MAINE MEMORIES: School days of old

The old Weeks Mills one-room schoolhouse, built in 1860.

by Evangeline T.

Welcome to Maine Memories, little snippets of life from our home state. For this installment, I’m looking back at my early school days. Times definitely have changed, since then!

I grew up in the small town of LaGrange, Maine. We had a general store, a post office, service station, and a railroad station.

My first train ride was on an old black steam engine from that station to Milo, Maine, a distance of approximately ten miles. I’ve never forgotten it!

LaGrange had four working schoolhouses, which I attended one by one, until I was in my third year of high school. That’s when I moved to another town.

School number one consisted of a large room, where sub-primary (or kindergarten) and first and second grades were taught, all by one teacher. We sat at low tables, with small brightly colored chairs of red, green, yellow, and orange. Once a week, we’d gather together, and a lady would come and tell us a story. After that, a man gave us all chocolate cupcakes, with delicious white cream filling.

School number two was a single room, housing grades three and four. We had our own desks, which made us feel grown up. There was one teacher for every subject and for both grades.

In the back of the room was an iron stove called a ram down. The stove used a big log for fuel. It was our only source of heat, so everyone wanted a desk close by. Sometimes, we’d be allowed to cook lunch on the ram down, using ingredients brought from home. A great stew was the result. What a treat!

Teachers back then were strict. If we whispered and giggled, she wrote our names on the slate blackboard. Later, at day’s end, those who’d disobeyed lined up in front of the room and held out their hand. Each received a slap from a razor strap. Ouch! A razor strap was about two inches wide and two feet long, made out of strong leather and used to sharpen straight razors. It hurt, and I can witness to that!

School number three was split into two rooms. The left housed grades five and six. The right accommodated grades seven and eight.

A basement coal furnace provided heat. My dad filled it every evening and again in the morning, all part of his duties as school bus driver.

Our school was right in town, across from the general store. If we’d been good and asked “may I,” not “can I,” teacher allowed us to buy candy or an ice cream cone during lunch hour. If we didn’t have money, we’d play games or swing.

As I said before, Dad drove the school bus, so I’d wait to be the last one out. “May I have a nickel?” I’d ask him. Keep in mind, mom had already said no at home! He’d reach into his pocket and say, ‘gee, I don’t seem to have a nickel, will a dime do?’ It was our little secret. A dime bought a lot of candy and an ice cream!

School number four (high school) was a converted church on a hill called Hinkley Hill, after a family who’d settled there years before.

All four years of high school attended. We’d start each day by congregating in the central area, about 30 of us. Our senior class consisted of two sisters, and no one else! After roll call, we’d go to different rooms, depending on what subjects were being taught that particular day.

This building was heated by a coal furnace, and the heat came through one very large register in the floor.

Maine winters are famous for being chilly, but we girls knew how to keep warm. Slacks weren’t allowed, and the style was skirts with lots of petticoats. At recess, we’d stand over that register and get our petticoats as hot as possible. When the bell rang, we wrapped them around ourselves and sat down. Worked like a charm!

Those times of one room school houses, coal furnaces, razor straps and hand-held brass bells are all in the past, now. Just scrapbook memories. Too bad.

Today, it’s smart phones, computers, and modern technology galore. Are these new methods better? Are our students smarter? I wonder!

MAINE MEMORIES: Cock a Doodle Do!

by Evangeline T.

Hello and welcome to Maine Memories, little snippets of life from our home state.

For this installment, I’m remembering when I raised chickens.

At about age 12, each girl in a club I belonged to had to do a summer project.

Being raised on a farm, I opted to raise bantam chickens. Bantams aren’t as big as regular chickens and are sometimes referred to as miniatures. I had two females and one rooster.

Now Bantams, at least mine, could fly, not too far, 200 feet or so and not high up in the air, maybe 20 feet. My point is, a fenced in yard wasn’t much help, as each day they flew over the fence and out.

