Friday, August 30, 2013


Here we are, the four of us together.
It’s 1950, I’m guessing; it’s probably Thanksgiving (or Christmas – I’ve got red bows tied around my braids...) and we’re here for dinner, I’m sure.

And...look at those suspenders! My brother and I both have them (not an exclusively male fashion statement, clearly), and even though we both look faintly uncomfortable, we’re holding our own.

Whenever I look at this photograph, I’m catapulted back through time to my paternal grandparents’ house in Newton Highlands (right outside Boston) – a tan house with brown trim that perched on the upper end of the avenue. It had an entry way, a dining room; kitchen and breakfast nook (with a black-and-white tiled floor that my grandmother washed in two stages...once for all the black tiles, once for all the white); an enormous living room with fireplace, plenty of couches (one antique horsehair one that pricked at the backs of your legs) and a couple of comfy chairs, and this bookcase at one end near the french doors.
I’ve got some of these same books in my bookcase; my brother has others.

My father’s wearing one of his ever-present bow ties; I remember the gray and yellow sweater vest my mother made for him (just peeking out from inside his jacket).
Above his head are photographs of his sister and her husband and an old daguerreotype of a Gould ancestor that now sits on a shelf here in Maine.

My mother’s black outfit is a surprise to me – she wore mostly bright colors, wild patterns – and this long, black dress may be a concession to her mother-in-law’s more restrained style. But she’s wearing lots of silver; and her smile certainly brightens things up! (She had a striking resemblance to Katharine Hepburn, although this photograph doesn’t do justice...)
          That lampshade above her head fascinated me. When the light was on, those geese seemed real; if I stared hard enough at them, they nearly flew out of the reeds and grasses. I was convinced, apparently, that they moved, and if I disappeared for any length of time, somebody would come to find me – I was always there, watching, waiting for that miracle.

It’s strange: I’ve got four cartons of family photographs and papers that go back two hundred years – photographs of generations of families in my line; formal and casual portraits of parents and their young children, parents with their youthful children, parents with their adult children.
And they’re wonderful...
...but I’ve always wondered why this is the only photograph I have of my family – of my parents and my brother and me – all together.
The only one.

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Saturday, August 24, 2013


About five years ago, I was contacted out of the blue, as we say, by an antique dealer from the greater Boston area.
            Are you related to John Allen Gould of Newton Upper Falls, Mass? he (or she) wrote in his email. If you are, I have a wonderful old Victorian calling card of his – small, letterpress script, flat-corners, very clean, – and would be willing to sell to you for $150.
            A calling card? I thought, for $150?
            You’d be “willing to sell” my great-grandfather’s calling card to me for one hundred fifty dollars?
I was infuriated by the emotional blackmail – didn’t buy it, of course – and vowed I’d never do that to anybody.

Ever since then, I’ve found great pleasure in finding things in flea markets – things with dates, names, towns, other identifying notations; things like letters, old books, postcards, photographs, pocket diaries, etc. – and, with the help of Ancestry, USGenWeb and other sources of information, locating descendants and returning these items to families of origin.
            For nothing; it’s my way of getting even!

This autograph book is one of my Lost & Found items. I bought it for $5.00, spent time the same evening looking through it, organizing the clues:
On the inside front cover: Mabel, Dec. 25, 1889.
Names and towns: Aunt Helen, Grandma Mayhew, and Cousin Florence H. Mayhew and, most importantly – because it was a full name, with initial – John R. Mayhew, Montville.
Ancestry has old census and voting lists, so I plunked his name into the search engine and held my breath...
John R. Mayhew, Montville, Maine popped up in the 1900 United States Federal Census. He was married to Helen and had a daughter Florence...“Aunt Helen” and “Cousin Florence” – those names fit.
But there was no Mabel listed as a member of his household.

There was, though, Charlotte Mayhew, 83 years old... “Grandma Mayhew” in the autograph book.
Working backwards through Grandma, I found that John had a brother, Frank (1847), also living in Montville; he appeared in the 1880 census. He was a peddler, married to Aubine; had two daughters, Lottie and...
...Mabel, who was 3 in 1880; 12 in 1889 when she received the autograph book for Christmas.

The rest took some time, and involved posting a query on the Waldo County USGenWeb site, asking for (generally) descendants of Charlotte Mayhew, Frank and Aubine Mayhew and (specifically) Mabel Mayhew...and then I waited.

A few months later, I received an email from a man who had seen the query; he was descended from Mabel’s sister (who had not appeared in the 1880 census because she hadn’t been born yet). We exchanged a few letters, and, once I was certain he was truly a descendent of Mabel’s family, I wrapped up the autograph book and sent it off to him.

A few weeks later, I received a letter, postmarked in Golden, Colorado:
Your generosity in sharing this amazing artifact from our family’s past is so very much appreciated...I wanted to let you know today just how much it means to me to hold it in my hands...a tangible, concrete piece of our family’s past...

Lost...and found.

Friday, August 16, 2013


What a funny word, I thought; where on earth did it come from?
          Apparently, from the French piquer – to stab, to poke, to spear with a sword.

A “picnic” used to be a meal shared by many people, all of whom brought something for the common pot – what we, today, call a “pot-luck.” Everybody brought something, and everybody took a little of whatever pleased them, apparently by stabbing things off platters with their swords; we progressed to serving ourselves with cutlery by 1800.

