Above, is my only baby picture. Below, is me at 2 years old. We lived across the road from Uncle Mike when he lived in the cellar, before building the house that is still standing there today, as is the house I lived in at the time. I also included my first day of school in 1971 and a picture with my older brother’s Joe and Timmy, and younger sister Kyla.
I was born February 19, 1966 and lived in Albion, Maine. I had two older brothers, and we lived in a small house next door to my Grampa and Grammy’s house. I had aunts and uncles and cousins all up and down the road from me, so I always had kids around to play with. I can’t remember now if I was 4 or 5 when we moved out of the little house and my parents bought their own dairy farm. I don’t remember anything about the move or the first few years there, but occasionally a thought will flash across my brain triggering some long forgotten event or day of significance. Some people say that I am not allowing myself to remember, whatever that means? This much I do know though, is that I had a great childhood despite the fact that we didn’t have a lot, and that at that time I wasn’t aware of it. Back then we were all in the same basic boat with a broken rudder just trying to get by with what we had. Ironically, we were happy.
A typical day during the school year was that we kids got up at 5:00 A.M. and got the cows into the barn for their morning milking. We grained them, and gave them corn silage and hay with molasses. We had to clean out the calf barn and give all of them new sawdust. We had to feed all the babies warm milk and giving them some fresh hay and grain before going to the house and getting ready for school. We did this every single day of the school year. When haying season arrived our days got much harder and longer. Fun with friends got put on the back burner and serious workloads began. I remember going to the hay-field right after morning chores and not coming back home until it was time to do the night chores. My mother would pack a bread bag full of sandwiches and a jug of water and we made a day of it. It was hard work for a grown man, let alone a 9-year-old boy.
Something that was so much fun was being able to walk up the road to the town dump and shoot rats. Sometimes they chased us! Seriously. My brothers and I would go up with a BB-gun and some slingshots and “play” for hours. Back then they used to burn the trash and we would come home smelling like what Mom considered disgusting. We would be covered in soot and of course that didn’t bother us boys a bit. I’m sure my parents were so proud when people drove by us as we were walking home looking like a tribe of dirty lost boys. But, they continued to let us do that for years until we started hauling home treasures and they would make us take them all back.
One of my earliest memories was when my little brother Mel was born. I was in the third grade and the school secretary came into my class and asked for me. I was under the table at the time. She walked over and of course the whole class went deathly quiet so that they too could hear what she had to say. She announced that I had a new baby brother and the class cheered. I was so embarrassed. I tried everything possible to stay out of the spotlight growing up, and this was attention that I really didn’t need or want. When I was a child I was very shy, and didn’t talk much to anyone other than my direct family. I never looked at people in the eye and never started a conversation with anyone. When I got into high school I started to open up a little, but let loose once I went into the U.S. Navy. The Navy gave me no choice!
As children, we loved to play in the sand. We would build forts all afternoon for our little plastic army men and pretend to have the most awesome battles. We would build elaborate roads, bodies of water and bridges. We would build hay forts that had tunnels and rooms throughout the hay mound. Occasionally we would do rotten things to the babysitters when my parents would occasionally have a night out, though that only happened perhaps four or five times the whole time I was a kid and for the record, it was not my fault!
We rode ponies, and had many pets. At one time, I had a small black lab named Pupper, a horse that my parents bought me for graduation, and a goat that we stole from the local cattle dealer. Poor old Arthur Bickford! He knew all along that we had it and humored us by letting it stay at our farm for a while. I think we would have kept it forever if it hadn’t eaten all of the breeding charts for the cows off the wall. Man, was my dad mad! I suppose it is kind of difficult to know when a certain cow is due to have a baby if all of the breeding and calving charts are inside the goat’s belly!
We didn’t receive a lot for birthdays, but we always had a cake. One time, I got a “new” bike. Getting a new used bike was more than enough for me. I was so excited, but getting a bike in the middle of February in Maine is not the most ideal time to ride a bike. However, I did it anyway in a half-foot of snow and rammed head first in the side of the barn, because I had absolutely no brakes in the deep snow.
