I suppose, when compared to most people of the present generation, I had an unusual childhood. Of course I didn't realize it at the time. It seemed perfectly normal to me. There was a strong sense of family. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and neighbors all contributed to the care my sisters and I received. We had a loving, secure environment that would be the envy of most children today. A major source of the love and security that we felt was Grandpa Pearse.
I have been telling "Grandpa Pearse" stories for most of my life. A couple of years ago I decided that I'd better write them down before they were lost forever. As I began to make notes of the stories, other memories would come flooding back. For several weeks, I kept 3 by 5 cards in my pocket and when some event triggered a memory I would write it down. The result was a completely disjointed collection of short reports. I decided to leave them like that I couldn't remember when many of the events happened so I couldn't put them in chronological order. So, what you will read is about the way it came out of my memory.
After the first draft was complete, I let my Mother read it to see if there were other things that she might suggest. She pointed out a few factual errors and reminded me of a few other incidents. It was amazing to me that a memory I had had for 40 years could be wrong! Most of the errors were based on childhood assumptions. That's my only explanation. If there are errors remaining, I apologize, but that's the way I remember it.
I hope that this will recall many happy memories
for you, if you knew Grandpa Pearse. If you are too young to remember him,
this may serve as an introduction to one of your ancestors. Aubrey Pearse
was an interesting character, a wonderful grandfather, and a great and good
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He had parts of several fingers missing. One he had lost as a young man when he lifted a barrel of sand from a wagon. As he was setting it on the ground, he momentarily lost his balance and sat the barrel of sand on his finger. It was so crushed it was necessary to remove the finger. Others he lost to "blood poisoning." I remember a few of his friends calling him "Nub" because of it. When I was young, through the late '40s and early '50s, he operated a slaughterhouse on the farm. Occasionally, as he "skun" (skinned) an animal, he would cut himself. Some cuts developed into severe infections resulting in the loss of a finger. Once I can remember, when he did not lose a finger, happened when I was maybe 6 or 7 years old. He had cut his finger badly and had come into the kitchen so Grandma could clean it. She got out the alcohol bottle and poured some directly into the cut. Grandpa sat unmoving and talked to me while she did it. Then she got a needle and thread, heated the needle with a match to sterilize it, and sewed up the cut. Again, he just sat there without moving. He flexed his hand a few times while she sewed a heavy cloth "cot" (like a finger from a glove) for him to wear over the finger to protect it. He then got up and went back to work.
I never was allowed to be in the slaughterhouse when the animals were killed. For cattle, he had an old single shot .22 rifle. Sheep and goats were hit in the head with the blunt end of an axe he kept in the comer of the slaughterhouse for the purpose. Pigs simply were hung by their hind legs and their throats were cut. He adamantly refused to butcher horses. He worked with teams of horses for most of his life. I think his refusal to butcher them was out of respect for horses he had worked with and their loyalty to him. When he was ready to shoot an animal, he would make me go outside, and he would shut the door. I don't remember ever knowing why, but several possibilities occur to me. He may have been afraid that a bullet might ricochet and hit me or that an animal might be only wounded and break loose. I doubt that it would occur to him that I might have sensitivity to the killing of animals. The death of animals. on the farm was a frequent occurrence, either from natural causes, injury, or killing them for food.
When I was a baby, and until I was about 8 years old, I used to go with my father and grandfather as they traveled around buying pigs, sheep, and cattle for the slaughterhouse. These were the years of the Korean War when most of the Western beef was being used for the military. The local stores bought meat wherever they could find it. (There were government inspectors at every step of the process.) Grandpa had a small pea-green Ford pickup truck with high sideboards and tailgate for hauling animals. When I was very young they would take a bottle of milk wrapped in a clean diaper, and we would go off in the truck for hours. While they were in the barn dickering, they would put me on the truck seat for a nap. Until I was 10 years old, I had probably been in more barns than houses. There were few barns in Knox or Waldo counties that we didn't visit. It seems, in my memory, that pigs caused more problems than cows. At my age, problems meant fun to watch. Once we got back to the slaughterhouse with a large pig aboard, so we thought. When we opened the tailgate it was gone. We backtracked for miles and finally found it happily grazing in a field in North Hope. Apparently it had jumped unnoticed out of the truck body, over the sideboards, and landed unhurt. We had more trouble loading it the second time. Pigs are very smart and surprisingly agile for their size.
Another time we went to a farm in Lincolnville Beach to get a pig. Most pigs were kept in the barn cellar, some never again seeing a person until they were taken out to be butchered. This barn was on a side hill so you could walk into the barn cellar from the downhill side. Grandpa bought the pig and was going in to get it. It is difficult to catch pigs under any circumstances if they don't want to be caught. It is especially difficult to catch a half-wild, scared pig in a semi-dark, low barn cellar. He got the .22 rifle out of the truck and started in. The owner of the farm came rushing up, "No, no," he said, "No guns." His wife was deathly afraid of guns, and she wouldn't like it if she heard a gunshot. So grandpa got a rope, made a lasso, and went in. I had to see this! The ceiling was only about four feet high so he had to run around bent way over. The pig would dodge and squeal, Grandpa would run and swear. It was very funny. Pigs don't have a neck to get a lasso onto, so he was trying to get the rope either on a foot or around the pig's middle. After what seemed like a long time he was successful in getting a foot. He then tied the pig in a neat bundle and dragged it out to the truck. The pig probably weighed 250 to 300 pounds, but he picked it up and not too gently threw it into the truck. He usually killed pigs by cutting their throat but this one he shot as soon as we got back to the slaughterhouse. "There," he said with finality.
