Georgina “Gina” Rayburn, 98, recalled her days as a store owner in pre-statehood Alaska and a dancer touring with her late husband during a brief ceremony recognizing her as Bristol’s oldest resident Friday, July 20.
The Bristol Board of Selectmen presented the town’s Boston Post Cane to Rayburn during the ceremony at her home.
The ebony cane with a gold head dates to 1909, when the publisher of the now-defunct Boston Post, Edwin Grozier, gifted canes to hundreds of New England towns with instructions to present the cane, with the newspaper’s compliments, to the eldest male resident of the town.
The man could use the cane as long as he lived or until he moved to another town, when the cane would pass to the next eldest male resident. Women became eligible for the cane in 1930.
Rayburn, who has lived in Bristol and other towns in Lincoln County off and on her entire life, didn’t know she was going to receive the cane until board of selectmen Chair Chad Hanna presented her with it.
“I had no idea I was eligible for this,” Rayburn said. “It’s quite an honor.”
“I told you you were old!” Rayburn’s friend Ann Baty joked. Rayburn and Baty have belonged to Ladies Aid, a group that makes and sells quilts in Bristol Mills, for the past 31 years.
“I wonder how many people have had this cane?” Rayburn said as Hanna handed her the antique.
Many of Rayburn’s friends and family, along with the selectmen and members of the Old Bristol Historical Society, attended the brief ceremony at her home, where she lives with her black cat, Sarah.
Sitting next to Rayburn was her neighbor Arthur McFarland, who picks her up for church every Sunday. The pair attends The First Baptist Church of Nobleboro.
The group enjoyed sandwiches, lemonade, and fruit.
Selectman Paul Yates recited the poem “The Bible Baseball Game” from memory.
Those in attendance said Rayburn has had an adventurous life so far, having lived in Alaska for 45 years, including when it was still a territory.
Rayburn owned a health foods store in Fairbanks, Alaska, named Gina’s Corner.
She reminisced about how the temperature was often not higher than 50 below zero.
“That’s cold!” she said. “Walking back and forth (to work) was no picnic.”
In the 1970s, she opened a store of the same name in Damariscotta.
“Finally I retired when I was 85,” Rayburn said.
Pam Meserve, who lived next door to Rayburn when she lived in Damariscotta, told the story of how she met Rayburn.
Meserve said Rayburn had stopped by looking for her cat, since both Rayburn and Meserve had black cats.
Rayburn had said, “’Oh, you’re playing poker. I’ll be right back!’” Meserve said, chuckling at the memory.
“(We have) been good buddies ever since,” Meserve said.
Rayburn had three children, who have passed away, and has three grandsons.
Her late second husband, George Rayburn, was a drummer. She traveled with him on occasion, dancing onstage while he performed.
“He was a marvelous drummer,” Rayburn said.
Rayburn said her father taught her to dance.
She also reminisced about her love for frogs and her teenage days of rowing a boat around a pond near her childhood home.
“I would pick these frogs up and row around in the boat,” Rayburn said. “I knew where everyone lived, so I’d put them back in the right place.”
While she no longer collects live frogs in a boat, Rayburn’s love for the amphibians could be seen around her home, as frog figurines and stuffed animals decorate the space.
Rayburn’s grandnephews, Craig and Billy Dickie, visit her often to help her if she needs it, or to hang out and play cards.
They said Rayburn is “awesome,” and “the fun one” of the group.
“Congratulations on your achievement,” Yates said.
“I can’t believe it,” Rayburn said.