Dad fixed that problem. He trimmed some feathers on one wing of each bird. Trimming didn’t hurt them in any way, but they’d become off-balanced when flying. It worked on the females, but let me tell you, that frisky little rooster continued with his messy daily flights, off balance or not!

Our driveway was a circle, which had a section of lawn and a pine tree in it. That rooster loved to fly and perch himself in the pine tree every morning. If you have ever visited or lived on a farm that had a rooster, you’ve probably heard an early morning sunrise “cock a doodle do”! My bantam rooster had a problem; his voice wouldn’t produce a nice morning “cock a doodle do”. It came out sounding more like rough a rough, ending sharply. Each morning at sun rise, he’d sit in that pine and try again and again, but the sound was always the same.

You have to give him credit, though. He never gave up, and his rough a rough lives on in my memory.

There’s a lesson here we can all take to heart: keep on trying. You just might get it right! Cock-a-doodle-do!

MAINE MEMORIES – It’s all in a name: The bearer of good news

Sarah Wyman Whitman (1842-1904), artist, binding designer. (Uploaded on Flickr by Boston Public Library), CC BY 2.0

by Evangeline T.

Hello and welcome to Maine Memories, little snippets of life from our home state.

This week, I want to tell you about my name.

When my mother was in grade school, she was required to read the story of Evangeline. Then and there, she decided that if she ever had a daughter, Evangeline would be her name.

Well, guess what! I’m her daughter, not so young or little anymore. But it’s me.

I’ve been asked about my name, so I’d like to share with you what I found.

In 1847, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a story about a woman named Evangeline Bellefontaine and her love, Gabriel. They were from Acadia, Canada.

The book title was Evangeline, subtitled A Tale of Acadia. It involved Britain, and Acadia’s expulsion. The story goes that the two lovers were involved in a forced separation. She spent the rest of her life searching for him. At one time, they were literally only feet apart but unable to see one another because of a forest. They never even realized it.

Her search took her from Acadia to southern Louisiana. In her old age, she worked with the sisters of Mercy, in Pennsylvania, a house for the poor where on his death bed, she found Gabriel. He died in her arms.

The name Evangeline became popular throughout the 1940s and ‘50s. There was an Evangeline newspaper published from 1949-1982. A minor baseball team in the ‘30s and ‘50s. A train that ran from Halifax to Yarmouth, operating until 1990, and even a Maine-based evaporated canned milk labelled Evangeline.

There are two statues of Evangeline, one in Nova Scotia, where her search began, and one in St. Martinsville, Louisiana, where she gave up searching.

Louisiana has parishes instead of counties, so they have an Evangeline parish. There is also a large mall and a hot sauce with that name.

As a child, I didn’t like Evangeline, as everyone seemed to stumble over how to pronounce it. They still do, but now I just grin and tell them the proper pronunciation.

A dentist once told me Evangeline was a beautiful name, it has angel right in the middle. As a young teenager, that changed my way of thinking. Evangeline means the “bearer of good news,” which I try to live up to.

So, where did your parents get your name? What does it mean? Have fun learning about your own name. The results just might surprise you.

NOTE: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born in Portland, Maine, in 1807. It was part of Massachusetts at that time.

MAINE MEMORIES: Doodle-Bug!

by Evangeline T.

Hello and welcome to Maine Memories, little snippets of life from our home state.

This week, I’d like to share an unusual memory about the Doodle-Bug!

You probably have never heard of a doodle-bug and are wondering if it’s some kind of big, ugly beetle. It isn’t. Let me explain.

My dad grew up on a prosperous Maine farm and as an adult, wanted more than anything to have a farm that would also be prosperous and provide for his family. But Dad didn’t have the funds to purchase expensive equipment. Times were hard, and we had to make do with what we had, supplemented by a little ingenuity.

