The Collective Sigh of a Community

The Maine town of Lisbon pulled off its 36th Moxie Festival over the past weekend.  It’s a distinctively different event, difficult to define.  30,000 people converge on an old mill town to celebrate a soft drink.  They wear orange.  They run, march in a parade, and obviously, drink soda.

For the organizing committee, the festival is more of an endurance race.  Planning starts in September and rolls along at a steady pace, picking up speed in April.  June is frenetic and lots of things happen behind the orange-hued curtains of festival preparation, although social media creates a continuous façade of excitement.  The committee has always been small, but as the Moxie Festival machine gains steam, it picks up volunteers who show up and give their time and energy.  The three-day event happens.

This year, I worked behind the scenes on the festival.  I wrote a few press releases, created 3,000 words of content for an advertising supplement, sold Moxie gear all day on Saturday, and then worked in the snack shack at Sunday’s car show.  This year’s festival was difficult and different without parade organizer and community leader, Gina Mason.  I think many of us were going through the motions and “doing it for Gina.”  But you know, we pulled it off.  The festival was pretty awesome, from what I’ve heard and seen.

For festival organizers and the town of Lisbon, this is the week we pat ourselves on the back and breathe a collective sigh of relief.  We go back to weeding our gardens, taking vacations, and enjoying the rest of summer.

Today, I share with blog readers, a portion of the newspaper insert’s content about Lisbon’s beloved Gina Mason.

(Gina Crafts with her neighborhood posse, photograph courtesy of Bryce Hamilton)     

If you’re of a certain age, you may remember Clara Desjardins.  A renowned dancer, Desjardins operated a studio in Auburn for 60 years, ending in 1997.  Decades of dancers learned the basics from Desjardins, with each year’s lessons culminating in a May recital.  As the recital approached, it was not uncommon for performers to get the jitters and Desjardins would adamantly remind them that no matter what happened, “the show must go on.”

Gina Mason started walking when she was 11 months old and according to her mother, Carmella Crafts, she took her first dance classes with Desjardins when she was 2 years old.  A glance at the 1971 dance recital program features an 11-year-old Gina performing both a solo routine called “Senorita” and with friends Andrea Graziano and Susan Stass in a number called “Hawaii Five-O.”  Gina Mason learned early that “the show must go on.”

After many years of dancing, Gina started taking baton lessons and then marching in parades.  According to her mother, she loved parades.  “We went to every parade around,” said Crafts.  Soon, Gina was twirling with the high school majorettes and by the time she entered high school, she was the head majorette and ran her own baton twirling business called “Gina’s Stepperettes.”  Photos of early town parades show Gina leading the high school band or her “Stepperettes.”

(Gina Crafts after an early town parade, photo courtesy of Bryce Hamilton)

After she married, she and husband Rick started building parade floats for the Open Door Bible Church.  Their floats won every year.  In 2000, she took over the coordination of the Moxie Festival Parade.  Work on parade planning would go on almost year-round from the Masons’ home in Lisbon.  Their dining room table was “command central” for mailings and parade line ups.  The night before the event, the whole Mason clan would be washing vehicles, putting flowers in the front of Gina’s John Deere Gator (which she used to coordinate floats and follow the parade), and loading the Gator and parade supplies on the trailer.  At 4:00 a.m. the next day, the Masons would be on the road to Capital Avenue and the parade line up.

Rick said, “I just think it was in her blood” regarding Gina’s love of parades.

Gina died unexpectedly on Tuesday, September 5, 2017.  On a chair in her home office, her Moxie bag sits, packed and ready to go to the first festival planning meeting of 2018.  Her loss has left a hole in the hearts of her family, friends, and the Moxie Festival committee.  Her unmatched energy, her hometown pride, and her drive to present a wonderful parade each year…Gina Mason is irreplaceable.  Those who knew Gina knew she always faced difficult circumstances head on.  Under her guidance, the parade always started on time and this year will be no different.  She will be loved and missed and in her honor, the show will go on!