Once a man came to the slaughterhouse. Grandpa recognized him, but I had never seen him before. The man pulled out a pistol and showed it to Grandpa. "Ever see one of these?" he said. It was a World War I Army pistol like the one Grandpa had carried in France when he was in the Medical Corps. Grandpa admired it for a minute and then started to pass it back. "Go ahead and fire it, its loaded," the man said. Grandpa looked around for a target and spied the well curb about 30 yards away. There was a tin can sitting on the top. He took careful aim and blew the can to bits. He smiled and passed the pistol back. "I want to see you do that again!" the man exclaimed. But he couldn't persuade Grandpa. He said he didn't want to spoil his record.
When my father first started working with Grandpa in the slaughterhouse, a lady came with some sheep to be butchered. She was going to wait and take the meat home with her. Grandpa told Dad to take the axe and knock them in the head, using the blunt end. Dad rapped the first one hard enough, he thought, to kill it, but it only blinked at him. The next time he swung a lot harder and succeeded in knocking the sheep back a couple of feet and making it bleat. Dad was getting pretty embarrassed by now, with the woman watching. Grandpa saw what was happening, came over, took the axe and hit the sheep behind the horns. That's all it took. Dad was never sure whether Grandpa did it as a trick or just assumed he knew how to kill a sheep.
I went with him once to Lincolnville to deliver a beef critter he had butchered. When we went to the house to get paid, Grandpa got out his little stub of a pencil he had sharpened with his jackknife. He always would wet the lead on his tongue before he started any hard figuring. All three of us watched carefully while he did the arithmetic. When they had settled on a price and Grandpa had been paid, I mentioned that he had made a mistake and overcharged the man a nickel. Both insisted that I get the nickel.
One store Grandpa sold meat to in those days was the Red and White in Camden, owned by Ken Weymouth. I would usually go into the store while they were unloading and wander around with my hands behind my back (I had been told not to touch anything). Once Ken told Grandpa that he couldn't stand seeing me eyeing the plums but not touching them, so he had given me one. I can remember how good that big purple plum tasted. The ones we get nowadays aren't nearly as good.
During most of their married life, my grandparents had extra people living with them. In the early years, they boarded the schoolteacher for several terms. There was a man named Coombs who boarded with them for a long time. I do not remember him so he must have died or moved away before I was very old. Most of the time I can remember, Uncle Herbert, Grandpa's brother, lived with them. In fact, when I was about eight years old he moved back from California after his wife died and lived with them for the rest of his life. I really had a lot of respect and admiration for Uncle Herbert He was a quiet, studious man who was a hard worker. He and I once went to Boston, to a Red Sox game, on the train. When we got to North Station we took a subway out to Fenway Park. It was one of my rust big adventures.
When I was at my grandparents visiting, which was often, and it was time for the evening milking, I would always go to the barn with Grandpa Pearse. We would talk about anything that came up, but usually he taught me about hard work, respect for other people and their property, and how to do certain things on the farm. My favorite times were when he would tell stories, either from his childhood or from his experiences in the .First World War. Like many veterans, he would only on rare occasion talk about his war experiences. Sometimes he would talk about cows. He liked cows but did not have the respect for them he had for horses. He thought cows were stupid and malicious. They would try to knock over his milk pail or step in it, after it was full. The thing he hated most was when a cow would swish him in the face with her tail and knock his glasses off. He had some pretty colorful names for them, then. He once told me he had cut off the end of a cow's tail with a knife for doing that. I noticed once he had a knuckle missing on his right hand. When I asked him about it, he said he had hit a cow in the head with his fist when she tried to hook him with a horn. He knocked her down, but he broke off a piece of bone from his knuckle in the process. For years the piece of bone floated around under the skin until it was gradually absorbed. I never saw him do anything worse than slap one with his hand to get her to move aside.
He had several shiny, stainless steel milk pails. They would hold about five gallons of milk. After several years of use, they would get holes in the bottom. Grandma Pearse would get out the soldering iron and the solder and she and I would mend the hole. A milk pail would accumulate half a dozen patches before it would be discarded.
My favorite stories were about his teenage years. He had four brothers, all but one older than he (family tree). When work permitted a few minutes of leisure, they would test each other with feats of strength. Once they put a ladder straight up from the barn floor to the peak, a distance of at least thirty feet. They would climb it hand-over-hand without using their legs, as quickly as they could. When that became too easy, they would grip a 100 pound bag of grain between their knees and climb to the top of the ladder. Another stunt they tried was to pick up a bag of grain with their teeth and see who could carry it the farthest. I don't recall him saying that anyone attempted climbing the ladder holding the bag of grain with his teeth but it wouldn't surprise me if it was tried. On other- occasions, they would lie on the ground under an empty dump wagon and try to pick it up using only their legs. After each succeeded, they would add gravel to the wagon and try again, until only one of them could lift it. He never mentioned if there was a consistent winner but having known most of them in later years, I would guess that Grandpa may have been the strongest of the group.
