No Better Place /Babies Make Six

garyalThe first year the husband and I slowly filled the farm with odds and ends of furniture…finally there was a shiny white electric stove direct from Sears and Roebuck sitting in the kitchen. A couch from here, a chair from there and we were sitting pretty comfortable…he still working at Ekco and I finally had to stop working at Penley’s because their insurance did not cover pregnant women over seven months. Oh, well! A week later, I walked each day from our farm to Dan Cole’s farm in Greenwood Center to work a night shift at Ekco. That lasted a few weeks and I got in my daily exercise! Thank goodness I had someone to offer me a ride home at 1 a.m.!!  That was 1957 and I brought Debra Jo into the world on June 25th. I had never held a newborn in my arms, so that was a totally new experience for the baseball playing tomboy !! Let’s add to that fact that she had colic and never stopped crying her first three months. Being so small at 5 lbs and a few ounces, she couldn’t accept a lot of the baby formulas so there was another headache. We managed to maneuver our way through that unforgettable period to discover I was to add to the family again. Well, whoopee! One year and two days later in 1958, Brian Leland was added to the fold.

At this point, Debra had not started walking. BUT, she was potty trained. YAY! This is a part of my life where if I concentrate really hard, I can remember bleary eyes, walking in my sleep and the husband deciding we should have a cow. Did he not remember I hated cows? Somewhere between the two babies, changing diapers,tripping over barn cats, he introduced a cow to the real estate.

Before I could remember to be hostile to him for this act, I discovered we were to have a third addition to the family. So to honor the year 1959, on October 16th, I introduced Gary Herbert to the estate. Things were getting out of hand at this point. The husband was milking a cow morning and night; I was supposed to be taking care of said milk plus take care of three babies.

Let’s not forget 1961..might as well bring that in with a flair..so on June 25th, I gave Debra her 4th birthday present in Alan Curt. We now rounded out to the number 6 to fill up the 13 rooms.

Now you may get the impression that I was overwhelmed. Not at all. I went into a coma after I brought Alan home and frankly remember little until all of them were walking and feeding themselves. Not really..it just seems that way.

If there is any place better than a farm in the hills of Maine to raise a bunch of kids, I want to see it. There was a sand pile in the corner of the yard and for hours, they had their trucks and  made little houses out of sticks.  They had the pastures to run in and ..scary, but Gary loved to find old dumps and dig up treasures to bring home to me. Later on, he became an archaeologist. Go figure.

On windy days, after school, I joined them in running the field and trying to get the kites to fly. I saved box tops and labels and got some dandy Green Giant kites in the mail..what fun we had!  The badminton set was erected on one side of the lawn and many a time four kids watched as their mother hit the earth trying to return the birdie over the net.

I cannot remember a day when any of my four said they could find nothing to do. Their imaginations ran wild..some so wild I like to forget about them. They soon filled up the old farm with their collections of rocks, sticks, any outdoor memento they thought valuable and I tried to keep any collection of live creatures down to a bare minimum.

I can still see them sitting on the stone walls watching the chipmunks play; Debbie bringing me a fistful of dandelions or apple blossoms.

The old farm was coming alive; four kids, six or seven barn cats, one dog, one or two cows ( I refused to count) and usually one pig a year.  It had just started to get interesting.

Sometimes, I have to admit, I just lay in bed at night and wondered if I could still make a double play if I had the chance to play ball again!…and followed it up with Thank God I still have my Red Sox on the old radio.

 

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Getting Acquainted

In my first blog, I mistakenly wrote I was 17 years old when we first moved to our little real estate on Rowe Hill. I missed a birthday, probably between cleaning wallpaper and polishing the little wood stove, in February of that year. I actually was a year older, but no wiser.

Furniture was scarce and in the first few months, we scrounge what little we needed here and there. Relatives probably fled when they saw us approaching their door yards. The bed was new with a built in bookcase at the headboard. Being a voracious reader, I thought this was the top of the line purchase!  A black and white tv with rabbit ears came to us through a family member; our kitchen table came from Sears with its very classy cherry and ivory top and the padded cherry covered chairs. Such luxury!!  But the old wood stove remained. It provided heat and was all I had to cook on for some time. A new electric stove was not in the budget nor was a washing machine. 

I still worked at Ekco and sorted the rosewood that my Dad sawed on the other side of the gigantic wall separating us. The wood was from Brazil, so named because of its rosy color. After  we sorted the trash from the good, my boss, Ansel Jordan came and carried the bag away to be taken to another part of the mill where my mother, one of many, put them on a machine to form the handles of knives and other Ekco cookware.

