April 06, 2020

Family spreads warmth through Down East souls

EDMUNDS — Washington County may be known as the poorest county in Maine, but it is rich in neighborly warmth. For one family that went without power for 11 days after the ice storm, that sense of community generosity has proved infectious.

Power at The Tide Mill Farm was finally restored late Sunday morning, but Robert Bell and his family, and brother Terry Bell and his family were still helping out their neighbors. Over the last week they were joined by many other residents in Edmunds and Whiting who also took to the road to lend a helping hand.

After they were satisfied their cows had plenty of food and water, Robert, Terry and Terry’s son Brian were powering up furnaces, draining water pipes and icing refrigerators for neighbors. They also delivered water and checked on neighbors who refused to leave their homes.

“There was no major federal emergency system set up and the local [Whiting] fire chief, Craig Smith, said, `This is bad. Get ready for the long haul.’ So we fired up our [welding machine], turned it into a generator and started going door to door to keep people’s houses warm,” Terry Bell said.

The Fire Department led the charge, but there were many others who pitched in to wage war against the ice storm.

While Terry and Robert Bell were out on icy and snow-covered roads helping whoever needed it, their wives, Catherine and Jane, respectively, along with their neighbors Arline Bridgwood, Linda Harmon and Carey Crosby, were at the Whiting Community Building supervising the shelter and cooking meals.

Hang around with the Bell women for just a minute and you are amazed by their abundant energy.

The first night after the lights went out only a few people showed up for a meal, but when a community supper for the next night was announced over WVOM in Bangor, Jane Bell said more than 100 people appeared.

“We were so organized. We had a lot of donations from Shop ‘n Save in Machias who had to empty their meat freezers. … We had pork chops and steaks. We had 20 pounds of potatoes boiling and 10 pounds of potatoes baking. They kept coming in,” Jane Bell said with a smile. She said an infusion of food supplies from the Lubec Food Pantry helped save the day.

“So we opened up cans of beef, put in cans of Spam, cans of corned beef and cans of Vienna sausage and it went into this huge mix and they said `how are we going to mix it?’ We said `nevermind, put it out on the table beside the potatoes,’ and it went,” Jane Bell said with a laugh.

Bridgwood joked that with their experience in creative cooking, they could produce a “New Age Ice Storm Cookbook.”

Early Saturday morning, 10 days after the power went, was yet another day of volunteer work. Robert and Jane Bell filled up their wood stove and then went off to help organize an ice storm victory party. Catherine and Terry Bell also volunteered to help.

The women washed pots and pans in preparation for the party that night. They were joined by Bridgwood, who said she was without a wood stove and needed an occasional burst from a generator to keep her home habitable.

“I have an old dog at home and I am stubborn. I caused a lot of people grief with my stubbornness,” Bridgwood said as she wiped a large pot. “You sit in the car a lot or come down here.”

Bridgwood said what she appreciated most was the hot Thermos of coffee the Bells delivered to her home each morning.

Catherine Bell said although some people had heat in their homes, many used the community building as a defense against lonelinesss. “Some of the older folks felt cut off and this was a real morale booster. There was one woman who was feeling alone and frightened and Terry told her to come in,” she said.

“We gave her a big hug,” Terry Bell said, “and told her we are all in this together and come down to the town hall.”

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

comments for this post are closed

You may also like