An Altercation on Pleasant Street

From this blog’s 2012 beginnings, I’ve used “Pleasant Street” as a metaphor for places of peace and serenity.  I wove this metaphor into my personal quest to move home and live life on my own terms in this small place.  It’s hard to believe I’ve now lived here in this town for more than five years.  Just the other day I found a copy of the lease I signed on August 17, 2013 when I moved into Rick and Gina Mason’s apartment on the Mason family compound.  It’s filed right next to a Blethen Street house document that begins “KNOW ALL MEN by these present,” and a deed to two acres of land in Topsham that I consider my piece of “The Farm.”  These are human accomplishments, the products of providence and hard work.

My personal quest has been difficult and as I’ve reflected on this chapter in my life, I’ve decided the past five years have sucked.  Whether it was the know-it-alls, the do-nothings, the wizened prevaricators, the convicted felons, the liars, the trolls, or the quislings who I allowed to interfere, God only knows.

Yes, I’ve chosen my words carefully.  Very carefully.

This general discontent reached a crescendo on July 28, 2018.  The following morning, I sat in a small upholstered chair in my personal office, my Bible open on my lap.  Someone suggested I read five Psalms every day; I began there.  I found a small book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer about Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible.  This book appeared in 1940 and was the last of Bonhoeffer’s books published in his lifetime.  He died on April 9, 1945, considered a spy and traitor to the Third Reich.

Every morning since that day I’ve sat in my chair.  Every day.  My alarm goes off at 4:00 a.m. and I put on my robe and climb the stairs.  Bonhoeffer’s book includes a tiny chapter called, “The Blessing of Morning Prayer.”  The priest’s carefully chosen words are powerful and they resonated with me.

“The entire day receives order and discipline when it acquires unity.  This unity must be sought and found in morning prayer.  It is confirmed in work.  The morning prayer determines the day…The powers to work take hold, therefore, at the place where we have prayed to God.  He wants to give us today the power which we need for our work.”

Bonhoeffer’s words, in the midst of sacred readings and meditation, sustained me these last two months.   Things are looking up.

Ironically, I had an unpleasant altercation Sunday morning on Pleasant Street.

As I have done for the last 15 or so years, I planted a row of sunflowers in Uncle Bob’s garden.  This year they were mammoth in every sense of the word.  But their giant seedy heads were drooping and it was time for them to go.  With an old four-tined digging fork, I loosened the roots.  I pulled them up and piled them near the road.  When I was halfway through, one of Uncle Bob’s cronies walked by on his way to nowhere.  I waved “hello” and kept digging.  Unfortunately, he stopped to address me.

“I know he’d never say anything, but Bob is not strong enough to dig up those sunflowers.”

Knowing many, many things about my uncle, including his medical and financial histories, I found it ludicrous that this gnome of a man should say such a thing about my beloved Bob.  My blood pressure quickly elevated.

“Do you see what I’m doing?” I asked the gnome, pointing to the uprooted sunflowers lined up like a cord of wood.

“I’m just saying,” he said, “that he’s not strong enough to dig them up.”

I did not know what this little man’s true intentions were in speaking these words.  I knew him to be a general know-it-all.  He was also a fortunate beneficiary of Uncle Bob’s kindness and generosity.  I looked at him and said “Why don’t you mind your own business.”

He sputtered gnome-like in a way only Gina Mason could appreciate were she still alive to receive my post-altercation string of texts.

Then I looked him square in the face and said “I have nothing more to say to you” and I stuck the four-tined digging fork once again into the earth.

He turned and walked on.

Twenty minutes later, there were four sunflowers left standing and Uncle Bob came around the corner with his work gloves on.  I gave him an abbreviated version of the altercation and said “you’d better not help me.  You’re too weak.”

He laughed and said something akin to “the gnome is crazy.  Everyone knows that.”

We finished pulling those sunflowers and I made sure Uncle Bob did not exert himself.  We loaded them into his truck and brought them to my house where they are now resting in peace in the gully-like area Uncle Bob once tumbled.

Bonhoeffer was right.  God gives us the power we need for our work.

Posted in Garden Chic | Tagged ,

Smoke on the Water

I searched in vain this morning, looking for a picture of my father and me paddling in the now-defunct “Chief Worumbo Androscoggin River Race.”  The year eludes me; maybe it was 2003.  Uncle Bob put our aluminum canoe in his truck bed and brought us to the Durham boat launch.  Faye Brown organized and coordinated the race; she checked us in.  The race was called “Smoke on the Water.”