As a young girl, I’d hear him saying, “If I could only afford a tractor, I’d be able to do far more around here.” Despite wishing and hoping, it just didn’t happen. So, he put on his thinking cap and formulated an idea.

He took an old truck, separated the cab, and cut the frame down so only a seat, dash, and the working needed parts to make it go were left. What was it? Why, a doodle-bug! Now, I don’t know where or how that name came about, but everyone in town knew dad and his doodle bug.

It did the work of a tractor, plowed the fields, hauled in winter’s wood and other chores.

I loved to ride around beside dad in the doodle bug, and one day on our way to town to gas up, he asked me for a match. I said, “Dad, you know I don’t carry matches.” He laughed and told me to look in the glove compartment. I opened the glove compartment, and there was nothing, not even the insides. Just a hole! Of course, dad knew this, and we both laughed.

He was a great father, and to this day, I haven’t forgotten my doodle bug rides. They certainly were memorable.

By the way, he later got his tractor, but that’s a story for another day.

MAINE MEMORIES: A fun birthday when I was a girl

photo by Will Clayton (flickr.com/photos/spool32)

by Evangeline T.

Hello and welcome to Maine Memories, little snippets of life from our home state.

This week, I want to tell you about a fun birthday I had as a girl.

When I was ten, we moved to a 250-acre farm.

Like most farms back then, the house, shed, and barn were connected. If you walked around the house outside, you needed to walk around the shed and barn, too.

Dad had fenced off an area for pasture, so walking around the house meant climbing over the first section of fence, walking across the corner, and then climbing over the second section to complete your journey. The second fence section had a large pole gate in it. A pole gate was long poles that slid to one side so you could have access to the pasture.

For my 11th birthday, mom gave me a party with my new friends. She planned games, baked a beautiful cake, and made delicious ice cream. We all got a chance to turn the crank on the churn to help the ice cream freeze.

One of the games we played was if you lost, you had to pay a forfeit. The forfeits were written by mom on slips of paper placed in a jar. Of course, I lost. When I picked out my forfeit, it said to run around the house once.

Out the door I went, everyone else went also to watch me.

I wore a pretty blue dress, so I was careful. I slid under the first section of fence without a problem. Cheers went up from my friends.

I crossed the corner and came to the second section of fencing. Going between the poles on the gate seemed my easiest way.

It was a great plan, except for one thing: the old cow in the pasture had been observing me and figured I might need a little help. My blue dress going between the poles of that gate caught her eye, and she proceeded to butt me with her big hard head right where I sat. I landed on the other side of the gate, dress safe and sound. My pride was another matter!

Everyone laughed, and the cow, well, she voiced her opinion of the whole thing with a loud “moo”. I never did like that cow!

MAINE MEMORIES: Five old crows, plus one

image credit: British Pest Control Association

by Evangeline T.

Hello and welcome to Maine Memories, little snippets of life from our home state.

Spring has sprung, and the weather is much milder. Keep your fingers crossed that snow season is finally behind us…there’s always something interesting going on outside when May flowers bloom.

For this installment, here’s a true story about some old crows and how they’ve been paying me regular daily visits.

Each morning, for the last 14 years, I’ve thrown two slices of crumbled bread and some leftovers out onto my driveway to feed five old crows.

Now, you might ask, just how do I know these crows are always the same and not different? Well, believe me, I know them, and they know me.

If I’m not out my door with breakfast by 6:30 or 7 a.m., I’ll hear them cawing. They’ll sit in a tall elm tree at the end of my long drive, screaming until I appear. And when I do, they’re happy and excited.

These crows are a kind of family. This spring, there were four, and I assumed the worst. Then I noticed one kept filling his beak with pieces of bread, and when full, he’d fly away, return, and do it again.

Later in time, there were five adult crows, accompanied by a smaller one – more than likely a youngster. Now, I understood. The crow flying off with food had been feeding his mate, while she was busy egg-sitting.