One summer we had an infestation of ugly tomato - worms in the garden. They are about three inches long and the size of a finger. They eat the leaves of the tomato plants, and, as a result, take on the green color of the leaves. Grandpa offered to pay my sister Norma and me to pick off the tomato worms and put them in a big tin can. Every evening we would go to the garden and fill a can. We would bring them to Grandma and she would pour boiling water from the teakettle over them to kill them. I don't recall how much we were paid but it wasn't enough for me. I hated the things. Occasionally, we would find a black one. They were larger than the green ones and had yellow horns. I assume they were the same animal but of a different type. Maybe they were the kings. I did like to find those.
Grandpa had a three-deck chicken house on the back of the barn. For a while he raised hens for the eggs and later raised broilers. Grain would be delivered in 100 pound bags. Most were burlap but for a while I remember that the grain bags were regular cloth that Grandma would wash and then use to make dresses, aprons, curtains, and whatever else was needed. The cloth was in various patterns and colors so we were forever trying to find another bag to match one we had opened to get another piece of cloth for some larger project. The delivery truck driver would pile the bags of grain on the barn floor, maybe two or three hundred bags at a time. After supper Grandpa and I would go down to the barn, and he would carry the grain to the various floors in the chicken house. He would pile the bags into two tall rows about two feet apart. He would then stand between the rows, roll a bag onto each shoulder, and pick up another under each arm. He would carry 400 pounds of grain up the stairs to where he wanted it and then come back for four more bags. I've seen him do that for many trips, not to show off, but to get it done so he could get on to something else.
While the grain bags were made of burlap, there was a man who would come around to the farm about once a month to buy the empty bags to be reused. He was called the "bag man." I used to go down and talk to him when he came. He would bribe me with a nickel not to tell anyone about the eggs he would steal. He would find one or two eggs, peck a hole in each end with his jackknife, and suck out the raw innards. I have since heard the expression "suck an egg" but he was the only person I've ever seen who actually did it. He seemed to enjoy it, too.
Every farm had cats. They kept the mouse and rat population under control. These were barn cats, not house cats. Barn cats are never allowed in the house, they are not given names or petted, and only warm, fresh milk is given them for food. Otherwise, they forage for themselves. After the evening milking, Grandpa would dump a little milk into a dish kept in the barn for that purpose. One of his stunts that I would tease him to do was to squirt milk into the cat's mouth directly from the cow. He could hit a cat at ten or twelve feet without even breaking his milking rhythm. Of course the cats were cooperative.
Once a large black and white tomcat appeared
on the farm. We never knew where he came from or where he went when he left,
several months later. He would regularly get into tremendous fights with
other cats. Because he was so big, eighteen pounds when we weighed him once,
he won all the fights. We would always go running to watch the fights. It
was mostly bluster and spitting, but there was enough clawing and biting
for a cat occasionally to be killed.
My uncle Earl wanted to shoot him for killing so many other cats, but Grandpa wouldn't let him. The tomcat loved to kill rats. He would kill several every night and have them lined up in the morning on top of a low granite wall by the barn. He would strut around, purring as loudly as he could. That was the only time we could get close enough to pet him.
Speaking of rats, one summer when I was about eight all the farms in Hope were overrun with rats. Nobody ever knew, I guess, where they came from. A farmer would put out poison and kill hundreds, maybe thousands. All the survivors would then move on to the next farm. Grandpa Pearse had several chicken houses, some across the road from the house, others down by the barn. Baby chicks can be panicked by just one rat to the point where they will pile up and smother, so you can see what hundreds of rats would do. This is besides the damage to the buildings and grain supply. We put out poison, got cats, and did everything else we could think of to get rid of them. Wallace Robbins brought up his dog, Jingo, because he was a good rat killer. I remember seeing dead rats in piles of hundreds that had been shoveled out of the chicken house. Grandpa put a board from a windowsill to the floor of one of the chicken houses. He scattered grain along the board. We would go down every hour or so with the .22 rifle. He would stand to the side of the window and blindly aim the rifle down the board and pull the trigger. I have counted as many as eight rats dead with one shot. Once there was a bit of a mystery. We found a dead rat among the others killed by the rifle that didn't have a wound of any kind. We assumed it was scared to death by the noise and carnage around it.
The only team of horses that he had that I can remember were Chub and Dick, one a gray and the other a roan -- I can't remember which was which. To me they were huge. Grandpa would work in the woods with them in the winter and on the farm, plowing and haying, for the rest of the year. I used to ride on their backs, sitting on top of the harness, when they would pull the rope to the hayfork, lifting large forksful of hay into the haymow. I always loved the smell of the horses, the stalls, and their harnesses. Grandpa said that he had made harnesses at one time, but I don't know if he made the ones I remember. When the horses got too old to work, he would take them down to the back side of their pasture, shoot them and bury them. These were the harsh realities of farm life.
