Greetings from the Junction
Sticking it out, doing a thing well
A number of things have struck me as I go about searching and reading our large collection of historical files, either for our own work here to mount the stories of our region or for others looking for specific information on a particular subject. One thing is how hardworking and committed the people around Moosehead were, and are today. The historical record bears this out. No one’s afraid to step it up, stick it out, and do a thing well, whether it’s the mill work of yore or the events that make Moosehead a prize to visit, up to and including today.
During the lumbering years, hundreds of men worked in the woods. Hard work, but I don’t read about a lot of complaining. What comes to mind are two old sayings I used to hear from my grandfather: use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without. The other was: if a kid said something about the meat being tough, Gramp offered, “Well, it’s a lot tougher without.”
When the mills were up and running, hundreds of men and women went to work, made a living, and made the mills successful. And, as you’ll read in this newsletter, Atlas Plywood Corporation had a good, long run through most of the 1900s. Even though it burned a number of times, and went through a number of owners, it didn’t fail. There was always someone willing to figure it out and keep it operating. And the same with the Kineo Hotel. It burned many times and had many owners. Its heyday spanned only about 35 years, at the turn of the last century, but businessmen kept some version of it operating until the 1970s. That can only count as success. Just recently, many people drew together and had a hand in the financial campaign, design, and building of a beautiful brand new Catholic Church that will serve our community through this century. Every year, residents and businesses from around the lake help deliver the International Seaplane Fly-In, the largest event in Piscataquis County. Some of the same people who run it have been willing to stick with it for years.
The other thing that strikes me is that, like the Fly-In or Squaw Mountain Ski Resort (see pages 6-7), the people in our area get an idea and stay with it. Fly-In began as a way to bring a bunch of like-minded float plane pilots together for fun on Moosehead Lake, but also as a way to extend visitors staying in town past Labor Day. Over the years, it ran, but not without its own set of fits and starts. Even so, no one let it fail. Today, it brings in thousands of people. I think the pilots are still having relaxed fun down at Stobie seaplane base. Squaw Mountain is the same. It began as a dream 57 years ago for a place where kids growing up here could go for fun, and as a business venture that would suit the outdoor recreational future of the area. It has had its share of great financial complications and the resort is shuttered. And yet, residents won’t let it fail. The lower slopes have remained in operation almost the entire time, since 1963. It began locally, and locals have figured out ways to keep a part of it running, and ways to keep the kids on the slopes. Just this season, Jessica Cobb skied herself to a 14th place finish in Maine for slalom racing. For good ideas that benefit our residents and place, we know how to step it up, stick it out, and do a thing well.
New Year Surprises
My mother died of cancer on December 12, so Christmas and New Year’s was a black time. We knew she was near the end, but she died unexpectedly. Trustees and staff were absolutely wonderful — family first — so I left (December 12!) to be with her and my father for our last holiday together. But, just as my plane was taxiing out of Bangor to Florida, where my parents spend winters, I learned she had expired. I can’t remember ever being in such a dark mood. My father, my Uncle Reno, and a wise priest named Father Thomas Madden kept me from my wit’s end. Throughout the holidays I received many blessings for which I’m forever grateful and which lightened my black mood.
A surprise ray of light was found in the continual messages from Father Madden; Uncle Reno and I went to Mass many times, and each time I came away better than when I arrived.
One message was of Hope — a usual New Year’s message, right? Except Father Madden put a spin on it. He defined Hope as “Having a sense of being opened to surprise.” He said we can never predict what is going to happen and, rather than live with some fear or hesitation, aim for a freer spirit that opens us up to being more alive and present to other people. Hope is being opened to surprise. This idea helped me immensely.
Losing my mother sooner was one surprise. Other surprises were that by losing her, I felt relieved because she was “whole again,” no longer suffering unconscionable pain. Once I became grateful for my “problem,” it lost its power to drag me down. I had a chance to live quietly with my Dad, helpful to both us in the immediate aftermath of her death. Another surprise was that this stress inoculated resilience; our family drew closer, instead of splitting apart, which can happen when the matriarch of the family dies. My brothers, father, and I resolved to keep in good contact, to keep the traditions of family reunions going, which would please my mother no end, is a fun way to continually honor her, and will keep our family strong into the future.
Another surprise came in a grand bequest from Moosehead summer resident Joseph Kovacs. Mr. Kovacs generously remembered four local organizations. We were aware of the honor of his bequest this time last year, but had no idea what it would be. This surprise makes a big difference because it will help us to meet some significant necessary repairs and nagging maintenance issues to our buildings and, if we are careful, along with the continued support of our members and other patrons, most importantly, to meet our obligations to steward the heritage, culture, and communal identity of our region and our people.
Hope: Having a sense of being opened to surprise. It allows us room to see the possibilities, and to figure out ways past seemingly insurmountable trouble. It’s a good start to the New Year.
~ Suzanne M. AuClair
Greetings from the Junction
The Treasure of Age
A lot of time is spent thinking about when we were young. Songs are written about it. Poems lament the passing of time. Novels pose the drama of lost youth and passion. As if we could stop the clocks. Keep the prime of our lives. Even in our mind’s eye, we feel young. Then a look in the mirror first thing in the morning is a reminder of oh, yes, age has taken hold!
