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

 

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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.

My Love ( from “Coming of Age) 2012

Once we were young

with dreams and hopes

and laughter almost every day.

His hair of black and mine of butter yellow.

We worked from dawn to dusk

together.

He just came from the shed

pushing the wheelbarrow full of wood chunks

for the basement stove,

his white hair shining in the October sun

a little stooped where once he stood  so

straight and tall.

I wave; he stops to catch his breath

waves back and asks “How you doin'”?

“Not bad for an old lady,” I reply.

We both laugh

and for a little while we both are young again

with his black hair and mine of butter yellow.

( In memory of Richard (Dick) Morgan) 11/7/41-10/25/16

 

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A Ghostly Tale

It looked like any farm should look like…at least in my young seventeen years’ way of thinking. It was rather bleak on the outside from years of standing there on the hillside. Inside were 12 or 13 rooms waiting to be filled or finished off and as a new bride, I was thrilled to see the space after years of sharing a three room house with five other people.

The farm had seen many inhabitants, among those my in-laws ancestors and I marveled at the stories told about its history. I wasn’t quite sure how we would add to it, but we did experience a bit of the past…I think~~~

After six years, the farm boasted of four children ages 4 right down to the newborn. Since there were four bedrooms upstairs, it worked out beautifully.  The baby always remained in a crib downstairs until I decided( in my estimation) that he was old enough to go upstairs. Each child had his own bedroom, but Alan’s crib was put in Debra’s room, making her happy since she claimed him as her own from the day he came home from the hospital.

Occasionally, Debra would mention something about a boy in her room, but I discounted this as just imagination. It went on for some time and I cannot remember from whom I heard this or where, but it was said that a boy who had lived there, died in the room from pneumonia. I still, in all my innocence, did not add up the two conversations.

But again, I digress. This particular evening, my husband and I were watching TV when I heard Alan screaming from his crib. It was not the usual fussing of a two year old but a terrifying sound. I bounded up the stairs, which led by an old attic door and into the room. He sobbed wildly and I picked him up and tried to comfort him, to no avail. I propped him on my hip, as most mothers do, and started out of the room into the hallway and he stiffened, screamed and pointed to the attic door. It was such a primal scream that I almost dropped him and can still recall the moment to this day, all these years later. Apparently he could see something that I could not. I jumped almost as high as he did when he pointed!! Down the stairs we went and after some time, he quieted enough to be taken back and the rest of the night was quiet.

Through her childhood years, Debbie often remarked that a boy came and stood at the foot of her bed. It never bothered her and she was never upset. Gary has some stories of his own, which I am sure he can relate much better than I.

I never was aware of any strange feelings during the day as I worked upstairs and to my knowledge none ever were wandering downstairs. The presence seemed to be always upstairs near the bedrooms and centered on the room in which the boy was to have died.

On one of my last visits to Debra at the farm, she graciously gave me her downstairs bedroom and returned upstairs. On her nightstand is a touch lamp and nature called me in the middle of the night. I crawled back into bed and shut the lamp off. Wait! No! The lamp came back on..then off..then on…hmm short circuit? NO. I reached over and shut it off. Five minutes later, again the on, off, on off routine began again. This time, being tired, I let out a yell “Leave the lamp alone..I am tired and I want to sleep!”  The lamp went off and stayed off. Coincidence? Who knows. Harmless for sure.

Debbie has made the farm house over into her own home now and says it is ghost free. If it were not, I am sure she could live with them peacefully.  But being Halloween month, I thought I would share our little “ghost” story.

The picture is Alan at about the age the “spirit”-“ghost” decided to wake him.

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Preserving, Pickling & Other Challenges

Ok, I have to admit it! I have been admiring the jars of jellies, tomato sauces, relishes coming from those kitchens down-east in my home state of Maine. Now, most of my acquaintances here in upstate NY have no idea that for eighteen years I was what I like to think( a legend in my own mind) a farmer’s wife, who not only threw bags of grain around like a frisbee and helped hay in the middle of July. Yes, it is true. I have had two lives…

Now, let’s be truthful. I moved on to that farm knowing how to boil water and perhaps throw a meal on the table. There were 13 rooms in that farm and well over a hundred acres of land ..and the land one could see from any window were fields with rocks and , in my young eyes, a lot of dust.

But I digress. As the years went by, and four little ones arrived in four years, I grew up very rapidly. I thought I had everything under control. Each year we had a garden…well, let’s put it like this. We planted a garden and then spent most of the summer in damage control from wild animals as well as domestic bovine.  Our biggest crops were tomatoes, peas, potatoes, lettuce ( all nature’s best eats) and if I remember correctly, a few carrots . There is nothing like little new potatoes and fresh peas cooked and doctored up with milk, butter, salt and pepper. ( Thank you, my first mother-in-law, Gram Dunham). The potatoes were hilled and there was nothing I enjoyed more than digging and letting them dry in the sun. Hard to believe, isn’t it?