I remember when he got his first tractor. It was a small green John Deere that he bought from Frank Burgess in Union. He bought me a toy tractor just like it at the same place. I went out to watch him harrow the garden spot with it. He was using a spring tooth harrow that had a triangular shaped metal frame in front. It normally would have connected to an evener so a horse could pull it. He just connected the frame to the trailer hitch on the tractor. I watched as he went around the garden in a circle, which got smaller and smaller. Finally the harrow frame was turned so sharply to the side that it caught on the knobby tire and started to lift off the ground. Grandpa saw it coming up, grabbed the steering wheel and pulled back hard, yelling, "Whoa, whoa." He remembered to use the brake only at the last second before the harrow came completely up over and hit him.
Grandpa had a large, wooden, red wheelbarrow that he had built for himself. I had many rides in that wheelbarrow. Out behind the slaughterhouse there was a cooper's shop. There was a forge and all the tools necessary to use it. The cooper's shop was attached to a workshop that contained the hand tools for woodworking. The part of the wheelbarrow that I marveled at was the wheel. It was beyond my comprehension how someone could make a wheel that was actually round. He also had made the iron "tire" that was on the wheel. By the time I was ten years old, the cooper's shop was pretty well run down and never used. The workshop was used only rarely and then -only to repair something that had broken.
Grandpa smoked Camel cigarettes for many years; in fact, they probably caused the cancer of the pancreas that led to his death. He started smoking after a serious accident put him in the hospital. The long recuperation left him with little to do, so when people visited and offered him a smoke, he began to accept. He was the only person in my immediate family who smoked, and even he didn't smoke more than a pack a day. He always carried wooden kitchen matches in his pocket to light his cigarettes. From earliest childhood I hated smoking and swearing. I was anxious to learn to read and write so I could put up "NO SMOKING" and "NO SWEARING" signs. Whenever I was around and he started to light a cigarette, I would try to blowout the match. He would usually let me blowout a few, and then he would tell me, "This is my last one." Most of the time I would not bother the next one, but occasionally tried to. He would then grab me behind the knee, giving me a "horse bite." That always worked. Every Saturday, in the evening, he would smoke a White Owl cigar. He kept the box of cigars on a shelf in the cellar way (behind the door that went to the cellar from the kitchen). He would always sit in the same old white painted captain's chair while he unwrapped the cigar and smoked it. He would give me the cigar band to wear as a ring on my finger. He had a clear glass ashtray with a rubber tire around it that he always used. I used to play with it by rolling it around on the floor like a wheel. I don't remember his ever smoking a cigar after he sold the farm and moved to Camden. My father had given him a box of cigars just before he got sick with polio. Grandpa never smoked any of them. He said, "They just don't taste good any more." He loved my father and was affected deeply by Dad's polio and the paralysis that followed.
As I mentioned, I was anxious to learn to read. When I was three or four years old, I started to ask Grandpa to read road signs to me. After I learned those, I would ask about other signs. I vividly remember learning to read "SALADA TEA" in the store window at Lincolnville Center. They were large white capital letters arranged like a rainbow across the window. Twenty years or so later I was at that store, after moving home from the West. The letters were gone.
The serious accident mentioned above happened when my mother was young, about two. She and Grandpa were on their way through Hope corner and they stopped at the store to get her an ice cream cone. There was a group of men across the street at Ollie Allen's running an ensilage cutter, used to chop green corn stalks into silage for the cows to eat. The man running the machine was drunk and was showing off by running the machine at top speed. The flywheel on the engine exploded from the great speed, throwing chunks of metal in many directions. Grandpa happened to be in the direct path of several chunks. He was hit and badly hurt. His collar bone and shoulder were broken and one of his legs was shattered. A piece of metal hit him in the face, breaking his cheek bone. Other bits and pieces hit him along his right side, causing other minor wounds. He was in the hospital for a long time, recovering from the wounds and the surgery necessary to remove bits of metal and bone. As far as I know he recovered with no ill effects except several ugly scars, and one leg a little shorter than the other.
When he was a small child, he was badly burned on the side of his face by steam and boiling water from the teakettle. He wanted to go for a ride with his father and was jumping up and down in disappointment when told that he couldn't He accidently bumped the teakettle on the stove. He got to go for a ride with his father after all - to the hospital. For the rest of his life, he had a large reddish blotch on his temple.
Grandpa Pearse was the strongest, most fearless man I have ever known. Nothing frightened him except snakes. He hated snakes. Once he and my father were trying to move a big rock that was half buried in the field. They dug under from both sides, and my father grabbed one end of a chain and pushed it through, under the rock. Grandpa reached under, took the chain, and pulled. When his hand came out, he was holding a milk adder that had nested under the rock. Dad said he dropped the snake, turned pale, and broke out in a sweat. He had to go to the house for awhile to recover. There must have been some childhood trauma to cause such a reaction. I feel about the same way with rats. Another time a small grass snake surprised him. "Why, its nothing but a little green snake," someone said. "I don't care whether it is green or ripe, I don't like it," was Grandpa's reply.
When I was about three or four years old, Grandpa Pearse gave me a bag of nails, a hammer, and a large block of wood for Christmas. I loved to drive nails and this was to keep me from taking liberties with the walls and floors of the buildings. As soon as I would run out of nails, they would get me some more or Uncle Herbert, Grandpa's brother, would pull them out for me to use again. By the time I outgrew the compulsion and could be trusted to drive nails only in approved places, the block of wood was pretty much a solid mass of metal. It took two men to load it into the truck to haul it to the dump.
