At the Old Hitching Post

As noted earlier on this blog, Echoes magazine ceased publication in June of this year.  Any remaining subscription issues were fulfilled by Maine magazine and as of today, I have received two months of this replacement.  It’s a happy harlequin of a magazine; paper soothing to the touch and stories pleasing to the eye.  Features are rarely more than 500 words and most are filled with staccato paragraphs and bullet points.  It requires very little intellectual involvement.

Yesterday, I received their 2017 annual wedding guide, called wedmaine and insouciantly subtitled “your guide to how we get hitched throughout the state.”

Interestingly enough, a feature I’m working on for a Sun Journal Basilica installment will feature a few “brides of the Basilica.”  There were likely many, many weddings in the original red brick St. Peter’s Church between its dedication in 1873 and its demolition in 1905.  Similarly, the path to the altar was tread early and often at the lower “crypt” church, which served Lewiston’s French Catholic population from 1906 until the dedication of the upper church in 1938.  The story of that patient and faithful community is a long one and requires more intellectual engagement than I’ll be able to muster up here on today’s blog post.

The first couple to wed in the upper church was a local one.  The Monday, October 24, 1938 Lewiston Daily Sun featured the bride’s engagement photograph and wrote “the first wedding to be solemnized in the beautiful new SS. Peter and Paul church which was dedicated Sunday is taking place this morning when Miss Jacqueline E. Thibault of Lewiston becomes the bride of Laureat E. Roy of Auburn.  Rev. Fr. Dumont of Fall River, Mass., a college friend of the bride’s father, will perform the double ring service, and music will be furnished by the parish organist, G.G. Giboin, and Louis Restori, vocalist, who will sing an Ave Maria.  There will be no attendants.”

Mrs. Roy was 21 years old when she got married and she was beautiful in her engagement photograph.  She died in her home at the age of 93 after a brief illness.  Her obituary noted she had worked as a hairdresser in Portland and then took care of her two daughters.  She and her husband remained married for 61 years until he died in 1999.  Her obituary mentioned “her joie de vivre and positive attitude will be missed by all” and the photograph showed an older but still beautiful woman.  Her “joie de vivre” radiated through it.

I have been unable to reach her daughters for an interview; I will keep trying.  I would like to know more about Miss Jacqueline E. Thibault.

My next-door neighbors were married at the Basilica in 1946.  I’m sure they’ll have a few interesting things to tell me about “getting hitched” at the Basilica.

The many Basilica brides, grooms, and myself request the honor of your presence on Sunday, October 8, 2017.  We’ll be at the old hitching post, reading the Lewiston Sun Journal.

Posted in Just Writing | Tagged

Granite Narratives

For the past eight months, I’ve been writing a series of articles for the Lewiston Sun Journal about the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul.  These articles are archived online and you can read them there.

How I got involved in this work is a long and ironic story, interesting only to myself and a close circle of friends and fans.  Nevertheless, since my first article ran on February 12, 2017, the massive granite edifice has lived “rent free” in my head and I’ve learned so much about the building, the city, and the generations of French Canadians and Franco Americans who consider this church their spiritual home.  Six article remain in the series.

The Basilica story is a long and complicated one.  In the local narrative, it’s often called “the lunch bucket church” or “the church built with nickels and dime.”  That’s how a narrative is created.  Someone uses an overly simple expression to describe a complex person, place, thing, or situation and “voila.”  The narrative.

Create a narrative and many loads of new and contrasting documentation can’t change it.  Like a sound bite, it’s very difficult to overcome the damage of narratives.  Worse, truth is sometimes layered over a lie and the damage of misunderstanding is compounded.

Here is an example from the Basilica.

One of the important source documents I’ve clung to in my research is Father Antonin Plourde’s Cent ans de vie paroissiale, written in 1970 for the 100th anniversary of the Dominican Brothers’s service in Lewiston.  Father Plourde documented that construction of the upper church began on May 23, 1934.  He wrote “La nouvelle eglise necessite 515 wagons de granite de North Jay.”