I remember interviewing three old friends, all of whom happened to still be alive and celebrating their 97th birthdays together. All said – and this is what I’ll never forget – all said that they still felt like they were 18 yrs. old! I thought it was only me. It never goes away. Yearnings were the same, only the body has waned. Then, they laughed hard and loud together, eyes twinkling.
The point is, age is a treasure. In a different way than youth is a treasure. The experience that comes with age embellishes life in ways that a 25 yr. old can’t begin to imagine because they just haven’t lived long enough yet. Experience calms the nerves. It sets in motion a relaxed being. It homes in on what really matters. At some point, things get laser sharp and it’s easy to say no to the things that clutter up your life, that aren’t as urgent as they seemed when we were young, full of it, and didn’t know any better.
Age is freeing. There’s nothing to lose by telling the people you really care about, that you care; that you love them. Time allows the burying of grievances. It allows the making of amends. A mellowed maturity and grace comes out of it. And fun. And laughter. And quiet. And perhaps, peace.
The treasure is there’s just no more time to waste. This is it! This is no dress rehearsal, no final take, so anything you want to do, you do. The people you want to spend time with, you do. Those you don’t want to, you don’t.
Age also brings more humor, less seriousness to life. After a lifetime of gaining experiences, it’s easy to cut through chaff. Easier to cipher a given situation, and roll with the decisions you make. Often, after accumulating a lifetime of material possession, living in the same house, raising children, we sell and give most all of it away and embark on new adventures. We meet new people, move to new places, form entirely new friendships.
Being young is fun, but we’re still learning and growing, and often have to juggle the stress of living a life that is being pushed in many directions. Being old comes with its own advantages, its own fun, minus crazy directions. We’ve lived some tragedies. We think beyond ourselves.
Historically, the elders of a community are valued for their wisdom. Across the world, cultures revere their old people. They offer great consideration, and considered experience. They offer patience. They remember history and provide the sense of place that steadies the rudder of time, and that continually connects each and every one of us to make a strong, resilient community. Only that can come with time.
– Suzanne M. AuClair
Greetings from the Junction
’Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
’Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
’Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn, will be our delight,
’Til by turning, turning we come ’round right.
Joseph Brackett, 1848
Simple Gifts was the idea for our opening of the season, held on this first day of summer, where some 73 people spilled out onto the lawn for the dedication of the new gazebo next to the flowering gardens of the Eveleth-Crafts-Sheridan Historical House. The gazebo was built by Eagle Scout Thomas Watt and named for retired Director Candy Canders Russell, who also happens to be a wonderful gardener. Also, without the financial contribution of Jock Moore and Cathy Sweetser, our long time members (a past trustee) and benefactors, it would not have been possible for us to realize Thomas Watt’s project, which, in turn, provided a great addition to the Historical House, which, in turn, made a fine gift to our community that will be well used.
With members, family, friends and acquaintances all gathered in one place, it seemed only right that we celebrate this new season in the idea of Simple Gifts. For it is the simple gifts, as came about in the building of the gazebo that, in the end, have the most meaning. It’s the simple gifts that, like the song says, by turning, turning, we come ’round right.
This song was written in 1848 by Maine native Joseph Brackett. Mr. Brackett was a Quaker elder in Gorham and lifelong resident of Maine. Within local circles, his composition may have been especially known for its Christian meaning. But in 1944, it became an international success when American composer Aaron Copland threaded the melody into Appalachian Spring. Imagine how eloquent these words were near the end of the ravage of World War II. “Turning” is also a reference in dance, where, if the steps are followed correctly, each of the dancers end up where they ought to be; they “come ’round right.”
As stewards of Moosehead’s heritage, a lot of the time here at the historical society is spent thinking about the past. We hold our collective regional history. But the past, and all that transpires through time, rolls ever forward, forward, forward, until, at last, we find ourselves squarely bumped into the present. As happened on the lawn this first day of summer. All of us were gathered there for a reason. In that moment of time, it is There we were. In present time. That would soon become new history. All of us brought something of ourselves, of our own individual pasts, and of our sense of community, to the lawn that day. There was nothing complicated about it. Just a Simple Gift. For many reasons, we found ourselves “in the place just right.”
All that has transpired in each of our pasts, and together as neighbors and community, stops in the here and now, for just a moment, before rolling ever onward again. Another World War II-era poet, T.S. Eliot, put it this way, “What might have been and what has been, point to one end, which is always present.” Or, in this way, in our past is our beginning.
~ Suzanne AuClair
Greetings from the Junction
Did your parents ever look at you as a kid and say, “Where on earth did you come from?” Did the neighbors think you came from the ‘milkman’? Did you look the spitting image of your great-grandfather on your mother’s side rather than either of your parents? Is there a “black sheep” among the sibs, complete with different physical traits and mannerisms?
