to far away lands; Roland read his Hardy Boys first and then loaned them to me. I was deep into Nancy Drew and the Bobbsey Twins until I discovered my father’s Police Gazette and my mother’s True Story magazines. These were read while they were busily working at the mill!

I read an article the other day on movie stars back in the late Forties and Fifties and suddenly I was back in time. My friend Shirley and I were laying on her bed surrounded by movie magazines and admiring the gowns and wondering what it would be like to live that kind of life. Sometimes, after school, Shirley invited me to stay over at her house . Now mind you, we were in high school and it was easy to imagine ourselves living the high life!

Shirley lived with her grandmother,  and  as it was in those days, she was another Grammy to me. Grammy Crockett! She always put another plate on the table, added some water to the soup or whatever, but she welcomed anyone into the house.  One could not help but be happy because she was so sweet and I always felt I could come there anytime , even unannounced, and be welcomed. It was years later that I realized Grammy Crockett had a real first name..Mary.

At this time of year, my father would have been cursing the snow drifts and delegating the chore of shoveling a path to the outhouse to one of my brothers. Dad hated shoveling, whereas my Uncle Louis was meticulous when it came to cleaning Gram’s driveway. Ah, the differences in siblings! Dad was a musician; I never heard Uncle Louis there you go. Dad hated anything to do with winter. He was always cold and he’d sit in the kitchen in his big morris chair with his right leg outstretched with sciatica. “Don’t hit my leg,” he’d bellow a dozen times a day whenever one of the kids passed by ….now suffering with the affliction myself, I can understand. But he sure made a lot of noise to little ears!

My mother would have been searching for two mittens that looked similiar, if not perfect, for us to wear to school. She had wooden racks to dry the clothes once they were washed with the scrub board and remarked constantly that she couldn’t wait til she could “hang ’em on the line” again.  

The wooden floor, with all its roughness, looked the worse for wear about this time of year and no one seemed to care. One could feel the air around the windows, so Ma would take tiny pieces of cloth and tuck them here and there during the coldest spells.

About this time, at least two of us had colds. Ma used her saved grease all warmed up for Rex’s chest during his awful croup sessions and the rest of us got Vicks Vaporub topped with a piece of warm flannel. She kept two bricks in the oven and at bed time wrapped pieces of cloth around them for our feet. No heating pad or electric blanket can feel as good as that brick at the foot of my bed in the middle of the winter.

Grammy Martin didn’t come to visit in the winter, but I knew she was just across the snowy field and probably making those raisin filled cookies she kept in a jar on the kitchen table.

Well, now you know some of the winter worms that gnaw away when I should be doing something productive. But, you know, it wouldn’t be bad to go back for just a day…using our imaginations again, feeling happy inside to be loved and welcomed and walking with my Gram to the chicken coop.

Tales My Father Told Me

dad1This is the time of year when people gather around a fire place, drink hot chocolate and swap tales. It always reminds me of my father and his gift of story telling. I guess one could call it a gift or else he was just filled with fertilizer, I’m not sure.

There were many tales of happenings before I was old enough to see with my own eyes, but there were some my mother said were true, and I had to believe her.  One story was of my father’s survival in a winter before I was born.

It seems he was always an outdoorsman from the time he was a young lad. He had snowshoed across Twitchell Pond to the back shore and was returning. According to his story, he had just reached “Elmer’s Bog”, when he went through the ice, snowshoes on and all. He managed to get out, but that part of the tale was never related. Whether he was close to shore and grabbed something or perhaps he went in where the water was shallow, I have no idea. That image of my father’s adventure often came to mind as I grew up and wondered if the ice was thick enough for skating.

There was the time he was blueberrying. Knowing full well that there were bears in that area, he carried a gun. However, he leaned it against a tree and commenced picking berries. A short time later, he heard a “commotion” and looked to see a bear coming in his direction but head to the ground. Dad stood dead still and did not move a muscle. Soon the bear was between him and his gun, but the animal kept moving ahead, apparently unaware that my father was standing motionless a few feet away. As soon as he dared, he inched his way to the tree and the gun. He said he had all the blueberries he needed and came home. At least that is the way he told it.

Being raised in Greenwood Center surrounded by ponds and mountains, I think it only natural that all generations were raised to not only love the outdoors, but also know how to protect themselves. It was not only my father, but his brother, my Uncle Roy who was injured in a most unusal way.

Uncle Roy decided to go fishing with his friend, Gladys on the shore of Twitchell Pond. Gladys was not really an outdoors person, but willing to learn . This particular day Uncle was teaching her the art of casting into the blue waters of Twitchell.  After a few casts, he declared she should try it on her own and he stood to one side for the first solo attempt. Well, Gladys reared back with a mighty backhand, but the line never made it to the water. Instead it had hooked itself into Uncle’s nostril. There was much screaming, according to all reports, and fortunately Gladys extricated the hook from the nostril without any lasting facial scars. I heard the tale several times and each time my father snickered into his coffee cup.

As I grew older and spent time at our Indian Pond camp, my father made his own tales by trying outrageous acts. In spite of my mother’s pleading, he tried paddling a canoe for the first time. He got bold about the third stroke and over it went into the bog. He came up for air, shook the pickeral weed out of his hair and just dog paddled the canoe back to shore.