Looking at it quickly, a non-francophone might think 515 “wagons” of granite.  515 wagons of granite became “the narrative” and you can find this description in many historical accounts of the Basilica’s construction.

The word “wagon” connotes an image.  I see a horse pulling a wagon.  But it was 1934 and no one was moving things around Lewiston with wagons.  After researching the North Jay granite quarry and their granite delivery system, I know the granite arrived by train car to the railroad terminal once located on Bates Street in Lewiston.  There were also a number of stone-related businesses located there.

Was it 515 train cars full of granite?  I think so.  My research confirmed the granite was marketed, sold, and delivered in train cars in 1934.  515 carloads of granite are much more than 515 wagon loads and that sounds about right for such a massive structure.

Did you know not all of the granite came from North Jay?  No, me neither.  Not until I started pulling apart Father Plourde’s history.  But it’s true.  The edifice of the lower church, or the “crypt” was built with Norridgewock (Maine) granite, mostly likely from the Dodlin Hill quarry.

I’m exploring the construction of the lower church this week and next as we race into the homestretch of the series.    I hope you’ll read it.

Posted in Just Writing | Tagged ,

In Heavenly Blue

I planted “Heavenly Blue” morning glories this year and I waited eagerly for their arrival.  I like the purple “Grandpa Ott’s” but the blue ones are my favorite.

One bloomed today.

Today, our town will bury my Moxie BFF and mentor, Gina Crafts Mason.  Click on the “Heavenly Blue” to read her obituary.

“Gina loved the town of Lisbon.  Many times she said that she wished Lisbon had a mayor because she would have loved to run for the office.”

I wrote a blog post once that began “When I moved home to Maine, I knew things were going to be different.”

My life IS different, in part thanks to Gina Crafts Mason.

Posted in You've Got Moxie! | Tagged ,

Stop Watching the Clock

I had a much different blog post scheduled for today, a polemic on social media, Tee Vee advertising, and men’s jeans.  I called it “Opera Jeans” and although I hadn’t crafted how it would hang together on the page, it was pretty darn funny in my head.

Something came up, though, and I wasn’t able to orchestrate the production.  One of those events where everyone says they have “no words” but then proceed to have many words.

I love Vaughn Monroe.  I love his soothing baritone voice, full of confidence and style.  He was a man of another time.  I had never heard this particular song until recently and I loved it.  The lyrics are jingoistic and American, but countering clock watching appeals to me today.

Life is short.  Stop watching the clock.

Posted in You've Got Moxie! | Tagged ,

Letting Yourself Go

I got a letter from a friend the other day, full of late August angst.  “August is one of those months where I feel like I’ve wasted my life,” she wrote.  “The summer is gone and I have done nothing that I wanted to do.”  I could certainly understand what she was saying.  Why, just the other night I finished reading a book, the only book I’d read all summer.  My brain is practically atrophied from lack of reading.

I hurried to bang out a letter to my friend and I slipped it into the recently read book, Louise Dickinson’s The Peninsula.  Published on October 15, 1958, Rich outlines the history and geography of the Gouldsboro peninsula from her years living in Corea and Prospect Harbor.  The book, filled with wit and Down East humor, also has enough philosophy to lift one’s spirits during these dark days of August.

Rich is most noted for her book We Took to the Woods, written in 1942.  It chronicles the years she and her husband Ralph lived in a camp in the Rangeley Lakes region of Maine.  Following her husband’s death in 1945, Rich returned to her home of Bridgewater, Massachusetts and supported herself and her two young children by writing books about Maine.  A friend offered her a cabin on the Schoodic Peninsula and she became a regular visitor.

We Took to the Woods is part Thoreau and part “let’s get away from it all; The Peninsula, too, is a place Rich describes as “being outside time and space and life itself.”  Fishermen who wear oilskins, (not Grundens) fill the pages alongside their wives, the local storekeeper, retired sea captains, and aging aunts.  At the time Rich wrote the book, progress had not reached across Frenchman’s Bay despite Bar Harbor’s steady popularity as a summer destination.  Peninsula residents and visitors alike still met at the store after daily “chores” to pick up their mail, share news, or to make a phone call.  Industrious and creative, the Peninsulans in Rich’s book were not likely to approach August’s end with ennui.

