Your Morning Flight

Two years ago, I was drawn to “aspics.”  I wrote a blog post about this old-timey trend I revived in my mind.  I never made an aspic and the gelatin packets still sit on my kitchen counter keeping a silent sentry to another time and food fad.

More recently, I’ve been reading vintage cooking pamphlets before bed.  Other women my age are probably surfing “Stitch” on their mobile devices.

(What is “Stitch?”  Why, it’s an online community “which helps everyone over 50 find the companionship they need” according to the Stitch website.  Surf to it yourself.  And yes, that’s a direct quotation from their site; I did not write the grammatical error.  Besides, no one cares whether it’s “that” or “which” anymore.  The important thing is the “stitch.”)

Flying over the staircase of time, I was intrigued by this promotional undated pamphlet, extolling the virtues of “sandwiches for every occasion.”  It was published for The Cushman Bakery, once located on the corner of Elm and Kennebec Streets in Portland.  Cushman’s was a popular business, noted for its bread trucks that sped along the city streets delivering the staff of life to homes.  It’s hard to believe, but food delivery existed before Jeff Bezos and Amazon.  The brochure says “Cushman’s service to your home is a great time-saver…right at your door you have the undivided attention of a trained salesman who knows that courtesy, clean habits and intelligent service are as important for your satisfaction as fine quality products.”

The inside cover of the brochure featured a photograph of “pretty Miss Yvette Gagne, 1946 Potato Blossom Queen” receiving a loaf of Cushman’s Maine Potato Bread from Mr. E.S. Cushman, Vice-President and Manager of the Cushman Baking Company.  The photo caption noted this loaf was presented to Miss Gagne at a banquet introducing the new bread.

“Keep a good table by keeping Cushman’s Maine Potato Bread on it!  It’s made for New England folks who insist on good bread!”

The brochure also featured a forward by Demetria Taylor, a nationally noted food editor for the Parade magazine who also authored a number of cook books.  She wrote:

“Ever since the Earl of Sandwich invented the idea of putting meat between bread slices so that he could eat without interrupting his game of cards, the sandwich named after him has been forever popular as fine fare for all occasions.”

The pamphlet featured almost fifty recipes for tasty treats like “Quick Supper Sandwiches” and “Too-Hot-To-Cook-Sandwiches.”  (Is the latter the Stitch signature sandwich?)

Clubbed, crust-less, or toasted, Cushman’s bread was the foundation of good eating.  And the implication was that these gluten-filled morsels were also the glue of companionship.  No one would eat a “Bridge Luncheon Sandwich” alone.  Nor a “Porch Supper” sandwich.  These sandwiches were meant to be shared.  Please, darling, pack more than one in the lunch box for sharing with co-workers.

There will be more to say about sandwiches in the coming weeks, but for now, I’ll take a ham and cheese on rye for my morning flight of fancy.

Posted in Cooking and Food | Tagged , , , , ,

No Need to Speed

It was election day yesterday and as some readers know, I filled my mother’s vacated election clerk seat when she retired.  I work at the polls.  The day began at 6:30 a.m. and ended at 9:00 p.m.

As blog reader Loosehead Prop commented after last year’s election cycle:

“The single best defense against fraud at the polls (never mind registration fraud, whole different problem) is the probity of citizens like you who worked the polls everywhere in the country, determined that the polls should be fair, no matter who won.”

It’s a long day at the polls and yet, it is incredibly enjoyable.  According to the final tally from the Lisbon Town Clerk, Twyla Lycette, 31% of the town’s voters cast ballots.  I do not have the breakdown between live voters and absentee ballots, but based on the reported 2,083 state ballots cast, I estimate I saw about 1,500 of my fellow town citizens.  In spite of dire warnings about the loss of community, I enjoy this opportunity to talk with friends and neighbors and meet new people.

I cast my own ballot during a lull at approximately 1:00 p.m.  I voted against the statewide “casino initiative” and I voted for Rick Mason to fill Gina Mason’s vacated District 56 Maine House of Representatives seat.  Mason carried the vote by an undisputed margin.

