They say a house is not a Maine home until you add some people.
The sound of kids laughing, a parent working industriously on a project or tending the farmstead complete with a full array of critters. The grandmother shelling new picked garden peas on the front porch with a grandchild. Where volumes of wisdom are being exchanged with every installment of family time.
Today as you cruise the neighborhoods of your city or town, take country road rides do you recall who used to live in this or that place?
Or recall when there are a grand set of buildings on that now vacant land? Or see several houses where not so long ago there were none?
In small Maine towns where population is never too large and just holding our own to keep from losing our youth to the urban magnet is the tug of war. We don’t worry about sprawl, not restricted by HOA’s that enforce long lists of do’s and don’ts on top of what city planners and local zoning boards demand.
And the fond thoughts of who used to live in that green two bedroom ranch never fades completely to black.
Stays a little shade of gray and visible.
In drive bys or daily walks around the familiar haunts memory lane happens. Where I remember the Houlton Maine owners who took so much pride in the place they built together. No kids air dropped, brought in by the stork for them.
But the garden alive behind the home on the hill that sloped to the south, the rear of a very deep lot.
Towered over by one very large pine with roots just under the grass and above in many places.
That as a little kid peddling into town from the country added to the labor with the weekly lawn mowing and grass trimming. This is me to the left before the lawn mowing merit badge was earned on Franklin Avenue.
Ralph the accountant at Fogg’s Hardware store sporting a crew cut and a fan of dulse touted by some as better than spinach or broccoli for nutritional horsepower.
He popped, sucked on those pink peppermints you can only seem to find over home too. Maybe to counteract the salty seaweed he munched on.
He and his wife Marjorie who worked at the Cary Library . Hailing from the bordering town of Woodstock New Brunswick and fully naturalized. Duly sworn in with the right hand up as one of Uncle Sam’s successful transplants that never lost the love of Oh Canada.
Ralph like a car with a cylinder miss would sputter. On his knees pulling weeds, planting seeds. A World War I veteran fighting for the Canadian side in England and catching pieces of shrapnel in his back that somehow affected his lungs, his breath in, breath out.
Just a raspy, wheezy cough that if you did not know him you would ask is that just a nervous habit? No it is something that explained the purple heart medal and others he hid. Probably in his underwear drawer where with quiet respect and dignity the topic of why the cough was not discussed. Put out of his mind and kept behind him. In the cloud of mustard gas that went along with the ricochet of lead and steel.
Ralph had a tan colored 1964 Corvair, the rear engine Chevy that Ralph Nadar helped escort get off the road. Into the breakdown lane for roadside assistance. More than a call to triple “A”. Ralph traded up to a 1966 Pontiac Tempest.
No rug on the floor, vinyl like the stripped down police cruisers. For easier to clean mishaps when drunks pulled over, yanked into the car for a little questioning about how much have you had to drink.
Ralph’s pride and joy. Just a six cylinder power plant of gerbils upfront.
Kept washed, waxed and glass sparkling to show room perfection standards. The car always looked like it had just rolled off the Motor City assembly line. I think it had red line tires but that could be wishful thinking.
The tempest could have been a super candidate for the real thing, a GTO clone. With some heavy modifications under the hood, suspension, transmission. Beyond replacing the Tempest with “Goat” designations, insignias.
Sliding in a close ratio four speed, bolting in a different rear end and chain falling slowly into place an aluminum head, 396 cubic inch motor with three two barrel carbs riding on top under the hood scoop. With cut outs giving it plenty of air when the pedal went to the metal.
(Yeah like the 1967 Mustang my older brother Jonathan totaled, bent the frame on in Brewer during college, that I was about to inherit as I got my driver’s license. I wished I had either of the two now … the Springtime Yellow Ford or Ralph’s mint Tempest wearing all tan blended with plain
Jane beige lacquer.)
Demand for those big engine muscle cars hand crafted in Detroit died off a tad as the males who bought them were drafted one by one and sent to Vietnam for some R and R.
Had blogged a ways back about a Plum Crazy Purple Challenger about that time of the height of the conflict halfway around the globe.
So today when I walk or drive by Ralph and Marjorie Black’s first home where for three years of my life we were neighbors, there is nostalgia.
Remembering pushing the turquoise Ex-Cell-O brand reel push mower, the yellow hand powered or “silent” rear trimmer and grasping grass clippers, I can see the leopard pattern banana bike seat, am reaching forward for the high rise handlebars and enjoying being a kid in a small Maine town.
To roll up into Market Square and see other kids I knew from school as I pumped my legs to get to the destination of 5 Franklin Avenue, Houlton Maine.
With the trust of parents, who let me pedal into town to earn my five dollars and a can of Mountain Dew or White Rock Cream or Black Cherry soda as the reward for the toil and sweat of the weekly obligation. In my home town of Houlton Maine.
The same tonic that hit the spot in the dusty potato fields that would capture every kid’s attention come fall harvest in Aroostook County. We learned work ethic as kids.
Can’t help but notice the changes with the home, that whoever is mowing the lawn now does not have Ralph or Marjorie watching closely to remind you skip a strip. Or that cedar needs a little of the shaggy growth under it given some love and attention. Or the garage door is left up round the clock so you can see the black Cel-o-tex sheathing where Ralph had a place for everything and order ruled the day.
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MOOERS REALTY 69 North Street Houlton Maine 04730