According to Rich, Peninsulans were also not distracted by the latest bright and shiny thing.  “The danger of the laborsaving device,” she wrote, “is that it too often produces idleness rather than leisure—and there is a big difference.  Leisure is something earned by work, a reward to be savored and enjoyed.  Idleness is a form of poverty, a lack of employment, and conducive to waste of time and talents.”

Like the locals, Rich kept herself busy at her cabin on Corea’s Cranberry Point.  When her chores and her writing were done, she explored the landscape, the old cemeteries, and visited her neighbors.  She made an impromptu visit to storekeeper George Crowley’s aging sisters who lived “up the Guzzle in the house by the old silver mines.”  Rich’s knock found the ladies, in their early 90’s, in their kitchen giving each other home permanents.  Rich is surprised and they tell her “but if you once started letting yourself go—Well!”

Faunce Pendexter, writer for the Lewiston Evening Journal Magazine, reviewed the book on November 1, 1958 and wrote “this reviewer is happy to comment that The Peninsula avoids what so many books about Maine and Maine people have been guilty of:  Mrs. Rich doesn’t seek to make Pine Tree staters quaint or peculiar.”

Rich herself wrote “I hesitate to use the word picturesque in connection with it, because picturesque and quaint are two words of which the Peninsulans take a dim view when applied to them or theirs.  They are summer-people words, pregnant with patronage.”

Old books like Louise Dickinson Rich’s The Peninsula are just right for the last dark days of August and the brighter possibilities of autumn.  It’s certainly not time to let yourself go.

Posted in Books and Reading | Tagged ,

Into the Cosmos

This spring, I planted a package of Cosmos flower seeds in a small garden bed adjacent to the back steps.  This spot is also home to a Stella de Oro daylily and a late-blooming hibiscus.  Last summer’s Grandpa Ott morning glories showed up again this year too.  It’s a busy spot.

I’d never planted Cosmos before and reading the packet reminded me I once had an album by the folk duo, Aztec Two-Step.  The 1972 vinyl long-play record, self-titled “Aztec Two-Step” featured popular songs like “Baking” and “The Persecution and Restoration of Dean Moriarty” as well as “Cosmos Lady.”

The latter song was not about flowers; I don’t know what it was about.  Even though I listened to it a hundred times, I never paid much attention to the words.  “You asked me if I fly, and I answered you with my eyes.  Astral projections, cosmos connection beyond the skies…cosmos lady.”

Clearly, this was not a song about flowers.  And “Baking” probably wasn’t about bread either.

There was a great deal of interest in the cosmos this past week as the United States witnessed a total solar eclipse on Monday, August 21.  The experience was brief here in Maine; I was at the dentist getting my teeth cleaned.  When I left the office, I did look at the sun for one second and could view the astral projection.  Interestingly, Monday was the day my first Cosmos flower bloomed.  Coincidence?

There’s a lot of green foliage with very few flowers.  It’s like an assortment of old folk songs; there must have been lots of green foliage behind those musical flowers, if you get my astral projection.

Speaking of spiritual catharsis, I’ve just begun researching the gentleman who built my house and many others in Lisbon.  His name was W.D. Blethen and he was born across the river, in Durham, in 1838.  He learned the building trade by working as a carpenter for a number of years, and then in 1891 bought a large pasture on the south side of the main road through town.  Many thought he was foolish to do so, but he turned the pasture into a suburban street and according to The Lisbon Enterprise Magazine (undated photocopy) it was a “fine little street located here with no less than seven snug dwelling houses and the eighth in the course of construction.”

In my research, I found Mr. Blethen listed in an 1899 “Spiritualists Directory” as a member of the “First Maine Spiritualists’ State Camp Meeting Association.”  This group sponsored an annual camp meeting at Buswell’s Grove in Etna.