(2013 Moxie Festival Parade, Gina Mason in the Gator)

Posted in You've Got Moxie! | Tagged

Cordially Yours

A few weeks ago, I went to Nezinscot Farm in Turner to interview their chef, Ashley Wiencek, about her work in their café kitchen.  I had been to Nezinscot Farm before and had missed the intrigue and magic I found on this June day.  Wiencek was young, delightful, and happy to talk about food.  I also met farm co-owner, Gloria Varney.  Bright, energetic, and industrious, Varney makes the magic happen at Nezinscot Farm.  Not only a trained herbalist, Varney can make bread, milk cows (and goats), grow fruits and vegetables, can and preserve food, and likely a multitude of other life-sustaining tasks.

I visited the farm three times in the course of my research.  My last visit was after the Sun Journal story ran and I wanted to take a closure look at the canned products for sale.  I picked up a small jar of “Cordial Jam.”  It wasn’t until I got home that I realized I had paid fourteen dollars for the little jar of jam.  Such simple ingredients.  Mixed cordial-infused local berries, organic sugar, lemon juice, and pectin.  That was it.

I tried just a spoonful of jam on one of Varney’s homemade graham crackers.  The delicious and hearty combination was profound.  The secret must be in the cordial.  Have I ever had a cordial?  I found a recipe for a “Blackberry Cordial” in one of my old cookbooks and it sounded like a lovely elixir made with blackberry juice, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and French brandy.

Oddly enough, the snack filled me with a profound sense of loss.  The loss of friends, our loss of connection with the good earth, and a loss of heritage skills like making jams and cordials.  And yet here is Gloria Varney, a woman of about my age, making and doing and being all these real things.  Not just writing about doing them, but actually doing them.

Curious, I sent her a quick e-mail and asked her how it was she accomplished so many things.  “Dear Gloria…it seems like there must be some kind of magic going on up there or at least a magical spreadsheet, because I could not possibly keep up with you.”

To which she replied:

“As for how it all happens, it is a skill that I master and possess; multi-tasking and efficiencies.”

Just like that.  That is how the magic happens…mastery and confidence.  But we know it’s not “just like that.”  Mastery is not magic at all.  It’s practice, practice, practice.  And maybe a predisposition for some skills over others.  And some natural abilities.

I’m nursing this Grandpa Ott morning glory plant along.  It fell on “stony places, where they had not much earth.”  Growing things have a disposition to grow.  Vines want to climb.  During this peak summer season, everyone and everything is busy.

I remain cordially yours…

Posted in Farmers, Garden Chic | Tagged , ,

Liberty and Justice for All

The Fourth of July falls on a Wednesday this year.  One of my favorite blog posts, the Fire(Working) Man, ran on a Wednesday Fourth of July.  It’s about my father, Herman.  He made a good living “working for the man” and has enjoyed twenty-plus years of retirement without sending my mother Helen out to work a part-time retail job.  Thank you, Man, for taking good care of my parents.

I don’t have a problem working for “the man.”  As one wizened old prevaricator once said “we’re all working for the Pharaoh.”


A few weeks ago, Herman came over to cut some brush in my yard.  He had his chainsaw, his protective eyewear, and his hard hat.  It was a small job, quickly disposed of without any accidents.  As we walked back to his car and I thanked him for helping me, I said “they don’t make them like you anymore, Dad.”  It sounded saccharine to the passerby, but I chose my words carefully after gratefully contemplating my father’s help in this hour we spent together.  My imperfect father could build a few things if he needed to and then generally Mickey Mouse things around the house as needed.  When his work failed, he would pay someone to build or fix it.

Last weekend, I repurposed a Colavita olive oil can into a planter.  Why Colavita?  I like the flavor.  Is it the best olive oil?  I don’t know.  Would some wizened prevaricators offer up “truth” on the Italian olive oil syndicates?  Sure.

Not concerned about these things, I easily removed the top of the Colavita can with a CAN OPENER!

Then, channeling my inner Herman, I took a hammer and an old screwdriver to the bottom of the can and pounded a few drainage holes.

Although the planting season is rapidly passing, I’m hopeful for these nasturtiums.

Accomplishing small things is liberating, no matter what the wizened prevaricators might tell you.  On to the barbecue!

Posted in Weather and Seasons | Tagged , ,

Like the Sun Never Sets

In the last few weeks, I’ve been sleeping in one of my upstairs bedrooms.  The east-facing window ushers in the day, so I don’t need an alarm clock.  And I’m close to my office, making it easier to work late into the night and comfortably stumble to the boudoir for a few winks.