Someone had set up a cassette player with Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” blasting in a continuous, albeit scratchy, loop.

Hermie and I were oblivious to the lyrics of this 1972 classic rock and roll flame thrower.  Even today, though, when I hear the intro guitar riff, I think of that day at the boat launch.

What I remember most and best was the time we spent waiting for the starting gun to go off.  Lawrence Barron and his daughter Jane were in a speedy canoe, a few yards ahead of us, treading water.  A contemporary of my father, Larry was an athletic man well into his 70’s.  He died just this year at the age of 89.

He and Jane ended up finishing the race before us, smoking us by three minutes.

Stalled alongside our canoe was also Bob Strout and his son Ryan.  Bob called my father “Hermie” and asked how he was doing.  They talked about work and Bob’s father, Sherwood.  Then the five-minute blast sounded and we prepared to paddle.

This Sunday, the Sun Journal published my article about Bob and Aline Strout and the Lisbon Village Schoolhouse Restoration project.  I am pleased with the story and although there is one tiny typographical error (found after publication by my high school English teacher, Merton Ricker), the article accurately portrayed Bob and Aline Strout.  The article was much-shared via Facebook and the Sun Journal editor told me it was the top-read story on the paper’s website on Sunday, better than any other story in the paper that day.

I’m glad, for Bob and Aline’s sake.  And I loved the time spent researching the building.  It was like the Basilica, except more familiar and cozier.

The headline of the story was Bob’s quote “It’s still here for a reason.”  That was perfect, given Bob’s love of history and preserving the past.

You can read it here.

I have not had much time to think about the story or to contemplate what I might write about next.  As the lyrics to the Deep Purple song say, “Swiss time was running out…” and it’s time to face the business of the day.  There are trolls to confront, things to do, and projects to complete.

Congratulations to Bob and Aline Strout, for doing the heavy lifting of preserving a piece of Lisbon’s history.

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The Counting of Days

I’ve been calendar-focused these last few months, with many deadlines and personal red-letter days interwoven with the weather and seasons of life.  Additionally, I’ve been studying last year’s calendar, confirming that it’s been a year since I got my last text from Gina Mason.

It was the Tuesday after Labor Day, September 5, 2017 at 5:18 p.m.  It was simple; she asked me to “please RSVP to me if they are, please.”  She was asking me to RSVP for my parents about her son Garrett’s campaign kickoff event.  I did not respond until 6:11 p.m.  I do not know the exact time of her death.  I do not know if she read my text in the earthly realm.

Last night, the Tuesday after Labor Day, at about 5:45 p.m. I was westward bound for a Council meeting at the Lisbon Town Hall.  The topic?  The Moxie Festival.  It was a “workshop” to discuss the general finances and administration of the event, determine if there were efficiencies that could be accomplished, and affirm the mission and direction of the festival work.  It was a good meeting and it was well-attended.  At the end of the meeting, Rick Mason spoke briefly and eloquently.  He said the most important element of the Festival was it’s “hometown spirit.”

I couldn’t have agreed more.  And I’m glad it was Rick Mason who spoke those words and reminded everyone in the room of his late wife’s passion and vision for our town.

How easy it is to forget the basics in the counting of days.  We busy ourselves, we rush here and there.  We text, we talk.  I do not know how much we actually accomplish.

Gina Mason’s obituary is in my Bible and I look at it almost every day.  I have learned a great many things in this last year without Gina.  I was invited and welcomed into the Mason family’s grief.  I have learned many things from observing their sorrow, grace, and endurance.  And mostly their faith.

Last year, on the day of Gina’s funeral, my “Heavenly Blue” morning glories finally bloomed.

This year, I celebrate my friend with a white morning glory.  I’ve seen only one so far.

“Grandpa Ott” has overpowered the morning glory spots this season, but graciously made room for this beautiful flower.  It resembles the moonflower in color, but has no fragrance.  It’s smaller than a moonflower, too.

Onward, to “run with endurance the race set before” me.

