Memoried ghosts on Tucker Ridge
Here's on old Journal story — in my family journal, and in "The" Journal, 20 years ago — with an update at the end.
Well, my big brother is visiting from California and we moseyed on up to Tucker Ridge (Webster Plantation) for a day of visual childhood memory reminiscing.
Trouble is, with each year that zooms on by (and is it my imagination or does each year get a little shorter), the actual visual signposts of our long ago days up on the Tucker farm are disappearing, bit by bit.
Most of the farmhouses, barns and such that were on Tucker Ridge are long gone, as are all the buildings on the farm — house, woodshed, granary, barn, hen house, smokehouse, garage and workshop. Those were all still on the farm when Grampa and Grammie were raising us back in the late '30's, early '40's.
And before we were born there had been a right smart sawmill. A new state-of-the-art saw machine had been put in back in the early 1900s that cost $2,000. That was when an average wage was less than $15 a week. Yes, young folk, a week. So the price of the new saw was equivalent to several years' salary.
Grampa Roy had, among his endeavors, been a blacksmith, with his smithy forge on the farm. By the time my brother and I went there to live, both the sawmill and the forge were but memories and depressions in the ground where they had once stood.
Now all the buildings are but ghosts. The old cellar hole is about all that's visible. The great freshwater spring that has run for centuries is pretty much grown over, though it struggles mightily to gurgle up through and run in its little stream path to a pond off in the woods.
Where a couple of years ago tall green grass still grew in the upper hay fields, (and where Larry had his World War II Victory Garden and I "had" my patch of wild strawberries that I would pick to trade for his radishes), and Grampa had vegetable gardens that he would periodically plant in clover to replenish the soil — well, now it's fenced off in pasture and grazed down to the dirt.
That's the way of things. Most signs of the long ago generations of Tuckers that lived there, from our great-grandparents, Samuel Tucker and Julia B. (Leighton), who built the farm about 1848, through the late 1940s, shortly after my brother and I left, are gone.
But as we walked around the land with the present inhabitants, recalling where everything used to be, it came to me that most of the landmarks that were due to nature, herself, were still there.
Down back of where the house had been, the twin maples that had held my swing were still there, albeit showing signs of their old age. (But then, so am I.) The tall crabapple tree that stood in the hen yard, out back of the hen house, is still there and looking downright healthy, laden with apples.
And when I turned and pointed to "where the chokecherry bush was," there stood a whole copse of bushes dripping with chokecherries.
I turned the other way and saw the prize apple trees where Grampa had shot the coon — flashlight beam in the night dark, two pair of eyes, two shots, two dead coons.
Two miles back down Tucker Ridge, at the fork where it's joined by Pickle Ridge, the Old Webster Plantation School still stands. It has stood empty for decades now, abandoned by school rationalization. It managed to hold together pretty good, being used as a hay barn some years now, but just in the last couple years, it has deteriorated a great deal.
The belfry stands silent and empty, its occupant long ago sold to to auctioneers. (However, my Aunt Priscilla discovered its whereabouts, bought it and it now resides at Cousin Mike 'n Mary's house.)
The windows are long gone, letting the weathers of the seasons work their will. The old tongue-and-groove floor, laid down in a diagonal pattern, heaves and splits with the rains, snows and ice.
The chimney stands barren of its long ago stove pipe that ran the length of the ceiling and down to the big potbelly that warmed the little one-room schoolhouse where an average of 20 pupils sat, sub-primary through eighth grade. (Two young Tucker Ridge boys came up on their bicycles to see who was crawling through the windows of the old school. They picked us apples from the same old tree that was in "our" play yard in those long ago school recesses, the swings and seesaws long gone.)
Memory echoes of Mrs. Hanscom, our one teacher for all, bounced around in the old building, muffled by the topsy-turvy bales of today's hay.
She started teaching there the year before I was born. She was still single then. Her first superintendent was my other grandfather, Harry E. Fortier. I have salary receipts from that year. The teacher was paid $60 per month, plus room and board with a Tucker Ridge family — plus, she got "$6 for 12 weeks janitor work."
Grampa Fortier's superintendent's salary was paid on a school-by-school basis. His salary from the Webster Plantation School on Tucker Ridge: "$12.29" for "Services as Supt. 5 months." (Fortunately, Grammie Fortier ran a successful little teahouse, with guest cabins, (The White Rabbit) in Springfield, where they lived!)
Receipts for work on the new "State Road" include payments to my daddy; "$14.06, July 1, 1935," for "Truck driver on State Road." The next stub reads "$3.00" to Daddy to "apply on 1935 tax" from money earned by aforesaid truck-driving. Hand laborers on the road got 35 cents an hour. The truck drivers got 90 cents for their truck and driving.
These were still Depression days, and everyone picked up whatever work they could, putting several odd jobs together to make it through. But Mama remembers those days as her happiest. Back then, your treasures were the kind that didn't decay, rust, wear out, fall down, need replacement every two years.
Like the regenerating chokecherry bushes, pleasure was taken in God's handiwork that will always be there long after man's puny buildings, pasture fences and other signs of his having been there, have fallen away and been reclaimed by nature, which will go on as it has forever.
Only memoried ghosts of our long ago lives remain — and they will last only as long as the last people who lived them.
Post note: November 2012
In the intervening 20 years since the above, my brother and I — he retired and moved back home t'Maine about a dozen years ago — have trekked up to visit "the Ridge" several times. The land on the old place is lovingly taken care of by the present owners, "salt of the earth" folk. The fields and trees look like a pastoral painting, the gardens look like Grampa Roy just finished working in them and the crabapple tree still stands. The two old sugar maples where my swing hung succumbed to age and one of its offspring that grew in the yard, resplendent each fall in shimmering color, was struck down a few years back by a tornado! It was one of those rare, out of place little tornadoes that just whip a tiny tail down and take out a tree or two or upend a tractor or some such mini-isolated bedevilment.
The old school has been saved and now stands as the Town Hall, flags flying out front, proud with its new belfry and new bell, donated by the current Tucker Farm couple. The old one-holers out back — one for girls and one for boys — are gone, and the playground now serves for storing the winter's sand pile for the Plantation.
The memories of the little girl who grew up on Tucker Ridge with her Grampa and Grammie Tucker, however, are still intact. And they may, after all, echo long after I'm gone, through the stories I have written that my children, grandchildren and on will have access to. They probably won't pass down as long as one of our ancestors, who wrote a journal for the family almost 400 years ago — Gov. William Bradford, one of my seventh great-great-grandfathers. Though lost after the first three or four generations, during the Revolution, it was found in the late 1800s in the private library of the London Archbishop, and put into print with great fanfare, titled "Bradford's History." Reprinted in the 1950s as "Of Plymouth Plantation," it is now in constant publication.
That family journal is responsible for righting a lot of misconceptions of the Plymouth Pilgrims, particularly untangling them from the later Bay Colony Puritans, the uptight folk who dressed in black and white, didn't allow singing or dancing, branded women who "transgressed" with the "scarlet letter" — a red "A" on the forehead for "adultery." They also treated the Native Indians like savages instead of as friends, neighbors and allies, as the Pilgrims did. And "the rest is history."
Marion Tucker-Honeycutt , an award-winning columnist, is a Maine native and graduate of Belfast, now living in Morrill. Her column appears in this paper every other week.