Each night, the husband and I came home dragging our feet and the little wood stove awaited my loving touch. One of my early surprises was finding the husband was not too adept at building a fire. I had early training from the age of seven, so it took me a few minutes to get a roaring fire going. Then there was the matter of getting food on the table.  Do you know how long it takes for a couple of potatoes to boil ? How long it takes the water to get hot enough so they will boil?

I don’t want to say my enthusiasm for my little kingdom was becoming tarnished, but this princess was beginning to sense that life was not all roses and especially when the crispness of September rolled in.  It was then I noticed that we would never be warmed by coal; any bank of coals the husband acquired faded out long before our feet hit the coldness of the hardwood floors at 5 a.m.  Each cool night as I cooked supper, he was in the basement once again talking to the huge lumps of coal that were supposed to keep us as toasty warm as his father’s stove did the winter before. All we lacked was his father, who was not about to move in with us, when his toes were toasty warm in his own home.

The news came down that Ekco was laying off workers and I was one to go. Ah, but Penley’s was hiring in West Paris. So here I was at 18 and about to be indoctrinated into another skill..making spring clothespins.  I could do this.  It was a frosty morning when I made arrangements to meet with another worker in Bryant Pond to hitch a ride. 

I was seated at a machine with a pedal that I was to kick or push…it was a matter of rhythm. Grab the spring and two pieces of wood and slap them on the machine. If I could make x number of gross a day, I’d get a dollar an hour…well, let me tell you. As soon as I got that rhythm down, no problem!  Junior Farr was my boss and a good one.

I didn’t mind the new job at all, but I did mind when the husband forgot he was married. It seems this one particular night..dark, snowy, temperature close to zero..you get the picture, my friend left me off in Bryant Pond knowing that the husband would pick me up as he came home from his job at Ekco. I stood; I waited; I stomped my feet trying to keep warm on the corner. No husband, no car, no nothing. I started walking for home, figuring that eventually he would come or he had already come through and forgot about me. At least I would be warm if I kept walking. Well, let’s say I walked about a mile and suddenly a car came from behind and stopped. I don’t want to say that I was a trifle put out because I wasn’t. I was beyond that, way beyond that plus cold and tired.

“Where have you been?” I don’t think I shrieked but maybe the cold, frosty air made the wordss1 snap a bit.

“I went to the union meeting and forgot I was supposed to pick you up.”

Incredible. Just incredible that a husband could forget his wife standing in snow and cold after working all day. The ride home was a silent one, up one slippery hill, down Velvet Hollow, up another couple slippery hills until we stopped the sliding car in front of the castle I so admired just a few months ago.

I slammed into the kitchen, grabbed matches, half a newspaper and lit the wood stove. The husband made way for the basement, in a feeble attempt to once again secure the coal bank that would ease its way into oblivion in the early morning hours.

Meanwhile, I grabbed a sauce pan, opened two cans of chicken noodle soup and slammed that on top of the stove.  In the next breath, I opened a package of saltine crackers and tossed them on the table with two bowls and two spoons.

The husband emerged from the cellar, hands black from the coal, took one look at the table and knew there would be no potatoes and meat this evening. The little princess had just lost her cool.

In The Beginning

It is a lovely day in May 1956 when we crest the hill and draw the wide winged Mercury to a stop in front of the big white farm house. Months have gone into the preparation for this move. All the wallpaper inside the 13 rambling rooms have been cleaned with a sponge like material; the one little wood stove in the kitchen has been polished and cleaned.  I am seventeen years old and a bride of seven months.

My eyes take in the wide open fields with the stone walls separating them like little square boxes. Chipmunks are scurrying on them, looking alarmed at the thought of visitors after months of solitude.  We’ve bought the house because it was a good buy; and the fact that over the years it was owned by my husband’s family.

What a glorious feeling to no longer share three rooms with five other people! This space was all mine and I looked down in the valley to Indian Pond where I had spent many a summer in my childhood.

