Saturday, June 29, 2013


I’ve always wanted a housekeeper.

For years, a group of us shared a fictitious cleaning lady named Juanita. We regaled each other with tales of Juanita’s irresponsible behaviors –cavorting with a bearded lover (in black turtleneck and beret) at a coffee cafe in town, being arrested for solicitation, taking off to Vegas where she spent days in an alcoholic stupor and gambled away all the money we had paid her for services she never rendered.
We blamed Unreliable Juanita for our messy houses, our wrinkled shirts, our unmowed lawns and untended gardens.

And then, at my 60th birthday party, my friends gave me the ultimate gift.

This is Marie.
          When she arrived, she had on a floor-length black skirt and a white blouse with ruffles. She also sported a little white apron tied about her waist and an honest-to-goodness maid’s cap on her neck, secured with a murderous-looking hatpin.
          The first week we had her, I scared myself to death when I walked into the kitchen at night for a glass of water; there was just enough light from the streetlight to shadow her form by the kitchen door, and I nearly launched myself through the ceiling!
          But we became used to her, and started moving her about the house. People who came over for a quick cup of coffee actually began looking for her; occasionally we’d hear a quiet, “Hi, Marie!”

Then somebody offered Marie a new dress. It was a sporty, Johnny Appleseed number, white with horizontal blue stripes; we dressed her in it, added a bit of bling for good measure.
          The first person through the door took one look at Marie in her classy finery and said, “Geez, Marie – nice outfit!”

It didn’t take long.
People started sending Marie clothes: long cotton skirts with peasant blouses; a poodle skirt (where on earth do you get a poodle skirt these days?) with a big, wide plastic black belt (remember those?); a cowgirl outfit, complete with fringe and a six-shooter in a holster.
She’s received jewelry and other items in the mail, including a few winter hats (useless), a pair of mittens (equally useless), a pair of duck magnets that actually stick to her lower body (which is a metal cage).
She likes to accessorize – necklaces, bad costume brooches and the like – and she’s working on a collection of campaign buttons. My favorite is a “Biker Chick” button that has a picture of a yellow chicken with black leather vest and headband!

She gets mail, too (the mail carrier just shakes his head and giggles), including postcards from friends. She even got a Christmas card last year!

She’s more reliable than Juanita; she never misses a day. She’s not good at much, however; certainly not cleaning, washing dishes or dusting, and she definitely doesn’t answer the phone.

But, boyoboy, she sure knows how to dress for work!

Friday, June 21, 2013


And here's my favorite post...

We’ve got our share of old farms in Maine: they’re spread throughout the width and breadth of the state. Follow any old road in the area and you’ll eventually find one – or what’s left of one. They’re a slowly vanishing species around here – tumbledown barns, shells of old houses, sometimes nothing more than an old foundation and cellar hole, thick with sumac, saplings and memories of a lifestyle gone by.

This old beauty, spreading here from one end of the photograph to the other, is (or was) Ratherwyck Jersey farm. I lived and worked on this farm in the late 1960s and early 1970s (back in my hippie days), and took this photograph one fine summer morning while standing near the fenceline of what we called Maum’s Field – I was heading out to get the cows for morning milking.
The house was built in the early 1800s (the main house is the smallest piece on the far right) by the Lunt family, part of a Quaker community of farmers that settled in a corner of Freeport and Durham. As the farm expanded, more buildings were tacked onto the main house – this is a perfect example of New England connecting architecture: Big house, little house, backhouse, barn.
          Big house? The main part of the house, with dining room, living room, bath; bedrooms upstairs. The front door opened onto the road.
          The little house, perpendicular to the main house, was the kitchen and outkitchen – the outkitchen contained the laundry room (do you have any idea of how much laundry a working dairy farm generates daily?) and two enormous chest freezers in which I stored 30 cubic feet of vegetables for winter consumption.
          The backhouse was a jangle of purpose: in the 1800s, it housed the Lunts’ sleighs and carriages, had a workshop and a passageway to the outhouse (you can see the outhouse jutting out from the middle of the backhouse wall). We, too, had a workshop there and also stored machinery: the tractor (an Allis-Chalmers that was as old as I was), mower, bailer, and tools.
          And the barn – oh, that barn! Big, sweeping bays, grain bins, hay elevators straddling the uppermost rafters to help us load the tons of hay we needed to feed our forty Jersey milkers over the winters.
We milked twice a day, starting at 5:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. That early morning start meant, of course, that we had to wake up at 4:15 or so – and in order to make that wretchedly early start a bit sweeter, resorted to living our lives on Farm Time: we set all the clocks forty-five minutes ahead – so on Farm Time, we were up at 5:00 every morning.
          Much easier to bear!
I left the farm in 1975, went on to other things.
I still drive by occasionally; it is no longer a working farm. That great huge barn is gone – nothing there but smooth lawn – and the backhouse has been converted to a garage with upstairs storage. The meadows and fields have disappeared; some of the land has gone back to secondary growth forest, some to real estate development – there are houses and driveways where our cows used to graze.
It’s a bittersweet thing, this remembering.
But I know that somewhere, there will always be Farm Time.