At first, the young bird stood off to the side and waited for the adult to bring him something. This only lasted a short time before he got the message. Hurry up and snatch the food yourself, or you’ll go hungry.

So, now there are six crows, altogether.

It’s interesting to watch their different breakfast habits. One will delicately eat a single piece, not moving around much. Another will gather three or four chunks in his beak, head for the elm tree, where he sits and eats alone. The third picks up three or four pieces, flies about six feet away, dropping most of them. He still eats a full meal, though! The others walk around, poking at what’s left and getting the most they can.

One crow has what looks like white paint all over a wing. He must’ve brushed against a barn that was being painted. I think it’s distinctive!

What a pleasure, watching them every day – six smart crows doing their thing and living a simple life to the fullest. They never fight or steal food, like other birds. They’re just one happy family of old crows, plus one youngster. I’m so glad they flew into my life!

MAINE MEMORIES: There’s something “fishy”

by Evangeline T.

Hello and welcome to Maine Memories, little snippets of life from our home state.

This week, I have a fish tale for you. Hope you enjoy it!

Every fisherman (or woman) has a tale to tell about the big fish that got away or the trips taken to catch fish in some far away river or lake.

Here’s mine. Since we lived in northern Maine with two nearby lakes, my husband and I purchased a lakeside cabin, spent the summer there and traveled to work each day.

We had a boat and built a wharf to accommodate it. One day, my husband and son decided to fish using our boat. They didn’t go far from shore.

A while later, I walked out onto the wharf and yelled at them. “How’s the fishing? Caught anything yet?”

“Nope,” they answered, “Not yet, but it’s still early!”

Just then, I looked down in a space between the wharf and shore, and there was a good sized fish. He seemed to be sleeping in the sunny shallow water.

“Hey, there’s a big fish right down here!”

They both laughed. “Why don’t you catch him, mom?”

I decided to do just that. I’d use my thumb and first finger to hook his gill, and at the same time, grab his tail with my other hand. I carefully got down on my knees and leaned over him and made a lunge with my thought-out plan in place.

Can you believe it? I actually came up with that two foot-long fish in my hands. He never even knew what had happened to him.

Our neighbor, who’d been watching and listening to this while rocking on the two hind legs of his chair, got so excited, he fell over. Boom! “Let’s see you do that again!” he shouted.

My husband and son gave up and came back to shore, their short trip ending in no fish…and maybe a little embarrassment. After all, mom had outdone them, even without bait or a fishing pole.

That’s my fish story, and I’m stickin’ to it!

MAINE MEMORIES: Feeding the pigs!

Yftach Herzog, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

by Evangeline T.

Hello and welcome to Maine Memories, little snippets of life from our home state. For this installment, I have a story about my dad as a youngster and one memorable day when he fed the pigs. He sure learned a lesson!

I’d been born in my grandparents’ large farm house, and as a young girl, I’d spend a week or two with them each summer. I loved it there.

My grampy was a happy and full-of-fun guy. He had a name for me – Bambi, because I reminded him of the little deer in Walt Disney’s movie. Why, I never knew, but the nickname stuck. Bambi was cute, so I didn’t mind.

We used to sit together on his front porch, and he’d tell me funny stories about my dad’s childhood growing up as a farm boy. I loved hearing those memories, and I’d like to share one with you now. Hopefully, you’ll laugh as much as I did and still do!

Every year, the farm harvested what’s called cattle corn. It would be stored in a silo for winter feed, to keep the pigs healthy. Everyone worked really hard, chopping corn hulls and putting in enough to last the entire winter and spring.

Well, one year, Grampy gave my dad the duty of cleaning out the silo before refilling.

The bottom was covered with old corn hulls soaked in liquid. This was the first time Dad had been given this particular duty, and like all the chores expected of him, he took it very seriously.

But what to do with the stuff? Seemed a waste to just throw it away. In his young mind, he thought the pigs might enjoy a treat, so Dad dumped the old corn into their pen.

