TBT LETTER CIRCA 1980’s

Among my Mother’s treasures, I found this letter I wrote to her in the..probably..early eighties..since I never dated it, it’s a guess. Apparently, it was written when I was longing for a visit.

Dear Mom in the Maine wilderness:

It is raining tonight, so thought it a good time to write back home. Drops of rain are pounding on the “tin shed roof” and it sets me in mind of going to bed in the attic of our little house in Greenwood, Maine.  Speaking of sheds, I wonder when people stopped using the regular old wooden sheds. You know, the kind with wood piled in tiers..just so..for the winter.  There was an air of mystery about the old wood shed. Hidden nooks existed for everything..from a bottle of the neighbor’s home brew to the buck saw with a newly broken blade.  The latter always occurred when the wood box was empty. Worse still was taking a mighty swing at a chunk of wood and driving Dad’s favorite double- bitted axe into a rock or burying it in dirt to the handle.  Nothing was more sickening than a huge nick in a freshly ground axe..unless it was Dad, with said axe in hand, towering over you waiting for an explanation.

I really miss fresh fish. Oh, I could drive to the local fish market, but carrying fish home in a brown wrapper is a far cry from a stringer full of fresh perch, bass or pickerel.

This year everyone celebrated the Fourth of July with gusto. I remember your rowing us across Twitchell Pond to Nick’s Point with a big watermelon to celebrate. I’m not sure whether we were celebrating the Fourth or that you once more successfully navigated the old wooden row boat to its destination.

When one moves from home, he tends to look back much more than I realized.  Remember canned milk during World War 11. To this day, I cannot bear the taste of it..but how fortunate we were to have it. Karo on cereal, molasses cake, molasses cookies, molasses on hot biscuits.  The big treat was oleo on bread sprinkled very lightly with sugar..or perhaps the treat was the oleo itself coming in a special package, when we squeezed and squeezed until the yellow was smoothly and evenly spread though out the mixture; Shredded Wheat was purchased because the miniature bales were packed between cardboard pictures we could color.

I look at the gawdy lights and advertisements in the city and wonder, if I ever knew, back in the days of kerosene lamps that I would ever live among such artificial lighting.  I would not pretend to give up my electric lights, but there still is a satisfaction of smelling kerosene soak up the wick of an old lamp.  A kerosene lamp in our home was as holy and precious as the crown jewels. Cursed was he who dared black the mantel of the” Alladin Lamp”..cursed was he who broke a chimney.  Our Jello set very well in a December snow band and the brook bubbling by kept any beverage we might have “fairly cool”. There was no washing machine. How many Saturdays did you bend over that big tub of water scrubbing clothes on those metal ripples until your fingers were raw?  I saw a scrub board at a flea market for five dollars and was tempted to buy it for you, but I know you appreciate my humor only to a point.  I look at my sewing machine and remember your newspaper patterns, a scratch of your head, your feeding old material through a treadle machine and another creation was born.  How many  winter coats did we wear which you manufactured from nothing?

It was a necessity that you work in the mill. But how sweet when you were laid off for a few days. We jumped off the school bus and rushed in the kitchen to sample the doughnuts on the table. These were a superb treat you didn’t have time to make when you were punching the time clock at the mill.  I know you’re still punching that time clock. Some day,  I hope you can come out here long enough to see a bit of this country. It’s not all that bad…if you’re not a native of Maine and like to walk through fields barefooted with buttercups winding in and around your toes.

It’s late and the rain is still falling. I look out upon the intersection with streetlights shining on the rain puddles…and in closing, will pretend it’s Twitchell Pond and in just a minute I’ll run down and jump in head first.

They were hard days…those old days..but how simple and beautiful some of the memories.

Love and miss you.

Your loving daughter,

San

 

ma

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The Mailman Cometh…

earlyThe photo was taken a long time before the wild dreams took over rational thinking. Note my brother, Rex, photo bombing in the background. He was always way ahead in the future.

But again, I digress..a favorite habit of mine. I preface this by saying I love Joe, our mail man. When he is on duty, I know I will hear the clink of my mailbox door and if I am out on the deck, there is a smile, a wave and an exchange of a few words as he goes on his way.

My fixation with the mail started at a very young age. I watched as our faithful mailman, Johnny Howe, motored through Greenwood Center, Maine, every afternoon as the clock was moving toward the mid-afternoon part. I sat on a little rock in the front  yard and listened for his car coming down the “flat.” Yes, there were so few cars in those days that you knew who was coming just by the sound of the motor. How my heart sank when he went by our mailbox by the road, but always stopped at my Gram Martin’s box next door. Why did she always get mail? Uncle Louis would walk down the hill and I’d watch as he wandered back up, perusing the papers in his hand. Hrump, I thought, at least they get something to look at and we don’t even get advertisements. On second thought, now at my age, maybe that was a good time in life…very few pieces of junk mail!!

I loved reading and even advertisements would be nice to fill up a summer afternoon. In my probably eight to ten year old mind, I thought it grossly unfair and set out to do something about it. There were comic books in the house given us and always..always..either on the back of the cover or within were these wonderful little ads from the Johnson Smith Co. Oh, the things one could buy for just pennies or a handful of change. Now I did have a few coins in my attic hideaway that I had earned treading hay for my Uncle Harold and collecting potato bugs off plants that my Grandfather Martin had begrudgingly, but finally, handed to me. ( I think a quart jar of bugs equaled a nickel, perhaps).

