The Past is a Different Country

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.

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5 Responses to The Past is a Different Country

  1. Gina Mason says:

    I wish I still had my aqua Sting ray bike with the sissy bar and banana seat, I would ride by her house right now!

  2. jbomb62 says:

    Lena and Danny were the Bonnie and Clyde of Lisbon Falls. While they didn’t knock off banks, I think they hit plenty of other places during their reign of burglaries.

    Because we were also told to “stay away from those people” by M & D, one time Lena tried to talk with me at Lisbon Falls Community Library and I told her, “I’m not allowed to talk to you.”

    They were odd and now, I can’t really remember what was at the root of that oddness.

    I do remember the crank phone calls, their car driving around town and eliciting fear in me and possibly you, and the night that the local “vigilante force” were out to “get Danny,” and the subsequent stories Dad told about the night.

    Her funeral was sad. I’m not even sure why I went, but there wad hardly anyone there and I then realized how sad her life became, especially after Danny died, under suspicious circumstances.

    I also remember being part of the crowd of gawkers seeing Danny’s large body wheeled out, covered by a white sheet.

    • Jim,
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. A woman in my class in school remembered Lena from an assisted living facility and recalled how “nice” she was. It struck me strangely, given that we had been conditioned to see Lena in a certain way. It’s a tough nut to crack, given that so many primary sources are gone. The conjecture makes a good story, though.

  3. Margaret R. Marchak says:

    I can offer up a few happy memories of my aunts — Ellen and Margaret Marchak. (I’m sure they knew Lena and kept their distance too!) Back during the Waltons era we did lovingly mimic the TV show characters with them. My sister Sue would ask Aunt Ellen to say “the recipe.” This was Aunt Ellen’s queue to muster the theater inside of her. She did a great job bellowing “the recipe” — and we all had a good laugh.

    Not to get too far off topic here, but speaking of recipes, I thought I’d share the following pie crust recipe from my Aunt Ellen.

    Written on notepaper that says “A-P-A Transport Corp. A Great Organization – Built on Kept Promises!”
    Her handwriting says:
    Pie Crust
    2 cups flour
    1 cup Crisco
    Pinch of salt
    Blend with pastry cutter add 1/4 cup water plus 2 tblsp. water, 1/2 tsp. vinegar.

    Not exactly something that includes Tequilla (like the Baldwin sisters’ recipie) but a legacy recipe all the same.

    Thanks for mentioning “The Aunts” (as we referred to Ellen and Margaret) in your blog.

    Niece, Margaret R. Marchak in Maryland

    • Margaret,
      Good timing! A pie crust recipe is just the tonic we need as “the season” approaches. Thank you so much for sharing this warm remembrance of your aunts. They were much more sensible than the Baldwin sisters by a long shot!

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