I was somewhat mechanically inclined. Whenever
an appliance wore out, it was given to me to take apart. I remember a wind-up
clock, an old electric toaster, and various other things. My intention was
to fix them but the usual result was total destruction. Years later, my
father gave similar things to my son Jonathan for the same purpose. The
inclination must be hereditary. Once Grandpa and I were in one of the chicken
houses and he noticed something wrong with a watering device. A small bolt
had to be put into an extremely awkward position.
To reach it, Grandpa had to lie on the floor and reach up into a place where he couldn't see. He couldn't get the nut to screw onto the bolt. I watched him for a while and then told him he was screwing the nut the wrong way. He was impressed with my intuitive sense of the way such things work.
The winter of the first year my parents were married, Dad worked with Grandpa in the woods, cutting oak. They sold it to Ralph Cline, a friend of Grandpa Pearse. He used it to make lobster traps at his mill at Spruce Head. Ralph's sawmill had hardwood floors, fluorescent lights, and many "modern" conveniences. His house, across the road, didn't even have running water or any conveniences for his wife, who was a polio invalid. Ralph posed for the famous portrait called "The Patriot" by Andrew Wyeth. Ralph had been a Sergeant in the First World War and had the voice to match. He and Grandpa would sit three or four feet from each other and swap yarns. They would almost immediately start talking louder and louder until their voices just boomed. It would drive you right out of the house.
Grandpa Pearse worked in the woods alone for a number of years cutting oak. In those days they used a double-bitted axe and a crosscut saw. The first few days Dad helped him in the woods, he said he almost died. It seems that Grandpa had an unwritten rule that once you started to cut down a tree, you didn't stop until it went over. Some of these oak were three feet or more on the butt and could take a while to cut, even with two men on a crosscut saw. As Dad told it, he would help for the first few minutes, then lie down on the saw and ride for the rest of the way. My mother tells me that he would lie down on the floor when he got home at night to rest his back and fall asleep. Sometimes he stayed there all night.
When I was about nine, I went to Grandpa's farm
right after Christmas to stay until school started. Shortly a blizzard began
that continued for three days. It left about ten feet of snow. It was hard
to tell how much, really, because the wind blew it into drifts. When the
weather cleared, there was a heavy crust on the snow, strong enough for
me to walk on. There was a mailbox down by the road, sitting on a post maybe
three feet high. It was covered completely. I took a hoe handle and probed
down through the crust trying to find it. Grandma gave me a small coal shovel,
and I went down by one of the chicken houses where the wind had swirled
a huge drift. I dug myself a wonderful cave in the snow and played there
for several days. I began to get worried, after a while, that we wouldn't
get plowed out in time to go back to Camden for school. The farm was about
a mile from the nearest tarred road. After several days we could hear the
equipment working in the distance, clearing the road. About a quarter of
a mile away there was a steep Hill. The road crew was there the better part
of a day, just plowing that one hill. They finally did manage to get a road
through, and I got back home safely and in time for school. Grandpa told
me that when he was younger, before the mechanical equipment was available,
the farmers used to shovel the road, working in crews at various spots where
the horses couldn't pull a wagon or sleigh through. This hill usually had
to be shoveled.
He told of one storm where the snow was so deep that one crew shoveled the snow up onto a higher level and another crew then shoveled it higher and out of the way. I cannot imagine the effort and time it cost.
When I was two we all went out to Vinalhaven on the ferry to see Clifford and Winnie Quinn (Winnie was a sister of Grandma Pearse). I don't recall the trip, but have been told that I was seasick. When it came time to leave, the fog was so thick that Grandpa and Dad didn't want the rest of us to be endangered by the ferry trip back to Rockland. They went home to tend the farm animals and left Grandma, my mother, and me there on Vinalhaven. The next day was beartiful and sunny so we walked around a lot on the Quinn's property. There was a deep brook that had a little footbridge over it. I fell into the brook and nearly drowned before they pulled me out. My only real memory of the experience is looking up through the water, wondering why it was suddenly so quiet and why I felt so strange. Everything looked all golden through the water, maybe from silt or from the sun shining on it.
One fall my grandparents went to Deer Isle to see James and Edith Quinn. James was the son of Clifford and Winnie and worked as a lobsterman. On their way back a severe windstorm came up. It may have been one of the hurricanes that we occasionally get - I seem to remember that it was. By the time they got to the Bucksport bridge, the wind was blowing really hard. They managed to get across, but the bridge was swaying a lot. The police were letting only one car cross at a time. They had some exciting stories to tell when they got home. We were listening to the radio all the afternoon, worrying that they would not make it.
I never could get Grandpa to talk very much about his experiences in the First World War. As noted before, he was in the Medical Corps, in France. As far as I know he never was involved in combat. Every once in a while someone would visit who spoke French. Grandpa had learned some French, mostly slang, so he could understand some of what was said, but he wouldn't try to speak the language. He did sing me a little French song a few times, but I don't recall any of it. He told me that he had been saving postcards of the places he had seen while in France. He had them in a metal tobacco tin. The day before he left to come home someone stole the tin and all the cards.