During this lovely New England summer season, it’s like the sun never sets.  There is lawn to mow and gardens to tend; I sometimes break from my office work during the dinner hours and come back to it after dark settles on the yard.  The change of sleeping chamber works well, all things considered.

Speaking of seasons, I recently watched a 2001 BBC Timewatch documentary called “Debutantes.”  It first aired on May 18, the approximate date of the Queen Charlotte’s Ball.  Loosely based on Angela Lambert’s book, 1939:  The Last Season of Peace, the documentary chronicles Britain’s 1939 social season with reminiscences by now-elderly men and women who were part of it.

I found the series while doing some web-crawling about the late Deborah Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire.  The youngest of England’s infamous Mitford sisters, the Duchess is fondly remembered for restoring and promoting the Cavendish ancestral home, Chatsworth.  Debo, as her sisters called her, “came out” in 1938 and like so many of her contemporaries, was presented at court as part of a social ritual that must appear stifling and absurd to women of the same age today.

The start of the social season, the Queen Charlotte’s Ball, featured the presentation of a large cake while all the attending debutantes curtsied to it.

Ruth Sebag-Montefiore, a one-time debutante, remembered the cake curtsy in the documentary.  “It was a joke, it really was a joke…curtsying to a cake,” she said.  “But again, it was one of those things, that as the Americans would say, you ticked off.  There it was so you did it unquestioningly.”

The 2001 documentary included a bevy of old aristocrats, all well-heeled and proper in sitting room stage sets that may or may not have been their homes.  Considering this cast of interviewees were in their mid-80’s at the time of production, their recollections and storytelling is refreshing and marvelous.  Compared to the internecine ramblings of today’s current crop of celebrities, politicians, and social media pseudo-celebrities, “Debutantes” will leave you longing for a strong cup of tea and a comfortable sweater.

Coming out balls, curtsying, and debutantes…if all these things leave your head spinning a Brit, er, bit, never fear.  The Timewatch crew naturally steers to the usual narrative of “life is so much better now that we are not curtsying to a cake.”  The best example of this is at around 9:20 in the video when former debutante Peggy Cripps, complete with strange and supernatural background music, says of being presented at Buckingham Palace, “I was glad I’d done it, I’d tried that…I don’t know, it was an archaic idea, wasn’t it.”

All in all, Cripps is the only downer in the debutante punch bowl.  The documentary is 50 enjoyable minutes in a place and time that will never exist again.

Posted in Books and Reading | Tagged , , ,

Enoz is Enoz

As early as 2003, I was chronicling my societal decline sightings.  In December of that year, I scribbled the following on a scrap of paper:

“I was struck by the general malaise at Wal-Mart tonight.  Everyone was wearing sweat pants.  I could not help but think some of people’s problems stem from not looking their best when they step out in public.”

I have impossibly high standards.  How can I not?  In my fifth-grade papers, I found a mimeographed copy of Douglas Malloch’s poem “Be the Best of Whatever You Are?”  I grew up hearing “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.”

As evidence of this principle, my mother’s trash barrel is cleaner than many homes I’ve visited.  It’s immaculate and it never smells bad.  I love putting the garbage in the barrel for them when I visit.  Lifting the lid is like a step back into another time; a cleaner, gentler nation.

The secret to Helen’s impeccably spotless trash barrel?  Well, she CLEANS it, obviously.  Or maybe Herman does it.  And she’s thoughtful about disposing of things.  No loose liquids and random non-contained meat wastes.  “Meat wrappings smell the worst,” Helen told me.  She carefully recycles things that can be recycled and passes her compost to me every week.  The piece de resistance?  She puts moth balls in the bottom of the barrel so it never smells bad.  Moth balls smell quite nice when the alternate scent is decaying garbage.

Garbage is a problem for me.  I work during many of the transfer station’s open hours.  I don’t like going on Saturdays, when it’s an insane free for all…an accident waiting to happen.

I dated a man who went to the transfer station every day and for some unknown reason, he did not want to transport my garbage.  Seriously.  He went there every damn day to either bring garbage or pick garbage (he’d been “talked to” about this by the powers of trash that be).  And yet he was offended when I asked him to take a bag of garbage to its eternal rest for me.  A few times I paid him, but then I stopped asking.