Deb Gould is a retired ASL interpreter (educational specialist) and author; she lives, quite happily, in Maine, USA.

Saturday, June 15, 2013


You can find old keys in nearly every flea market or shop – sometimes they’re stored in Mason jars, old coffee tins, or even just strung along a length of wire – and for years I simply passed them by, paid no attention.
But once, when I was idling away some time in a little shop in Topsham, Maine, I found an old cookie tin full of them, reached in for a few – just a few, mind you – to take a look.
And look I did, for a good half-hour: Car keys, door keys, cupboard and file cabinet keys; keys for padlocks and post office boxes; keys for rolltop desks, steamer trunks, library card files...keys, keys, keys.

I was surprised by the craftsmanship, by how beautiful they were!
Made of brass, mostly, they had company names and logos and designs tooled into their faces; they were wonderfully heavy, had heft and substance to them; they felt good in my palm.
I bought a few – six or seven, maybe – and brought them home, cleaned them up a little bit, then placed them in a small bowl on a end table in my living room.

When people come to visit, they can’t keep their hands off them: guests poke and push at them with index fingers, swirl them around in the bowl and, eventually, everybody lifts at least one out of the bowl for a closer look.
And everybody’s surprised by how lovely they are!

I’ve given a few away, sometimes people ask if they can have one (I always say yes), and I have a suspicion that a few have been pocketed – I prefer to think inadvertently – so every now and then I have to replenish my supply.

Take a look at these:

 Eagle Lock Company (Terryville, CT, 1833) – was once the largest maker of locks for cabinets and trunks in the world! There were two factories: the one in CT and the other in Ohio; the company made more than 2000 different locks! The Terryville factory was enormous – had several buildings and even boarding houses that lined the streets near the factory to house male employees.
The company went out of business in 1975.

P & F Corbin (New Britain, CT, 1848) – founded by brothers Philip and Frank Corbin, the first products of the company were ox balls, which were used by farmers and drovers to cap the tips of their animals’ horns (you can see these balls in old photographs). They later produced all manner and kind of hardware: locks and keys, coat hooks, doorknobs and doorplates, even coffin “trimmings.” Philip Corbin died in 1910.
The company, after several mergers, is now part of Stanley Black & Decker.

Francis Kiel & Son (New York, 1876) – had a huge factory on 163rd Street in New York City. The company manufactured “miscellaneous hardware and electrical specialties,” which included keys and blanks and locks and electrical things I do not understand, such as an ampro electric bell and an Anti Screw Midget push button (now just think what you could do with that!).
At any rate, Kiel hardware can be found today in renovator’s catalogues.
            This key is my absolute favorite!

Independent Lock Co. (Fitchburg, MA, 1926).  Morris Falk invented a machine to tool hairpins; when hairstyles changed and the hairpin market ran dry, he switched over to making keys, and in 1926 moved the business from Leominster to Fitchburg. He bought up other smaller companies, and by the end of WWII, had a multi-million dollar business! He patented rekeyable locks for cabinets and drawers; in 1942 he applied for a patent for a process for making key blanks.

