GORHAM – Gardner E. Black Jr. grew up on a farm on a hill in Baldwin, where he and his 15 brothers and sisters entertained themselves by listening to Gene Autry on the radio and sliding down the hill on cardboard.

As a boy, Black didn’t much care for school. His mother gave him a dime if he agreed to go, but Black would just go in one door and out the other, recalled Doris McConihe of Buxton, one of his eight sisters.

“I never told my mother he wasn’t in school because he used to go to the store and buy a bag of candy,” McConihe said. “For a dime in those days, you got a big bag. And he used to give me part of it, so I kept my mouth shut.”

All that time with his ear to the radio gave Black a great appreciation for music, and over the years he taught himself to play the guitar, the harmonica, and even spoons.

After he married his wife of 33 years, Marlene, and had four children, Black played to entertain his family. One of his three daughters, Dorene Caron of Gorham, said it’s one of her fondest childhood memories.

“My father loved playing the guitar, so we took a lot of joy in that,” Caron said. “We would all sit around and sing. My mother would sing, and us kids would join in.”

In the early years, the family lived in a small house with an outhouse, with four children sharing one bedroom. “You couldn’t ask for more love,” said Black’s daughter Goldie Gordius of South Portland. “We didn’t need no money. We had everything we could ask for right there.”

Black was a meticulous man who was proud of his neat yard. When his family gave him a surprise birthday party at age 70, said his daughter Shirley Meserve of North Waterboro, “he said, ‘I wish someone would have told me.’ “

“My father was a perfectionist,” Meserve said. “So he goes outside and he gets the trash cans, he just sets everything up so it’s all perfect, the way he wants it.”

Black was shy and quiet, but also had a sense of humor that appeared once he got to know someone. He had a contagious smile that showed off his dimples.

For years, Black attended country dances at the Wagon Wheel in Steep Falls with his wife, their friends and family. After a while, as a joke, he and his wife started wearing costumes to the dances. Once his family convinced him he should dress like a French maid — they had to go to Goodwill to find shoes that would fit him. “He was a couch potato once, and we made my mother up like a TV,” recalled Gordius.

Black’s favorite pastime in later years was attending bluegrass festivals with his wife, Marlene. When she became ill with bladder cancer, he made sure she was able to make the round of festivals before she died.

Once a year, he hosted a bluegrass picking party and cookout at his house on Shaw’s Mill Road in Gorham. The parties began Friday and went straight through to Sunday, with bands playing outside all night long and families staying in campers.

Black’s ashes will be scattered in the same place where he scattered his wife’s and son’s ashes. He would not have wanted a traditional funeral, so his family has something else in mind: a big bluegrass picking party at his home, with all of his many friends and family there.

“We want to do that as a send-off for him,” Caron said, “to have his friends all bring their instruments and play their music and have a good time because that’s how he lived his life.”

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

mgoad@pressherald.com