Saturday, July 27, 2013

Everett Mitchell's Family in Houlton, Maine by John Mitchell

Our original house on the Ridge Road in Houlton, burned down in 1944 just 2 months after we moved in. The shack was given to us by our neighbor, just across the line in Littleton. He hauled it down on a flat trailer behind a tractor. We(Everett Sr., Veronica, Everett II, Mary, Carol and John Mitchell)  lived in the shack for nearly nine years; from 1944 to 1953 when we moved back to Massachusetts.

The House


The house -- a loose term, shack really, was black. The roof and outside walls were covered with tar paper. The tar paper was held on by short zinc coated nails with large heads. The nails were designed specifically for tar paper. The short spiked part of the nail was to keep the nail from going all the way through the board. The large head was to keep the nail from ripping the tar paper. Any crack made in the paper while the nail was going through would not spread past the outside of the head. The zinc was to keep the nail from rusting. The entire shack was covered with layers of this black, zinc pocked paper.


Inside, the walls were exposed. There was no double construction. The inside wall was the back of the outside wall. The two-by-fours were exposed, and the black tar paper of the outside could be seen through the cracks between the boards. There were parts of the interior wall that were covered with newspaper. I think those papers were exposed to the wind, and the newspaper was there to reinforce the tar paper in keeping the cold winter wind out.


Every fall around the outside of the house, my father would build a fence of scrap wood that would be about a foot from the building and would circle the building except for the front door. After it was built he'd bring loads of manure from the barn and pack it in between the fence and the house. This served as an insulation from the cold when it froze, and kept the cold air from coming up through the many cracks in the floor. In the spring, when the manure thawed, the manure around the house was the first load to be taken away. Because as soon as it began to thaw, it began to smell.


Leaks in the roof were a constant problem. When it rained hard, one or two places in the roof would leak no matter how much or how new the tar paper on the roof was. Pots, usually for cooking, would be put under the leaks to catch the water. The water would be thrown out the front door as they filled. We had no plumbing so all water was thrown out the front door into the gutted basement of the burned out house just outside the front and a bit to the left.

The Horses, by John Mitchell, son of Everett and Vera Mitchell

The Horses

Don, the horse, was crazy. My father bought him from a man who'd abused him. Don was gray and he was big and he was strong. The man had entered him in pulling contests at county fairs. To get him to pull more-and-more weight, the man beat Don with a knotted rope. From the day my father brought him home, Don was trouble. He'd kick down anything you'd try to pen him up in. He kicked down the stalls. He kicked down the doors. He jumped fences. Any time you put him out to pasture, he'd run away.

In the short time we had him, my father and brother spent most of their time chasing him. They chased him around our pasture or our neighbor's pasture trying to get a halter on him to lead him home.

That winter, while my father was away in Canada, working in a lumber camp, my mother sold Don for dog food. That made my brother happy (no more chasing Don through the snow).

The horse I remember was Bob. Bob was an old horse (eighteen or nineteen years old). He was a Belgian draft horse, but he was not as big as the ones you see in shows. He was a gelding. Because he'd been castrated he didn't grow up to be as big as his peers.

He was docile. If there was no one behind him telling him to go, he'd stop where he was, hang his head and fall asleep. But if you kept after him he'd work all day. He was strong enough and he pulled tons of wood out of the forest.
I saw Bob angry once. My father rented a filly from a neighbor to help pull the wagon for haying season. She was tied-up in the barn in the same large stall Bob was in. While we had her she went into heat. Since Bob was the only male horse around, the filly expected Bob to service her. She followed him everywhere; and in their stall she nibbled at him. Bob took it all. But one night she was courting Bob and he suddenly had enough. Since he was a gelding he didn't know what she wanted, and she'd annoyed him to no end. Bob turned on her and bit her on the neck. She whinnied and jumped. Bob just went back to his grain. After that my father put the filly in an empty cow stall. She was not too bad there. But the next day when my brother took Bob out and hooked him to the hay rake, and left the filly in the barn alone, she went wild. She began rearing up on her hind legs and kicking at the front of the stall with her front hooves. She neighed wildly and nearly kicked the front wall out. My brother had to stop raking the hay and bring Bob back into the barn and calm her down.