Saturday, June 8, 2013


Nothing to wear but clothes
To keep one from going nude.
     -- Benjamin Franklin King

I give up.
          I’ve spent lots of time lately dashing about town, checking out different clothing stores, trying to find a good blouse I can wear to an upcoming graduation. (In this part of the country, everyone needs at least one outfit for cookouts, a second for funerals, a third for weddings, and a fourth for those events that are a couple of notches above the first, yet a peg below the last).

For years, I’ve been comfortable in my clothes; everything fit well, everything moved when I moved; everything moved with me.

But something has happened.

Now, clothes cling to me like food wrap. Everything is tight through the shoulders, the chest, the midriff, the hip; everything binds and outlines.  
Everything now has, I have learned, what we call “a more feminine fit.”
Spare me!

I thought I’d found it: A classic white pure cotton number that was beautiful to look at and could easily be dressed up and/or down for those “in between” events.
          A sales associate led me to the dressing room.
At first glance in the mirror, it looked wonderful.
But when I raised my arms and lowered them again, the front of the blouse stayed up, riding high between my breasts and my chin like the front of a westward-bound Conestoga wagon.

I came out of the cubicle and turned to the sales associate, who looked to be about twelve years old.
“Yikes,” I said, raising my arms again.  “This is too small!”
          “No, it’s not,” she contradicted, reaching out and pulling the blouse down for me. “See?”
          I raised my arms again, lowered them: Again, the blouse billowed high up over my breasts.
          “Too small,” I repeated.
          “It’s fine.” She reached forward, pulled it down for me again.
          “Why does it stick like that?” I asked.
          “Well,” she chirped, “it’s a more feminine fit. You want to show off your cute curves.”
          I looked at her, astonished. “Mywhat?” I asked.
          “Your cute curves,” she repeated, a little less brightly this time.

I tried one last time – arms up, arms down – and looked at myself in the mirror.
Three of us in a line, I thought, would look like a wagon train.

And I turned back to her.
“I’m sixty-six years old,” I snarled, “and I’m not interested in showing off my curves – cute or otherwise.”
She wisely backed out of the dressing room and disappeared.

Saturday, June 1, 2013


My north neighbors and I are exhausted.

Between our houses is a stretch of picket fence followed by a convenient gap (for quick and easy visiting) and, after that, a buffer hedge consisting of ten-foot high hemlocks.
          They’re pretty thick, those hemlocks, and near the top of the tallest, Mr. & Mrs. Cardinal made a nest.
We followed the construction for some time.
There were preliminary runs with twigs and small sticks; the real work started after that – flight after flight of other building materials, including some short pieces of yellow yarn that I had draped over some bushes in my back yard and something that looked like old shredded newspaper. Both birds would alight on an outward branch, then disappear like magic into the thickness of the hedge!
So I went upstairs, opened my north gable window, and leaned out. From up there I can look down onto the hedge, and from that elevated viewpoint, I could see the vague, brown shape of the nest.

At any rate, they did a fine job, and the nest is tucked in beneath some hemlock overhang. When it rains, most of the water follows the lines of the overhanging branches, runs to either side of the nest and drips off the last of the new growth. Pretty clever.

We didn’t see much of the Mrs., but Mr. Cardinal spent all his time flying from my front yard fence to the side fence (where he perched on my neighbors’ blueberry sign), across to their garage roof, back over into my yard. He sometimes stopped to rest on my back porch railing before making the return trip.
He was on guard: called out constantly – a short, piercing call – that clearly declared his territorial rights to the hemlock hedge, and everybody stayed away, including the neighborhood cats.
The Mister was constantly in motion, doing what he could to protect his brood. By the end of the day, he must have been pretty tuckered out.

My neighbors and I did all we could to help: we used our side doors less, our front doors more; we limited our trips down the side walkways, sometimes opting for marching through the house and out the back door rather than disturbing those youngsters.
We even parked our cars on the street instead of in our driveways!

Like Mr. Cardinal, we were on full alert: watching carefully, listening to little cardinal peeps, keeping an eye out for interlopers – especially crows and strange cats. We warned both paperboys (who kept a respectful distance) and the mailman, who started asking for progress reports – it’s a neighborhood affair, this raising of children.

They fledged yesterday, and all is well.