Portrait of a Little Girl

Our three room house could have been a dismal place for six people to elbow in and around each day and it was…at times. However, somewhere in my distant memory I remember that music and nature seemed to come in to keep us happy and let us see into another world that existed outside of Greenwood Center, Maine.

In this picture I am nine  years old. It is obvious my mother was my hairdresser. Bangs were cut with the kitchen shears and my head bobbed around as she tried to even up the sides. From the photograph, it is evident she was less than successful.  But there is that happy smile and obviously I am unaware that my hair is not perfect and that the sweater I am wearing has long been washed on the scrub board until there is no shape. It is the face of innocence and complete happiness. It is the face of a girl who knew she would come home to a cold house in the winter, with the responsibility of building the fire and starting the basics of supper for the family. It is the face of a girl who knew that in her brown paper sack was a biscuit with peanut butter and perhaps jelly on it for her lunch, while others had much more and some went home for a warm meal at noon.

But, if I look deeper, it is also the face of a girl who was content to walk in the woods, touch a birch tree, grow angry if someone had ripped the bark unnecessarily. She looked for the first Trilliums in the spring and smelled deeply of the mayflowers her mother brought from the secret patch.

How thrilled she was when her brother showed her how to make music with a blade of grass. It had to be a wide blade and one held it to the lips with the palm of each hand on the sides of the grass. Oh, the first attempts were pitiful she blew into the wind, accomplishing nothing but losing her breath and gasping. Finally, with his patience, she learned to squeak out a sound and eventually a short little melody. She had met the challenge and was ready to move on to the next step.  Her brother sat on the front steps whittling away for what seemed forever, but he came away with a short round whistle with a hole in the top. When he held it to his lips, he made a beautiful sound. When she tried it, again, the gasping situation arose. Finally she made a squeak and a squawk and left the melodies to him.

The one instrument she excelled at was the wax paper and comb. Wrap the wax paper around the comb and hum the melody. Excellent music, she and her brother thought. That music hung around for quite awhile until another challenge came along.

How thrilled she was when her Dad said she could lay his guitar across her lap and handed her the round green bar to play. That was it. No instructions. If she wanted to play, then her ear would have to find the right notes. Of course, this was after or near the end of World War 11 and the patriotic songs were still popular. She finally figured out how to play “Iwo Jima Isle” in the key of C and sing along with it. She sat in a little chair by the wood box, strumming and singing as her mother walked back and forth between the counter and the wood stove, frying donuts to be drained on brown paper in the middle of the kitchen table. She was not sure if her mother appreciated the serenading or not, but she didn’t object.

I look at this face and see the little girl who was such a tomboy her mother gave up on teaching her to cook or sew. This would come years later with much trial and error when she was on her own. At this age, she was more enthusiastic about getting on base in the local baseball game. At school, her favorite game was “Halley Over the Roof”. Kids waited on both sides of the school house and the ball was thrown over. If it was caught, one ran around and threw the ball and tried to hit a kid on the other side, all of whom were fleeing. She never knew the real name of that game , but there was a ball involved which was important in her young eyes.

She liked to swing, but seldom participated because there was always someone bigger who pushed her too high and that made her sick…but she would never tell.She only cried once in school and that was when one of the “bigger boys” threw a football and her nose was in the wrong place. There was quite a lot of blood that noon time.

I am always struck by the innocence in the face. Everything seemed to make her happy. Turning the grindstone for her Uncle Louis ( Louie) and getting a nickle for something she loved to do…just being with her Uncle, who insisted her name was Bridget.  Walking the half mile to her Uncle Roy’s house to visit with his friend, Gladys Bailey on the weekend.   Sitting on HER rock at the edge of Twitchell Pond fishing with an alder , fish line with a bass hook and a worm…it was even better if she took a perch home.

Music and books made her the happiest. She loved every book that came her way and settled into the attic and read for hours. Rain on the roof lulled her to sleep; some leaking through the roof made her shift her body around until it didn’t hit her.

Life was so simple then and she thought it would always be that way. The War was over and there would never be any more.

The innocence of youth. It is a good thing that we cannot know what lies ahead.