One of my favorite meals in my childhood was Saturday supper. Grandma Pearse would make baked beans and yeast rolls. There was usually applesauce and squash pie. Possibly even better, at least its equal, was Sunday breakfast -- leftover baked beans, warmed up, hot biscuits, fried potatoes, and applesauce. Meals on the farm were hearty. Grandpa usually got up at 4 AM and worked for a couple of hours in the barn. He would then come in for breakfast, which was usually some combination of baked beans, fried potatoes, johnny cake, milk, and pie. I learned to make johnny cake (com bread) at an early age and became pretty good at it. Dinner, at noon, was of the meat and potatoes variety as was supper at 5 PM. There was very little eating between meals. Occasionally, we would have popcorn or apples in the evening. The popcorn was made over the wood stove with a wire mesh popper. In the summer, while we were out haying, Grandma would make swizzle. This was cool water with some ginger and molasses in it, never any ice. It was intended to restore fluids, not to cool.
Thanksgiving always called for a big family get-together and feast, either at our house or at Grandma's. By the time I was thirteen or so I began to notice how much Grandpa could eat. He was about five foot eight but he had a huge chest and arms. There was no visible sign of fat but he weighed about 220 pounds. He could pack away the food. I started to try to match his ~quantity. I remember once eating until I thought I would burst, but I couldn't keep up. Every Thanksgiving, Grandma would buy him a treat, his very own jar of horseradish. He would sit there with big tears rolling down his cheeks and eat it with a teaspoon right out of the jar. He really loved the stuff, he said, but I always wondered about the tears until I tasted it. After dinner we would get out the bathroom scales and all get weighed. Then we would have tests of of strength. The challenge was to squeeze your weight on the scales. You would grip the sides of the scales and squeeze as hard as you could. If you could get it up to your weight, you passed the test. Grandpa could easily squeeze beyond 300 pounds, the limit of the scales.
One of the things that Grandpa Pearse and I liked to do was listen to the Lone Ranger on the radio. They had a small white table radio on a shelf in the kitchen. We would pull up chairs and listen to every word. I think it came on in the early evening at least once a week, maybe daily. The announcer always said the show was "brought to you by Cheerios." For years I thought he was saying "brocktoyou." I had no idea what this marvelous word meant. I was a teenager, I think, before it dawned on me what he had been saying. Once, my mother gave me a record of Lone Ranger episodes that I could play on the old wind-up Victrola. The first time I played it, I turned it up loud when I saw Grandpa coming. He thought he was late for the radio broadcast and came running. It was a great joke to fool him that way.
People who lived on a farm in those days had a peculiar sense of time. Grandpa carried a pocket watch. If you asked him what time it was, he would give it to you to the nearest half hour. That was close enough for anything he had to do. Often he asked me to go help him do something, like saw firewood. This was during my early teen years. He would say, "I'll be there to pick you up at 7 o'clock." I could count on him being there between 6 and 6:30, wondering why I wasn't ready to go. Once when I was about 15, I decided to pull a switch on him. I was to be at his house at 7 AM to go with him. There I was waiting for him on the steps when he came out about 6:30. He was pleased with the joke.
When I was about three Grandpa Pearse put a bathroom into their house. Before that we used the outhouse that was between the shed and the garage. I went out into the back yard to watch him digging the hole for the septic tank. He was using a spade down in the hole, deep enough so he couldn't see out. I got down on my hands and knees to crawl over to look down into the hole. About then he threw a pumpkin-sized rock up out of the hole and it landed on my finger. Of course I went crying into the house and held my finger out to Grandma. "Can you see it beating?" I asked, trying to describe the throbbing ache I felt. I eventually lost the fingernail. Grandpa felt terrible about it, but of course it wasn't his fault. The fingernail eventually grew back, but to this day it is weaker than the others and slightly deformed.
Over the road from Grandpa's house there was a small orange building. It had been, at one time, a Ground Observer Corps building manned by volunteer plane spotters during World War Two. After the war, when I was about four, Grandpa gave me the building to sell. I sold it to Ephraim Baird for $200. He was an older, deaf, man who lived alone. He moved the building about a mile away, across from Carroll Dennison's, and lived in it for many years. If I remember right, it was only about 12 feet square. I don't think he had much company. The $200 was the beginning of my college fund.
Once when there was no one else but Grandpa and me at home, a man from away came to see him. They were then going somewhere so we all left the house and got into a car. The man said, "Aren't you going to lock the door?" Grandpa's response was delivered with indignation, "Why would I want to do that? Someone might come by who needs something." This was an example of the trust and honesty displayed by almost everyone in that area. It was also an example of the neighborliness practiced by all the people that I knew while growing up.
One of the few occasions when I had another boy my age to play with, we went up into the woods across the road to play. I think it was Steven Brown who had come to visit. We found an old stone wall a little way into the woods and decided to build a stone house. We needed some tools so I went back to the shed and got the crow bar. When we finished playing there, we went on to other things, leaving the crow bar behind. It was forgotten. The next spring, Grandpa needed the crowbar for something, but it was not to be found. He finally asked me if I had seen it. After some thought I remembered where I had left it. I ran up to retrieve it and brought it back, covered with rust. The only reprimand I got was Grandpa's comment, "At least you didn't break it." That expression was remembered and used on several appropriate occasions after that.