There was the time he was deep into a novel about old time loggers and decided he should try log rolling . I guess that’s the name of it. We stood on shore while he got on a long log and started moving it with his feet. He was quite successful for a while, twirling it around and around until success went to his head and apparently he thought he could throw in a clog or some step and over he went…again into the bog.

I feel fortunate in that I watched him line honeybees and in the fall he could go directly to the honey tree. I think it was illegal at the time, b ut he always thought anything was fair game if the end product was being used and not wasted. Maybe it was the unwritten law of the Martin family. I have no idea.

That is just a smidgeon of tales I could tell about my father….those I didn’t see with my own eyes I have to imagine were true. Others? Well, it was up to you whether you believed him or not.  Fodder for sitting around a fire and swapping tales.

Sports Fever in the Fifties

I see it on the front page of the sports section…the young athletes in mid- air scrambling for the basketball and determined to come down on the floor with it in hands. Suddenly I am back in the ’50’s and living for the evenings we would be playing.

It wasn’t easy for the kids who lived out of town. My best friend, Louise, lived in Locke Mills and I, of course, lived in Greenwood Center.  Even the practices were difficult but we were determined.  Oh, yes,  as freshman and definitely not on the “A” team, we were given the dreaded maroon bloomers to wear. The legs puffed around the legs and it was like sending a message to the world..”these are the pitiful ones!” At least that is how we felt at the time.

I had never played basketball in my life. I did not know the rules. Give me a baseball and I could play any position except pitching and rattle off the members of the Boston Red Sox, but the first time I was put into a basketball game, I didn’t even wait for the signal to go in. Nope, just wandered right on to the court. The giggles from the “A” team and some in the crowd still ring in my ears. Well, I stayed in and I played “at it”. You may have guessed I was a stubborn creature.

Practice was after school and , of course, extended until dusk or sometimes dark, no matter the weather. I think if there were a blizzard, it was called off…I think. After every practice, Louise and I started the walk up Route 26. Oh, the flat by the ball field in Bryant Pond was our biggest enemy, with the winter wind hitting us in the face. Both of us bent into the wind and there were times when we turned and walked backwards until we got near the Mills farm and the trees broke the awful icy sting. Louise was enrolled in a Bethel school before coming to Woodstock High and the father of one of her friends sometimes was driving home from work. What a blessing when Mr. Sumner ( I think that was his name) stopped. I hesitated the first time, knowing we should not take a ride with a stranger, but Louise said, “That’s Eleanor’s father.” So in we hopped.

Louise and I walked over the tracks and she proceeded up Crazy Knoll to her home and I had the next four miles to walk by myself. I didn’t mind it and chances were that it was still light enough for me to see the cottages as I walked by. I only had one scare for all the walks I took down that four mile stretch by the ponds.

One night, I rounded a corner and there were two men walking ahead of me, but far enough so I don’t think they knew I was least there was no indication on their part and almost dark enough so they noticed. They were talking in a language I could not understand and I figured they had to be some Finnish loggers who were camped in the woods not far from our house. I followed them for about two miles or more …me on my little cat feet and my heart in my throat.  When I was almost home, they did, indeed, turn and walk up a wood road to their camp.

On the Fifties basketball court, an unwritten rule was that all should wear white sneakers. I had blue sneakers to go with the maroon bloomers. Let that sink in your memory bank. Oh, it was pitiful, but I was so grateful to even be on a team I did not complain. When I was in my third year of high school, my Dad bought a pair of white sneakers from his friend’s sister and they fit perfectly..and they were high tops!! I was , by that time, on the “A” team and wearing a uniform. Never did a second hand pair of sneakers feel so good or look so good on my feet. They weren’t Air Jordans or whatever..just plain no name brand but they were my pride and joy.

We had our photos taken twice each year.  There was one for the Lewiston Daily Sun and the other for the year book, which is pictured here.  There were no photographers on the side lines taking action shots and no big headlines in the sports section of the newspaper. But oh, did we have fun.

There were those bus trips away to other schools which were pretty tiring, especially when we had to get up the next day. Art Farrington, our bus driver for my last three years in school was so patient.  On the way home, he stopped the bus at Goodwin’s in South Paris and those who had money went in and brought out French Fries and other goodies. Louise and I usually had no money, so we sat and talked and smelled!! If one or the other had any money, we shared. That was the way it was.

Sometimes Rex met me at the school to give me a ride home and other times my mother did the task, even though she had to rise early in the morning to work in the mill.

Those were good years. The old gymnasium with its few bleachers on either side, always full of town people shouting and encouraging. Someone was always standing in the open doorway cheering and watching. 

We never had the publicity, but boy did we have fun back in the Fifties!!

( Picture from the 1955 Eureka year book. Front row l-r  Luna Farrington, Charlotte Schultz, Gloria Johnson, Sandra Martin, Louise LaValley, Beverly Morgan

Back Row l-r Evelyn Bean, Geraldine Cushman, Leona LaValley, Roe Toothaker(coach) , Leona Whitman, Kay Ring, Leatrice Farnum)