September 16, 2019

Archives reveal a slice of the Real Maine

You people and your elephantine memories never cease to amaze, astound, delight and impress me. Nearly 14 years ago I wrote a column based on a joke that a University of Maine professor’s wife had told me about a lady who had gotten into a bit of embarrassing difficulty on skis while answering an urgent call of nature at the summit of Sugarloaf USA.

To this day, whenever my keeper allows me to temporarily leave the asylum and venture out into the public arena — or the Alfond Arena, for that matter — like as not someone will throw that dubious literary effort up to me and inquire as to how they might go about getting a reprint to send to their squirrely cousin in Waukegan.

Now along comes one Walt Boyd of Tenants Harbor who proves another rule of thumb about newspaper readers in general, which is, quite simply, that although your memory of content is impeccable you cannot remember publication dates worth a damn.

Boyd requested a copy of a column that I had long since forgotten concerning the recurring Old Dawg theme of Life In The Real Maine that he claimed ran “five or six years ago.” Right then, I thought: Ayuh. Right. Try 12, Bubba. Sure enough, when BDN librarian Charlie Chan Campo, the newspaper’s rarely-stumped trivia forensics expert, tracked the column down the publication date was Nov. 27, 1982.

My first inclination was to recommend to Boyd that he haul his defective memory into the local garage to have it re-bored and jump-started. Then the light bulb of inspiration switched on: If the 1982 dispatch was so well received in Tenants Harbor that the natives were only six years off in estimating its date of conception, perhaps the piece was a candidate for recycling in the public interest.

Then again, perhaps not. Which is why it follows in a condensed and paraphrased form…

When I was a carefree countrified kid gorging myself at those periodic public suppers at the Grange Hall, I never could understand why the grownups were constantly asking irrelevant questions like, “Now, whose chicken pie is this, Mabel?” or “Who made them biscuits, Dearie?”

Much later, after a couple of whirls around the track, the reason became rather obvious: Not all cooking was on a par with Dear Old Mum’s, nor were all cooks’ kitchens necessarily clean enough to pass muster under the prevailing health and sanitation statutes. Ever since I smartened up I have marveled at the ability of your average yahoo to dig in and chow down at some of these public flings without so much as a thought as to how many free-flying parakeets or flea-scratching cats might have been lolling around the galley when the ingredients went into the lasagna, or, more important, after the concoction was hauled out of the oven and left to cool.

Upon reading “The Police Know Everything,” Hancock native Sandy Phippen’s first book about growing up in Hancock County, I discovered I was not alone when it came to trepidations involving such communal supping.

In one of the book’s passages, Phippen, returning from out of state for a visit home, asks a neighbor lady if they still sell those delicious crabmeat sandwiches up at the beano hall.

Well, yes, they still do. But she doesn’t make them any more, and hardly anyone buys them now that this other lady is the cook. Why’s that? our author wants to know.

“Well, she’s such a big fat slob — ya know, the one who lives in the trailer up near the North Taunton Bait Shop. She’s got a big butt on her that sticks out like I don’t know what. She always wears slacks and sweaters to beano. She just ain’t neat, so people won’t eat her stuff…”

The Real Maine, indeed. But I suspect it was an experience recounted in another Phippen chapter that lodged in Walt Boyd’s memory bank for lo these past 12 years as having an even greater ring of authenticity.

This good old Maine-born gal is describing to a gaggle of erudite summer visitors how she spent a summer with the Maine Sea Coast Mission visiting the coastal islands to dispense religion.

“We’d go on the boat with Brother Miller to what seemed like dozens of islands,” she said. “I remember the first little Maine girl that I asked, `Dear, do you say your prayers before you go to bed?’ And she replied, `Hell, no! Daddy pees and then we all hop into bed together.’ ”

The retired ambassador chokes on his scotch and soda and the rest of the summer people scurry off to the other side of the porch to remark on the lovely view of the Mt. Desert Island hills across the way.

Kent Ward, a regular NEWS columnist, lives in Winterport.

Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

comments for this post are closed

You may also like