Saturday, December 3, 2016


I’m a lapsed everything these days.
I’ve lapsed to the point of having an atheist sticker slapped on the backside of my Toyota Yaris.
There’s no coming back from that.

Still, there are shreds of my childhood that come soaring back to me at this time of year, and I’ve learned to hold them dear: the brass angels that flew in a circle above the lighted candles and rang little bells as they passed by; the snowflake patterns we cut from folded pieces of paper and taped to the front windows of our house; the smell of spruce cuttings; the branches of bright blood-red winterberries arranged in a floor vase in our front hall.

And advent calendars.
          I remember the ritual each December morning: searching for the little numbers on the little doors, lifting the flap and opening it wide to find a small surprise within.
It was part of the magic.

I saw this one in our local indie bookstore.
It’s a farm scene: red barn, two-storied farmhouse with green garlands wrapped around the porch pillars; it’s chock-a-block full of children on sleds and skis and toboggans and flying saucers (remember those?); there are wreaths hanging on doors and silos and fenceposts; there’s a cat on the porch, a dog on the steps and a squirrel in a tree; warm light pours out of all the windows.
There’s Santa in a sleigh (and his little door is No. 24, of course!).

But my favorite part is the lower right corner.
          A rail fence; two cows—one Jersey, one a small Holstein—three sheep; a manger full of bright yellow hay; that trio of geese (the Magi?) parading across the drive; that bright red cardinal on the fence post.

They’re all looking in the same direction, they’re all waiting…


Saturday, September 3, 2016


It started out in the 1700s as a small trading post, but by 1809 it was known as the Brunswick Cotton Manufacturing Company. The mill, powered by the Androscoggin River and the falls at Pejepscot, made yarn for textile manufacturing.
It changed its name a few times as it expanded—Maine Cotton and Woolen Factory, Warumbo Company, and, finally, Cabot Manufacturing Company.  In the 1930s, more than 1,000 people worked in this mill, running the machinery that produced textiles.
In the mid-1950s, when I was a child living in the area, it was the Verney Mill, and both textiles and shoes were manufactured there, pulling power from the river, dumping waste back in; I remember to this day the smell of the river, the sight of yellow-brown riverfoam on the front lawn of our house on days the wind was right.
And I remember the rumble and thump of the machinery and shake of the sidewalks whenever you walked by; the feeling went through your shoes and into your feet, right up to your knees.
          It was dreadful.
I had friends whose parents worked in the mill, first- and second-shift parents (sometimes one on each shift just to make sure one parent could be home most of the time: I didn’t appreciate that sacrifice until I was much older). Somebody’s mother told me once that, during WWI and WWII, there were three shifts of workers: That mill ran all day and all night; children were awakened in the morning by one parent, put to bed by the other parent, and watched over by grandparents or neighbors while their parents slept.

Everything’s different now.
The river is clean (we even have fish again!) and the building itself has been renovated; floors have been refinished, walls painted, windows replaced. There are shops and artists’ studios and restaurants—even a farmers’ market in the winter, a high-end antique business and a gigantic flea market all year round!

But sometimes, when the light is just right and I find myself in one of the lower level hallways, I can still hear the rumble, feel the shake and rattle of that machinery.

Saturday, July 30, 2016


…gently down the stream.

Or not.

This isn’t a stream.

This is Linnekin Bay, East Boothbay, Maine in the summer of 1900 or so, and the two boys in the dinghy are my great uncles. I think it’s Richard and Allen, although I can’t be sure—they all look pretty much the same in the summer outfits: shirts, pants, crusher hats and rubber-soled shoes.
There’s an old dock in the background and seaweed-covered rocks in the fore; I can tell that it’s low tide. The ground slopes up from the rocks and I can barely see the bottom of a house in the background; now, one hundred years later, after too much erosion, there’s a seawall along the shore there.

I think this photo was taken in front of what was called the Red Cottage—it was where the Gould family went each summer to get out of the smothering heat of the Boston area—later on, after my grandfather married, they summered in her family home just down the road.

My guess is that this little rowboat is the one they used to run back and forth between the shoreline and the family sailboat, moored out in deeper water—Allen’s weight has left the bow high and the aft end very close to the Atlantic! I’ve got lots of photos of them in the sailboat (they’re wearing shirts and ties in some of them, for goodness’ sake!).

Ahhhh, summer!

Hope yours is going well, and that you’ve got secure oarlocks to get you through!

Saturday, June 11, 2016


More than one hundred years ago, The Gang assembled for a group shot on the public dock in East Boothbay, Maine; they all summered in cottages strung along the shores of Murray Hill overlooking Linekin Bay, all learned to swim in those freezing waters, all spent lazy high-tide afternoons diving and jumping off the public dock, keeping cool.
         Two of those young men in the back row are relatives of mine--the last two on the right are my great-uncles, Richard and Allen. And I’m pretty sure that one of the boys in the front row is my great-uncle Prescott, although I can’t tell which one. Furthermore, I'll bet the photo was taken by my grandfather, who should be in the picture...but isn't.
          The two women? I’m not sure. The one on the far left might be Jessie Gould (a cousin)—I’m basing that guess on the gold bracelet she’s wearing on her left arm (I have one, too; given to me by my father on my twenty-first birthday)—but the one on the right is totally unknown.

