Junk Drawer in my Mind

That’s what it is, you know. That little drawer you pull out or sometimes it just slips out for no reason at all …that drawer full of miscellany gathered through the years. There’s absolutely no reason why some of that data is saved and probably we aren’t aware it is saved until a smell, a song or something from the past pulls the knob and out slides the drawer.

Why would I remember some of the junk that rattles in my brain. So clearly I remember helping Ma hang clothes and when we were finished, she leaned down, picked a small white plant and asked if I knew what it was. Well, without waiting for me to answer, she told me it was Indian tobacco and proceeded to break off the head of it and chew it. Not to be outdone in any way, I followed suit and proceeded to pass the rest of the day by chewing and spitting out some sort of brown liquid and thought I was pretty smart for my nine years of age. Ma did not take much time during her busy hours for fun and laughter, leaving that up to my Dad who excelled at it, but the Indian tobacco day lives in my mind.

I seemed to be the “achy” kid. It was a known fact that my left ear could not go a day without it rattling the side of my head. In fact, at one time during a particularly horrid winter, a friend of my mother’s at the mill, sent a hot water bottle to school by her son during the lunch hour. I remember laying my head on the hot water bottle during the afternoon and how grateful I was for the heat. Dad had his own cure for that at home. In the evening, he lit a cigarette, brushed my hair to one side, and blew the smoke in my ear and immediately pushed some cotton in. Whether it was because he took the time to pay attention to my ear or whether the warm smoke really helped, I have no idea. My mother turned both thumbs down when he announced that some friends had another “cure” back in the “old country”. They used a teaspoon of urine in the ear and that cured all. For some reason, whatever Ma told Dad about that suggestion never made it to my junk drawer.

I always had one tooth that ached. Like other kids at the time, I had made a trip to Dr. Brown in Bethel, had the gas, teeth pulled etc but that one tooth would not let me rest. Ma always went to the cupboard, pulled down a can of McCormick’s cloves and told me to put a dab on my finger..on to the tooth and it would calm it. It did and I swear I used more cloves in my mouth than she did in her cooking. I never tried that on my own four kids though.  Apparently the junk drawer did not have time to open and hand me any of this information.

A lot of useless (?) information floats around in my brain. I remember Dad telling me never to fish for yellow perch in August because they were always wormy that month. I passed that on to my oldest son. I hope Dad knew what he was talking about. Most of any information I have that I probably will never use again was given me by Dad. Like, whatever you do, Muff, don’t buy a Dodge Dart. Those buttons are useless and wish I had never bought it. I think the buttons were the gears if I remember correctly…I had long been married and had no intentions of buying a Dodge Dart…and on another occasion..don’t buy a damn Chevvy. The key broke off in the door and I can’t get it out.  A lot of information on automobiles, especially if he was in frantic mode time.

Half the junk drawer is loaded with tips on hunting and guns, both of which I cared nothing about and the farther I got from a gun, the better. I guess both Ma and Dad felt that all the kids should know how to handle a gun properly and then if we wanted to use one, well we were set for life. 

I guess the junk drawer kind of skittled out this morning as I went out to water my one tomato plant on the deck. Water them in the morning, Ma always said, of her flowers and plants. You  burn their feet if you wait til noon.

OK Ma, that one stuck with me and I even passed it on to a friend the other day. I am sure the junk drawer will come out again on occasion when needed.


Ring the bell; Salute the Flag!

Graduation 20030036Oh such memories will arise when former students of the Locke Mills school get together this summer. The picture is an updated one; there was no ramp to the left, no fancy entrance but it was our school.

Some things just stick in your mind and will never leave. After vacations and the beginning of the new school year, I looked forward to my first step inside the building. I loved the smell of the freshly oiled floors. At least I think they were freshly oiled. The smell was unique and I clung to it all day long.

The whirr of the pencil sharpener and the very delicate removal of the filled belly of said instrument was always a sight to behold. Some teachers could empty without one bit of wood shaving hitting the floor while others produced a rain storm. It didn’t take much to swing our heads from serious studying to the mundane emptying of the pencil sharpener.