Grandpa had several other colorful expressions he used sparingly. Whenever I was trying to do something and generally getting in my own way in the attempt, he would say, "Get your rear-end behind you." If he wanted you to listen closely to something, he would say, "Hark." Most children he called "little shavers." Later in his life, after he sold the farm and moved to Camden, he worked for a landscape gardener by the name of Leon Bryant. Once they were all working at Megunticook Lake at a cottage where there were many sea gulls flying about. One of the sea gulls, flying overhead, defecated, and the mess landed on a man's hat. He took off his hat to survey the damage. "It's a good thing cows don't fly," was all Grandpa said.
Both Grandpa and Grandma called me "Earl" or "Earl ... Lester" most of the time. Their own son was named Earl Lester and it was the first name they thought of, I guess. They had two daughters, so my sisters had to answer to either Lois or Bertha.
Once, after my Uncle Earl and Aunt Joye were married, Aunt Joye borrowed Grandpa's car to go to Bangor, if I remember correctly. Several hours later she telephoned and said she had had an accident with the car. Everyone's immediate concern was whether she had been hurt. She went on and on, apologizing for damaging the car. Finally, Grandpa said, "Forget about the car. Was anyone hurt? We can always buy some more tin."
When my sister Norma was two or three, she and Grandpa were playing in the kitchen. She would run toward him and he would duck out of the way. Once, she lost her balance when he moved and smashed both arms out through the glass in the kitchen window. It was winter and the storm windows were on, so she broke through two panes of glass with each hand. "Grandpa yelled, "Don't move," but it was too late. She yanked her arms back into the room. Everyone held their breath but she didn't have a scratch. Grandpa picked her up and held her close to comfort her (and himself, I think).
Every summer in late August, we all went to
Union Fair for the day. I had my turn at the rides and a few of the games
but the highlight of the fair was watching the horse pulling with Grandpa.
Of course he knew a lot about horses and he knew many of the teams and their
owners. He would get really upset when a driver would whip or abuse his
animals. He would be most impressed when a driver would pull enough to win
and then stop his team with time to spare. I remember one team of grays
that were in the highest weight class. They were large but not as fat as
many teams. Their harness was of the plain, working variety, without fancy
brass ornaments. The horse's legs were scarred and covered with the large
black welts caused by bangs and scrapes. The driver was calm and didn't
carry a whip. When he hooked onto the stone drag, the horses just stood
there. Many people in the audience were snickering at them, thinking that
they weren't going to do much. Grandpa leaned over to me and said, "Watch
this team." When the timer sounded, the driver just slapped the reins
and they started pulling together. There was no wasted motion, no yelling
and jumping around. When they got to the end of the pulling track he had
them turn the load and then stopped them for a rest. The audience had been
perceptibly quieted. After a half minute or so, he spoke to them and again
they pulled the
load the length of the track. With time remaining, the driver unhooked his team and left the track. He knew he had enough distance to win and didn't see any sense in working his team unnecessarily. All the old farmers in the audience gave him a standing ovation, the only one I can remember.
We would walk over to the sulky racing and watch that for a while. I enjoyed watching the horses run with that unusual gait, but Grandpa wasn't much impressed. The Exhibition Hall was our next stop. This was where all the farmers and their wives would display their garden produce, sewing, and cooking. Judges had awarded ribbons of various colors to all the displays. Many heated debates occurred between spectators over the accuracy of the judges.
A couple of miles down the road from Grandpa's farm, toward Camden, was the farm of Walter and Oscar Howe. Neither of these brothers ever married. They farmed in the old fashioned way, using oxen. There was no telephone or electricity in their house. They sold hay, vegetables, blueberries, wood, and anything else that people would buy. I never knew them to give anything away, but they might charge you only a nickel for it. Oscar was big and quite fat He went barefoot in the summer and wore no shirt under his bib overalls. Walter was shorter and thin. His dress was only a little less extreme. Both wore beards. During the garden season, they would eat whatever was ripe at the time, and only that. They would make an entire meal of corn-on-the-cob or tomatoes. Oscar was the only person I knew who could shoe oxen. They have a split hoof, so the shoe is in two parts. You have to put a sling around the ox to help hold them up because they can't raise a leg and keep their balance very well. Grandpa would go to help Oscar whenever they needed an ox shod. Later, Oscar died. After that, Walter became quite a normal person. He had a telephone and electricity put into the house and learned to drive a car, a small red Hillman. He would come to Camden and visit my Dad on occasion and talk about old times. Sometimes, he brought some sickle pears or maple syrup to us. Marshall Dodge wrote a book about Walter Howe called "Frost, You Say?". I bought a copy for Dad and took it up to Walter to sign, never considering the possibility that he couldn't write. He could, but not much more than his name. Walter died on August 7, 1990 in a nursing home Camden, just a short time after I had visited him.