Look, it was just garbage.  I was not looking for a white knight to save me.  Kind of late for that, don’t you think?

We live in a strange world.

(Platycodon grandiflorum does not stink.)

A few months ago, I told my parents about my garbage problems.  Well, I told them about this particular garbage problem; not all of them.

Herman was incensed that the “garbage man” could not assist me.  Helen had a few choice words.

The solution?  Helen and Herman now pick up my garbage every week.

Yesterday, Helen brought me a package of Enoz moth balls and I’ve popped a few in the trash can.  I even sprinkled a few in strategic places around the garage.

So much for airing dirty garbage and chronicling societal decline…enoz is enoz.

Posted in Just Writing | Tagged

Sanctuaries of Lost Time

I am currently working on a patchwork of writing assignments.  Most of them are yeoman’s service in support of people, events, or projects I love.  The word “yeoman” has fallen out of favor, possibly because it contains the word “man.”  I like the word and a general definition of “yeoman’s service” means “faithful and useful support or service; loyal assistance in need.”

Spending a beautiful June day in a high school gymnasium as a clerk in a primary election is a type of civic yeoman’s service.  Although election clerks are paid the minimum wage for their time, it is a long day.  Yesterday’s service was 16 hours.  It’s discouraging to explain over and over that if you are an “unenrolled voter” in the state of Maine, you are not a member of the “Independent” party.  You may consider yourself to be “independent,” unshackled from both monolithic and established political parties, but you still cannot cast a ballot in a “party primary.”  The rules of the state of Maine’s election system do not work that way.  Even the biggest “Independent” in the state of Maine, Senator Angus King, caucuses with the Democratic party.  Why?  For committee assignment purposes.  You see, there are rules in Washington, too, and in order to get “assignments” the iconoclastic Senator King must observe some modicum of procedure.

Shoulder to the plow, prior to my Election Day duties, I spent an hour in the late Gina Mason’s home office.  The former member of the Maine House of Representatives was not “independent” or “unenrolled.”  Her bulletin board was anchored by pictures of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan, nestled next to a “Coffee by Design” sticker and a nursery school collage made by her daughter, Haley.

What a sad and strange opportunity it was to see her neat desk and organized professional space.  There were telephone numbers, photographs, and inspirational messages.  The bag she carried her Moxie meeting materials in was on a credenza, with her notebook and an orange onesie still inside.

Written in her distinctive handwriting on an isolated post-it above her fax machine was this Bible verse:

“”He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt though trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.”

Her office was a sanctuary of lost time and I wished to rest there much longer, reflecting on Psalm 91.

My good friend, the philosopher “At Your Service” reminds me that “everything you’ve ever thought, said, and done, will be eternally available to you. Hence, memorabilia is only useful in this life, i.e., records, transactions, to help you remember what others may have forgotten.  Nostalgia is an indulgence, like a fine, old, wine and, like wine, it can bring comfort and joy. Also like wine, it can only be drunk by one person at a time and people always throw out the empties after you die.  Love, however, never comes to an end.”

That’s encouraging.

Local blog readers have two opportunities to indulge themselves in nostalgia and rest in sanctuaries of lost time.

Tonight, at the Lisbon Historical Society, I’ll be speaking about my Basilica writing project.  My talk will be held in the society’s archives located at 18 School Street, in Lisbon Falls.  The Basilica series, which appeared as weekly stories in the Sun Journal over a year’s time, has now been released as a book and copies will be for sale following my talk.

On Friday, June 15, 2018 at 7:30 p.m., organist Dr. Thomas Fielding gives the opening concert of the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul’s 2018 “Concerts at the Basilica” season.  Dr. Fielding, Director of Music and Liturgy at St. Augustine Cathedral in Kalamazoo, MI, is an award-winning performer and composer.  He has performed on some of the world’s finest instruments, including the Grand Organ of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.  His works have been performed by soloists, choirs, and orchestras internationally and broadcast on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition and Pipedreams.

Fielding will perform works by Bach, Widor, Franck, and Langlais.