Teeter boards and swings were the source of entertainment and if I remember, we all took turns without any blood being shed. Today, the topic of bullying is prevalent in most schools. I try and I try to remember if there were any bullying in our little school. It was a different generation and I believe because the majority of students had one thing in common, it united us in a way. Most parents worked in the mill and so it can be said that most were dressed the same way, no family stood out as being “better off” than another. In my class there was a boy we always called “Rim Head”. I don’t know why and I don’t know if he had been called that since birth, but few knew his real name and when we were at recess, the name Rim Head could be heard echoing up over the hill. No one  considered that bullying as he did not care what he was called, obviously. We had our “Baldie” and again, the boy had a full head of hair so I have no clue why he was called that name. I cannot recall anyone calling another fat or stinky or any degrading name, though. I hope my memory is accurate.

Most families had another thing in common. We bought groceries “on the cuff” at Arthur Vallee or Cass Howe’s( later to be Hank Leach’s) stores. Everyone stopped by on pay day and gave what they could toward their bill and checked to make sure it wasn’t  too high. If it was getting out of hand, some how Mr. Vallee would drop a subtle hint and the customer would fork over a bit more on the tab.

I rode to school in a van with two wooden boards on each side in back to make two benches for the students. Cass Howe positioned himself behind the wheel, cigar in hand and we were off! There was an occasional “stuck in the mud”incident and that would be reported with “mud vacation” following closely behind the announcement.

Bus kids brought their lunches in anything that would hold together. We had brown bags and sometimes Ma found lard buckets and later on, buckets in which peanut butter was sold. Oh, that peanut butter was awful, with oil swimming on top…but the pail made it all worth while. It was something like Ma buying laundry detergent which would barely made suds, because she needed the towel inside. Another shining example was the cereal that none of us liked because there was a glass tumbler or dish inside. It was the two for one days back in the Forties and Fifties and little was thrown away.

On the subject of throwing away, very little crumbs of our lunches were ever wasted. As soon as we settled ourselves on the ground, the town-owned mutt ( named Sandy) came and made the rounds to see what smelled the best and who was going to be the generous one of the day. Sandy grew fat and sassy and never failed to show up at the noon feeding. I have no idea where he went in the winter when we were inside the prison against the cold. Probably he had a perfectly good , warm home with plenty of good feed but just liked to socialize in the summer.

What joy in simple tasks–being asked to ring the bell to bring the students. Being asked to assist someone in the raising of the flag outside each morning. Every morning began with the Pledge of Allegiance and our voices became a sea of monotone as the week went on and almost took on a sing-song effect, hand over heart, gazing at the little flag in the corner of the room.

Three rooms; three teachers. So much education came out of that little school. A picture still in my mind of a teacher making peanut butter and crackers when the school boys couldn’t catch up with the speed away sled carrying the kettle of soup one winter day.  The teacher who quietly gave a pair of mittens to a little girl because her hands were cold and almost deep red in color. 

It was a different time; somehow difficult to explain in today’s world. Suffice it to say, we who were fortunate enough to go to the three room school house had something very special…and some very special memories for a lifetime.

July: Eating, Drinking, Fishing

July was unlike other summer months in Greenwood Center. The hot, sultry days made for long waits at the end of the driveway as Ace, the milkman , made his way to all the summer camps. We waited in the hot summer sun, clean milk bottle in hand, ready to exchange it for an ice cold bottle of chocolate or strawberry milk. What a delight to see the bottle with its tears in the moisture just waiting for us to run to the kitchen table, grab the enamel cups and divide up the booty. Was there ever such a delicious treat?? If a local farmer gave us milk, it went to my father who had ulcers and his diet was crackers and milk each evening before bedtime. He had first dibs on the milk and that was as it should be because he was sick and had to work. But, oh, the treat three times a week when Ace came in the milk truck. Ma gave us the change we needed to go with the empty clean bottle and sometimes we waited an hour to make sure we did not miss him. What dirty little urchins we must have looked to him, but he always smiled and was so nice.