We loved to play in the trees and build forts and paths so that we could play cowboys and indians, cops and robbers, and tag. Many of the neighborhood kids would come and we would play for endless hours, often into the pitch black of night. Looking back on it now, I realize how fortunate we were to have parents that allowed us those endless hours with friends and encouraged us to play. The bonds of our friends grew stronger and they were literally like our brothers and sisters. We used to hurry through our chores so that we could go play until it was chore time again, and we did this every single day.
We always had chores and I spent a lot of time with your grandfather. We used to play practical jokes on him, and he would always get us back. I remember playing darts the whole time we milked the cows. We used to throw corn cobs at each other, and I remember one time my brother Tim threw one at Grampa just as he peeked up over the back of a cow and it struck him right between the eyes. My mother was not impressed. We used to play quarters all the time, and I would often win enough to buy a couple donuts and a chocolate milk at school.
One of my favorite things to do was to keep the lawns and gardens groomed up. I took pride in how the farm looked and appreciated the positive comments on how nice the place looked when people came to visit. I remember going berry picking in the summer, and all of the jams and jellies my mother would make. The orange marmalade that mom would put on homemade biscuits and crackers was by far one of her best.
Farming was different back when I was a child. We fed only grain, some corn, and hay and we used cedar sawdust that we got from my step-grandfather’s sawmill. We chopped corn only one row at a time, and picked up hay off the ground one bale at a time and stacked it on flatbed trailers with no sides. Many of the fields were on a side hill and we would often lose the load and have to re-stack it again and again.
In the summer, we grew and sold sweet corn in order to get new school clothes and go to the fair. I remember sitting in our little hut that my father made for us so we didn’t have to be out in the direct sun. We sold our corn at .75 cents for a “bakers” dozen which was 13 ears. My parents always told us that we wanted to make sure they get as fair a deal as possible for both parties, the seller and the buyer. We used the money that we made to go to the fair and to buy new school clothes in the fall.
We had only 3 bedrooms in the farmhouse. I shared a bedroom with my four brothers (Joe, Timmy, Gary and Melvin) and that was interesting to say the least. At one point we stacked 3 beds on top of one another. One evening we were talking and fooling around like boys do, when my father yelled up over the stairs for us to stop and go to sleep. He said if heard one more peep he was going to take off his belt and give us something that was not pleasurable. So, of course one of my brothers went “peep” ever so softly. And sure enough my father came up over the stairs and gave us all a swat on the bottom. That didn’t happen very often, but when it did we didn’t forget it.
My “stuffed animal” was my brother Mel. I remember he used to waddle over to my bed and ask if he could sleep with me. I of course always let him and it made me feel good that he chose me over my other brothers. I like to think that he saw that I was sincere and genuine, and that I deeply cared for him, after all he was my baby brother.
Christmas was the best. Mom would hide cookies, and we would yell, “Bring down the cookies!” every Christmas morning. The twinkling of the lights was my favorite part of Christmas. I loved the smell of the ornaments, and the six stockings hanging from the garland on the mantle. I loved the smell of the tree, and all of the baking that my mother used to do. It would always add to the excitement of the season. Peanut brittle, bon bons, and ribbon candy were common for the season, along with pineapple and raisin filled cookies. Dad would try to sneak presents down the stairs on Christmas Eve, one time dropping a radio flyer wagon!
When I was sixteen, your mother and I became pen pals. We went to different schools so it was
a year of writing before we actually met up with each other. Your mother dropped in to see me as she was on her way to run some errands for her MImi and Papa. I remember thinking that she was way to beautiful to like me. I showed her my senior pictures and showed her around the farm, introducing her to my mother and father. I fell in love with her that day, and to this day our love for each other is stronger than I ever dreamed. I will love her until the day I die and into eternity.