The next morning my father took the filly home. Bob was the last horse we had. My father sold him for dog food just before we left Maine. By then he was too old to work.

We had several horses. I don't remember them all. There was Don, Bob and Colonel. I don't remember the name of one that I rode. Colonel died of polio. He couldn't open his mouth anymore and he had to be shot. My father used the other horse to drag his body off into the woods. I was very young when that happened. Once, when my sisters and I were playing in the woods, we came across his skeleton. It was a few years later, so I remember that. His jaw was huge. His bones where gray and broken. We didn't touch any of it. My sister, Mary, had loved that horse and out of respect we never went back to that place again.

Photos from John Mitchell of the Houlton area.

The road along the Meduxnekeag below Market Square in Houlton Maine

The "B" Stream where it goes under the bridge where the "B" Road and Ridge Rd split off. Our farm was on the Ridge Rd.. The "B" Stream was our property line on the West side of our farm. John Mitchell

Additionally from Bill Mitchell:

This was also the stream where my brother Dick had a camp with his friend Jackie Porter and others. The camp was not too far from where the highway now crosses the stream. It would not surprise me if Dennis Drew, Arval Porter, David Ingraham and Larry Ross were involved, but I am not sure of that.

It seems that Dick and his friends accumulated a lot of building materials. They carried them into the woods there and built a camp. It evidently had double hung windows, doors and a stove. They also furnished it. These materials could have come from anywhere, and I will not venture to elaborate further.

The land was not theirs of course, but they felt ownership because of all the work they did.

It seems that they went there to use the camp one day and were chased away by a squatter. He was evidently Native American from a local group.

They were, of course, angry. They waited till this man got drunk and fell asleep on a bed in the cabin.

Then they quietly took the entire camp apart and carried it off into the woods leaving nothing but the heavy stove and the man sleeping in the bed.

This carries on a longstanding tradition, as when our father first moved to Littleton, he built and lived in a similar camp in the woods along the stream and up-stream from what would eventually become our property.

Let me know by e-mail if anyone has further details on either of these events as I do not have all the details.

Everett Mitchell's Barn by John Mitchell

     In my mind the barn and my father are inseparable. The huge barn was my father's domain as the house was my mother's. He ruled over the animals and the activities of the barn with full command. He spent his days and evenings there. He only came to the house to eat and sleep.


     Like the barn, he was tall and his big bones and long legs were like the rafters of the barn. His gray hair and gray mustache highlighted his huge head and large jaw. He stared down the animals and they obeyed him. He never flinched around them. If they would not go where he wanted them to go, he'd push and shove them. And if they pushed or shoved back he smacked them with an open hand making a sound that would echo off the barn and fill the barn yard. The biggest horse and most stubborn cow would move after one of his smacks.


     He kept care of his tools. He spent hours sharpening saws and axes, mending horse harnesses and wagon parts. He smoked a pipe and the filling and the lighting of the pipe was a ritual he had down pat. It always went in the same order: open the pouch, put the pipe in the pouch, with the index finger of the same hand that held the pipe, the tobacco would be pushed into the bowl.  The pipe would then be withdrawn from the pouch. The pouch would be folded up  and returned to the left rear pocket of his coveralls. Then using the finger of his free hand, he'd push the tobacco into the bowl until it was at a tightness so that it would be able to draw air through it but still be tight enough so it would not fall out of the bowl. In one pocket of his shirt he carried wooden matches, the big ones with the red tip that can be struck against anything.


     He would put the pipe in his mouth and then with the match in his right hand he'd lift his right leg  and strike the match against the back of his right thigh. When the match burst into flame he would bring it up to the pipe's bowl and inhale deeply so the flame would be drawn down onto the tobacco, and the tobacco would start to burn. As soon as it was ignited, smoke would flood all the cavities of his head. Smoke would come out of his nose and out of his mouth around the stem of the pipe which was clenched in his teeth.


