Last Friday, my boyfriend Handy and I had the pleasure of attending a concert. The Maine troubadour David Mallett was playing at Auburn’s Unitarian Church. It was Handy’s birthday, an occasion worthy of a night on the town. And even though I had grown up hearing Mallett’s name and music around me from time to time, I’d never seen him perform.
Not knowing what to expect, we arrived early and squeezed the Jeep into a parking lot filled with tiny cars. The church, a significant architectural accomplishment in its own right, was filling with an older crowd. Demographic identification not being my strong suit, I’ll draw no conclusions from the graying beards and ponytails. We took our seats and waited for the show to begin.
A tall bearded man walked down the aisle near our seats and I recognized his familiar face from long ago.
“Bob Bittenbender,” I called out to him.
He didn’t recognize me.
“Julie-Ann Baumer,” I said. “We worked together at Lucas Tree in 1987.”
The tumblers unlocked, we talked about old times and I asked him if he remembered Mrs. Young. He did; he recalled her superlative kindness.
The lights dimmed, Mallett took the stage; we clapped our hands and tapped our feet with the crowd and enjoyed his poetic tales set to music. We sang along to his popular Garden Song. There was an encore, I hugged Bob Bittenbender, and we drove home to Lisbon Falls.
It was kismet that I saw Bob Bittenbender that night, while finishing up my research and assembling my presentation on lady writer Eloise Jordan. You see, even though I grew up reading the local paper she wrote for, I didn’t remember reading Eloise’s column or her feature articles. I knew of her only from working with her best friend, Lorna Brown (Mrs. Young) in that dusty tree company office long ago.
How Mrs. Young’s eyes lit up when we were first introduced and I told her I was from Lisbon Falls. She had grown up in Lisbon Falls too and had fond memories of the place. She had numerous relatives and friends there and although I was at that young age of not caring much about the old home town, I listened to Mrs. Young’s recollections and inquiries about various people “back home.” She frequently mentioned her dearest friend Eloise Jordan and from time to time she’d excitedly mention a recent visit or a day trip they’d taken together.
So even though I didn’t know Eloise personally, I was able to piece together bits of her life from Mrs. Young.
I lost touch with Mrs. Young when I divorced and moved to New Hampshire. I often thought of her when I’d pass through the North Deering section of Portland and wonder if she still lived at her house on Alpine Road. But life being what it is, we speed too quickly past the places where we might stop and we regret never having a last cup of tea with an old friend.
Lorna Brown Young died in 2012
Having known Mrs. Young, it seemed like I was only six degrees separated from Eloise Jordan. Or as I like to call it, Six Degrees of Ayuh.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll unpack my Eloise Jordan presentation here on the blog. We’ll learn more about the tall thin woman who, according to one adoring neighbor, always wore a fur coat when walking from her apartment to her mailbox (“every single solitary day”) and wrote more than 1,000 columns and feature articles for the Lewiston Evening Journal. We’ll read some of her poetry, revisit the places she loved, and meet a few of her friends.
Sit down and pour yourself a cup of tea. And please, use a real cup and saucer, like Eloise would have done.
Of all the concerts I’ve seen, Dave Mallett and Gordon Bok together onstage at the Memorial Union at UMO back in 1981 or 82 remains the most spellbinding. Just a man, a voice and a guitar.