This photograph, taken in the early 1900s in East Boothbay, Maine, shows a group of adults perched on the rocks enjoying a summer picnic on the shores of Linekin Bay – their boxes and baskets of food are all piled in the middle. The man in front peeling an egg (white shirt, light pants) is my grandfather, his younger brother Allen is in the back (dark shirt, white tie, drinking from a glass); the woman on the far right is Jessie Gould Collins, one their cousins. Others are unknown friends and neighbors.
          I just love this photo: young adults – in their teens and early 20s – staging a picnic on the rocks on a lovely summer day. I can’t imagine clambering over the shoreline in a long skirt and broad-brimmed straw hat; and just think of Allen wearing a necktie to an event like this!

I thought “picnic” was a relatively new term: I was wrong!
My third great-grandfather, John Allen Gould of Walpole, Massachusetts (1785-1856) wrote about a picnic in his diary:

July 4, 1843 – The anniversary of American Independence was this year celibrated in Walpole in Pic-Nic stile. I composed some poetry for the occation which was sung in the grove to the tune of Auld-Lang-Syne.
The poetry, also in the diary, was absolutely dreadful; it included the chorus “ye sons of freemen swell the song, Ye daughters join the lay; Let hill and dale with joy resound, On Independence Day,” etc.)
          Oh, well...he was a Major in the Militia; he had the right to be sappy. 

I question, though, what he meant by having “...daughters join the lay.”

I’m sure it didn’t mean what it means today...

Friday, August 9, 2013


 This week, Alan’s Sepia Saturday post called for contraptions – those oddball devices, usually hand-made by eccentric but well-meaning tinkerers in barns or workshops.
We’ve all seen them, even used them. Some of us even still have them, stored in the attic or cellar, maybe, or out in the garage.

 This contraption, knocked together by my grandfather, was known affectionately as The Wheel, and was out in the yard in front of our summer home in Jaffrey, New Hampshire. It was, simply, an old wooden wagon wheel, tipped on its side and secured to an old axle pounded into the ground; every summer, after it was mounted properly and greased, it would spin around that post like a merry-go-round.
You stepped into the wheel – your legs on either side of a single spoke – and then sat down on the rim, facing the hub. When we were all aboard, we kicked the ground with our feet, hung on for dear life as we went ‘round and ‘round.
We defied common sense and centrifugal force on The Wheel – I remember (when I was older) my hair flinging out behind me as we went around; we’d get going fast, then hook our feet into the spokes, let go and lean out backwards – our parents would shriek in horror! I have a vague memory of my brother standing up on it, although I have no idea if it’s real or imagined!
Amazingly enough, nobody ever got hurt on this thing: you’d need a helmet, elbow pads, knee pads and some kind of body armor to ride it today, and some Federal Safety Office would declare it unsafe, dismantle it, toss it away.

This picture was taken in the late 1940s, when I was three or so. I’m the smallest one, the youngest cousin, that worried-looking blonde girl (front left) with the bare legs hanging down (see those Redball Jet sneakers?); from there, clockwise around The Wheel: our neighbor Peter, my cousin Martha, and a little bit of my brother John, all of whom will grin if they log onto my blog this week.

If I got on The Wheel today, I know I’d last about four revolutions before falling off...or throwing up -- guaranteed!

NOTE: Be sure to take a spin over to to see what other Sepians have found!

Sunday, August 4, 2013


I was sitting in a popular lunch spot near the train station in downtown Brunswick, having a light-hearted lunch with a couple of longtime friends.
Starkey (his real name is James, but I’ve never heard anybody call him that) and Laurel (her real name is Laurel), are charmers: gregarious, witty, kind, fabulous conversationalists.
They’re also hungry readers – they read everything: fiction, non-fiction, biography, essay...they simply love books, love to read, love to talk about what they’re reading.

When the man at the next table took off his jacket, revealing the print on his T-shirt, we three lapsed into respectful silence.
          “Careful,” it read, “or you’ll end up in my novel.”

“I want one of those,” I said.
We laughed, took a couple of bites, swallowed.
“Is it true?” Starkey asked, suddenly, turning to me. “Do writers put people they know in their books?”
It’s a terribly loaded question for a writer, and answering it brings up a veritable minefield of possible responses, most of which are vague, and all of which carry a germ of truth.
          I’ll answer as best I can.

The names of characters are irrelevant – I mean, they’re just names – but what comes after the names? How do I turn those names into recognizable characters; how do I make you care enough about them to become involved in the story I’m telling, in what I have to say?

The answer is fairly obvious:
I borrow bits and pieces of people I know – how they walk, or sit in chairs, how they button their shirts or put on their jackets. I take note of how people twirl lengths of their hair, chew their fingernails, or tip their heads when they’re thinking; how they fold the newspaper and hold glasses of water, how they talk to their children, their spouses, their friends.
I borrow characteristics from people I know who drink too much, eat too much, swear, yell and cheat too much; abusers and enablers, dreamers and high achievers, those who do good works, who volunteer, who do what they can to build community for us all. I adapt attitudes from friends who are doctors and cafeteria workers, farmers and attorneys, grocery store cashiers and retirees, from saints and sinners and fools.
I borrow their use of language, their words, their phrasing, their rhythm and timing; their senses of wit and humor (or their lack of both); I pay attention to their acts of kindness, selflessness, their indifference and, sometimes, downright cruelty...
...I could go on, but I’m sure you get my drift.
So, be careful.