It was bittersweet to watch Rick’s son Garrett check the final tape from the voting machine when Lycette taped it up for the candidates to check.  The son gave his father a hug, signaling to me that his father had won.

Rick Mason’s opponent claimed the victory resulted from a sympathy vote.  It wasn’t something I would have said, but I am not a politician.  The opponent, clutched in the jaws of defeat for the second time, may have just been a bit hurt.

And so small town time marches on.  It’s Wednesday, I’m waiting for someone to put a piece of siding back on my house and I’m looking forward to another bright post-election November day.

The Basilica series is over and I have a meeting with the Sun Journal editor to talk about a new series.  My “Mason” for Maine House signs are down and I’m thinking about Thanksgiving.

No need to speed, we will get there.

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All Saints’ Day Meatloaf

On Sunday evening, October 29, 2017, tropical storm Philippe wound down and breathed its last over New England.  Philippe’s death rattle rustled Maine, with winds recorded as high as 69 miles per hour at the Portland International Jetport.  Higher wind speeds were recorded at other locations around the region.

Maine Governor Paul LePage issued a state of emergency on Monday, October 30, 2017.  More than half of the state’s population were without power, greater than the number of outages recorded during the epic 1998 “Ice Storm.”

By Tuesday, October 31, 2017, speculation abounded regarding the safety of Halloween festivities.

Here in Lisbon Falls, I was without power for approximately 12 hours.  A piece of siding flew off the roofline’s fascia and a large oak branch fell into my Hosta garden.

My Sunday evening prayer for God’s will and the lone forty-foot pine in my backyard was answered.

I was shocked and stunned to open my bedroom drapes and see more daylight than usual.  Something was missing.  Maine may very well be the “Pine Tree State” and I love it here; nevertheless, I’m much happier to have the state tree in the gully behind my house than splintering my kitchen.

My thoughts on the missing timber can be summed up with a quote from Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul sacristan, Mark Labonte, who once said “we used to have dinosaurs, but we don’t miss them.”

I’m not going to miss that tree, hanging like a reforming wrecking ball over my house.

I didn’t miss the trick or treaters who failed to visit the neighborhood either.  Some local community boosters hosted a Halloween party for the young and young at heart at the MTM Center, a town gathering facility, and it cut into the sugar-addled foot traffic.

I’ve got some surplus candy now.  Not much, but enough to think about.  Not today, though. Today is a day for eating All Saints’ Day Meatloaf, hot from the oven.

How’s that for a segue?

Posted in Weather and Seasons | Tagged ,

The Clipper Merchant Tea House

A few weeks ago, I took a ride to Bridgton to meet Melinda Thomas, tea mistress at the Clipper Merchant Tea House.  Located in the historic William Perry House at the top of Main Street, the Tea House is charming and inviting.  Melinda is lovely too, calm and serene as she brews a pot of rooibos for me.  We had a pleasant chat, an interview really, for an upcoming Sun Journal article about the tea shop.  She promised to send me a recipe for an Earl Gray cake and then she gave me a tour of the tea house.

I left with a small bag of black tea, something Melinda called “Ambrosia.”  According to the tea house website, Ambrosia is “the perfect afternoon tea…bursting with flavor and full-bodied to lift the spirit.”

I spent some time walking about Bridgton, a quaint town with lots of interesting shops and sights.

I recorded my interview with Melinda and I’d have to listen to the whole thing to accurately recapture her thoughts on coffee versus tea, but it was something like tea is a slow burn and coffee is jet fuel.  We talked a bit about how Americans love coffee and that maybe they are more violent because of it.

I don’t know.

Here’s what I do know:

Not everything is urgent.

My last Basilica article will run this Sunday, October 30, in the Lewiston Sun Journal and you should read it.

And it’s almost time for afternoon coffee because I need my jet fuel to make it through this day.

