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.




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