Book Review, Last One In by John Gould
I knew John Gould, back before he became the late John Gould but when he was a pretty well known Maine author of roughly three gadzillion titles of humor, all about life in Maine.
Not about life in the present-day Maine, where so many folks are on welfare by varying names nor where too many shop (in my opinion) at Walmart nor where too many are ruining (also my opinion, backed by many scientists) the climate of the Pine Tree State and the globe by driving, among other sins, too many giant SUVs that get about three miles to the gallon. He wrote about life in Maine, when there were steam trains, when roads were plowed by a team of hosses (the Maineiac way to spell those noble critters) pulling a sled of some type with a board across it to level the snow while leaving it deep enough for hosses pulling sleighs to be able to do their snow-bound task.
And for kids to wallow to school through the snow that remained on the roads, twenty miles each way and uphill both ways.
I only knew Gould by telephone, this when I was the fearless editor of and a writer at the Norway Advertiser-Democrat and each year had to write about baked beans for the Rotary Club’s annual Bean Hole Bean Somethingorother during which beans were placed in big kettles and baked in a hole under the ashes of the all-night baking fire. (And to which celebration and bean feast our politicians were sure to show up to try to gain more notoriety than held by the already famous baked beans.)
I had already written too many stories about Maine’s famous meal of loggers of long ago and Saturday night and Sunday breakfast of rural Maineiacs, also of long ago since so-called supermarkets now present so many new options for those meals.
Having read one of my favorite Maine humorists, Bill Clark who penned the fictitious Tales of Cedar River actually being my very favorite, I phoned this one of my favorite Maine humorists, John Gould, to see what he knew about baked beans that I hadn’t yet learned. Indeed, he gave me some great new perspective on baked beans. And then he invited me to visit him at his home -- if I survived the beans and readers’ comments on the story I wrote about those tantalizing oblong delicacies.
To this day, I regret “being too busy” to go, and Gould passed away to another world where most likely baked beans aren’t part of the daily fare -- if there are days in the someplace to where he passed.
But I still occasionally read his books, when I’m not too busy, with Last One In being the most recent I’ve reread.
Last One In, Tales of a New England Boyhood, was published, I believe, in 1966, and I know Little Brown & Company (Canada) Limited was the publisher of this 248-page book, described on the title page as, “A gently pleasing dip into a cool, soothing pool of the not-so-long-ago, so to speak.”
The not-so-long-ago was when Gould was a boy and from some of the episodes on which he reports in the book was also when he was having lots of fun -- or at least some fun. Some of the tales, known in the literary world and by seventh-grade teachers trying to impress their students about their learned state, as chapters, are “The Three Birdies,” “The Launching,” “The Big Giant” -- a wind-up toy train of the day pulled by a “Big Giant steam engine with the whistle”, “The Forensics,” and more, concluded by “The Parting Shot.”
In “The Lombard Tank,” he write about some of this teachers, and about a message pinned to a wall. Gould wrote, “One day a horrified teacher found a sheet of paper (paper, which was on the scene long before computers claimed to be doing away with much paper but have actually increased its amount in our technical world -- my educational note) pinned to the wall in a corridor, and on it was written:
“It’s naughty but it’s nice;
“You do it once, you do it twice --
“They do it in every nation
To increase the population.”
Which shows us that not much of real substance has ever changed in any nation, including the State of Maine in the U.S. when Gould was growing up but still busy being a boy.
Gould’s tales were too hilarious to try to repeat except for the following which is the entire “The Parting Shot.”
“There is a patent test used in our schools today to ascertain the intelligence of our modern boyhood and girlhood. Teachers all over the country have used it for the past four or five years. One section asks the youngster to ‘match up’ certain things that ‘go together.’ For instance,he finds a picture of a horse, and then a picture of a wagon. He is supposed to match up the horse and wagon. The horse and wagon go together. If the youngster does not put the horse with the wagon he is stupid.
“There is one smallish fault with this test -- probably unimportant in this day and age. There is only one horse shown, but the wagon is equipped with a pole for a double harness.
“Except for professional half-wits, Secretary Potter was about as dumb as anybody we had in our town (and who was not a secretary, as explained early in the book -- again, my literary note). If he could take this big, modern, computer-machine test in one of our bright-shining schools today, I could prove the assessment of Potter’s mentality -- because he would never have tried to insert an unmarried horse into a double harness.
“Is there not something about this that merits our serious contemplation?”
I suppose so, but I never could get serious about anything Gould wrote, including The Fastest Hound Dog in the State of Maine, which I recall having my eighth-grade students read when I taught in the Washington County town of Danforth. I had them read it, not so much for its literary brilliance, but because the story takes place in a town not too far from Danforth. Up the road a piece in Aroostook County, where you thought they only had potatoes. But they also have some fascinating stories.
I wish now I’d accepted Gould’s invitation to visit.
I’ll wait awhile before I actually try to find and visit with him, one of Maine’s finest writers.
Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Milton M. Gross Copyright 2012