It had been a long seven months living with my husband’s parents. His mother, though she hid it well, was shell shocked to think he had married a seventeen year old tomboy from Greenwood Center.  I had graduated high school and did what most “girls” did in the Fifties: get a job and/or marry and have a family. I got the job sorting rosewood at Ekco Products at .75 an hour. I had earned two scholarships during my school years and passed a Federal Civil Service test in Rumford to become a secretary. I passed with flying colors but was too young to be hired for the job. (Incidentally, on my 18th birthday, a letter came to my parents’ home in my maiden name from the Dept of the Navy wanting me to work in the Pentagon) Ah , the road not taken, but I was reveling in my own little country estate at the time and not a thought was given that I had missed a grand opportunity.

Mother-in-law was a treasure throughout the winter. As soon as I got home from work, we had our little sessions where she was determined to make a young lady out of me. I didn’t have the heart to tell her my mother had seventeen years and failed, but this woman was insistent. I sat there by the hour as she instructed me on crocheting edgings around hankies; later an embroidery piece with a deer head on each end became my Dad’s Christmas present. She taught me how to cook a decent meal and if she was disappointed in her son’s choice, one would never have known.

But I digress. I mentioned the little cook stove in the kitchen. In the cellar resided a huge wood/coal furnace which would come in handy during a Maine winter. ( or so I thought…) In the corner was a piano which the former owners left behind and that, in my mind, was about as important as any piece of furniture we could buy.

Out in back was a little red shed like structure, which I believe was a hen house and on that May morning I had already made up my mind that there would never be a hen or rooster or any winged creature wandering around MY wonderful estate. It was big enough to hold a couple cows had I really measured it correctly.

Up on the side hill was a beautiful plum tree and apple trees scattered here and there. Visions of jams and jellies formed in my mind and I could see myself standing in front of my cupboard delighting in the gleaming reds of all my accomplishments.

Gardens!  We would have gardens and by the dawn’s early light, I would be out hoeing and weeding while the dew was still on the ground. Later in the year, I would be canning and freezing all that green beautiful produce fresh from Mother Earth.

Remember, I was seventeen and not quite right in the mind. I forgot I still had a day job at .75 cents an hour and would not be standing in the kitchen with a frilly apron on all day. Instead I would be wearing gloves and handling little pieces of rosewood, straight from Brazil that my Dad would be sawing and sending over the wall that separated us at the mill.

But this is May, 1956 and looking around at the old lilac bush, now blossomed and the apple blossoms ready to appear, nothing seemed impossible.

If one cannot dream, then what good is life?

 

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Remembering Grass

Enough already. Yes, the first snowfall covers the ugliness of the rotted, fallen leaves of autumn, but who needs another four or five feet of snow to convince us that it is, indeed, winter. Yes, yes, I am pleased for those in the snow industry…skiing, snowboarding, risking one’s life etc, but for the person who left those sports years ago, there is just so much one can do when the snow reaches hip level. Yes, the trees are beautiful..a photographer’s dream world..and then the snow falls, hits power lines and you sit in the dark with one flickering candle or Aunt Bessie’s last kerosene lamp and wonder if spring will ever come.

I try to remember what grass really looks like..whether brown or green, it tells me there is earth somewhere below the drifts. This thought took me back to my days on the Maine farm with all its adventures ..in all seasons.

One morning, late fall, the four ( or fab four as I liked to call them) marched down the hill, lunch boxes in hands to catch the school bus.  I stood by the now shriveled lilac bush, waving a fond farewell and turned to go back into the farm to do the morning chores. Ah, but the morning was crisp and air felt so nice. Did I really want to go back into that kitchen, finish the dishes and all the other mundane chores that went with being a farm wife?

I saw, out of the corner of one eye, the Rupp mini bike standing there…much like a horse just waiting to be exercised…it even looked bored.  Should I? Why not? On went the helmet and I climbed aboard. This was not the first time I had straddled ole Paint and taken a ride, but this was the first time…so early in the morning..hmm, well, why not.

I started up the side of the pasture hill at a slow pace until I thought I had my wits about me. Chipmunks were already on the stone wall and some dropped their acorns as I roared past..yes, I said roared because that pasture hill is steep and I wanted to make it to the top. Cows rolled their dull, clueless eyes and meandered to the other side of the field. ( You may get the sense that I don’t like cows. You would be correct.) Finally I rounded the last curve and stopped to survey the scene below. Indian Pond in the morning light was beautiful and I just stood there, breathing in what I considered paradise …a morning all my own.

