An Excerpt From My Memoir
Now I’ve Seen Everything:
Growing Up in Maine in the 1940s and 1950s
By J. D. Adrian
The house was in quite miserable shape when we moved there in 1945. But with the end of the War, it was the beginning of a new life, as I’m sure my parents recognized, and what they lacked in experience they had in energy and enthusiasm. There were seven rooms downstairs, including a large entry and hallway, and five upstairs, plus two bathrooms that were added. The stairway went from the entry up 13 steps to a landing, with a bedroom on the left, and the
Our house on Morrison Hill 1957
landing took a u-turn around to the right about 12 feet or so, with another bedroom at the end on the left. This room was at the front of the house facing the road outside. Then the landing made a short turn to the right into what became my grandparents’ three-room apartment. A door separated this hallway from the apartment.
The first bedroom at the head of the stairs became mine, and the next was our parents’. Bob took a room on the first floor as his. Over the years we switched bedrooms around as needs changed from time to time, and the front room became mine during my teenage. It was very large, with four large windows. All the windows in the house were this size, as was part of the design of this type of farmhouse. At the end of that hallway was a large floor-to-ceiling window. If one can have a favorite window, this was mine. The large windows gave a wonderful open feeling to the house, and I could look out of my favorite window and see a mile away down the hill. Sometimes I watched for the school bus through that window, especially in winter when it was too cold to stand outside and wait. When the trees were bare, we could actually see the yellow bus turning the corner onto our road a mile away
I mention the windows because, as I look back, they presented huge challenges – in decorating, painting, re-glazing and insulating – and were a major influence in how we did things. I remember them most during winters. They let in lots of light, which is important during northern winter months. But the most fascinating thing to me was the way they steamed up from the effects of cooking and washing, then froze into frosted delights, with lovely swirling patterns in a manner as to obscure visibility. I liked to press my hand into the frost and watch it melt from the heat of my hand, and I sometimes drew pictures with my fingers. Heat escaped from the window at the end of the landing and melted the snow that accumulated on the roof of the front porch below. As a result, the icicles that formed were sometimes more than two feet long and presented a danger to anyone walking below. Dad would knock them down with a snow shovel. I would pick up some of the smaller icicles – six inches or so – and suck on them. The cold felt good in my mouth, not very sanitary, but no matter.
Ready for school September 1946
A wallpaper steamer was put to use pretty soon after moving in. Later my mother told me – and I find it hard to believe as you may too – that they steamed and stripped off 17 layers of wallpaper from the kitchen walls. It was hard work, and they enlisted the help of one of the uncles – I’m not sure which one, either Larry or George – and accomplished the feat during the night. Bob and I were sent off to bed and out of their way, and in the morning the job was pretty much done. The kitchen was fairly large, with three windows, a doorway into the pantry where all kitchen supplies and dishes were stored. The pantry was small, about 10 by 4, had one small window, the kitchen sink, counter tops and cabinets. Another door led to a room that was alternately used as a bedroom or den. Another led to the hallway and outside door, and yet another to the old back kitchen, which we did not use except as a pass-through.
As you can see, there was a door into every wall, as well as the aforementioned three windows. Mom painted all the woodwork, if my memory serves me right. She was the family decorator, and she did all the wall papering and painting, with help anywhere she could get it. The kitchen was the heartbeat of the home. It was large enough to fit a large-sized table and six, eight or twelve chairs, depending on how many were there, along with a sofa on one wall and Mom’s sewing machine in the corner. There was usually a dog bed too. A mantle over a sealed fireplace was the favored place to hang Christmas stockings. I learned to cook on the gas stove, helped Mom prepare food for preserving, washed millions of dishes, and learned to sew on her machine. Big family dinners, conversations, and entertaining friends are all memories from this kitchen.
The back kitchen led out to the attached barn, which had not been used for animals or hay for many years, I suspect, as it was fairly clean, with stacks of used lumber here and there. The upstairs of the barn was probably once used to store hay, and we often played there with our friends, and there was an echo when we called out. There we kept an old steamer trunk with cast-off clothes that we used for dress-up. The window at the end was pretty high up so that I had to stand on something to see out. The first floor was used as a garage and a place for the lawnmower and some of Dad’s tools. It was big and sprawling, and most of it was not used for anything. A large window at the end gave me a place to watch the boys play baseball in the field below. “Joycie, this one’s for you,” my favorite boyfriend would say. And he would hit the ball far out toward the woods.
I watched fires built and meals cooked on the black wood stove and remember the tremendous heat it gave out. However, almost immediately we had a propane gas stove and an electric refrigerator. We had a bathroom with a shower – how heavenly. Dad built linen cabinets there. And one by one the rooms were finished with new wallpaper and paint. The house was soundly built and became a fine home.
