For some reason, while reading " Under the Tuscan Sun" for the fifth or sixth time, I was reminded of Littleton. Perhaps it is all the discussion of country ways that triggers this.
I was the youngest, and born in Caribou, Maine, where my father had found work in the construction of Loring Air Force base housing and administrative buildings. Funny, I found out years later that the base housing at Loring Air Force Base was supposed to be shipped in kits to Georgia, and completely different kits to Maine. Of course, neither was especially suited to the climate where they were eventually installed.
As a result of this move to Caribou, I really have few memories of living in the house on the Canadian border. But I have heard stories. By the time I was aware of details of the place, Mom had reduced the visits to the house to once or possibly twice a year.
My father had died at age 47, in 1955. The diagnosis was Bright's disease. My sister Mary, being a nurse, tells me whenever the subject comes up, not to put too much stock in that diagnosis.
My parents built the house themselves soon after they married. Prior to that time, he had lived in a camp along the stream farther down the Campbell road from the property. I guess that he purchased or was given the land by the Campbells. He had worked for them for some time prior to this.
My father was the consummate outdoors man. He was a hunter out of necessity, knew the way of the forest, animals, plant lore, and the Indians(before they were referred to as Native Americans). He had grown up in an impoverished household, and had the skills needed to survive with little ready cash. Living in a camp in the woods was just what he did and knew. This has influenced my sister in her choice of living in a self sustainable way, more or less "Off Grid". My brother has a way with animals and survived his hard times working in the woods and on his farm to help make ends meet, especially as a young man.
My mother was fairly anxious to get out of the house in Medford, and when her best friend Vera was dating Everett Mitchell, she was introduced to his younger brother Richard. She was swept off her feet, by this man who said he was a Foreman at a RANCH in Maine. My mother obviously did not know where Maine was; did not know what the average temperature was; did not know how far from civilization this land was, and did not know how many mosquitoes and black flies there were per cubic inch in the spring and early summer.
My sister and her husband spent much of one summer there in a camper trailer while they were building their house in Lakeville in later life(more than an hour away). It was a miserable experience. Obviously she had forgotten it from her childhood. To be fair, I guess it was an unusually wet year as well. If I ever spend time up there, it will not be in the winter(more on this later) or in the post freeze season up until the flies and mosquitoes ease up in July. I have to say though that in town, bugs are no problem.
My father had good skills as a carpenter, electrician etc. He was no artist though. The house he did for his mother-in-law a mile or so north was about the ugliest house you ever saw.
Their little house was shingled and had pretty windows, There were rock gardens planted around it along with simple hedges. You needed something to break the wind, sitting as it was on the south edge of a huge field that virtually disappeared in the distance to the north. Strangely, the north side was completely exposed.
The land was marshy and steeply sloped, and this three acres was cut off from the useful land across the little road. It was not useful to most people and that was probably why they ended up with it.
They were able to use the land to some extent however as their demands were not too great on it. The land there is lime ridden and the topsoil is not deep. You did not have to dig more than an inch or two before you hit rocks. The area was full of glacial till, eskers and hogbacks. Farther north, there are volcanic dikes, sills and pillow lava from ancient sea-beds.
The land is very pretty in that whole area. Heavily forested areas alternate with rolling fields, and it is dotted with pretty farm houses. There was a beautiful covered bridge on the back road to town, no longer used for traffic..
The land across the street was fine for potatoes and perhaps oats. When you are hungry, you could always go across the road and find some potatoes.
The town of Houlton was about 8 miles(I am estimating)down route one. About 11 miles total. You would then turn off route one to the right on the Shaw road and drive about a mile toward the border. You would then take a right on the Framingham Road and a left on to the Campbell road, and keep going till you went down a deep stream cut valley(deep but not wide...valley may be a rather grand name for it). The road went down at perhaps a 40 degree angle and was often rutted deeply. It flattened out for a few yards as it crossed the stream, continued a few yards and climbed again to a point where it almost leveled in front of the house, and then rose again to the border. There were marshes on the right in the cedar woods beyond the house, and a marshy area on the left beyond the house that was eventually graded into a farm pond serving the neighbors' land. In later years, they would use the pond for mixing the poisons used on the crops, then toss the cans into the woods not far from where the concrete lined dug well was. Too late now to know if this sort of practice might have contributed to my father's early death. Certainly they were breathing these pesticides for many years. A more direct route from route one was the Ingraham Road, but passage was sometimes difficult over a small bridge.
The land sloped down to the stream through mossy and heavily shaded cedar woods. I remember them that way, walking through the cedars on composted vegetation, springy to the step, except for one allee of maples where maple sap was tapped in the early spring for sugar and syrup. I understand that a favorite treat would be warm syrup drizzled over a dish of snow wherever "Sugaring" was done. They would drill the trees, drive metal cones with hooks on them into the holes and hang buckets under the spouts to collect the sap. This was boiled for hours to thicken the sap into syrup.
The land was about three acres in a right triangle formed by the road(the long side) the Canadian border, and the stream bed. The stream flowed into the Meduxnekeag river that crossed the border there.