I should have stopped there. But the field beckoned to me and I thought I should take a short spin to see what might be around the wall . Again ole Paint and I were on our way ..however, there was one oversight on my part. The grass was still wet from last night’s dew. I rounded the corner, gunned that little Rupp and the back tire executed a rhumba step. Down the bike went, and needless to say I was pitched forward. It is a humbling experience to find oneself on one’s stomach staring into a clump of white birch trees., but I found out what was around the corner of the wall. There was a few spots of intense burning as scratches were revealed when I finally stumbled to my feet. I picked up ole Paint, straddled her and decided perhaps the morning ride should be over. It wasn’t that I hurt that much, but you know, the morning chores awaited.

Down the pasture hill I rode, slower than the upward climb, waved to the chipmunks, still in awe after seeing the mistress of the farm out so early  in the morning and came to rest by the garage.

Even with the scratches, it just felt good to be out in the autumn air so early in the day. I put down the guard and set ole Paint up to ready itself for the next outing. She tipped just enough to catch my bare leg and again I was branded with the big round muffler or tail pipe or whatever it was called.

It got me every time and every time I forgot it was going to do its last dip..its way of thanking me for the exercise. I had that round brand on my leg for about a year…and I still maintain I was the first person on Rowe Hill to have a tattoo.

Now you know what people my age do when the snow comes and never stops. We just put our minds in reverse and think grass, grass..eventually we will see grass. Until then, we can amuse ourselves by remembering some of the outlandish things we did in the past…but boy it was fun!

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My Journey to Eighty

I never thought of about celebrating my 80th year..I didn’t think I would ever find it , in those days of running the fields of Maine, flying kites with my four children…there was no time to be thinking that far in the future…

But here I am. I like to think I learned a few things along the way..and I know I’ve forgotten  a few as well.

Surround yourself with positive people; there’s enough negativity in the world without your gathering up more.

Forgive when you think you cannot; the weight comes off your shoulders.

Listen. It’s far more important than talking and you’ll learn more than you thought possible.

Honor and respect the elderly. You don’t think you’ll ever be that age, but believe me, you will be.

You will age but be grateful; some never get the opportunity.

Never discuss politics or religion. You will never win the argument. Save your breath.

Walking through grief is like pulling your wellingtons out of a swamp. Every step is like a weight that pulls you down; in time, there will be a rock or a little solid piece of land that makes the walk a bit easier.

Have friends who come to see you and don’t care that your house might be a mess.

Have a grumpy day occasionally without guilt. No one can be a cheerful cherub all the time.

Now there are just a few little suggestions and to write everything that I’ve learned on this journey would fill a book.  The things I’ve forgotten would probably fill two.

So much for my thoughts on this Monday morning!

Leaving School Behind

( This is a special piece, invited by my editor, to give you a sneak peak at my upcoming book….)

The music starts; Pomp and Circumstance echoes through the Woodstock High school  gymnasium and I stand, white gown and cap, shaking in my white shoes. I glance to my left and the boys are lined , ready to make the march down the aisle, which looks as long as a highway at this point. I catch my brother’s eye, Rex decked out in his blue gown and cap and wonder if he is thinking of the four years we have just completed and more so, if he is as nervous as I am.

There are ten of us graduating and we have become close over the years.  How can I forget our class trip to New York City? All of us piled on a subway ( none of us had seen one before) for a trip to the Bronx Zoo; half of us managed to get off at the stop and the rest kept traveling, to arrive at the Zoo an hour later. I never knew how they managed the loop..probably afraid to ask. Sitting in the balcony at the old Madison Square Garden watching the trapeze artists from Ringling Brothers swaying in front of us. Oooh, but the side shows downstairs made me sick when I saw a lady with a huge snake. Up into the balcony I dashed in a hurry.

We sat in the balcony of the theater and watched the Tonight Show with Steve Allen as host and wandered down the street at midnight to our hotel with no fear. But the highlight was standing in the rain for two hours to see Perry Como with his 15 minute television show. I am still in shock that I had a front row seat and he smiled..yes he did..actually smiled at me and asked me if I were nervous because he wasn’t. What a sweet man! Never mind that I have a scrapbook full of pictures of him at home!!

Oh , those are such good memories. Hmm, there are a few I would rather forget. I love Mrs. Herrick, our English teacher, Mrs. Crockett, our commercial teacher, and of course Mr. Lago, our principal. We all get along fine, but there was one critical moment in my four years that Mrs. Crockett and I crossed swords. One half of the year we studied Commercial Law; the other half was ..eeek..Math. If there is one subject I hate, it is Math and all its figures. Well, this day there were problems; is there anything worse than Math problems? I sighed, chewed my pencil, dawdled until Mrs. Crockett asked me if I was going to solve it. I told her that I could not. She maintained that I could if I put my mind to it.. well, suffice it to say, I lost all patience, slammed my book shut ( some say I threw it..not true, I don’t think) and within a moment’s notice, I was sitting in the principal’s office.