Grandpa Pearse was one of those rare individuals who could get by on little sleep. Four or five hours was usually all he got. Grandpa told me that when he was first married he would get up at 3 AM and get home about 8 PM. He would then have to do his barn chores, including the milking. He said that he would sometimes prop his eyes open with toothpicks or put tobacco juice in them to keep awake to finish the milking. If he were working away from home with his horses, he would sleep while the horses found their way home by themselves. He did this six days a week for years. He would work away from the farm on Sundays only on rare occasions. He would say, "I never made a dollar working on Sunday." Either something would break or he would get hurt or in some way he would lose whatever benefit he gained from Sunday paid labor. I don't think it was from religious conviction. I never knew him to go to church. To him it was just a fact of life.
He always wore a nightshirt Grandma would make by sewing up the front of one of his work shirts. With so many missing fingers it was difficult for him to manage buttons. He could snore better than anyone I ever heard. In later years, he would fall asleep in his chair in the living room while reading the newspaper. He could even snore while sitting up.
Grandpa Pearse always wore the same kind of clothes, dark green or blue work pants and a light blue work shirt. In the summer his sleeves were rolled up to his elbows. His face and forearms would get well tanned but the rest of his body was so white it was a shock to see. He wore suspenders that were quite wide and had greenish stripes. For a coat he wore a "frock" that was like a mackinaw, denim on the outside with a heavy plaid lining. He usually wore a soft hat In the summer he wore high-top work shoes and in the winter dark green rubber pacs. A white "Union" suit and brown and white work socks completed his normal attire. I never saw him wear gloves or mittens or heavy socks under his pacs. Cold didn't seem to bother him much.
I have a photograph of him and Grandma that shows him wearing a white shirt and necktie. It was the only time I ever knew him to wear a tie. He even went to funerals with an open collar. His glasses were gold colored wire-frame bifocals. If the frames got broken, he would solder them himself. He kept his hair trimmed short. Grandma would cut it for him, using hand-powered hair clippers. He would periodically trim his fingernails with his jackknife. They were thick and hard from constant work.
The summer when I was seven, Grandpa and I built a sheep barn for Lester Shibles in Rockport. We would drive back and forth each day from Hope in his pickup truck. Grandpa paid for my help, probably not much by today's standards, but a good amount then. We really enjoyed working together, especially on the roof. I would make many trips a day down the ladder to get things he needed. He didn't particularly like climbing ladders and was grateful for my eagerness to help. Once, I remember, I slipped and got hung up on the edge somehow. I was too scared to move but he came to my rescue.
We carried drinking water each day in a glass milk bottle. Once, after getting a drink, I left the milk bottle sitting on the running board of the pickup truck. Only after we got home that night and couldn't find the bottle did I remember where I had left it. I wanted to go back right then and find it, but Grandpa said it wasn't worth it. I was worried that some car would get a flat tire from the broken glass. The next day I watched the road all the way to Rockport, trying to find the bottle but didn't. It probably would be worth several dollars to an antique dealer now. I doubt that my children have ever seen a glass milk bottle.
The last car Grandpa had was a two-tone green 1958 Pontiac sedan. After Grandpa died, qrandma gave the car to me because she had no use for it. She did not have a driver's license. It was the first car I owned, and I used it carefully for a number of years. I drove it back and forth to college in Orono and then during my first full-time job working for the state doing soils testing for the Highway Department. I tried to make it available to Grandma whenever she would need a ride somewhere. It was a great old car. I was sorry to have to trade it when it wore out.
The farm Dad bought was about a mile from Grandpa's. This was along the dirt road toward Hope Corner. We moved there when I was three years old. It wasn't long before I was going back and forth to Grandpa's house. By taking a couple of shortcuts, I could make it in about 15 minutes. There was one period when, if things were going badly, I would run away from home and go to Grandma's. Whenever Mom and Dad couldn't find me, they would call Grandma to see if I were there yet. Once Dad was upset at me for running off without telling anyone, and he tried to catch me in the car. I had about a five-minute head start. By running and using the shortcuts, I managed to get to Grandma's before he could. I still got a talking to. Even at that I didn't get spanked. I got only one spanking in my whole life. That was for not filling the wood box in the kitchen and then refusing to do so when reminded. I got shown the wood box, then the woodpile, and then I was shown what a stick of wood felt like across my rear.
Some time after Dad bought his farm and built several chicken houses, he decided he needed a better water supply. Grandpa came over and cut a forked stick from an apple tree. He and I then walked all around the property, dowsing for a new well. Grandpa would let me hold the end of the forked stick after awhile. When we walked to a particular spot, the end of the stick would start to dip. Despite my effort, it continued to dip strongly. When I accused grandpa of causing the effect, he showed me the end of the stick he had been holding. The bark been completely twisted off the wood by his attempts to keep it from turning. We marked spot and several days later they started to dig with a scoop hitched to a horse. After they had dug down fifteen feet or so, they struck clay. It was so thick and heavy the horse couldn't pull up through it. Besides that, the hole was too deep for the horse to be used effectively. Then Dad got someone to come with dynamite. They would place the charge in the hole and then set it off with a spark from the tractor ignition. I remember several charges before they got through the clay and struck water. After rocking up the sides and installing a pump and well curb we had an ample supply of water for 'the rest of the years we lived there.