There is always a downside to almost everything I’ve done in life. My kids were all in school and I love a challenge. Those two things, at my young age, were a lethal combination. I loved to read and again, those pictures of preserves were getting to me.  My first try was choke cherry jam ( or was it jelly?) I’m not sure. I do remember six little jars and a thin coat of wax on top sitting there to greet my kids and that was whooped up within a week or two. Success! Spurring me on to greater heights! I found elderberry bushes. ( Yes, someone had to tell me what they were)…and another bunch of jelly greeted the four when they arrived home from school.

Next on the food chain I saw apples. I found an innocent friend who just happened to own an apple peeler. I had never seen one before and haven’t since. We sat up shop in the “pantry” and attached it to a cupboard counter. I only remember that there was a half bushel ( more like a ton before we got through) of apples. It cored and peeled the apple. She turned the crank and I loaded the apples and then cut them up. I know that it takes a lot of apples to make sauce of any amount but I had enough to feed the entire community and when all was said and done, my friend put her peeler in her vehicle and announced she never liked apple sauce.  BUT I discovered how many meals can be accompanied by a little apple sauce and make it look like a banquet.

Now you’re thinking that I was just dabbling around because I was bored, right? Nothing of the sort. Fall sneaked in on us and I realized that the garden was full of green tomatoes. Could I let those go to waste? I dug into my old cookbook and voila! Green tomato pickles. I found a huge pot..I have no clue what one calls those pots but it was huge , blue speckled affair. I packed tomatoes, and all the ingredients and let it set overnight. The next day, kids in school, I followed instructions to the letter( I am no fool..at times) and on the stove the whole concoction went to cook. Now  you’re asking ” why not a pressure cooker?” Well back in the sixties, there were horror stories of pressure cookers exploding and the last thing I wanted to do was dig out a eight foot ladder and wipe down a ceiling in the midst of this latest experiment. All day, the pot simmered and the smell was one that should have been bottled and sold. I ladled the finished product out into my jars and let me tell you, I ate those with bread and butter like a meal. To this day, I can remember the smell  and wish I had a dish of them in front of me…and I also remember the thrill of the victory over this challenge.

If I am going to brag about  my success…I may as well tell  you this little tale. My Dad and I, to the chagrin of my brothers and mother, loved pickled pigs feet. We’d get a jar, open, eat, hum with satisfaction while others turned their backs on us. SO somewhere, sometime I happened upon a pickled egg. I admit I was into pickling back then, having eaten raw tripe during my second pregnancy, almost causing my husband to crash land every time he noticed. Well, now what farm does not usually have a few extra eggs on hand? Out came a gallon jug, the recipe book , kids off to school..and the challenge began. At the end of the day, upon their arrival from the school bus , sat the gallon jug with two dozen eggs just bouncing in the liquid waiting for consumption.

I have no idea why none of the four even wanted to touch them. They ate the jams, jellies and apple sauce. The husband took a look, snorted and turned his back. I was left alone with two dozen pickled eggs to consume. I couldn’t do it all by myself.  The pig finished them up with his slop.

Butchering Time! That was always a week-end to anticipate. Some look forward to festivals and concerts; we planned for butchering weekend. Since the kids were farm kids, they knew what to expect, but I shielded them from the initial misery.  The pig was slaughtered and bacon sent to West Paris to be smoked over hickory smoke…oh that was so delicious. A bunch of my husband’s friends stopped in the evenings while I slapped the bacon on the griddle in the middle of my new Sears electric stove and we sat, talked and munched. We bought a meat grinding machine from Willie Hathaway, who was upgrading, and I ran beef through so made our hamburg meat and hey! gasp! even made sausage. ( I still have the recipe). The beef was cut and sent home. Many a night I sat after the four were tucked away, wrapping x amount of steaks on the kitchen table. I was surrounded by freezer paper, masking tape and a black marker. The freezer looked really good piled to the top.

Preserving, pickling, butchering ..all that..from the first seed in the garden to the harvest is back breaking work, but oh so satisfying in the snows of winter. God bless all you hard working people who do this every  year.  Do I miss it? Yes, in a way as those were good, but hard times, but such a feeling of accomplishment.

And to my NY acquaintances, betcha nevah knew when you saw me in that white coat behind the desk, that I did all this, didja…and tread hay, watered cows , chased cows, swore at cows ..etc etc….

Now my daughter lives on the farm and is holding down the fort. I am glad it is occupied again. ( And oh, the picture of me is when I was young enough to try all the pickling and preserving…and the other is the driveway to the farm. Peaceful , eh?