Posted in Cooking and Food | Tagged , ,

The Wrecking Ball of Time

I’ve been writing a year-long series about the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston, Maine.  It has been a time-consuming project and I’ve undertaken it in addition to my full-time work at an “intellectual sweatshop.”  I did also organize and execute my 35th high school reunion in the midst of this; I thank the Gendron Franco Center for making the event come to life.  Honestly, I knew the food would be good and plentiful, the venue would look lovely, the sound would be perfect, and the overall atmosphere conducive to conversation and conviviality.  I was not wrong.

The Gendron Franco Center is located at the corner of Cedar and Oxford Streets in Lewiston, near the Bernard Lown Peace Bridge crossing over into Auburn.  Formerly St. Mary’s Church, construction on the edifice began in 1907 and was completed in 1927.  On Friday, October 12, 1934, the Lewiston Evening Journal published a picture of the new organ and announced the dedicatory concert to be held on Sunday evening, the 14th.

The organ was a gift of Reverend Desilets, who served the parish from 1911 until he died in 1924.  The money earmarked by Desilets was “left at interest for ten years after his death” and then used to purchase the organ.

The article said “the organ has almost 3,000 pipes and has a stop arrangement that is unique with this one.”  It does not say the brand of organ, but it was not a Casavant Freres.

Over time, the population of Catholics in Lewiston’s Little Canada neighborhood decreased.  The population of Catholics in all of Lewiston/Auburn decreased.  And as has been written about in many other places, Maine has the lowest church attendance in the nation.  Maine is a wildly beautiful place in many ways, but it is a burnt over spiritual mission field for Catholics and Protestants alike.

In July, 2000 the Roman Catholic Diocese of Maine closed St. Mary’s church.  It was the first church closing in the Lewiston/Auburn area.  A Lewiston Sun Journal article published on February 4, 2000 hinted at the sad day to come for those parishioners still attending the church.  George Cloutier, who had gone to St. Mary’s most of his life, said it was “pretty hard to take.”  The article noted “inside the church, the stairway up to the choir loft has fallen into disrepair and it has been years since the pipe organ was played” and “unable to retain an organist, the church’s music is now provided by a small electric piano, and the pipe organ has fallen into disrepair.”

The 1934 dedicatory concert featured visiting organist Rodolphe Pepin, the organist of St. Jean Baptiste church of Lowell, Massachusetts.  Pepin was also a composer, noted for his own work.

It must have been a lovely evening.

It’s interesting to think about the 66 years between 1934 and 2000.  What did the stairway to the choir loft look like?  When did it begin to fall into disrepair?  Who first noticed it?  Did they tell anyone?  If so, what happened next?  That’s a story to think about.

The writer of the Sun Journal’s February 4, 2000 article quoted Earl Shuttleworth.  I’m sure the author meant “Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr., the former head of the Maine Historical Preservation Society.  What Shettleworth said regarding St. Mary’s demise was “If people are concerned, they should set up a nonprofit support group and find new uses for the church.”

Fortunately for St. Mary’s Church, former Lewiston Mayor Lionel Guay and Rita Dube were concerned about the edifice in its late stages, in spite of the disrepair.  They formed a non-profit to buy the church and worked diligently with a group of concerned men and women to restore the building.  They created what is now a cultural heritage center and an entertainment venue.  Guay still serves on the board of directors for the Gendron Franco Center.

In my research on the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, I’ve learned quite a bit about the disrepair of the church which prompted a massive restoration that began in 1991.  Historic preservation was important to a group of concerned men and women in the parish.  As my dear philosopher friend “At Your Service” reminds me, the Basilica has become a monument, but perhaps an accidental monument.  Can the parish continue to support it?  Who are the concerned citizens who will step forward if the church can no longer support the care and attention such a massive building requires to keep it from falling into disrepair?

I did interview the project manager for the restoration.  He said the building is structurally sound.  He also said the attached monastery is structurally sound.

But things are not perfect.  If I ruled the world and had at least a million dollars, there are things I would do at the Basilica.

These were the things I wrestled with this week as I wrote my penultimate feature.

Historic preservation requires time, human “resources,” money, and vigilance because, dear readers, time is a wrecking ball.