But look at the swimwear!
          My grandfather told me once that those bathing suits were made of wool.
I can’t imagine.
          He said the “itch factor” was sky-high—not while they were in the water, but when they were out—and they spent most of their time trying not to scratch in inappropriate places!
          I love the pale, skinny legs and the combination of brown forearms and white upper arms—the boys obviously rolled their shirtsleeves in the summer…
          And look at Richard’s striped number! Clearly, the height of men’s fashion in the early 1900s. Allen’s wearing white bottoms, which might be another fashion trend.

I can’t imagine my great-grandmother going for that bit of foolishness!

Saturday, June 4, 2016


Stream, gristmill, undershot (or overshot) waterwheel…it’s a standard here in New England; has been fodder for painters and photographers—even poets and lyricists—for more than a century.

This postcard was mailed in Athens, Maine on September 16, 1914:

Hello Clarence. I almost forgot your birthday was so near we got home all right Aunt Nancy Spoffard come here yesterday & to day Grampa & I carried her out to Skowhegan she is real smart. Now see how good a boy you can be the whole year with love & good wishes for many returns of the day.

From Grammie.

Friday, May 13, 2016


One of my favorite possessions is a lovely  compartmen-talized tray from a newspaper printer’s type cabinet; each tray is a single wooden drawer from a chest that held a variety of typefaces in a variety of sizes used to set type for both news copy and advertising.
          There used to be separate trays—or cases—for capital letters and regular letters (which is why we call them upper and lower case letters today), but that meant two drawers for each size of a particular font; a combined case like this became popular in the 1800s (this shot shows only two of the three sections of the tray).
Just as the “qwerty” layout of your keyboard is designed to make typing more efficient, so too were the compartments in a type tray designed for the convenience of the typesetter—the most frequently used letters were set in boxes in the center of the tray while the others were located on the edges and in the corners.
Numbers and oddball symbols ($, @, + and %, for instance) were in the top boxes of the compartments, lower case letters were on the left side of the drawer, upper case on the right.
Punctuation compartments were not always designated—many typesetters placed them in their own preferred locations.
 This tray holds an incomplete set of Bodoni bold type—one of the most commonly used typefaces in the 19th and 20th centuries, mainly because it is so easy to read.

Giambattista Bodoni, the designer, was born in Italy in 1740. His father was a printer, so he grew up in the trade; he apprenticed at the Vatican, and later became a well-known typecutter, engraver and printer.
In 1798, he designed this typeface—a font that blended the thicker lines of older typefaces with the finer, thinner ones of newer designs.

Bodoni gains its gracefulness from a balance between those thick and thin strokes of the letters. If designed well, books typeset in Bodoni can produce that same graceful loveliness on an entire page, especially when the letters have some space between them, which keeps the lines smooth and easy to read.
Many of us read schoolbooks set in Bodoni (easy to read, remember?) and its broad face makes for a quick read on posters and advertising boards.

Friday, May 6, 2016


That’s the first thing I thought of when I saw this lovely old shepherd cradling one of his lambs…and although I knew that “by hook or by crook” means “by any way possible,” I had no idea what shepherds actually used crooks for; a crook looked like a pretty worthless implement to me.

Boy, was I wrong.
Turns out, their purpose is threefold: shepherds uses crooks to carry newborn lambs back to their rightful mothers when confusion reigns in the lambing pen (they cannot touch the lambs themselves, or the mothers will reject the babies due to the scent of humans); they use the blunt end of the crook to prod sheep along the way whenever they are driving them; they hook strays around the leg or neck to drag them back into the fold where they belong.

 My trusty 1902 Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog had a shepherd’s hook for sale—a metal one that fit snugly over a pole (you supplied the pole).
The Montana Shepherds’ Crook was “the best and strongest crook that has ever been placed on the market.” It consisted of a pear-shaped loop with rounded curves on the inside to prevent hurting the sheep. Thousands (they say) were in use in the United States.
          A mere seventy-three cents.
And there was, of course, a Bo-Peep Crook, which was the same as a Montana, but lighter.
For the ladies, I guess; for the shepherdesses.

There was more equipment, too: three different styles of shears—the Western, the Eastern, and the Celebrated Burgon & Ball’s (each in three different lengths of blade); two equally disgusting jars of salve (for those “worrisome nicks”); there was fleece detergent and a sheep dip (for “vermin”).

The best item, though, was the Montana Special Sheep Shearing Machine, “…considered one of the best by a great many of the large sheep growers throughout the United States and Australia.” It had a large wheel, mounted on a solid post; an enclosed gear in a fixed frame that ran the cutters.
So, one man turned the wheel, the other sheared the sheep; they got the job done, all right – by hook or by crook!