December 12, 2019

State honors John Gould with day

They’re having a time for ageless John Gould, one of Maine’s greatest wits, down at Rockland next Saturday, and you are invited. Gov. Angus King has decreed that Aug. 17 shall be set aside as John Gould Day, and has urged all citizens “to take due care and govern themselves accordingly.”

The bash begins at noon at Bartlett Woods on Talbot Avenue, I am told by coastal Maine’s Humble Farmer, Robert Skoglund of St. George, one of the organizers seeking some free ink on the deal. “We don’t want anyone to cry that they would have attended if they’d of knowed about it,” Skoglund wrote, lapsing into traditional Maine-speak for the occasion.

For the uninitiated – although I can’t for the life of me imagine that there are many true Mainers of reasonable age and mental acuity who can be uninitiated when it comes to John Gould’s resume – the governor’s proclamation fills in the blanks.

John Gould “is widely recognized as the dean of Maine’s premier writers, an autobiographer, storyteller and novelist with remarkable wit, insight and perception, whose prose style and technique rank with those of America’s best authors,” King’s decree states.

He’s been a chronicler of Maine culture, history and vernacular for more than 80 years in more than 30 books and thousands of newspaper columns in various publications, including the Lisbon Enterprise, which he edited, and for the past 60 years in the Christian Science Monitor. “His erudite and witty social commentary is impossible to read without laughing out loud,” the governor suggests.

That assessment is probably pretty much on the money for Gould fans, who have treasured his work over the years. Many a Maine home, I’ll wager, has a copy of “The Fastest Hound Dog In The State of Maine” amongst its collection of books, and quite possibly “Europe On A Saturday Night,” and “The Jonesport Raffle,” as well. And show me a senior citizen who didn’t get an absolute hoot out of his most recent “Tales From Rhapsody Home,” an account of his brief and somewhat disastrous flirtation with life in a downstate retirement home, and I’ll show you a senior citizen who’s simply an old grouch, incapable of cutting loose a smile.

I have never had the pleasure of meeting John Gould, which is my loss. But I am familiar with his magnificent prose, and, like Gov. King, I – with minimal prodding – will fairly gush about the man’s ability to flat-out write while capturing the essence of Maine.

A passage from a column titled “A Deadbeat in California,” excerpted from Gould’s book, “It Is Not Now,” published in 1993 by W.W. Norton and Co., remains a personal favorite:

“Fifty years or so ago Clevie Bickford had a contract to plow snow in four of five contiguous towns, and there came a whopper that his equipment couldn’t handle. Clevie waded through the snow to the railroad station and got the morning train to Boston.

“Clevie was hardly dressed for the big city. He was wearing heavy woolen pants tucked into Maine lumberman’s larrigan, with a heavy red-and-black checked mackinaw, and on his head the Scotch cap with the ear-floppers tied up – ready to be let down if needed. And, he hadn’t shaved in days. He looked like the very thing he was – a down Mainer.

“In the display room out on Commonwealth Avenue the salesman showed him an Oshkosh with hydraulic lift for the blades, four speeds, and a heated cab. ‘The best we’ve got.’ Clevie asked if he could get it on the evening freight for Maine. And Clevie asked, ‘How much?’

“The salesman, looking again at Clevie’s rough attire, swallowed to gain time, and said, ‘Er, ah -have you spoken to our Mr. Smith?’ Clevie said he hadn’t; why should he? Well, Mr. Smith was the credit manager. Clevie said, ‘What’s-a-matter, ain’t money no good in Boston?’

“Clevie hauled out his wallet, counted out the $27,000, and returned to Maine. The Oshkosh arrived on the 8:30 a.m. freight, and by sundown every road was open …”

So come next Saturday morning, haul out your wallet like Clevie Bickford and count out the money for gassing up the jalopy. Then aim her for Rockland, and a delightful hour or two in the company of An Original who probably won’t need much urging to drop a tale on you about the many Clevie-like Maine characters who have made their indelible mark in his memory over the past nine decades.

If you don’t return home with a smile on your face and a newfound appreciation for one of Maine’s more valuable natural resources, well shame on you.

NEWS columnist Kent Ward lives in Winterport. His e-mail address is

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