The fourth of July was so special as my oldest brother, Tink, waited for his fireworks to come into the railroad station in Lockes Mills. Every day he checked and we waited to hear if the box had arrived from Ohio, that magic place somewhere in the United States that had all the fireworks for people like us! Tink gave Curt and me some sparklers which Ma allowed us to use. He bought roman candles so that Gram Martin could sit on her porch and watch the beautiful colors as he set them off over Twitchell Pond. He seldom bought too many of the really noisy ones as the color was minimal and the noise was enough to wake the dead ( or so my Grampa Martin said…).  Sometimes we had little red rolls of caps and if there was no cap gun available, a rock would do to make them “go off”!

That was also the day of the additional treat of the summer. Watermelon..spitting seeds and all the contests that went with that. The juices ran down our chins and we just did not care except Ma referred to it as a “sticky mess” by the time we were through. We sat outside and just went back and forth on that watermelon slice like a beaver on a log. What a treat!!

Ma sometimes borrowed Uncle Louie’s rowboat and took us to Nick’s Point across the pond for a picnic of sandwiches and kool-aid. There were usually ripe blueberries, so we had a picking good time along with the boat ride. It was fun to see the houses get smaller and smaller as she rowed us across Twitchell Pond. After our picnic, we sat on the rocks for awhile, listened to the ledge hawks scream and then back across the pond for another  year.

During the hot weather, Gram churned her butter on the front porch, hoping for a breeze off the pond. I loved to watch her churn and then dig out her little mold with the pretty leaf on it to make the squares of butter. Only once did I drink her buttermilk. Oh, it was such a hot day and the buttermilk was so ice cold and tasted so good. Two hours later, my body was bent in a comma-shape and my mother stood over me with threats of “if you ever touch that stuff again, I will know for sure you are out of your mind. No wonder you’re sick, drinking that stuff…” That is all I remember about the lecture because I was too busy being sick…well it tasted good going down but I remembered to politely refuse the next time Gram offered some.

Gram had a little beach for the family to use, but in order to get to it, one had to run across a field. I say run, because that is exactly what I did after someone announced there was a huge milk adder snake living in that field. Swimming was never the same after that. I breathed a sigh of relief upon getting to the beach without seeing the snake and the same when I reached the tarred road on the way out. I still wonder if that was a story made up by one of my brothers just to make me run every time…well it worked for about five years!!

Soon there were people from Greenwood City who learned about the tiny swimming hole and we had to look to see if there was a car parked by the field before we could go. Now that made for some cranky kids. After all, it was our Grandmother’s beach and some strangers were there and not room for us?? How fair was that?? Oh how unjust the entire situation was when we could not use the beach the minute we wanted.

Of course, summer meant fishing to me. There is one incident that still stands out in my mind. I knew bass were not to be caught and kept before June 1st..I believe that was the date. One day I was on Mina’s wharf and my line tugged clear to the bottom.  I thought there was a whale on there and so I eased the little alder pole slowly here and there and soon ..plop! ..on the wharf was this big bass. I knew I had to throw it back. On the other hand I could see it in my mother’s fry pan covered with corn meal and frying up golden and crisp. She would be proud of me to think I caught a fish that big..well it was almost a whole meal! Back then, game wardens were more to be feared than State Police. I held my breath, dropped the pole, grabbed the bass and ran for the house. The minute I got to the house, I went to the cleaning rock where Dad had given me lessons in cleaning fish, and within seconds, it seemed, no one could identify that fish as a bass.

Later, I retrieved the alder pole and waited for the folks to come home from work. Dad was the first to see the cleaned fish laying in the cake pan. “What do we have here?” he asked. “I caught a fish,” and that was where I left it. “Looks to me like a bass”. Well I couldn’t lie to him. The man knew his fish, cleaned or otherwise. “Yes.” “Well, Muff, little early in the season isn’t it?” “yes” was all I could muster out of my mouth. “Ethel, get the frying pan hot,” Dad yelled. That was the end of the fish situation.

Now you might be saying, that’s no way to bring up a kid. You have to teach them right from wrong. Dad knew I knew. He knew I worried all afternoon what he was going to say. He figured I had punished myself. Besides, there was nothing he liked better than crisp fried bass.

I miss July in Greenwood Center, Maine.