Bad idea!

Soon, Grampy returned with a load of fresh corn for the silo. That’s when he heard strange sounds coming from the pens. Investigating further, Grampy couldn’t believe his eyes…or his ears. The pigs were wobbling around, bouncing into one another, squealing, snorting, and rolling on the ground! What strange behavior. Pigs aren’t supposed to act like that!

He yelled at my dad, “What the heck have you done, son?”

“Nothing. Just fed the pigs. Why?”

“You fed the pigs, all right. Those hogs are drunk on pure corn alcohol!”

“What?!”

I bet my dad learned his lesson not to do that again. The pigs recovered their senses and were able to walk without toppling over. I don’t know if they had hangovers!

My grandfather and I both got a big laugh over his story, just one more slice of life on the farm. Never a dull moment.

MAINE MEMORIES: Maine Memories Looking forward to those Saturday nights

by Evangeline T.

Hello and welcome to Maine Memories, little snippets of life from our home state. For this installment, I have a story about the wonderful Saturday nights of my childhood.

I recall when Saturday night was something to look forward to, a truly special and momentous event. My home town only had a general store, a post office, and a small service station, so every Saturday night, we’d drive to the nearest bigger town, which was 12 miles away. They had everything a family like mine could possibly want, and I looked at Saturday night there as a magical adventure. Plus, we’d top off the fun by taking in a great movie!

There were so many interesting things to do. I loved going to the restaurant, where we enjoyed grilled hot dogs. Dad liked going to the full service station, usually spending a whole dollar’s worth. A courteous young man dressed in a company shirt and cap pumped our gas, washed the windshield and mirrors and always asked, ‘may I check the oil, sir?’ That’s real customer service!

Afterward, we’d visit the five and ten cent store. What a place! The second we walked in, the enticing smell of roasted peanuts hit us like a wave. All the nuts and candy were displayed inside large sparkling glass containers. It was an experience for the senses, and even today, when I smell peanuts, I’m reminded of those long ago childhood days.

Mom and Dad bought peanuts for the movies. They allowed me to have a new jump rope or marbles or something that caught my eye, as long as it didn’t cost more than a quarter. Money was scarce during those days, and I made the most of my choices.

Next on our itinerary, we shopped at the grocery store. There, we’d get flour, sugar, coffee, tea, molasses and crackers.

Molasses was drawn from a barrel by a pump into a jug, which mom had brought with us. Most of our food was grown on the farm, like meat, vegetables and berries, but the other stuff we needed from the store. And oh, I sure loved molasses!

Once the groceries were placed carefully in our car, we headed for the movie theater, on Main Street.

Upon entering the building, you went up four or five steps, and in the middle of the floor stood a glass-topped booth. Inside was a young lady, from whom dad purchased tickets for admission. The concession stand was nearby, and there were dozens of choices! We usually settled on a big box of delicious hot buttered popcorn for ten cents.

With everything bought, a man in a red jacket and cap politely ushered us to our seats, using his flashlight to guide the way. The best spot was half way down, on the right side.

Now came my favorite part: a 10-15 minute cartoon before the main attraction. They made me laugh, especially Felix the Cat. Some­times, there were short black and white news reels on World War II. I closed my eyes through those, as I still had sad memories of my dad being gone, and I didn’t like to be reminded.

As a child, I loved Walt Disney’s animated movies. Musicals and comedies were high on my list, too. Bambi, The Wizard of Oz, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, and the Three Stooges. I saw them all.

Well, that theater is still standing, boarded up and lonely. Its faded green paint is peeling, an old relic from another time. The service station is now a vacant lot, and the grocery store an insurance company. The five and ten cent store is closed, too. Everything changes.

I have lived in that town three times, once as a baby, once as a young woman, and the last, as a wife. My husband and I even had a small business there.

