My Aunt Ruth was a lady you never forgot if you ever met her.
Especially if you were a kid. Her years of teaching horse riding lessons at Camp Little Ponderosa summer camp touched many young lives in the Houlton Maine area. I remember also seeing her in action when my cousin Dave at an early age were with her at Hodgdon High School where she taught music. With large brown eyes, I remember clearly watching her mesmerize the large group. Demanding and getting each and every students undivided attention.
Maine kids that thought they could not sing, carry a tune if it had handles could suddenly find melody, harmony and bring something to the group’s overall horsepower sound. In a playful, a little good natured teasing sort of way, Aunt Ruth had an ability to take a shy kid, lacking confidence and inject ten cc’s of “atta boy or girl”, you can do it. Aunt Ruth was very good at involving all kids, making each and every one feel special, a part of the production.
That’s the Aunt Ruth who was accepted at Julliard School of Music, the one with Stardust and Melody two horses in their thirties she had had since childhood.
The same Aunt Ruth that lived with Freeman Taylor who was like a second dad, and a kid himself for the many cousins lucky to be exposed to summer horse riding camp at the Ponderosa.
Freeman kept our snow sleds running in the winter. Took us to the Borderland Drive In Outdoor Theatre, Mt Katahdin to climb summers. Taught us about haying and horse farming. While Aunt Ruth schooled us all in the fine points of saddling up. Riding English and Western hore disciplines. Competing in Maine horse shows here stateside and ones across the US border in Canada.
The first Camp Little Ponderosa I vaguely remember from bits and pieces of stories. About a small structure on the north side of the Ludlow Road, east of the Hogan Road (aka McSheffery Road). Then new and expanded in its hay day at Freeman’s farm on the Callaghan Road. But in it’s slow decline in a new metal indoor arena building back on the Ludlow Road. Where she never made a FmHA payment farm building arena payment on.
Aunt Ruth touched a lot of kid’s lives, was their champion.
I also heard she was gorgeous in her youth but also willful, spoiled, a little overbearing contentious in a high strung emotional way growing up. With the best of everything. Also with parents who doted, could not say no in a Maine farm household in time infested with the decline ravages of alcoholism warfare. With not so friendly internal fire, upheaval causing damaging drama.
My grandfather Albert Mooers was a sweet gentleman. But partnered with a wife Bessie who reminded him often of his limitations. As he slipped further in to the jug. His dad AE Mooers was a local success story with a large shdow. Other family shoes way way too big to fill. He drove a pickup that never got out of second gear, and often was half lit but mild and harmless when he drank and drove. In small Maine towns, folks looked out, pulled over when they saw you creeping along. Heading for home. Less cars, trucks on the road too in those days.
Wearing a church hat, a button sweater, tie, I played cribbage with him on Camp Little Ponderosa’s summer porch growing up. Cousin Butch, Albert the 4th was the checker king. Grampy died of throat cancer, smoked professionally a cigar before that. I remember going in to see him one winter night when it was snowing. At the Madigan Hospital run by local nuns. In a room smelling of Cepacol and seeing a metal ring throat trachea hole with a gauze cover that scared me as a small child. Hearing him cough, hack, strain and suffer. But still smiling, not wanting to burder anyone else with his medical ailment load.
Houlton Maine Draft Horse Show Video
Meadowbrook Farms had expensive, prize herds of dairy cows and several large potato tracts. And Aunt Ruth’s finest horses that were spit polished, washed, groomed, and had Hudson Bay blankets as covers. AE served on many local bank, utility and other boards and I see his name in the registry all the time in my Maine real estate job. In fact the first house I owned was part of his Byrd Farm, where Houlton High School is now.
Aunt Ruth would resist financial guidance and the first to admit at the tail end when backing herself in to a financial boxed canyon that she was no business woman. Her health declined along with the economy. Becoming less the picture of health, harder to manage. She was loud, overbearing and had a way of making her problems your fault. Unruly, bucolic, a tad bitter of all the people she had helped but that did not return the favor in unquestioning large supply. Just give me the money right now, I would you if I had it was a familiar refrain.
If you were her brothers, my Uncle Fred or my father John, you took turns trying to reason with her. And tip toed.
Tightened up when she would blast in to the yard in an old rickety car where her bank was the glove box and in book keeping disarray.
She was awfully good to my Uncle Bud’s eight kids. Bud was funny, good looking but became a professional, black belt alcoholic. I never knew him when he was not drinking. Dad’s family’s alcoholic haze growing up did not permeate in to our household. But he carried scars, shame, guilt and had more than his share of insecurities because of it. My mom was the bag balm, salve to nuture. Had patience, took the time to see his good points. And understood the reasons behind not so pretty attributes we all struggle with, admit, work on.
Sometimes it was a peaceful break around my home growing up when Aunt Ruth took turns hating one brother, then the other in rotation. Loud, hollering exchanges and bitterness, ranting happened if Aunt Ruth did not get her way. To the letter of the law the way she demanded. My Dad’s household growing up was the same stage of out of control emotion mixed with booze with more than one family member self medicating and getting numb, mulled. As the family fortune dwindled away. Jealous of Uncle Finley’s, Grampy’s brother success and the farm I grew up in, now own also mixed in to the fracas, hub bub.
Aunt Ruth lived in a small camp in her later years on the upper end of the Callaghan Road with a bohemian, hand to mouth existence by choice. A fixture at the Big Stop, earlier called Traveler’s Texaco truck stop and bingo, beano games in the area. Where the family would remind her, you can not make a living under “B… 9” winnings. Despite efforts by her brothers who subsidized her to get her in town into an apartment, she loved the pair, but did not like them. Displaying her nastiness in lack of gratitude for their charity. She resisted conventional wisdom with a don’t tell me what to do. Don’t fence me in attitude.