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The Three Stages of Life

Growing up in a small rural town in Maine (Bucksport to be exact), it was a little simpler to see these three stages in action. It probably helped that you knew everyone in town and knew a little more about everyone than you should of. Of course, as in any theory, there are exceptions and one can get stuck in a stage along the way and in fact to be in both stages at once is typical. Collecting (where my dad thinks I am), fixing (where I am), and dispersing (where my wife would like me to be) are unmistakable phases of human life (i bet you have even pegged yourself in one of these categories while reading this)

My best example of collecting, perhaps, lies within my tackle box. As a child, I had the basic small box with one half tray. I put everything I could find in it. Each new lure was a treasure. I still remember and have several of the original lures from that first box…..heck, I still have the original tackle box that now holds my old coins. As time meanders through each childhood summer, the box ebbs and flows from gifts from relatives and miscasts into the alder bushes or wear and tear from pickerel teeth, one tackle box becomes two. My expansive inventory hit diminishing marginal returns after I dove into the world of fly fishing and fly tying. There is no end to amassing and collecting in this realm and now there is a space in the basement proudly called “the hunting and fishing room”. I am not for want in that corner of my house. Then, three miracles over seven years blessed my wife and I and the collecting ceased. After the Lego, baseball card, and Playstation bonanza that has just come to a slow crawl recently and the object of an entire blog in it’s own right, the fixing phase arrived.

Old books belonging to various relatives. I will get to Oliver Twist someday…

First, fixing included those dubious Nerf guns that would jam, replacing the net on the basketball hoop, or troubleshooting the Knex rollercoaster that my brother purchased for my kids to solely torture me. His daughter got eight jars of glitter and 30 different nail polishes for the following Christmas. This quietly led me to bigger and better things which included changing three different motors in our pellet stove (who knew), attaching plastic ties to our dishwasher rack that we bought new in 2005 when we redid the kitchen (Nothing says you have made it with a rusty rack and plastic ties holding it together cleaning your dishes), replacing the refrigerator freezer temperature sensor (after ordering and replacing two parts that were working), and now our dryer is at a hard stop right now as the belt broke including the tension pulley. Of course the heating element broke during the “incident” as well. Amazon made it so easy for me to order this seemingly obscure part and am expecting it tomorrow after ordering it last night. Of course, without the myriad of videos that YouTube has collected showing how to fix any household item, my fixing stage would have to be outsourced. Purchasing now is a reflection of “where will this go” or “is this a real necessity”.

Disbursing is something that my wife reached far earlier than I. Yes, she still had her period of Longaberger and smattering of Pampered Chef, but that was a minor blip in the evolution of our household. My grandparents from Blue Hill were experts in this process. Perhaps growing up in the Depression during their 20’s shaped how they saw “things”. They appreciated the quality of items far greater than we do today as they had far fewer accumulations. My grandfather gave me his hunting rifle when I was 12 as well as his silver compass. Each birthday cake that my grandmother baked had a hand painted blueberry vase or an antique bottle that was on her bookcase or on the window overlooking Mill Stream. I am not sure how to handle this last phase. The art of giving without burdening the giver. I do know this, however, I am tired of fixing the dryer.

My grandparents, Maurice and Hildred Phillips in Blue Hill, Maine 1943

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Buttons

Gifts from a Drawer

“My heart is small, like a love of buttons or black pepper.” 

― S. Jane Sloat, In the Voice of a Minor Saint

When I opened the drawer the dull hue of the brass buttons faded into the drawer as other more modern trinkets slithered around. To me, however, these buttons had an unmistakeable aura. There was one large buttons and one small one that rolled back and forth on the wooden floor of the rectangular drawer, much like the Tilt o’ Whirl ride at the Blue Hill Fair that pushed the extent of my risk taking abilities. I picked up one in my hands and from the light heft, the State of Maine crest, and the faded gold patina I knew these were special.

These were buttons that made the trip from Maine to Boston, from Boston to New York, and from New York onwards to fields in New Jersey, meadows in Maryland, and small towns like Gettysburg and Antietam. These buttons felt battle, death, sickness, fear, and the promise of journey. The four buttons were no longer languishing as an unknown identity, discarded in the weekly trash, or mistaken provenance. They were rediscovered and they were safe.

The remains of my grandmother’s belongings were divided between my mother and my uncle. The small things forgotten in the 1890 farmhouse were left to me and my brother. My grandmother’s mother was an Estabrook, in which a large jar of buttons she had in her dining room originated from the tiny and larger than life northern Maine towns of Danforth, Seldon, and Wytopitlock. These two buttons are likely to have made their way from several Estabrook and Williams men that served in the 20th Maine and the far away places that the Civil War took them. My distant cousins Glaizer or George Estabrook or their cousins Jewett and Albert Williams. It is unlikely that the buttons were intended to be relished and passed along to another heir, but to be at the ready when a winter coat needed mending or a pair of pants needed to have an anchor.

The two simple buttons have a definitive history and most of it will remain cloaked in darkness. The thought of these items surviving the most pivotal battle at Little Round Top during battle at Gettysburg and being alongside General Joshua Chamberlain is both luck and perhaps some divine intervention. When I hold these buttons, they feel alive and command an aura that is solemn, powerful, and decidedly graceful.

What have you found that is small and forgotten?

View from the summit of Little Round Top at 7:30 P.M. July 3rd, 1863
Forbes, Edwin, 1839-1895
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A background in Down East Maine, streams, rivers, migrating warblers, bottle dumps, silent films, and teacher.