There were chickens and a cow..Elsie. Eggs and milk were available, but chickens do not lay well in the winter. I doubt if the locals knew the trick of saving eggs in large crocks covered with waterglass.(Sodium Silicate)
Mom used a wood cookstove in one of the two downstairs rooms. the south side was the kitchen and the north was the living room. A staircase ascended from the door in the picture above. One bedroom was on the left and two smaller ones were on the right, south side. I seem to remember a chamber pot at the top of the stairs. There was a regular toilet that emptied into a home made cedar log lined septic tank on the East side of the house.
My sister recalls and I have heard stories of the bizarre extremes of weather there. It was high on the crest of the hill, and had a few large spruce trees around it.
She remembers them taking refuge in the car under the trees during bad thunderstorms. What can I say, my mother was a city girl.
Once my sister went off to school(one room on route one) on a threatening winter day. Up there, you did not pay too much attention to snow, or you would not see daylight for six months of the year. Also there were animals to tend. It was not really unusual to have temperatures of 25 below zero, and still going out to play.
She went to school, and it started to snow profusely. The kids were sent home!...in the beginnings of a blizzard. Much of that walk was along roads that were little more than slightly raised tracks through potato fields(among other crops). The wind had no obstacle to slow it for miles on end, so the wind would blow and the snow would drift to the point that you could not see more than a couple of feet in front of you. This was one of those days. She got three quarters of the way home, but lost her way in the blowing snow, and got off the road. Totally disoriented, she found shelter under the raised roots of a large fallen tree. My father went out searching for her, and walked right past her. Eventually the storm stopped or let up briefly after darkness had fallen. She got out into the fields and was able to find a landmark. She got down the hill, and over the narrow wooden bridge and back up the other side. There was an oil lamp glowing in the window to guide her back home where Dad had returned and Mom was waiting for her. (frantic I assume)
It was not unusual for the snow to be far over your head. I remember one winter where we crawled out the second storey windows of our tall Victorian house in Houlton, on to the porch roof, and slid to the ground. We would run back through the house, up the stairs, and do it again.
There was one cold spell when I went outside and the breath vapor came out of my mouth and literally dropped to the ground.
People do not always believe such stories now as the winters are milder. They are in entirely different climate zones now.
Getting back to thunder storms... Sis remembers one storm when ball lightning came down the chimney and out through the oven door of the wood cook stove. It bounced around the room, and Mom swept...probably more like a hockey move...it out the door. My eighth grade teacher, Mrs. Churchill had a burn mark on the back of her leg where she evidently backed up into a screen door while ball lightning was bouncing around her house. The ball hit the screen while the back of her leg was touching it.
Both this house and Grammie's house at the Johnny Farm had plants that were transplanted from Medford, Mass. Grammie, though untutored, had great success with ornamental plants. We once had a photo in the local paper of an Easter Lily blooming in the snow in November.
Needless to say, some plants were more successful than others in this far northern climate. Mom always bemoaned the fact that her Forsythia plant had no flowers. Once in a while, there would be a few tentative blossoms near the ground where the snow had covered and insulated the branches. She had moved Rhododendrons there as well, but they never bloomed at all as I remember. Nevertheless, there were rock gardens there populated with plants from "home". Lilacs and Rugosa roses did well, Irises were there, columbines etc.. Mock Orange was planted there as well. Mom had a terrible allergy to it, but it was worth it.
Needless to say, in the aftermath of the depression, there was little work in this rather remote outpost of civilization. Dad was attached to the area as he had spent much of his youth in Canada, and his sister Lauretta lived not too far away in the Kars area of New Brunswick.
Another obstacle for the family was his failing health. The "so called" Brights Disease is not easy on the body for some time before death occurs.
Not having work was not the same as not being a worker. He was lean and strong, and worked like a dog when the jobs were available. Mom said he would come home from working in the fields on a tractor or truck at lunch time and down a pot of tea even on the hottest days. That could not have been good for the kidneys by itself. I have seen the tea the Canadians used to make, and you would almost expect the spoon to stand up in it.
His progress toward death, always short of money and miles from the doctor and hospital in Houlton was extremely cruel, and they were living in a time period when there were few safety nets to help out. Mom was forced to crawl down through the woods and snow to gather wood in the winter. Food was scarce enough that she would feed the kids and Dad, while she would eat the cooking grease in the pan. Meanwhile, his skin had thickened and hardened so that she had to give him injections through skin like shoe leather. I know that Dick and Mary"known as Dolly" did what they could, but I am sure it was a blessing when Mom could send them to the Johnny farm for a meal early on, and near his death, my sister was sent to live with my uncles and Grandmother where they had moved on Fair Street. There she went to school at Ricker Classical Institute.
Dick witnessed many of his father's agonies I am sure, and the extreme distress he felt at not being able to support his family with no help coming from anyone. You must remember that Dick was only11 and Sis was only 15 when he died. I was too young to know anything about all this. I think that in this situation, they placed a lot of mental burdens on themselves through all of this, and my sister never got over being sent away.
Dot Campbell told me that she would give Dad rides into Houlton to the doctor or hospital. She said that the last time she did this she waited at the top of the hill on the opposite side of the stream for him. He crawled on his hands and knees to the top of the hill, and she had to help him into the vehicle.
To be continued...