The camp still exists as Camp Etna.

Camp Etna reportedly began hosting spiritual retreats in 1876.  They incorporated in 1899.  In 1919, they changed their name to the Etna Spiritualist Association and continue under that appellation today.

Mr. Blethen was an enterprising builder and business man.  It’s early in the research and his association with Camp Etna, spiritualists, and the cosmos is unclear.  It will be interesting to learn more about him and other Lisbon builders as I prepare for a 2018 talk at the local historical society.  The talk will discuss the architecture, style, and provenance of the town’s residential dwellings.  The date is to be determined; please stay tuned.

Posted in Garden Chic | Tagged , , , ,

The Cat’s Pajamas

I was on vacation last week.  It was invisible to my blog readers because I didn’t make a fuss about it.  I went about life on my terms and at my own sporadic pace.  I did a lot of freelance writing.  I visited friends, I went to the “beauty parlor,” (oh, what a quaint expression, why don’t we use it more?), I sat in a beach chair at Reid State Park, and I organized my “sewing room.”

Someone asked me if I was taking a “staycation” and I found that word offensive in its definition and implications.  Many of Wikipedia’s entries are like that, possessing a thread of truth but not cut from whole cloth.

One of the week’s most enjoyable tasks was sorting and rearranging my box of vintage sewing patterns.  I’ve had them for a long time; I may have bought them all at once in the late 1980’s.  I’ve carried them around from Portland to Hampton and now to this house.  There are about 50 of them, mostly Simplicity patterns from the 1940’s and 1950’s.  There are some outliers, like a few DuBarry’s from the 1930’s and some Hollywood patterns of a similar era.  If you are a collector, you know these two brands had a limited lifespan and are more valuable.  DuBarry were produced from 1931 to 1947, exclusively for sale at Woolworth Company Stores.  Hollywood patterns, created by Conde Nast, ran from 1932 to approximately 1945.  These patterns often featured Hollywood stars.  My “one-piece frock” pattern “starred Columbia actress Grace Moore.

Equally intriguing were a bunch of mail-order patterns address to “Mrs. John Eastman” of Stow, Maine.  Mrs. Eastman’s patterns ranged from embroidery instructions from “The Workbasket,” to Marian Martin patterns for house dresses and aprons.  Newspapers advertised these patterns daily; they were produced by “Reader Mail, Inc.” an umbrella company that marketed patterns under such names as Anne Adams, the aforementioned Marian Martin, Alice Brooks, and Laura Wheeler.  This website featured a detailed history of Reader Mail, Inc.

But who was Mrs. John Eastman?  One early envelope (based on the one cent postage stamp) indicates she may have been “Miss Bessie Barr” of 91 Columbia Road in Portland.  As Mrs. John Eastman, she lived for a time at 8 Notre Dame Street in Fort Edward, New York.  The majority of the envelopes were addressed to “Eastman House” in Stow.  One interesting envelope had a pre-printed return address of Dr. Daniel A. Poling, 27 East 39th Street in New York City.  Dr. Poling was a minister and also the owner and editor of a religious journal from 1939 until 1966.  The envelope contains a pattern cut from the April 2, 1953 Portland Press Herald.  Whether Mrs. Eastman traced it from another pattern or created it herself is unknown.

It looks like an apron to me.

Looking at these old patterns, I found many unfamiliar words.  Selvages, plackets, and tailor’s tacks just to name a few.  Many of Mrs. Eastman’s patterns were just plain pieces of tissue paper; there were no pre-printed instructions or identification on them.  A woman like Mrs. Eastman would need to be vaguely familiar with the shape of a sleeve versus a skirt gore.  Like going to the “beauty parlor,” making things was once a quaint profession for women.

Why, women even made their own pajamas!

Both men and women wear pajamas as “day clothes” now; I like to think of it as “hobo couture.”  But I never see anyone wearing anything quite like these jammies.

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