Notes from Maine – 4

With everyone spending so much time apart from friends and family, I want to tell you about an annual tradition that takes place at my house. The party is a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, and it hasn’t missed a year in over twenty years. Since 2002, it has been held here, and I consider it an honor to open my house as the venue for the event. I won’t say that I host it—that title belongs to my friend who started the whole thing. It’s his party. He’s the one who sends out the invitations and he and his wife and kids show up early on the day to chop vegetables and monopolize the kitchen. Another of our friends gets the turkey duty. I usually cook something very simple, like the potatoes. 

We’ll have our party this fall, I have no doubt. 

After everyone has eaten—which is a sit-down meal for twenty-five to fifty people—there’s always an activity, and it changes every year.

Some years we have a bonfire after the sun sets.

That’s the part I like the best. It’s a chance to tell one of my favorite stories. It’s the story of the first family who lived in this house and I’ve only ever told it aloud, around a fire, and then finished it as we walked into the woods. I’m not sure how it will look in writing.

A husband and wife (Harris and Eleanor) bought the land and built this house with the help of local workers and Eleanor’s brother, James. When it was finished, the couple decided to fill the house with children, while James went north to manage a logging camp. In the following years, the house was filled with four fresh faces—Elizabeth, Audrey, Carol, and Margaret. 

Each spring, when the rivers were too rough for commerce, James would return to stay with his sister, brother-in-law, and his nieces. As soon as the crops were sown, James would be off north again to work in the deep woods.

The girls loved their uncle and were heartbroken when he announced that he would be heading south to take an office position and start a family of his own. They feared that they would never see him again, and they were right.

Harris and Eleanor were disappointed as well. Without the extra help, they knew it would be nearly impossible to get all the spring planting done on time. Maine has a short growing season and it doesn’t favor a late start. 

The daughters objected, saying that the four of them could easily cover their uncle’s work. They just about did, but it almost sent Carol to an early grave. After that first spring of her uncle’s absence, Carol was sick all summer. When fall came around, Harris and Eleanor took no chances. They hired a young man who had been stranded in Boothbay and was looking for any work that didn’t involve the open sea. 

Jerrold had no stomach for the open sea. It turned out that he had very little aptitude for hard farm work as well, but for a few years it was enough. The girls grew up, and the family survived.

At this point, Elizabeth was considering her future, perhaps down in Portland or Boston. Her parents came to the conclusion that it was time to let Jerrold go so they could find better help for their farm. Without Elizabeth’s hands, they would need someone much more determined and capable than Jerrold could ever be.

Before Harris could deliver the news, Jerrold came to him with a much different plan. He wanted the father’s blessing to ask for Elizabeth’s hand.

At this point in the story, the group around the fire stands and we all go for a walk in the woods, so I can finish the story where it took place. Two-hundred years ago, most of this land was cleared for pasture and crops. I have about forty acres that are almost all overgrown. It’s fun to imagine the family that must have lived here. I’ll complete this story in my next email.

Take care—hope you’re doing well!

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