Smiles When I was Young

My mother made the coats that my brother, Rex and I are wearing in this picture. We are smiling as Gladys Bailey snapped this picture at my Uncle Roy’s house in Greenwood Center. My oldest brother, Roland stands behind me with his hands on my shoulders, indicative of the type of “big brother” he was.  I barely remember my mother cutting up the old coats given her and sitting at her treadle machine in the corner of the kitchen, sewing the coats for us. This picture always makes me smile because we just looked so gosh darn happy.  We had so little materially and yet there we stand, grinning for the camera.  I smile to think how we made our own fun, never depending on anyone or anything to entertain us. Perhaps school was the exception with its holiday celebrations. But generally speaking, we took each day as it came and found our fun in that particular day.

I wonder how many kids today would be so thrilled at the simple things which really made our day exciting. Oh, the excitement when one of us realized the road was going to be tarred that day. We sat on a rock in my Grandmother’s field and waited for the truck to go by, and believe it or not, relished in the smell of the hot tar as it passed. I still love the smell of tar…well to a point, anyway.

My Grandfather had more fields than he knew what to do with and that meant plenty of hay come summer. What excitement to see Oz Palmer and his team of horses pulling that long , high hay wagon coming down the “flat.” We were forbidden to get near the wagon or the horses but we ran next to the wagon as it passed the house filling our noses with that sweet smell of new mown hay accentuated with a sneeze or two.

It was such a day that we almost had a tragedy  in the family. The hay wagon had stopped in front of my Grandparents’ farm. I think, perhaps, they were raking the little field by the pond. I remember Roland getting into Uncle Louis’s row boat tied to the tree. I was surprised as I knew that was a huge no-no and soon another boy from the haying crew joined him. I don’t know what happened, but the boat rocked and Roland went over the end into the pond. I ran toward our house, screaming that Roland was in the pond. I can barely remember my mother running past me, down the field and jumping in the pond and grabbing my brother, who was choking and spitting up water. She took him to the house and we were ordered to follow. As a teenager, occasionally someone would bring up the day that Ma saved Tink from drowning.

Ma was probably the one person I knew who could make do with almost nothing. We came home from school one day and Ma motioned us into the little room off the kitchen to “show us something she had done.”  Because she had no bureau, she had taken two boxes, stacked them, fashioned some drawers with makeshift knobs and covered it all in wall paper. It was a work of art and she used that for years. She was as proud as punch to show off her handiwork and I smile everytime I think of it.

I loved music so much that when Dad announced Fred Davis was visiting my Grandparents, I could hardly wait to go and see if he would be playing his banjo. We were cautioned not to make a nuisance of ourselves and if others came to visit , we were to come right home. We spent many Sunday afternoons on Grammy’s porch listening to banjo music and watching Fred’s foot tap along in time.

I always loved to walk down to my Uncle Roy’s and once I got to the ledge, the tar stopped and the dirt road began. It didn’t matter as the tarred road seemed rounded to me in the middle and sloping on each side. I wonder if it would seem that way now should I walk the same route. I loved the old mill by my Uncle’s house and looked at it every time I crossed the bridge to see him.

Years later, of course, the walk was extended to Dubey’s store. One of my first jobs ws “tending” the store when the owners had errands to run or on vacation. It was a one room affair with shelves built into the walls, holding canned goods. There was a cooler in one corner with a few assorted  cold drinks and beer. The only bad scene I encountered was when someone vacationing wanted to buy beer and I had to tell him I was too young to sell it. He was nice, but extremely disappointed when I couldn’t tell him the exact time someone would be available to provide him with his favorite beverage.

One of my favorite smiles is remembering all the back roads Dad used to drive . I love old dirt roads. That may come from going up the Ames Road and part way up the back of  somewhere that took us to the Wolf River apple trees. Oh, I loved to see if perhaps a coon or hedgehog would come out and try to cross the road. Dad was dodging rocks to save the oil pan on the car, but that did not stop him from wanting to explore.

I wonder if there are still a lot of old cellar holes. I think I got that love from my Dad as well. I always noticed that there were lilac bushes where someone once lived and probably raised a family. I tried to imagine little kids running in the yard and sounds of laughter coming from what was once a happy home. Dad always pointed out the Penley Place and Tracy’s Flats and waved a hand toward where that house apparently was at some time. Years and years later, my brother, Curt, dug up some Blood Root plants  from the Tracy cellar hole and brought them to me. Every April, around the anniversary of his death, the Blood Root presents its pure white blossoms for one day and the rest of the summer, is a mass of huge elephant like leaves.

