Saturday, December 17, 2016
Christmas dinner in Boston was a mighty affair!
Grandparents, aunts and uncles, a bunch of cousins—even a few great-uncles (one in particular who was a lawyer; he was slightly on the shady side and smoked little cigarettes—my grandmother ran around after him holding a tiny silver tray just in case he wavered, spilled his ash).
I remember dressing up: little white socks with scalloped top edges and what we used to call Mary Jane shoes—black patent leather with a strap over the instep – dreadful things, but fancy enough for small children (they were named for Buster Brown’s sweetheart in the old comic series!).
I had a crinoline and a taffeta dress, too – it itched like fury, but it was gorgeous – it changed color whenever the fabric moved. I was fascinated by that color-changing bit.
I had a matching ribbon for a headband.
The dining room had two big windows along the outside wall; on the inside wall, opposite the windows, there were two doors into the hallway. There was a pantry, too, off one end—a magical space full of various sets of china; dinner plates and luncheon plates and butter and dessert plates; cups and bowls; drawers of silver (all wrapped in maroon or gray flannel protectors); all manner and kind of table accessories!
The table itself?
A centerpiece, of course; candles and place settings: Two forks (salad fork, dinner fork), two knives (salad and meat) and a couple of spoons (teaspoon, soup spoon). (“Work from the outside in,” my mother coached us.)
Sometimes a desert fork and spoon placed horizontally above the dinner plate, one pointing left, one pointing right.
Little bread plate to the left, with a bread knife across; silver salts with blue glass insides and tiny little spoons—oh, how I loved those tiny silver spoons; I imagined little people scooping salt from them.
And the biggest napkins I’d ever seen – blazing white, with my grandmother’s initials in the corner (VMH); not a stain on them, although I can’t imagine how that happened—probably due to Annie Sagan’s hard work in the laundry room downstairs.
And the glassware!
Crystal wine glasses with a tapered rim, a shaped stem and full bowl, with cut starburst and ivy pattern…after dinner my father would set all the glasses in a row, wet his finger and run it around the rims of the bowls, make the glassware sing!
It was magic to me back then; it is magic to me now.
Saturday, December 10, 2016
…and we’ve had our first snow here in Maine!
A few inches fell the other day. It was barely enough to shovel, but shovel we did—the sound of neighbors working at sweeping their cars and clearing their drives and walkways is nearly musical to me.
I took a break, stood at the end of my driveway and just listened.
Although I choose to ignore the religious trappings and crass commercialism that dominate our lives at this time of year, I still find promise in a few traditions from my childhood—a very few, to be sure, but ones that give me small pleasure.
And speaking of “promise,” here’s one kept: another shot of the wonderful calendar I found for this year.
Here’s the snowman.
He’s refreshingly traditional!
He’s got a black top hat (with a bright red band), coal buttons and a carrot nose; he’s got a scarf, knotted jauntily around his non-existent neck!
When I was little, we used to stick tree branches in his sides to make arms; the little twigs at the ends made fantastic fingers! We never had a top hat, but used instead one of my father’s fedoras or the real bomber hat he wore during his stint flying for the US Navy during WWII—an old, fur-lined, moth-eaten horror that resembled a dead rodent; my mother threatened to throw it away for years.
She never did, though; she knew what was important.
I opened the little door for December 8 right after I took the picture of the snowman: here’s the inside.
Those eight tiny reindeer: “Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen; Comet, Cupid, Donder, Blitzen…” (If you’re from Boston, by the way, those names are second to those of Robert McCloskey’s famous ducklings: Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack and Quack).
On Christmas Eve, we used to leave a bowl of dog kibble for those reindeer, right next to Santa’s Budweiser and Ritz crackers with cheese—my father always told us that Santa liked stopping at our house better than any other house in Maine, thanks to our creative snack offerings!
He was right, I’m sure.
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.
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!).
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!