Posted in Just Writing | Tagged , ,

The Flowers of Life

Last Sunday, the “Basilica Brides” piece ran in the Lewiston Sun Journal.  My lovely neighbors, Dot and Alfred (Breezy) Galgovitch were one of the couples featured in the article.  The front page of the “B” section showed them in early wedded bliss, posing on the steps of the Basilica on June 25, 1946.  Breezy had just returned home from serving with the 10th Mountain Division of the 5th Army in World War II.

Dot and Breezy are a popular couple.  Everyone in town knows and loves them.  I was at their house briefly on Sunday and their phone rang and rang with congratulatory messages about their newspaper fame.  It was like they were newlyweds again.

Seventy-one years of marriage.  They deserve some recognition and fame.

My phone rang a few times too.  One caller, Jacqueline Bellegarde, called me to relay a Basilica story.  I was able to confirm what she said by doing some quick newspaper research.

On Saturday morning, June 24, 1944, Jacqueline’s father, Thomas Marquis stopped at what was then known as Saints Peter and Paul church to recite his morning prayers.  While praying in a pew in the rear of the church, he died of heart failure.

Oddly enough, according to his daughter and his obituary, his father Aurele Marquis “died in a similar manner 14 years earlier.”  Not at Saints Peter and Paul church, but at St. Mary’s Church on Cedar Street.

The day Thomas Marquis died, there were two weddings at Saints Peter and Paul church.

What more is there to say?  The Basilica was a busy place.  Babies were born and baptized, children made their first communion and were confirmed; men and women married in the church.  They died and were buried.  Speaking of which, in the event I can’t score an interview with the Bishop this week, my last piece on the Basilica may very well be on Saint Peter’s Cemetery.

What with all this talk of sacramental ceremonies, it’s a good time for an October floral interlude.

Posted in Garden Chic | Tagged

Vive la Canadienne

As my blog readers know, I’ve been writing about the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston, Maine for the last 8 months.  This Sunday’s Sun Journal (October 8) will feature the “Basilica Brides” story followed by three additional articles.  October 15 is tentatively titled “Potpourri of Images” and will feature photographs that didn’t make it into the series for one reason or another.  Things like the “dragon devil door handle” I spotted on the Blake Street side of the building.  Then October 22 will be (hopefully) an interview with either Father Nadeau or the Bishop about the edifice’s future.  The last article, a first person narrative, will be about the writing experience.

The end of this long writing trek is in sight.

The other day, I overheard an elderly local say “I’ll be glad when that Basilica series is over.”  I laughed and a variety of responses circled around the synapses.  Even in their long, slow decline, Lewiston’s French Catholics continue to annoy the Protestants.

For a moment, I wondered about the reader’s comprehension abilities; the series hasn’t been about Catholicism.  It’s been about many things, but mainly about the history of Maine’s largest ethnic group.  Surely, you realize that 24% of Maine’s population self-identifies as Franco American?  Writing about what mattered to this large ethnic group is important, not just to me personally as one of them but to a large number of Maine’s population.

This work is about Lewiston, but it could be the story of any New England mill town.  What did this group of people think?  What did they build?  What remains?  My research into the lower church’s construction reminded me of the tenacity and patience these people had, waiting thirty years for the completion of their cathedral.  It reminded me of Israel Shevenell, Biddeford’s first French-Canadian.  He walked almost 200 miles from Compton, Quebec to Biddeford in 1845 to find work as a bricklayer.

Waiting, writing, or walking, drawing valuable attention to Lewiston’s ancestors and what mattered to them is important.  It’s been exhausting and it hasn’t been easy.  Blog reader “Loosehead Prop” says “like most good and important things, it doesn’t feel all that good and important when you are actually doing it, but it is nonetheless good and important.”

The Gendron Franco Center will be screening a film about Israel Shevenell, The Home Road, on Sunday, November 19, 2017 at 3:00 p.m.  I’m looking forward to going and bringing some of my ancestors.

Vive la Canadienne!

Posted in Just Writing | Tagged , ,