I wish cellar holes could talk. Years later, as a teenager I went on a first date with a young fellow. Guess where we went… yup, traisped through a field so he could show me the cellar hole where his grandparents or great grandparents had lived. I can’t remember the relatives, but I do remember there was a clump of lilac bushes at the corner.

Can you imagine all the smiles I would have missed if I had been looking down at a phone?  It’s a whole new world.


The Wanderer

ch1ch2Fall had come early that year to rural Maine. The chipmunks and squirrels were racing up and down the stone walls hiding the acorns and other treasures in the little pockets there. Looking at Indian Pond in the valley was like looking over a patchwork of reds, oranges, browns all puffed up in one long quilt with the blue of the little pond at the very end.

I was nineteen years old and experiencing farm life in all its glory. That June marked the birth of my first child and three month old Debra was finally recovering from colic which had her father and I alternating on night duty for what seemed like forever.

The farm consisted of four bedrooms upstairs and seven rooms downstairs. I fairly rattled after living my first seventeen years in three rooms and an attic with five other people. I didn’t drive and hadn’t worked since Debra arrived.

If it had not been for Winnie Hanscom, who lived down the hill, I would have felt pretty much alone in the woods. She cranked the phone a couple times a day to see how I was doing and exchanged a few recipes with me. With winter coming on in my mind, I was beginning to wonder how we would heat this big old ( emphasis on old) house and how I would occupy myself through the winter. There would be the shoveling of snow..that was a certainty.

It was in this frame of mind one afternoon when my husband arrived home from work. As he drove up the hill and in sight by the big elm tree, it appeared he had someone with him. Oh, no, I thought. Have I cooked enough food for a guest? As he brought the car to a stop, I noticed the “guest” was the four foot variety with a long tongue hanging out and obviously enjoying the ride.

The husband jumped out, lunch box in hand, and the long haired guest jumped out and came running up on the porch. My God in heaven, the man had brought home a dog! Well, there was room for one, if it were friendly and it seemed to be.

” He’s been hanging around Raymond Seames’ place in Lockes Mills and he asked me today if we had room for him and wanted him and I said sure.” Well so much for the explanation of why we now owned a big collie dog.

“Where did he come from? Did Raymond know?”

“He has no idea. He figures someone came for the summer and left him behind on purpose or when they got ready to go, couldn’t find him and couldn’t wait any longer until he was found.”

I can’t remember who named him Champ, but that was how he was labeled a few hours after his arrival. He made himself at home, ignored the four barn cats who really were not barn cats and settled in for the long haul of winter.

Winter came with its usual zing and episodes of being stuck on Rowe Hill, scathing remarks about the incompentency of snow tires and the usual drivel that came with at least four or five months before the snow finally melted.

Debra continued to grow and Champ was with her constantly. She sat up on the floor now and Champ lay beside her; she crawled on his back and he lay there with his tongue hanging out looking for all the world like he enjoyed every minute.

Spring came with its pink appleblossoms and green grass and the plum tree on the hillside was in bloom. The warmth drew us outside and with Debra in the stroller, I tossed a ball and Champ would run and fetch. However, his favorite pasttime was carrying rocks in his mouth. He’d drop one, find another, carry it awhile, drop it. He eventually would go back to the first and carry that for awhile. I kept wondering why his jaw didn’t drop off.

Each night the cats went out and Champ lay on the front porch after the weather warmed.  One morning, I opened the door and the cats filed in, tails high in the air and I waited for Champ. He was nowhere to be seen. Oh, well, I thought, he’s gone to get a rock or exploring.

Another hour passed and still no Champ. Apparently the warmth in the wind had lured him back on the road. We never saw him again. Over these many years, I can see him get up, stretch, put his face to the wind and start trotting down the hill, past the big elm tree on his way ….to somewhere.

Where he came from…we never knew.  Why he was traveling around that part of Lockes Mills, Maine, we never knew. If someone deliberately had left him, how could they? If he were lost, why were there never any ads in the paper or inquiries? 

Champ gave us the gift of a year out of his life. He was truly what my husband called a “tramp dog.” Where did he go? Was he searching for his family?  Did he give someone else his gift of love for a while? 

I have always wished and still do, to this day, that I knew the rest of his story.