The living room, or “front room” as it was called, was a most pleasant place to be. Facing the road, it received the morning east light. The tin ceiling was high and very attractive, original to the house I am sure. My mother would frequently point it out on her tours. She papered the walls in traditional floral prints and painted the woodwork a nice bright white like the ceiling. The large windows were dressed in ecru lace panels.These panels were laundered twice a year, spring and fall. Drying was accomplished by attaching them to wooden frames made for this job that had tacks all around the edge. I helped Mom stretch these panels many times, and they were left outside in the sun to dry. They smelled so fresh when brought inside and re-hung.
The front room had a cozy feel and was a comfortable place to sit and to entertain. This is where holiday gatherings took place and where a tall fir tree was placed every Christmas. After a few years, an upright piano was brought into the room, where I, and later my sister Ellen, took lessons. I studied music for five years.
Ellen was born in July 1947. Needless to say, I was overjoyed at having a baby sister in the house, and I tried to help. As time went by, however, the seven years difference between us became more and more of a barrier, as we had different interests and friends. Because of this, I honestly and regretfully don’t remember much of our relationship. She took piano lessons, was in Girl Scouts, and had many friends. She loved animals so much that she would take them to bed with her. One time she went missing, and Mother found her sound asleep next to the pig that Bob was raising for 4-H. It had chewed her petticoat. She was three at the time. Bob had gotten that pig in a pig scramble at the Cumberland Fair. Now here’s the recipe for a pig scramble: Throw a bunch of boys into a wooden pen, add a greased squealing piglet, and watch them go at it. Only one boy makes the catch, and that was Bob. He owned it as his new 4-H project. A few months later, a truck came and took it off to make pork chops and bacon. I don’t think we told Ellen that part.
One of the best things about an old house is the attic, and ours was no exception. A stair from the upstairs apartment led to an overhead door that we pushed up to reach the mysterious and sometimes spooky attic. The floor was simply wood planking nailed down, but the rafters had been left bare. In the winter the cold air blew through the cracks and frost covered the protruding nails. In summer, the air was so stifling that you could not stand it. A room at the front had been finished with plaster, and we sometimes would go there to play, but the temperature extremes made that impossible most of the time. Our parents used the attic for storage, and sometimes I went there to look at forgotten or forbidden stuff.
Another place even more spooky than the attic was the cellar. Its area was the size of the main part of the house as far as the back kitchen, and so was large enough to hold the iron furnace and coal bin, Mom’s shelves for preserves, a worktable, pool table, and some other stuff that I dared not investigate. It had a dirt floor and the lighting was not good, so I did not spend much time in that cold and musty place. Once in a while, Bob and I played pool there, and we shot targets with his bee-bee gun. Eventually the latest innovation – a large Amana freezer – took its place near the bottom of the stairs.
The forced air furnace did not reach the wing where my grandparents lived. Consequently, the three first floor rooms were never heated and not used during winter months. My parents installed an oil-fired heater in the upstairs apartment, which kept that part of the house toasty warm for my grandparents. I recall my grandmother’s notation in her diary that the cost of filling the oil drum for the month of October was $2.11, not bad even by ‘50s standards.
There was a little stoop at the front of the wing under the apartment. It was no more than a step, a door, and inside the door a very tiny entryway just big enough to stand in, then another door that led to the back kitchen. This entryway is where the milkman left our milk once or twice a week. The milk was in quart bottles with paper stoppers. During the winter months, if we didn’t bring the milk in right away, it would freeze, lifting the stoppers and the cream in frozen popsicle-like forms fully out of the bottles. There was actual cream at the top of the milk because milk was not homogenized at that time. I wish we had milk like that today. The cream could be skimmed off for cooking, coffee, or whipped desserts. If you didn’t need cream, you would simply shake the bottle to mix it up. Even now, I sometimes find myself shaking a carton of milk before opening it! We washed the empty milk bottles and put them out for the milkman to pick up and return to the dairy for re-use – early recycling.
I came home one day and found a tramp sitting on the stoop, eating a piece of pie with a glass of milk. My mother fed this homeless man who came by and asked for food. There was another tramp that used to come by and stay for a while. This was the four-legged kind, of mixed breed and unknown origin. His appearance was so ugly that we called him Ugly Mug. Mom came up with the name. He was a mottled brown, dirty and matted, but oh so loveable. We fed him, played with him and loved him, then missed him when he left. After several months, he would come back and stay another few weeks. He probably made the rounds. Then one time he left and didn’t return.
Memoir Published 2010