For the last few years, I’ve been writing about the past as I remember it. Generally, I’ve woven “feel good” happy endings and old-fashioned lessons into stories about my family, both living and dead. If someone were to read my blog, they might think my family was a New England version of The Waltons. My brother could be John-Boy, sitting in his bedroom listening to Neil Young on his headphones and scribbling out stories in a three-ring binder. Maybe I’d be Mary Ellen, wanting to bust out of Walton’s Mountain because it was just a “little old speck on the map.” Frank Anicetti at the Kennebec Fruit Company would be the equivalent of Ike Godsey and Ellen and Margaret Marchak would be the Baldwin sisters, sans “The Recipe.”
Ah, how lovely it is to rewrite history according to my selective memory. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of omission.
The other day, my neighbor and friend Gina called me up and said “let’s go pick some red berries for decorating.” She drove around until we found some densely populated bushes, she parked the truck, and we started snipping the twigs. I don’t remember what we were talking about when out of the blue she said “Hey, how are you related to Lena Baumer?”
It’s not like writing about my father’s cousin Lena hadn’t crossed my mind before. Although she only died in 2005, I didn’t really know her. In fact, I don’t think I had ever spoken to her; she lived just two streets away from me (on Baumer Street) from the time I was born until I moved away in 1987.
It was a very long time ago and my miniscule memories have faded.
I asked Gina what she remembered about Lena.
“Well, my mother always told me not to go by her house.”
That made sense.
Lena was born in 1910, in the house on the corner of what was then called Baumer and Rand Streets. One of six children, she was the daughter of my grandfather’s brother, Alex. According to her obituary, she attended The Powder Puff Beauty School in Lewiston and then ran her own salon at the house on Baumer Street. I can still see the sign for Lee’s Beauty Shop in my mind’s eye.
Lena’s brother Joe had run a hair salon in town also. My grandmother used to go to Lee’s until she went to Joe’s. Could it have been a family schism which prevented us from gathering around Lena’s shampoo bowl for discounted wash and sets? Or was it something else?
I know I shouldn’t be airing my family’s dirty laundry here on my blog, but I can’t help but have some curiosity about Lena’s life story. I interviewed my parents a bit about her last night. Their memories are growing dimmer and even though they each remember hearing a shot or three fired one July afternoon in 1970, they can’t seem to remember if there was any police investigation.
All I know is that a man died of a gunshot wound next to the garden in Lena Baumer’s backyard.
I saw the ambulance go by with a sheet-covered dead man in the back of it.
I found an old newspaper article online, saying the police ruled the death a suicide; I don’t know. Was there a suicide note? And why would a man, who had served in the military in World War II, use a .22 caliber gun to end his life? You can barely hurt a squirrel with a .22.
It might make an interesting research project and maybe a short story; I could call it “The Things I Learned at The Powder Puff Beauty School.”
The past…it’s a different country.