My dad was in Germany during World War II, and Mom was staying with her mother in Shirley Mills. My grandmother owned the little store and post office there; her house was just across the road.

I remember the house had no indoor plumbing. The “two-holer” was in the barn just off the shed. The black slate kitchen sink had a hand pump. I recall the hot water was dipped out of a large tank from the woodstove. We took baths in a big tub in the shed. My grandmother was far from poor – it’s just the way it was at the time.

Over the years we spent a lot of time in Shirley Mills. My mom would help out at the store, and we kids would be there a lot as well. The store was built just at the edge of Shirley Pond and I recall the sound of the loons very well. I also recall the mosquitoes: We were never without an oily layer of repellent.

The mail came off the train each day, and it was quite an experience because the train never stopped. The outgoing mail was hung in a sack and was hooked off a device from the train, while the incoming was just thrown off. Gram – Effie Virgie – had a cart with two huge wooden wheels for either pushing or pulling the mail sacks.

Then the mail was sorted into the little mailboxes or set aside for the delivery man to take to the mailboxes. As kids, we were not allowed to play in the sacred mail area.

Also, the store was kind of the meeting place. Sure enough, there was a big woodstove, but I don’t think anyone played checkers. Several old nail kegs provided seating for those who were visiting and catching up on news.

I recall my Uncle Herman. He was a man of some notoriety. He farmed and had a milk route; his team of huge draft horses could roll snow on the road to compact it rather than plow it. That was a sight.

Anyway, Uncle Herman always wore coveralls and had a big moustache that covered his teeth or where his teeth used to be. I even remember his smell in a pleasant way. It was a combination of horse, sawdust, sweat and tobacco.

I also recall a story he told that I for sure have to paraphrase. I tell this story often and am able to drum up an exaggerated Maine accent when I tell it.

“You heard tell about Adam Lang’s boy? He goes to that little school down in Guilford. It seemed the boy was in trouble with the teacher. He was always holding his textbooks and such upside down.

“The teacher was always making him turn it back right side up, but he would still turn them back over again. Finally it was decided to have him see Doc Prythum.

“Well, the old Doc studied the boy and it was decided to take him on up to Millinocket to the hospital there. Well, what they finally decided to do was they popped out both his eyes one at a time and just turned them over and popped them right back in, and by God he was all right after that.”

I don’t know how old I was when I heard that story, but I sure remember that I was some taken aback. That image was etched into my brain.

The old store is still there, but it’s just not like it was. It sure shrank.

I’m told Grammy’s old house is fixed up with bathrooms now. The mosquitoes are still healthy, though.

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