The Basilica’s Casavant organ, the largest church organ in the state of Maine, is the centerpiece for the annual concert series that extends through October.  Local, national, and international performers visit the Basilica to perform, both on the historic organ and with other musical instruments.  Diverse selections range from Bach to contemporary compositions.

The Basilica, like most historical society archives, is a sanctuary of lost time.  Yes, it’s an active church with a regular Mass schedule, but it is also steeped in history and meaning.  The summer concert series is a wonderful opportunity for non-Catholics to visit the Basilica and experience the historic space.

I will continue on in my yeoman’s service.  I love these sanctuaries of lost time and I will continue researching them, talking about them, and sharing their stories.

Love never comes to an end.

Posted in Just Writing | Tagged , , , ,

Touching the Clouds

“For those of you who are passing through, we hope you will return to enjoy our hospitality.”

Self-Guided Historic Tour brochure of The Mount Washington Hotel

A few years ago, I motored through Bretton Woods, New Hampshire.  I parked my car in the visitor’s lot of the grand resort hotel and carefully approached the main entrance.  It was the peak fall foliage and I was one of many happy motorists slipping into the Great Hall.  An impressive place from another time, I thought.  It will soon meet the fate of the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in Dixville Notch, the once-stately retreat that closed in September, 2010.

I returned to The Mount Washington Hotel a few days ago, to enjoy their hospitality.  I am happy to report the hotel lives on.

The story of resort culture is not a new one.  According to The Grand Resort Hotels of the White Mountains by Bryant F. Tolles, Jr., improved transportation and changed attitudes towards recreation and nature in the 1820’s and 1830’s “encouraged people to seek the resort experience.”  “Prompted by a new romantic fascination in spirituality, ethical and moral standards, healthfulness and the landscape, tourism grew to such an extent that by the 1830’s there were a number of first class hotels located near popular attractions in the Northeast.”

This fervor to visit remote natural landscapes continued and accelerated with the harnessing of steam for ships and railroads.

Joseph Stickney (1840 – 1903) was a wealthy New Hampshire native.  He hired architect Charles Alling Gifford to design a resort hotel that would be Stickney’s crowning career achievement, The Mount Washington Hotel.  Built in the Spanish Renaissance style, the hotel opened on July 28, 1902 after an eighteen-month construction.  The largest wood structure in New England, the building’s foundation is made of local cut granite.  The wooden building has a steel infrastructure.

Stickney died following the hotel’s first full season and his wife, Carolyn ran the resort until she died in 1936.  She left the property to her nephew, Foster Reynolds.  The hotel closed in 1942, due to World War II, and then Reynolds sold the property in 1944.  Oddly enough, the international monetary conference held that same year at the resort may in some way be responsible for the locale’s preservation.

According to the hotel’s self-guided tour brochure, “When the government decided to host the Monetary Conference here at Bretton Woods, they needed to bring in workers to overhaul the hotel since it had sustained damage while it sat empty during the war.  Roofs had collapsed from the weight of heavy snow, wallpaper was peeling off the walls and everything needed to be painted.”

And paint they did.  The federal government sent in 150 workers and gave them each 50 cans of white paint.  Some at the hotel still refer to this time as “the great white paint massacre” since these federal employees painted EVERYTHING white, including mahogany doors, brass light fixtures and Tiffany windows.

Following the Bretton Woods Conference, the hotel continued operating on the resort schedule of May through Labor Day, closing for the winter each year.  Then, in 1999 after a massive renovation, the hotel opened for the “winter season.”

The hotel is now owned by Omni Hotels & Resorts and is open year-round.

I did not know what to expect during my one-night stay.  The Omni’s website features stock photos of the resort, but would it be peaceful?  Would it be that trip back through time to a lost past I am always seeking?

My personal impressions of this grand and gentle place are too numerous to elaborate here.  They might bore those who seek the thrill of the swipe and the filtering of images.  The weather was imperfect; it was too cold for golfers and left the wind-swept 18-hole course available for my delightful and contemplative afternoon hike.  The rooms were clean and crisp.  The food was good.  My traveling companion was five-star.

But I must temper my thrill of this new place with the potential of its imperfection and defer final judgement until I visit the resort again for a longer stay.

Posted in Lady Alone Traveler | Tagged