Posted in Weather and Seasons, You've Got Moxie! | Tagged

Horrible, Horrible, Horrible

I’m not a mathematician, but if I were familiar with analytics and algorithms, I would research what question people ask most often.  Crap, I could probably just Google it and get a reasonable answer.  I’d also get a list of crappy blogs that are actually research engines to drop cookies and find out what I’m doing on the internet.  Fake news…I think that’s what it’s called.  Paul Little, in the classic Christian apologetic book writes “the question as to why God allows suffering and evil is one of the most pressing of our time.  More pressing than the question of miracles, or science and the Bible, is the poignant problem of why innocent people suffer, why babies are born blind or why a promising life is snuffed out as it is on the rise.”

Being familiar with grief, I’ve heard a similar question.  “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  I will not be able to answer that question today, next week, or perhaps ever on this blog.  I am not a theologian.  But I think about this question daily and when horrible things happen to me personally and to those I love, I wonder why.  Then I walk out into my garden and look at a beautiful sunflower.  I think about an expression repeated many times in Scripture.  “His steadfast love endures forever.”

Speaking of horrible, I’ve had some gnats here in the house over the last few days.  What attracted them?  This problem has puzzled me and providentially, I found the source this morning.  An old can of Italian cut beans had given up the ghost in cupboard.  A thin layer of bean juice seeped from the can.   Who knew gnats liked Italian cut beans?  I cleaned it up and vowed I’d investigate all my canned goods this Labor Day weekend.

I do not know why bad and horrible things happen.  But I will continue to walk in the garden in the cool of the day and remember God’s steadfast love endures forever.  And I’ll continue cleaning up messes and eliminating gnats.

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Forget-Me-Nots

On Easter Sunday this year, April 1, Bea Strout died at her home in Lisbon Falls.  She had lived there since 1955.  I remembered Bea as an elderly woman who went to yard sales with her neighbor, Honey Moulton.  Bea’s husband Sherwood predeceased her.  Mr. Strout worked with my father at the Pejepscot Paper Mill.  Sheila and Sandra, Bea’s two daughters, would sometimes babysit me.

One of her sons, Bob Strout, is a local builder.  He graduated from Lisbon High School in 1977 and he and my cousin Kaye were “king and queen” of the prom.

When I lived in New Hampshire and started “coming home” on the weekends, I remember seeing Bob and his wife Aline volunteering at the local high school football games, taking tickets and selling food in the Booster’s snack shack.  The first year my father and I paddled in the Moxie Festival’s river event, Bob and his son were there and I remember him calling my father “Hermie.”

The Strouts are good people.

I wasn’t able to make it to Bea’s funeral, but my parents went; my mother gave me a packet of the Myosotis (forget-me-not) seeds the Strout family gave away in Bea’s memory.

The forget-me-nots are the tiny blue flowers in the midst of the Calendula.

I write all this by way of long introduction to the matter at hand.  On Saturday, I’m interviewing Bob and Aline Strout about their latest venture.  They bought the old Lisbon Schoolhouse and will be restoring and renovating it into apartments.  I featured a picture of the building in a blog post about writer Eloise Jordan, who attended there in the 1920’s.

When the “for sale” sign first went in the ground, there was quite a bit of speculation about what would happen to the dilapidated building.  Some thought the Open Door Bible Church would buy it and raze it for a parking lot.  Then word trickled out that Bob Strout was looking at the building.  When I learned that Bob had purchased the building, I was happy.  As one of Bob’s friends said to me “Bob should have been born 100 years ago.”  He’s an old soul; he loves history and is one of those people who is often posting old pictures on Facebook.  I’ve heard he’s a member of the Joshua Chamberlain Civil War Roundtable.  That would make sense, as his father Sherwood was also a member of this group.

I’m looking forward to learning more about “Bob Strout’s Vision” and how he decided to save the old building from the wrecking ball.  My article will run in the Lewiston Sun Journal.

Until then, you can read more about the project by following “The old Lisbon Village School restoration project” on Facebook.

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I Could Have Mowed All Night

One day, I am going to read (or at least skim) every blog post I have published and categorize them with better themes.  On that day, I will likely discover that besides Moxie and Jeeps, mowing the lawn is a category I have written about twice or thrice every year.

My first post was on May 28, 2012.  I mowed my parents’ lawn for the first time in my life.