Mr. Lago looked at me and said, “Did your sense of humor get you in here again?” where upon Mrs. Crockett laid out the details in fine fashion. I was no longer a member of the Math class and I would not be getting a Commercial diploma, which I think would be helpful in getting a secretarial position. Again, still smarting over being thrown out of class, I told her I did not care what kind of diploma I received as long as I had one in my hand. I never knew when to keep quiet and it took Mrs. Crockett a few seconds to recover as she had never seen me in such a state before. I know now that I was wrong and being disrespectful. I was one of her best pupils in typing and shorthand and she had great hopes for me and here I was, so dumb I could not figure out a math problem.  This was not one of my good memories.

I will not be playing softball and basketball anymore. I won’t be finding Rex to get a  nickle for a bag of potato chips to go with my tuna fish sandwich at noon.  What am I to expect out there in the world? I won’t be seeing Mrs. Herrick any more and having a toga party at her little house down in the village.

OK, the music is going; I am the tallest so will be the last girl in the line and the boys will intermix as we go down the aisle. I am so happy because my Dad is sitting near the front. Earlier this evening, he came into the kitchen with his best brown suit on and Ma said, “Where are you going?” He cocked an eye and said, “to see Muff and Rex graduate”. Well Ma almost keeled over, but there he is.

We’ve gone through the whole ceremony and no one has passed out from fright, though I thought I might when giving a long, boring speech. Even Dad made it through that without leaving.

We have all been handed our diplomas, all ten of us, switched our tassels to the other side and are ready to leave the stage.

It has been a long four years..our class numbers dwindled over the years, but the fun and companionship lived on. I am going to miss climbing those long steps into our little high school.

Those were good days. How fortunate we were to be students in the Fifties!

 

 

 

Stranger in the Center

threeofusIn today’s world, parents are always warning their children about strangers and what could happen if they do not choose wisely. Well, you know, this is nothing new..not at all!

Ma told us to always look for any strange men we might see walking down the “flat” and to come to the house if we ever saw anyone suspicious. Well, we could see a half mile up the “flat” and knew everyone who lived in the Center, so if someone different came wandering down that piece of road, we would know for sure.

They were called “tramps” and Ma explained that most of them were not bad; just down on their luck. If one came to Gram Martin’s house, she might give them a sandwich or a little bowl of soup, but they had to sit outside to eat it. She never let them in the house. Well, no one ever came to our house as it was far back from the road and probably they could tell we had a hard job feeding ourselves!  Ma said if a tramp found a house that gave some food, they would leave a mark for the next one to see so that he could be fed, as well.  Well, I spent a good afternoon looking for marks around our house and came up empty handed.

But then it happened!  One hot Saturday afternoon, Rex and I were rolling our tires on the narrow tarred road and stopped to catch our breath at our mailbox.  I looked up the road and in the distance, there was a man coming down the road! He was too far off for me to see his face, but he was dressed in dark clothing.  Rex and I stared and both agreed we did not know who he was..certainly no one who lived near us!

We did just what Ma had told us to do…we took off running for the house and told her what we had seen..a strange man coming down the road. Well, she told us to stay right in the kitchen with her and we’d watch to see him as he passed by.

Time seemed to stand still and of course, with my vivid imagination, had him almost knocking on our door for a sandwich.  After a bit, we saw him by our mailbox and I bet Gram Martin had seen him now! Oh, No!!  He was turning in our driveway and coming to our house!  This had never happened before. Ma said, Oh my Lord and I guess she was praying that she had something to offer him while he sat on our steps.

He walked ever so slowly up our driveway and soon close enough so we could see his face. Ma started laughing and we thought she was hysterical…then she said, ” that’s not a tramp, that’s your Uncle Pete!”  Well, if we didn’t let out a sigh of relief.

Rex and I had no way of knowing as Uncle Pete lived and worked in Portland. He had come home for the weekend and decided to walk the three miles to see Ma.

We all had a good laugh afterwards, but Ma still insisted that we continue to watch out for strangers and to run to the house should we see one. 

Some things change; other things remain the same…

Photo: Roland, chubby me, Rex