March 18, 2019

Poignant past recalled in West Sullivan memoir

WEST SULLIVAN DAYS, by Jack Havey, Down East Books, Camden, 2001, 143 pages, $9.95.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” writes Jack Havey about his early life, not only in Sullivan and environs, but also in Bangor, in “West Sullivan Days: Recollections of Growing Up in a Tiny Maine Village.”

The town of Sullivan, which once also encompassed the neighboring towns of Hancock and Sorrento, stretches along Route 1 between Hancock and Gouldsboro; and is divided into sections or neighborhoods called North Sullivan, West Sullivan, Sullivan Harbor and East Sullivan.

Named for a Revolutionary War hero and native son Daniel Sullivan, the town was first noted for its mines and granite quarries. Today, it’s probably best-known for being the home of Sumner Memorial High School, the Big Chief Camps on Tunk Lake, Vibert’s Pottery Kiln, Dunbar’s Store, Barter’s Art Gallery, Flander’s Pond, and for having one of the most spectacular views of the Mount Desert Hills and Frenchman’s Bay.

Jack Havey grew up in the 1920s and ’30s in West Sullivan, which is the part of town that people traveling Down East on Route 1 first come to as they drive off the bridge (formerly the “Singing Bridge” and now dubbed the “Silent Bridge”) from Hancock. He lived in the big house that’s still there, bordered on one side by his cousin Dwight Havey’s house and on the other by the home once owned by Dr. Charles Sumner, for whom Sumner High School is named. Across Route 1 from these houses once was the local baseball field on which many memorable games were played and which Havey describes in his warm-hearted and nostalgic book.

Havey was born in West Sullivan in 1928 and lived there until 1941 when his father, who was the editor of the old Bangor Commercial, moved the family to Bangor. They kept the family house in West Sullivan to which they’d return in the summers. “I left Sullivan for the last time in 1946,” says Havey, when his father sold the place to the late Phil Robinson.

Havey did not become a newspaperman like his father, but was a very successful commercial artist who founded one of Maine’s best-known advertising agencies, Ad-Media in Augusta. Now retired and living in Winthrop, Havey spent his time writing and cartooning. In 1993, he published a collection of his cartoons entitled, “Let’s Get Serious.”

Beyond the descriptions of colorful local baseball games and other boyhood adventures, Havey writes mostly about the wonderful characters who were his neighbors and friends. As he says in his preface, “For excitement, most every town has its general store, well stocked with anything you’d ever need or want, including some of the best storytellers east of Ellsworth Falls. Without their brand of humor, without the caring and special bonding among all who live there, Down East Maine would be a lonely stretch of land and sea.”

There is a special bond among Maine natives who grew up and went to school in the “old Maine” Down East when people weren’t as mobile as they are now, and most of us lived in villages such as West Sullivan (in my case it was the Mount Desert Ferry section of Hancock), and an excursion to Ellsworth was at most once a week and we had to make our own fun. People even talked differently from one section of town to another; and, of course, there was the foolish snobbery of people from Sullivan Harbor feeling superior to the folks in North Sullivan.

North Sullivan, incidentally, was where everyone went swimming in the abandoned quarries and to the movies at the Alhambra Theatre, about which Havey writes most amusingly.

Probably the most famous person who lived in Sullivan, and with whom the author had an interesting scene when fishing on Tunk Lake was Admiral Richard E. Byrd, who once owned an imposing hunting lodge there.

Havey brings back to life people such as Oscar Gordon, who had a fish market near where “Tomcat” Gordon sells lobsters today; and Jimmy Dickens, who had a garage and store near the Singing Bridge. He writes about Zelda Havey, the music teacher; who gave piano lessons in her house; legendary teacher Selma Gerrish; Bart Joy, the town blacksmith; baseball star “Stubby” Scott; Duke Tracey, “The World’s Strongest Man,” who once had a wrestling match on Hancock Point; and a barber named Randall “Itchie” Taylor.

In a chapter titled “Food for Thought,” he writes about family picnics, but also about the traditional Saturday nigh salt pork and baked bean suppers. “[E]veryone from Molasses Pond to Calais ate baked beans for supper every Saturday night.”

After Havey’s father got tired of commuting from West Sullivan to Bangor and moved his family to the Queen City, Havey continued his adventures at the Bangor Commercial building where he met Jack McKernan, former Gov. Jock’s father, who was a sports editor; Ky Ayoob, who later became sports editor of the Bangor Daily News; Bud Leavitt, and his aunt Dora Malkson, who ran Aunt Dora’s Millinery Shop on Central Street. His chapter on her is titled “Hat Shops and Whorehouses.” In Bangor he attended the Mary Snow School, hung on the backs of trolley cars with other boys, stole butter from a grocery store to go with the fresh bread they were given by the bakers from Nissen’s, and learned about bullies. In 1937, he witnessed the bloody aftermath of the shootout between the FBI and the Brady Gang. Rushing to the newspaper to tell his father, Havey claims the Bangor Commercial beat the Bangor Daily to the story.

In the chapter “Hangin’ Out in Bangor,” Havey re-creates what life was like at the “Commercial,” then housed on Main Street in the days when Bangor had two daily newspapers in competition. Since his father, Mort, was one of the top editors, Havey had the run of the place and got to know the colorful crew of reporters, photographers and editors. However, as fun as they are, the Bangor memoirs only take up a couple of chapters in “West Sullivan Days.”

Sullivan, of course, has been written about before, most notably in “Seven Steeples” (1951), the book by the late Rev. Margaret Henrichsen, who preached for many years in several of Sullivan’s churches. At the time, Henrichsen offended many locals by her honest descriptions of the living conditions of some of her parishioners. “West Sullivan Days” will probably not offend anyone, but Jack Havey’s good-humored and lovely book should interest a great many people in eastern Maine.

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