Then there were posts about the variety of lawn mowers I’ve owned since I moved into this house over four years ago.  There was the self-propelled monster that tried to kill me and its replacement that only mildly discouraged me.  Then, in 2016, there was a $100 lawn tractor and a $20 Honda push mower, both found in yard sales and subject to occasional smoking and sputtering.  The lawn tractor was temporary and I’ve had no desire to replace it.  I liked the $20 Honda push mower.  But I knew its time was limited.

Mowing the lawn in August isn’t like mowing in May.  Depending on summer rainfall, an August lawn can either be dying out or growing with an annoying late season urgency.  This year’s lawn, growing with the aforementioned urgency due to recent rains, is a strange blend of electric greens with a few mushrooms thrown in.  Everyone in town seems to be behind on their mowing and there are fields springing up in residential neighborhoods because few can keep up with the green growth spurt.

I dragged out the Honda this week and prepared to get caught up.  I checked the oil and added some.  I pulled the starter and prepared for “away we go.”  A cloud of smoke came out of the muffler.  Not a small cloud, either.  It was practically Biblical, like the one God used to guide Moses in the exodus out of Egypt.  It was so heavy, my neighbor down the street came out to see what was going on.  He said maybe I had overfilled the oil and it was just burning off.  I moved myself, the mower, and the cloud into the back yard to minimize neighborly disruptions.

But the oil did not burn off.

Figuring I was well into the payoff from this $20 investment and taking a “go to hell” attitude, I went into the house for a respirator.  Damn it, I was going to finish the lawn and not asphyxiate myself.  Unfortunately, when I tried to start the mower again, it had seized up.  The Honda breathed its last.

As Charlie Brown would say…ARRRGGGHHHHH!!!!!

Four years in this house; four lawn mowing devices.  I texted my mother, she conferred with Herman and responded:

“I’ve spoken to Dad and Bob.  When Bob goes to McDonald’s, he will bring Dad’s lawn mower.”

Like clockwork the next morning, there were the Baumer boys, unloading a small “Yard Machine” push mower.  It’s cute and light as a feather, even lighter than the Honda.  And we know the Honda was an improvement on the self-propelled monster that tried to kill me in 2014.  Herman’s mower is so light, I was able to mow the pitch slope along the road without any assistive devices or clippers.

To use the popular expression: “Who knew?”

I’ll be on the hunt for a brand-spanking new lawn mower this weekend because I can’t borrow Herman’s forever.  Price is no object; you get what you pay for.  But one question I’ll be asking is “how much does it weigh?”

Posted in Weather and Seasons | Tagged ,

Grandpa Ott is Everywhere

We had a magnificent thunderstorm last night, with sky-cracking lightning and crashing thunder; rain in torrents!  It was a perfect ending to my birthday, which I celebrated with little fanfare.  I will not bore you with the details, but only share a snippet of an e-mail I got from dear friend “At Your Service.”

“You certainly chose a great place and delightful time to be born: In the most timbered state of the greatest country with the best yet government ever devised, early in the most significant decade of the twentieth century, right in the middle of the  Maine summer, long before global warming or climate change impugned man’s right to exist.  Nice going!”

It made me smile as the first late afternoon clouds darkened the sky and far off rumbling crept closer to my little town in this “most timbered state.”

Today, I share with you my post-birthday “Garden Tour.”  It will be mostly pictures with comments as needed.  A few caveats:  I am not a professional photographer, gardener, or blog stylist.  I am a writer who likes to garden.  On with the tour!

No tour should be without signage and I have carried this old Junior League of Boston Decorator Show House sign around with me since I moved home five years ago.  The Junior League retired it and I bought it at auction.

You’ll notice the pile of gravel stones; this will be the second summer I’ve had stone delivered and I use it for edging and other projects.  Moving stone by hand is a wonderful work-out; better than cross fit.

This spot is behind the sign and the rock pile; next to the garage.  Speaking of the garage, let’s take a few steps back and see the “little garden” in front of it.  Faye the Barber once painted her barbershop steps the same blue as I painted that old chair frame.  The geraniums look a little tired, don’t they?

Taking a few more steps back, we are now at the front porch.  I would like to restore the porch to its original state.  The current structure is circa 1970’s.  Behind the galvanized container is a spot that glows with sun drops earlier in the summer.

Careful on the banking next to the front porch garden!  One day, after the porch restoration, I would like to get rid of the grass on that section of lawn.  It’s difficult to mow and it’s ugly.

