The Maine family stories you pass on that may or may not be so accurate.
Because you were little. Just not paying, giving all your limited, young undivided attention to the chain of events.
Missing some of the faded historical facts. With mental filters sifting, sorting from only a kid’s pair of eyes, a relatively new set of ears.
Not taking notes on a tall binder ring top reporters pad.
Not thinking about referring back, blogging about observations someday.
And now knowing entertainment has crept, permeated into the five “w”‘s in news gathering. Beefed up, high tech story telling, yarn spinning which is part of the day to day survival in rural Maine. Exchange of the news, the history but with a little polish. I did not say spin for some hidden agenda. Just the hand rubbed, home made twist to the chain of events that we all experience in a more connected, smaller Maine home town experience.
For starters small Maine towns are less people but all working pretty much in unison for the greater good of the sparse population. Keenly aware, delicately wired with some common leads. Salt and peppered with the same common sense strand of DNA to survive, be happy and content with less. Which creates more lasting value in a person’s life spent pretty much outdoors all four season in Maine. Basking in the natural beauty. Gleaning what matters most in quiet, reflective times alone in the Pine Tree state one of a kind settings.
Ralph Black was my God father.
No no, not the kind where someone ends up startled with a dead horse in a bed. He and Marjorie had no kids but were very much involved in a good way with their nieces, nephews from their home country of Canada. The border crossed after World War I to the US, to Maine where they raised their right hand together. Recited in unison with the rest in the room the proper words in the correct places to step back. And blend in with the new citizenry.
Ralph had a perpetual cough, rasp.
Clearing his throat in a hardly audible way if you and I were around him and engaged, distracted in an activity, conversation. But done enough to notice when you were caught up in your business, industry. I inherited the lawn mowing job from my brother Brian. For their small two bedroom ranch home built next to where our family lived on Franklin Avenue in Houlton Maine.
Ralph was a quiet, gentle man. Marje was the color, the conversation. While Ralph smiled. Listened, coughed softly like the miss of an engine long past due for a valve job. Or carb adjustment. Or new electrical points that might come with a cracked distributor with moisture raising havoc with the engine purr.
My parents loaded up the pick up and ferried several round trips from the intown home to the Maine farm my great Uncle Finley left to my Dad and Mom when the orignal owner of my middle name woke up dead one morning.
His widow, a Florence Nightingale WWI nurse of sorts with a slew of stories traded places with our family. In a move from the country two miles to an in town spot. Aunt Hettie was a wealth of stories, wisdom, interactions of her own. Other Aunt Hettie blog post fodder for another day.
Ralph Black was a loyal worker of the Almon H Fogg Company. The place sold hardware, sporting goods, everything but food, spirits, smokes pretty much. Tight as the proverbial bark on a tree. But practicing frugality as a perfect, unwavering science. A two legged model of a well run business. Thats ways spilled over into his real home life that I was part of along with a cast of other average Joes, Janes.
His tan Chevy Corvair that Ralph Nadar was gunning for, had in the cross hairs was spotless.
So was his tan 1966 Pontiac Tempest six cylinder bought new car that could have been an excellent GTO clone candidate. With a new 389 triple carb or 400 cubic inch power plant lowered into the front engine compartment. For weekend timed runs at Winterport Drag Way. The thoughts that meander through a young boy’s mind while trimming grass, mowing the lawn I inherited from my brother Brian.
The lawn kept current, short to exacting standards that I rode my banana bike to town to mow each week in warmers months. Kept clipped, golf course manicured. With exact trimming with oiled, frequently sharpened clippers, a push “silent” yellow hand mower. And the heavy artillery, a turquoise dual wheel self propelled Ex-Cello reel mower. The two mowers I helped Ralph load into the car trunk each fall. To take to be serviced for the coming spring maneuvers on the steep side hill Maine home lawn. For the huge rear patch, front lawn of grass that was always weed free.
Ralph and Marje were card carrying members of the lawn police.
High standards, don’t miss a blade. Not really Gestapo like but close in expectations for their lawn. For everything around them at the Maine home they built. That was not filled with kids of their own. But my comfort while wrestling with the lawn equipment in knowing there is a cold soda, my new favorite kind. And a snack at each completion in the weekly “how did it go” kitchen table lawn debriefing.
Marje worked at the Cary Library, sang in the choir at the Episcopal Church.
Ralph ate dry purple seaweed from Nova Scotia called dulse. I know, right up there with Moxie that always struck me as a kin to liquid tree roots and bark pulverized and mixed with old motor oil.
Pink Canadian peppermints also a treat he had a sweet tooth for munched on wearing his Marine spec crew cut. The kind of severe hairdo that needed the small round push tube of deodorant smelling goop to keep it at attention, straight up. All day.
Ralph’s small cough from lung shrapnel or trench foot soldier warfare mustard gas.
Or neither of the above from the Canadian theatre of the first War. That is one of those questions that parents gone does not allow to be asked, answered today.
Often on his knees in his private spiritual, vegetable garden while I labored mowing. Ralph loved his garden dearly. Tended it with the same degree of lawn standards exactness. In his element in that big garden behind the stick built ranch house. The one with the once thought, best thing since sliced bread light green asbestos siding on Franklin Avenue home in Houlton Maine.