     The first great puff or two of smoke seemed to be what smoking a pipe was all about. After that it didn't seem to matter whether the pipe continued to burn or not. He'd hold it in his mouth and smoke it, but half the time the pipe would be out and he'd dump the burned and unburned tobacco on the ground and put the pipe back in his pocket to wait for the next smoke.


     He was a slow man who took his time with everything. He was like the creaking old barn. They both breathed the way a great elephant breathes, slowly in and slowly out, the great bulk swaying with each long breath. He walked like a barn with legs stiff and creaking. He never bent his knees. His walk was a relaxed goose-step. It was like his height would make him fall if his knees were ever to bend. Stiff and slow he went leading a horse or carrying a saw and an ax.


     But somehow he piled mountains of wood; cord after cord that big trucks came and took away. He never owned a power saw. He never owned a tractor. He never bailed hay with a hay bailer. He never had a milking machine. He never worked with power tools of any kind. He provided his own power or the horses he was driving did.

Memories of Littleton Maine and Father's barn by John Mitchell

This is not the barn in John's story, but it is across town near our house. It was known as the Stillman barn. It will give you an idea of the look of the barns in the area, though many were much more sophisticated.

The barn was sixty feet high. To young children it was bigger than a mountain. The barn was the god of the farm. He stood over everything. Inside the rafters criss-crossed up to the seemingly infinite ceiling. Hay pile after hay pile—up and up as far as you could see. Light pushed through the cracks illuminating hay dust with thin bars of light. It creaked and shifted always; making noises as it settled and resettled, adjusting itself to the changing weight of it's great load of hay, feed and animals.
At times it was like a living, breathing god. Knot holes of light were like eyes; whispering sounds of wind through cracks were like silent orders from the building saying when to feed the animals; when to bring in the hay; and when to pile up more fire wood.
The animals where content in the barn. It was the place, at night, where they knew they'd be safe from bear and wolf. It was their den; their cave; their burrow from carnivores.
As the sun set the barn was where all headed, and not just the cows and horses, but the cats and the dog and the people. Sunset was milking time. It was also feeding time. Hay was pitched down from the top of the rafters onto the middle of the barn floor. From there it was divided up amongst the cows and horses. The horses were given grain as well. The cats would prowl the grain room looking for a brave mouse to come in through a crack in the barn wall. This was the cats supper. The dog, who fed on scraps from the kitchen table, would crouch down in the middle of the barn floor, where the hay had been, and make a bed from where he could watch the barn door. If any man or beast, unknown to the dog, tried to enter the door the dog would bark and growl until someone from the house came down to see what it was. Usually it was a skunk or raccoon trying to get to the grain.
The barn door was half as high as the barn. It was hung on pulleys that rolled along a long steel bar.
When open in the summer to let in the hay wagon it looked like a huge hole had been blown in the side of the barn. In cold weather the big door was kept closed and people and animals came in and out through a small door set in the lower middle of the large door.
The rooster shaped weather vain on the top of the barn spun in the wind. It was mounted on a lightening rod that ran through the barn into the ground.
In the summer thunder storms where common. They'd blow in from New Brunswick and you could see them coming; fast moving black clouds pushing birds and straw before them. Once a great bolt of lightening hit a tree behind the barn and split the tree in two. One half lay on the ground. The other half still stood. When it cracked it sounded like a crack in the world—and the smell of burning wood and
the smell of electric fire; reminded me of burning meat.
After we left the farm, the barn stood longer than all the buildings. Vandals burned the house; the chicken coop was burned too. The machine shed had been torn down. But the barn survived. It fell of its own weight without the weight of the hay to keep in accorded. The last time I saw it, it was listing to the south. It was blown that way by the North Wind; which proved to be a powerful god.