The next image is Madeleine’s Garden, which looks best at the end of June, in my opinion.  The hostas are large and fading and it’s mostly greenery now.  I do think I will use bark mulch in it next year to keep the weeds down.

As we turn right, we are at a raised bed installed in 2014.  I have a few tulips here in the spring and the Kennebec Valley Garden Club iris.  This year, I threw some old pie pumpkin seeds in this spot and I’m happy with the results.  Someone, who I will discuss later, has been nibbling at the leaves, but not enough to do significant damage.

This is one of five pumpkins currently on this planting.

Moving along, we are now at the back door and the Grandpa Ott morning glory trellis.  I have planted other colors, but these purple ones are all volunteers from last year.  Grandpa Ott is an old heritage seed; it’s very hardy, probably like Grandpa himself.

This is the view looking out from the back porch.  I decided to use bark mulch in the main garden spot because the grass and weeds were significant and made it difficult to keep it looking good.  I don’t know why I was hesitant to use bark mulch.  I think it’s a great help in keeping weeds down and creating visual lines.

Let’s call this my “oops” garden, or the one I haven’t spent much time on this summer.  I am planning to remove the peony, because peonies need more sun and they need to be with other peonies.  I don’t know what I will put here; maybe tulips and then some annuals.  I like the liatris, though, and you can see the green garden frog to the right, faithful and true.

This spring, I had some tree work done.  The arborist removed the remaining twin tree from a blizzard casualty a few years ago.  Then he leveled off the stump and I put this galvanized planter there.

This spot is another project.  In the spring, there is a row of daffodils along the barn side, but I’ve not found the right thing to plant.  I’ve grown potatoes here twice, but I stuck some buckwheat seed in the ground this spring and I’m going to mulch it in soon.  I’ve decided to plant all daffodils next spring.

Crossing back across the lawn, we find ourselves at the “vegetable garden.”  Apologies for the blurry Grandpa Ott’s.  This year, I’m growing cucumbers, tomatoes, and kale.  A baby woodchuck snuck in through the wires and ate my squash plant, so I’ll be putting some chicken wire along the bottom of the fencing.  The little one is probably too big to squeeze in now, but I noticed a few hungry squirrels inside the fence this summer and they did quite a bit of damage to my sunflowers, as you will see.

Here is a “Lemon Queen” sunflower, one of my favorites.  Standing tall and strong, this beauty wasn’t attacked by squirrels.

But others were.  Rats with tails, as my father likes to call them.  It was very dry earlier this summer and I think the squirrels were unable to get enough acorns out of the ground.  They resorted to eating sunflowers.  It makes sense, but unfortunately, they were too heavy for the stalks and they broke three in my garden.  I was able to stake and restore all three of them.

Honestly, it made me cry when I saw this one go down.  I ran into the garden and said out loud “I’ll save you!”

Baby woodchucks don’t seem to like cucumber leaves, fortunately for me.  And I shouldn’t be stealing Uncle Bob’s cucumbers, either, because I’ve got plenty of my own.

Outside of the fenced-in vegetable garden is another gravelled area.  I will be expanding this in the coming weeks.  There is a steep banking that goes down to a gully.

I love terracotta pots.  I got this one and the one by the garage at Surry Gardens in Surry, Maine.  Oh, such a wonderful greenhouse on the back road to Ellsworth.  Go there and be filled with delight.

Here is another angle along the back of the vegetable garden.  It’s lovely in the spring, that iris clump.  But at this point in the summer, even the daisies have gone by.

Here’s another Grandpa Ott, probably from last year’s garden cleanup.  It’s growing from the gully area, where I throw my grass clippings, weeds, and spent flowers.

One garden I left out is the one next to the back steps.  I have a lavender plant and lots of tiger lilies there, but it was just a tad messy.

I hope you have enjoyed today’s garden tour.  I would be remiss if I failed to mention that portions of my garden were built on the work done by former owner, Madeleine Perron; I am thankful for the roots she established here.  And of course, many thanks to the true Master Gardener.

I’m looking forward to more sunflowers, cucumbers, and ripening pumpkins.  And mums and early autumn.  But not until we get our share of the most wonderful month of the year…blessed August!

Posted in Garden Chic | Tagged ,