As we go about researching family ties, sometimes we see remarkable likenesses — skipped a generation, or two. Often you hear it called a “throwback,” as in, “Well, baby Tootie’s eyes look just like my great uncle Vernon’s!” This sometimes helps in identifying people in multiple generations of the same family in old photos that aren’t labeled.
Or, a throwback could have to do with a person or thing having the characteristics of another time or era, as in, “My, doesn’t he speak like an old Scot?” Or, “She dresses like she’s straight out of the ’60s.”
Another name for it is Atavism, derived in French from the Latin atavus meaning “ancestor.” If you look it up in the dictionary (or Google it), it says atavism refers to instances when an organism possesses traits closer to a more remote ancestor rather than its own parent. Maybe this is nature’s way of maintaining a robust gene pool, with uncountable variations that keep us all healthy, and, well, guessing and surprised.
I remember as a little girl listening to my relatives, who for many generations have lived in the same place, between Wytopitlock and Springfield. Until very recently, this area was pretty well insulated from change. People didn’t move out. People didn’t move in. In countenance, these members of my family hadn’t changed much from that of their ancestors who had settled from across the great sea. The lilt of the Scottish-English throwback was strong, and to me, beautiful. The rhythms of the spoken words dance up and they dance down. Even some of the words hadn’t changed, just used out of habit, but very particular to that region of Maine. I remember my grandfather telling me he had to pick up his ‘purse’ instead of his ‘wallet’ before we walked down to McCafferty’s Store. I always thought ladies carried purses. It looked like a man’s wallet, yet he called it a purse. But a long time ago in England, men carried pouches, or purses. If you look it up, it’s from the Middle English (1100-1500), via Middle Latin meaning bursa, a small bag or pouch for carrying money. Okay, Grampie! All I can think of is the little pouches of hide with a drawstring that some hunters still carry around.
This winter I was assembly pictures of family and came across one that startled me. It was a picture of my aunt on my father’s side. It was her high school graduation picture, so she was 18 yrs. old. In my graduation picture, I look exactly like her. At exactly the same age, we had exactly the same countenance. The set of our eyes, mouth, nose, and chin are like carbon copies. The look in our eyes is exactly alike. It’s unnerving. Our physical traits were not only the same, but it’s as if we are thinking exactly the same thing, in the moment that the camera clicked. Only we are of different times and places. Talk about throwback. Who do you take after?
— Suzanne AuClair
Greetings from the Junction
I never make New Year’s resolutions. They lose hold faster than a New York minute. But, as one year turns into the next, I can’t help but reflect on the outgoing one and catch the promise of the new one. After all, what is there to a brand new year, except the glow of promise? Usually, the promise has something to do with what will catch my imagination, and keep me burning on all four cylinders in the coming months.
Sometimes, what fuels my imagination is a certain photograph that passes across my desk. The photo might have nothing to do with anything I’m working on. I might be looking in our archives for something to put with an exhibit, then stumble across a picture that I can’t get out of my head. I have to use it! I have to enjoy it! I want it in front of me, front and center!
Who’s in the picture? Where are they? What kind of expression is on their face? What year is it? What are they doing? What makes me want to look at that particular picture? What endears me to it? What drives me to want to pull out files and do more research about it, then bring it to you, in the unveiling of a good story about our Moosehead heritage?
That happened last year with an unusual picture of Doc Pritham. We had nothing new on the books for Doc. Then, I ran across this rare, candid photo of a young Doc, sitting on horseback in the middle of the winter, goggles on his face, a driver’s cap on his head. What a world! In that instance, Doc Pritham reached through the hands of time and came calling on me. I couldn’t stop thinking about him. He was not to be ignored. He became my muse. In the end, he was the one ~ young and vibrant and full of Moosehead moxie ~ to invite our members, friends, and neighbors back into the Crafts house, in the soiree we held in Sept. Only he would do. Doc Pritham was our Master of Ceremony.
Another picture that caught my imagination was a candid one of Julia Crafts Sheridan, our benefactor. Again, we had nothing on schedule for her. But the photograph led to a two-page spread in the July 2017 newsletter about the Crafts, both of her father and business partner, Arthur, and of Julia’s long-lasting provenance in the Moosehead region. This photograph is, again, of a younger Julia, unposed, self-possessed, with a finger pressed up against the curve of an ever-so-slight smile, a mischievous twinkle in her eye. Not always how many remember her. But, still, very telling about her.
This month I’ve come across a picture that captures me. This one is of George Cripps. I didn’t know anything about him. The picture just grabs my attention. Turns out he is the maternal grandfather of Frances Bigney, a prominent historical family of the Moosehead region. He was born in 1840, died in 1916. He was a guide at the Kineo Hotel. See the photograph and story on page 5.
In this moment of time, George is my muse. The picture excites me. It draws me in. It inspires me. In some way, it sets me free. Maybe it’s the hand on his hip, his back turned away from the camera, the side look over his shoulder. Maybe it’s his being out on the water in a simple boat, his worn boot propped on the gunnel, a man in his element. Maybe it’s the knife in its sheath, hanging off his belt.
For whatever reasons ~ and the reasons aren’t important ~ he captures my imagination. That’s the important part. There’s a promise in the air.
~ Suzanne AuClair