But my memories remain of a town and its Saturday nights many years ago, when a little girl and her parents ate roasted peanuts and popcorn at the charming movie theater on Main Street. I remember it well!

MAINE MEMORIES: The blue bike!

by Evangeline T.

Hello and welcome to Maine Memories, little snippets of life from our home state. This issue, I have a story for you. Hope you enjoy it!

In a small bicycle shop at the end of the mall, tucked away in a dark corner, was a very sad bike named Blue. He had white tires and a very comfortable seat and couldn’t understand why some parent hadn’t bought him for their child. After all, his design made him suitable for either a boy or a girl, so what was the problem?

Blue felt so lonely. Every day, he’d try to look his best, hoping the shop owner would put him in the big front display window…and each day, he’d be pushed aside, and some other bike placed in the window. Yesterday, it was the red bike. Today, the shiny silver one. I just don’t understand, he’d think. I’ve been here the longest. Why can’t I be in the window?

Over time, bikes came and went, but Blue remained. Then, one day, a small boy stopped outside the window and peered in at a large decorated green bike. His eyes grew wide with excitement, excitement that soon turned to sadness. Wiping a tear from his cheek, he turned and walked away.

Blue didn’t understand. The green bike was a thing of beauty and a great bargain, too. Why had the little boy looked so sad? A day later, the same little boy returned, and the shop owner noticed. ”Hello, young man,” he said, opening the door to greet him. “I’m having a sale, and any one of these fine bicycles would be a perfect fit for you. Why not bring your parents down and see what’s available?”

“I…but my parents…” Without another word, the little boy turned and ran off.

Blue saw all of this, not really understanding. The shopkeeper had been very polite and accommodating. Why such a reaction? Running away never helped solve anything, even Blue knew that.

As he always did on Thursday mornings, the shop owner arranged his window display for weekend traffic. He began moving bikes here and there. “Well, Blue,” he sighed, “You’re all I have left, so I guess it’s your turn. Our new shipment didn’t get here because of a bad storm, so I’ll have a used bike sale.

Used? Who’s used? Not me! Blue thought. Oh, it really doesn’t matter. I’m finally going to get my chance in the window.

The shop owner took a soft cloth and something cool and wet and wiped all the dust off Blue and put him in the window. Wow, what a view! Blue was so elated. Later that day, a man came into the shop. “Hi,” said the owner, “are you looking for a bike?”

“Actually, I am,” said the man, “but not for me. I’m looking for a gift for a little boy I know. You see, he doesn’t have much, his dad isn’t around, and though his mom works really hard, they just can’t afford any extras.”

“Unfortunately, I don’t have much to offer right now. My bike shipment didn’t arrive this week due to a bad storm,” the shop owner said. “Maybe if you came by in about a week…”

The man looked around and said, “how about the blue bike in the window? Is that for sale?”

“Why, yes, it is,” replied the owner. “I’ll take $50 for it.”

“Sold!” shouted the man. “I’ll even put it in my truck for you!”

At last, a wonderful, kindly gentleman bought Blue. After paying, he carefully took Blue from the window, making sure not to dent or scratch anything, and put him in the back of a shiny pick-up.

As they drove down the road, wind blew through Blue’s spokes. It felt nice to be out in the warm sunshine, with delightful breezes and the smell of flowers! Blue was delighted, too. This went beyond his wildest dreams!

Soon, the truck turned right into a driveway. Honk, honk! The front door flew open, and out ran a rambunctious, smiling boy. Blue recognized him instantly. It was nice to see his face in real life, without the glare of a shop window between them.

The kind man pulled Blue out onto the driveway. “Here’s a surprise gift for you,” he said. “May you two enjoy many fun adventures together!”

The little boy rode his new bicycle all afternoon. Blue was beyond happy. Every moment spent dreaming and wishing and praying had not been wasted. Now, he could race down hills and explore the world and never sit alone in a back room ever again.

His secret wishes were coming true in the best possible way!