 

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FORK IN THE ROAD

We’ve all had them…we’ve come through a tough time and now come to a fork in the road. I remember so well the day my future was told me…it was quite the accident, actually. Three “girls” from town were going to see a “fortune teller” in Lewiston, Maine and at the last moment, one could not go. Would I like to go? Well, why not. Why not, indeed. I was divorced, working three jobs, tired, disillusioned with life in general and an afternoon with the “girls” might be just what I needed. Oh, it was a hot day…that is one of the first things I remember…we complained about the heat constantly during the drive to Lewiston interspersed with who was going in first. No one seemed to be eager..admittedly it might be a little eerie. But the word was that this old lady knew what she was doing and “hit everything right on the button.” Needless to say , at this juncture in my life, I really didn’t care as long as she could assure me that I could pay my bills and not become a bag lady living on a street corner.

By the time we arrived at the residence, it had been decided that I would be the first to learn my future. I am sure I didn’t volunteer..maybe I was the oldest and had no say in the matter, but there I was, timidly walking from the little hallway through the door to the kitchen where I had been summoned by the lady, whose name was Rose.

Sit, sit and don’t be afraid,’ she chirped. Obviously the fear stood out or maybe I was trembling. She spread her cards in front of her and suddenly a door slammed behind me , which, yes, I admit made me shoot straight up from my chair. “That’s just some of my friends,” Rose smiled. Fine. But I could not see her friends.

The reading began. “You are no longer married.’ ( well yeah, no ring there..the skeptic in me thought). Rose was smiling again…”How nice! You have two children born on the same day!” Whoa. This WAS getting eerie..” and one almost on the same day. Oh, oh, one born months later..poor little fellow has a birthday all his own.” This was beginning to get interesting and chilling.

You are thinking of buying a trailer. Don’t. You won’t need it.” (Ha, a lot you know..) “You are going to a banquet Saturday night. ( no no no) You will be seated to the left of a young man. He’s very nice. Now I know you do not care for men right now nor care if you ever meet one, but he will have dark hair and BE NICE TO HIM.” ( Well I guess she meant that)

” I see the initials RM but I don’t know what they mean. You will be traveling a great deal in the next few years between two states..this one and I believe New York.” ( Well of course)( These sarcastic thoughts I hoped were not reaching her, as she was a very nice, gentle lady).

The reading completed, ( lots of other miscellaneous stuff in there as well), I got up and put money in the mason jar in the middle of the kitchen table .

All the way home, we compared notes and all agreed that Rose was the genuine article,but I wondered how my future would ever look like the one she described.

Later that evening, my Mom asked if I wanted to ride to Newton, Mass. with her for the weekend as she was a delegate to a union convention. I talked with my newspaper editor and he thought it a good idea for an article and pictures, so I agreed. “Take  a nice dress or a gown,” she said, ” there’s always a banquet the night before we come home.”  Sure, ok. Wait.a.minute.did.she.say.a.banquet??

Fast forward ahead to Newton, Mass. and the convention. Banquet night arrived and I donned a floor length gown..in fact, a purple gown. Of all colors, I had bought a purple gown months earlier when the shop keeper urged me that it was my color. I didn’t think so, but relented anyway. Into the banquet room we swept ( like royalty) and a man’s voice said, “Ethel, come join us.” We did, well, we had to, as she gripped my arm and pulled. I was a bit nervous as I had no idea what this would be like and thoughts of Rose were far, far away. After I had gained my composure after being thrust in the seat by my mother, I looked to my right and there was this dark haired man,…in fact hair to his shoulders.

I will never forget the following conversation.’Hi, how are you?” I looked at this man and said, “Fine , thank you. I am divorced and have four children.” Can you imagine??? It was like someone had taken my tongue and ran with it.  He just laughed and we all enjoyed the banquet, and then it was announced there was dancing in another section. Well, now I loved to dance and had not danced in years. Did he dance? Of course he danced. ( liar). So we danced.. kind of …and we talked.

The next morning he asked for my address and said he’d write. ( well of course you will). He did. He drove on weekends from New York to Maine.

We met September 20, 1974, engaged in November and the following July 5th, 1975 were married  in my mother’s side yard. I asked my mother,”Why didn’t you tell me about this guy before we went to the convention? You’ve known him for years as a delegate.” Her answer..”I didn’t think he was your type.”

Well, he was, Ma. He was my type. We spent 41 years together and yup, we made so many trips between NY and Maine in an old VW Bug that had no heater, I finally lost track.  I even discovered his favorite color was purple, hence the purple gown. Another piece put in the puzzle.

This is my first anniversary without him. But, Rose, you were right on the money. He was a nice guy and yes, I treated him NICE!

 

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