A few weeks ago I was asked if I would write an article on Christmas and what the times were like when I was a young boy here in the Twin Villages. I am now 87 years old and my mind is still good, but I told myself I must check back in my family’s photo albums and my mother’s diaries, to make sure my memories agree with hers.
I recall winters came early here in Maine when I was a young boy. I checked my mother’s diary for Monday, Dec. 1, 1941, and she wrote:
“The day is cold and the wind is blowing from the north east. The heat from the kitchen woodstove feels so warm and good to the body, and Merrill has just filled the pot bellied coal stove with a hoard of hard coal and is letting the gas burn off before opening the front door of the stove.”
On Dec. 3, Wednesday: “The wind is still blowing bands of snow around the sides of our home and Merrill has just come up from the root cellar with a wooden box filled with potatoes, carrots, a turnip, and a string of braided onions. I plan to make a beef stew with dumplings for the supper meal with the leftover blueberry pie for dessert.”
I recall Mom’s beef stew and dumplings would keep your stomach warm and full for the night. I also remember my three aunts would come to our home and they would work on clothing items like mittens, wool socks, hats, scarves, and sweaters of all types. These handmade wool sweaters would keep you very warm on a cold winter day. These items were being made for Christmas gifts for the families.
I can still hear the sound of her Singer sewing machine stitching and sewing away as she was making a number of special potholders that her friends always wanted to use in their kitchen while working with hot dishes and pans.
In the sewing room there was always a box partly full of mittens of all sizes intended to become gifts during the Christmas season. My mother used to say ‘in our home there are no idle hands.’ We all chipped in no matter of our age to help around home.
On Monday, Dec. 8, 1941, my mother wrote: “I went down to the cellar where the three door preserve cabinet was located and when I opened one of the doors, my heart filled with joy knowing that I had canned enough food to get us through the long winter, thank the Lord.
On Dec. 12, she wrote: “Merrill went out to the wood lot and cut some five boughs and I got some red berries. That afternoon we made two Christmas wreaths and decorated them with a red ribbon and some red berries. Merrill filled the window boxes with boughs and berries.
On Saturday, Dec. 14, she recorded that we brought in our fir Christmas tree and placed it in the corner of the living room and secured it to the two walls with a fine wire so the cat would not knock it over.
My father then went up to the storeroom and brought down three boxes of Christmas decorations. Mom and Dad put the decorations all over the tree and added an amount of glittering tinsel and long strings of garland all around the tree at different heights. Being the tallest of the family, Dad always put the Christmas angel on the top of the tree.
I recall my parents would place the Christmas gift boxes under the tree and Dad would build a tunnel with some of the boxes and the cat would lay in these tunnels looking out at us. I recall this event just like it was yesterday.
My parents often said if you had a full time job in our area you were blessed. Most of the jobs in our area were seasonal, May to October. The state of Maine at this time relied on the summer vacation business. Wages were low and if you got 75 cents an hour you were doing well.
Looking back at some of my mother’s notes, she mentioned that Dad and a nearby neighbor by the name of Mr. Albert Pendleton cut 350 bundles of trees between Nov. 15 and Dec. 12, 1940. There would be one to four trees in a bundle. They sold them to an Italian businessman from Boston who came with his large platform body truck which had a rack built out over the cab of the truck.
He brought two truckloads of trees that December for $1.15 a bundle. This gave Dad and his friend Mr. Pendleton some extra cash for December to do a little Christmas shopping for their families. I recall our family would go to the village and shop at the local store for everyday needs and clothes. I loved to go with my mother to Alexander’s five and dime store. I remember it was just full of all kinds of items at Christmas time.
My mother also loved to go to the Rexall pharmacy by operated by Mr. Matin. My mother loved the perfume called “Evening in Paris” and it came in a dark cobalt blue bottle; I always bought my mother this perfume on Christmas, her birthday, and Mother’s Day. Martin’s was a place where the high school children would gather after school to have a soda or ice cream of some kind.
I also enjoyed going with my parents to G.E. Gaye grocery store. They always sold the finest line of goods and fruits, cheeses. One item my parents loved to buy there at Christmas was a box of very thin ribbon candy. It came in flavors of peppermint, cinnamon, and clove. I always remember these great flavors.
Another grocery store I loved to go to with my parents was Pierce’s grocery, located on the street level in the eastern end of the Lincoln Hall block. The grocery store was operated and owned by Linwood Pierce, of Damariscotta. He and his wife and children had a home on Church Street. I have a great photo of the inside of the store and it clearly shows the price of his grocery goods.
My father would often have the meat cutter roll up a piece of roast beef and have them put it in a brine to make corned beef for a good old Maine dish. It was so good with all the vegetables cooked with it like potatoes, carrots, onions, and turnips.
My parents also traded in the First National store on Main Street where Cliff Cate was the manager and the meat cutter was Tom Merrill. Mr. Merrill would cut up dad’s deer for him. They used to hunt deer together.
I would also go with my parents to the A&P grocery store on Main Street. When the A&P closed Robert Reny started his first clothing store there and it is still there today.
Senter’s Department Store was another clothing store my mother used to enjoy shopping in all year round and especially Christmas time. She used to buy a good many yards of cloth, buttons, and thread to make things on her sewing machine for Christmas and all through the year.
My parents also enjoyed shopping in Castner’s hardware store, located in the middle section on the street level in the Lincoln Hall block. My mother later told me my first Christmas tricycle, pull toy wagon, ice skates, and my flexible flyer snow sled as well as my so-called little big books, which I enjoyed reading over the years, all came from Castner’s hardware store.
I also remember at Christmas, going with my father to the Lincoln County Hardware store which was located on the street level in the three and a half story Austin brick block on the north side of Main Street, next to Dr. Neil Parson’s home and office.
My mother had started to collect and put together a colorful pottery dinnerware made by the Homer Laughlin China Co., which started production in 1936. My dad and I would give her some more pieces of this dinnerware for a Christmas gift each Christmas, which we purchased from Lincoln County Hardware. The dinnerware was called Fiesta Ware.
As a growing young boy, each year I would outgrow a pair of shoes or rubber boots. My parents would take me down to Halls Shoe Store, which was located on the street level in the so called Masonic block. There was a very large potbelly cast iron stove in the center of the store and the stove pipe went across the store room and hooked into the chimney flue on the west wall.
The shoe store manager would fit me with new shoes and rubber boots. My mother would say I am going to take Cal to another store. So after we left the shoe store the clerk would gift wrap my boots and shoes for Dad to put under the tree for Christmas.
My mother would take me to Poland’s Pharmacy where she would buy Dad a new razor, a bottle of Old Spice aftershave, and a new shaving brush, as well as some toothpaste for both of us to give him for Christmas.
In my parent’s kitchen on the wall over a box where she always had a grocery list or items needed hung a sign that read “Keep within your means and only buy what you need and always have some cash in hand for unseen needs.”
This is truly how my parents lived and brought us children up to believe in our life. We were not poor, but rich in true value of life.
On Christmas morning after we had opened all our gifts, my parents would take me by their hands and so often say “Thank you, O Lord, for all these gifts that we will wear and use to keep us warm, and the items and games as a family we all will enjoy together.”
Then at the Christmas dinner, my dad would offer prayer and give thanks for the bountiful amount of food we had in store and then, with a big smile, he would say we will start off the new year debt free.
May you all have a merry Christmas.