For weeks I studied the page and decided that some of the things offered were just too gross. I didn’t want to fool any friends with pepper gum or fake dog poop. What I really wanted to buy was a whoopie cushion. That wouldn’t hurt a soul and I knew I would only use it on family( well I’d count my father out on that). I proposed the idea to my mother one night while we were washing the dishes in the old black iron sink.

Need I even tell you her response? Her dish cloth, dripping with suds, seemed to hang in mid-air, and in one quick sentence the verdict came: “You will do no such thing , young lady.”  That idea vanished as quickly as it had materialized. But being the persistent pest that I seemed to be, it did not squelch all my dreams. I still wanted mail.

Back to Johnson and Smith and the comic books. AHA! No one could find a reason for my not ordering something that would make all my dreams come true. I wanted to be a dancer..in particular, a tap dancer and there for 59 cents was a pair of taps. All I had to do was order, receive, find Dad’s hammer and nail them to an old pair of shoes I wore fishing. I wouldn’t even touch the shoes that still looked ..well decent.

I didn’t ask permission to go ahead with the mission, as I could see absolutely nothing wrong with buying a set of taps. The next day I printed out the order form, found an envelope, set it in the mailbox with three pennies on top for postage, set the flag for Johnny to stop and watched as he ground to a halt that afternoon and took my order out into the big world.

A couple weeks went by and sure enough! One day Johnny pulled up to the box, I ran like the wind and there was a little brown package. Yessir! In the corner was Johnson and Smith Co. Up the driveway, up the stairs to the attic where the shoes and Dad’s hammer had been waiting since the day the order was sent. I sat on the edge of the bed, shoe between my knees and tap tap tap. Soon there they were; sitting side by side on the bed..waiting for my feet to make magic. I knew the song I was going to tap …Syncopated Clock…distinct beat.

The time had come. Supper was over; Dad had retired to the bed with his western novel for a brief time . Showtime!! The shoes were on; the attic was my stage and all I had to do was hum the song. Which I did…tap tap tap and a couple quick taps… I waited for applause or at least an acknowledgement…

Suddenly, Dad’s voice echoed from his bedroom, “Ethel, if that’s a woodpecker, get my gun before he rips the side of the house off!”

My mother came from the kitchen, paused at the bottom of the stairs and said, ” She’s YOUR daughter, Bob.” and then in after thought aimed up the stairs, “Young lady, those better not be your good shoes.”  My tapping days were over in less than 15 minutes and I had lost 59 cents plus 3 cents postage.

But that was one day that Johnny brought me mail.

 

 

What is it about November?

RoyI hated November growing up in Greenwood Center, Maine. The leaves had fallen; tree limbs were like skeletal fingers reaching for the sky and it seemed the sky was always gray. That, in turn, took the beautiful blue of July’s Twitchell Pond and turned it a dismal color. Every day seemed like it could be a snow day and eventually, yes, the flakes would fall.

It seems , at least in my memories, that we always had a snow bank by Thanksgiving. Hunters were wishing for a tracking snow and suddenly near the end of the month , there was enough in the door yard for a small bank and a little shoveling.

The only bright spot was Thanksgiving and we were busy at school cutting around our hands, for the turkey feathers and carefully coloring inside the lines for decorations. Our own Thanksgiving at the little  house was less than spectacular as my mother waited for Dad to come home from hunting before we could eat.

Each year was the same. Dad went to Lester Cole’s and bought a hen and home he came swinging the bird for our “feast.” That morning, he’d leave for his hunting trip and Ma got the wood stove going full blast in the kitchen. As I got older, I was recruited to help with the “bird.” Dunking it in boiling water, pulling feathers, opening up both lids on one side of the stove and sticking the bird into the fire and coals to “singe” the pin feathers. Ma and I stood side by side pulling the pin feathers out and finally, in went her stuffing and into the oven. I remember the smell the most…nothing can equal the smell of cleaning a chicken ready for roasting from stage one!

We may have had a pie for dessert, but I remember most the red jello which we kids loved because, of course, the jiggle, and since there was no electricity, we put it outside to set and usually, yes, there was a small bank of snow in which it rested. What a treat!!

By the time Dad returned from the first act of his hunting day and sat down, the six plates were on the flowered oil cloth and chairs pulled up. I do  not think one Thanksgiving ever passed that my father did not refer to the chicken as having “roadrunner”. He’d pass the plate and ask if we did not want another piece of “roadrunner” and Ma never failed to say, “stop that, now.”

Across the pasture field, my grandparents and Uncle Louis were having their own little meal, though I am not sure how much they celebrated the day. In the picture is my Uncle Roy, complete with his trusty gun, and I am sure on this November day he was out trying to find a deer.  The Martins took great store in their hunting abilities and I am sure he would rather have spent his day tracking deer than eating Thanksgiving dinner.

So many memories of November and yet, through all the years, I have never really become friends with the month. It remains stark to me and after the one day of feast, it seems forever before a new year begins. March strikes me as the month that teases , telling us winter is over and little green sprouts appear. The next day we have a white new coating of snow.

I will get through this month as I always do. There is no Twitchell Pond and most of the folks in Greenwood Center are gone now, but I shall try and be content with the memories. On Thanksgiving Day, I will have some “roadrunner” to remember my Dad.