First blog….I don’t really want to be a writer, but something deep tells me I must…This allows me to escape the trappings of Facebook and Twitter and have something that people come here to read by choice. I do not need to amass several dozen “likes”, I want to share and I want feedback. These attempts at writings will look at the art of observation that I cultivated through an introverted childhood where I was gleefully trapped in Down East Maine and how I look at things several decades later in a “suburbian” environment.

Wallpaper Archeology

A delicate layer from the 1920s or 1930s.

When we purchased our 1920 garrison in 2000, we (our budget) decided to update and focus the “organs” of our house. This included replacing the original coal furnace that had been converted to oil, then to natural gas. This cast iron mammoth was 5 feet tall, just as wide and horrifying to a new homeowner that was used to cutting and splitting wood to prepare for a typical Maine winter. We continued with replacing 36 windows, two storm doors, painted the entire house over four years, which included scaffolding on the back of the house where it is four stories high, a new garage roof, paving the driveway, rip out and reinstall a new kitchen and upstairs bathroom, and finally a new patio that connects the house and garage and am now writing on this evening. All the while, the Red Sox produce four World Series titles.

Softball, baseball, basketball, fishing, drivers ed, vacations to Cape Breton, switching careers, all came and have mostly went. Now being a teacher and my children either leaving the nest or still in the nest wanting to do their own thing, I experienced “extra time”. If there was ever a support group miss, dads could certainly use one for this sudden, unplanned phase. I call this “extra time” because it is much like at the end of a soccer game where the referee holds up a board that shows you how much “extra time” is left due to injuries and goal celebrations because the clock does not stop in soccer. Even more painful is that after you are done with “extra time” there still might not be a winner or loser. It became evident that the wallpaper needed to go as I stared, analyzed, and schemed at it during Thanksgiving break. I was going for the win.

Our original Rittenhouse 1937 brass doorbell even received a well earned makeover and made it back on the wall despite the fact that they were going for up to $700 on eBay.

The fact that there were seven layers of wallpaper, roughly one layer for every 12 years, precipitated the delay in this project for a number of reasons that any mom or dad can fill the blanks in with. Mostly, the thought of putting 80 hours of work into a tedious project with the prospect of three children under ten and then protect your work from markers, applesauce, or boogers was unappetizing. After several hours over several weeks planning and watching too many videos of wallpaper removal techniques, it began several days before Christmas. The timing was perfect, for “extra time” anyway.

Grenade? Toilet seat?

As I delved into different methods of wallpaper removal, using mostly Dawn dish detergent and a constant supply of hot water, the layers came off. I swear the first layer was a 1990 blend of canvas and linoleum that provided the walls sort of a “tarp” to keep all the other layers and imperfections from being seen. I worked the walls in four foot increments to keep my wandering mind on task. The foyer was the first room and may have been a mistake due to the sheer wall space in such a small area. It took a week to remove the layers in the foyer, the stairwell and the upstairs hall. I even took a couple of hours to take apart, clean, and identify our doorbell from 1939 since the horsehair plaster walls that were left behind my pillaging were in beautiful shape. In fact, they had never been painted and gave the first floor an air of what it would have looked like almost 100 years ago during construction.

Throughout this process, it must be noted that music and movies of the 1920s and 30s were my entertainment thanks to Turner Classic Movies and Pandora and owe much to my wife’s subdued tolerance. I wanted to make sure that during this change in structure and removal of a hidden history, that the “house gods” would approve and that would appease them somehow. I hope they liked the Marx Brothers film Duck Soup more than F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu.

One of two finials on the second story under hang.

As the living room started during February school break, the walls in the foyer were naked and clean and patched in several small places. I was disappointed not to find a hidden door, old newspapers on the wall, or a stray coin or two from the intrusive nature of the project. The living room would soon provide the reward. As I continued the process of stripping, the layers gave up various drawings in which the initial drawing made me nervous and had to google “when were grenades invented” which I made sure to do on my phone and not my school laptop. The image puzzled me for two days and then as you will plainly see in the images below what the drawing was about. More drawings emerged, each an intimate peek into what the builder was thinking during the infancy of the house. This was “house DNA” being formed, via 1920 style which also included stylized drawings of what the built in bookcases would look like.

As I approached the last wall, handwriting began to appear and great care was taken to remove the last layers to preserve whatever lay underneath. The writing turned out to be signatures, presumably of the workers that built this house so carefully and expertly. It was hard to make out some of the names, however, I can still read cursive unlike my youngest. My images of these craftsmen were altered by some of the nicknames that they autographed on the wall. This was a pretty rough crowd by most standards and one of the names will remain “off the record”.

Bergeron the Painter from New Auburn, Maine 1920 autographing the almost finished project. Cohen “the old drunk” as well as “Big Nose” Jim also graced the walls.

There was talk on how to preserve these drawings, with no real practical or artistic way. I took many photographs of these drawings that lay hidden for almost a century. The most fitting would be to keep them on the wall, where the house was imagined and a carpenter had the freedom and the necessity to create these built in shelves and not merely pick them out at a hardware supplier and screw them into the wall when they arrived the next day via a flatbed truck. I put my best sweep of my roller on the wall and painted the drawings and “Big Nose” Jim over with the color “Debonair” from Sherwin Williams. Both fitting the irony of their self titled nicknames as well as a nod to the craftsmen that put their names on the wall.

Prototypes of the built in bookcases and respective moulding.
Likely a conceptual street view of the finished house.

The dining room and the upstairs bedrooms are on the docket for “extra time” this December. I am looking forward to this task and hope to uncover more “small things forgotten”, although maybe some of the nicknames may remain as such. I better make sure that my music selection is on point.

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