... a winter's tale
Author's foreword: I have enjoyed Freeman Frank's interesting stories about the old days around Mechanic Falls and Poland, Maine. They brought to mind some of my own experiences in that lovely area. So here is a belated Valentine story.
First, some background. I was a junior at Wheaton College, Illinois in 1954. One of my extracurricular activities was to teach Sunday School in Chicago. My route partner was a freshman girl, interesting and attractive, who was eventually to become my first wife.
By December I was hooked. Next step -- meet the family over Christmas vacation. One problem was, I lived in Darien, Connecticut, she lived in Mechanic Falls, Maine, over 300 miles away, a pretty daunting drive in winter. Another issue was that this was a seriously large family! In the Goss clan Ruth had six sisters and one brother along with her parents. Living within a few miles were a brigade of other close relatives, and I was pretty sure I would have to meet them all.
I wasn't quite stupid enough to drive up alone. My brother Rip (seventeen at the time) was the obvious companion. We prepared for the journey. I can't remember which car we had at the time, but it was no Cadillac. We figured it was too far to drive up and arrive the same day, so we decided to camp out overnight and drive in the next morning. We had reasonably good sleeping bags and a mountain tent that I had used for Boy Scout overnights.
Off we went on the great adventure. By the time it was starting to get dusky we were approaching the Portsmouth rotary. Of course we had no idea where we would pitch our tent, so we drove around a bit looking for a likely spot. We saw no camping area signs, and got worried enough to stop at a police station for advice. First, the cops offered us a cell for the night if we wanted. We thanked them but opted for a nearby park where there was lots of open space. We found it, parked and hauled our stuff in.
There was about a foot of snow everywhere, and it was REALLY COLD. Much colder than we had figured. We pitched the (totally inadequate) tent and got ready to sleep. I can still remember lying there in the sleeping bag, fully dressed and shivering, hoping for sleep. I have never been so cold before or since. It was the longest night ever.
We survived the night, packed up, and headed into the nearest town for breakfast. Our fellow diners pointed out we were crazy. It was five below zero!
We pulled into the house on Harris Hill road (in Mechanic Falls then, now considered Poland) to be greeted by the whole family. It was my moment in the sun, but I'm not sure whether it was as hero or dunce. It all worked out OK, of course. I got to meet Grammie who lived just up the road with Uncle Will's family. He ran a chicken farm. Then up a bit to Uncle Julian's family. He ran an apple orchard. Further along the road was Uncle Paul's family. He ran the market and butcher shop at Poland Corner. Uncle Ara's house was too far to walk to in West Poland. Ara worked with Ruth's father Harold, the oldest of the Goss boys, who owned a really big hardware store and oil delivery business in Mechanic Falls.
Best of all was Ruth and her family. I remember carrying five-year-old Grace (Ruth's youngest sister) up the hill from Middle Range Pond to the original Poland Spring, which was then open to the public for free drinks. Grace told me much later that she remembered Rip so well, and had a crush on this handsome guy who pushed her on a swing when he visited.
That was the beginning of a lovely relationship with Ruth's family. We were married for just over 25 years before her death. There are many stories that I could tell, but I'll never forget that first visit.
Both her parents, Harold and Dorothy, are now 98 years old and recently celebrated their 75th anniversary. There are too many grandchildren and great-grandchildren to count now.
March 2, 2007