Seventy years ago I heard Leola Robinson say that you couldn’t ask about anything local anymore because the old people were gone. “Aunt Cal would have known.” Aunt Cal was born in 1832. If she didn’t know who built Captain Freddy’s house and when it was built, no one would.

If you live in a city or just moved into town you may well ask who would want to know when a house was built or who built it. But if you live on the same farm that belonged to your grandfather’s great-grandfather – well, these things are good to know. When you are young you don’t know enough to ask questions of your elders. There will come a day when you will wish you had.

In 40 years the grandchildren might be living in our house. They came here yesterday to move furniture for their grandmother. When I bought this house from Myrtle, one of Mother’s third cousins, it was completely furnished, so I didn’t have to move anything. In 1970, the cousins had already been living in it for 150 years, and by then they had figured out the best place to put the padded Boston rocker. But since she moved in 30 years ago, my wife, Marsha, The Almost Perfect Woman, has moved things around, perhaps believing that any change is for the better. I think of change as losing our links to the past.

When I woke up this morning I wondered why the grandchildren didn’t ask me where the old brown bureau with the mirror came from. It was in a house I bought in Nova Scotia.

Town historian Albert Smalley told me that the large cup in the china closet belonged to Noah Andrews, Myrtle’s grandfather, who was born in Clark Island in 1812. The drop leaf table in the dining room came out of the Olson house in Cushing. The heirs must have auctioned off the contents of the house when Alvaro died in 1967, and I got the table for $2. John McCoy told me that the other drop leaf table in the dining room was the best thing in the house. He dated it near 1840 and said that the highboy in the corner looked like something out of a 1907 Montana ranch house.

The Tiffany shade hanging over the ceiling came from Captain Freddy’s house. I brought it down here when I sold the place.


I wish I’d asked Myrtle about the things in the house when she agreed that I would buy it from her estate. I suspect that the ancient red captain’s chair belonged to her grandfather, Larkin Gilchrest. I’d like to know if it ever went to Peru after guano on one of the family’s ships.

The same thing goes for the trees on the farm. The strawberry apples, which ripen early and spoil in a day, came from my Grandfather Gilchrest’s tree. So did the senators, which ripen late and will last all winter in a barrel in the cellar. The Cortlands came from scions I got at Highmoor Farm. I grafted them onto small wild apple trees that I dug up in the fields and planted in rows behind the house. The mighty Wolf Rivers, which get boiled and preserved as applesauce, came from Winslow Robinson’s tree. The apples I have always called Baldwins came from an ancient tree on the first east stone wall. I put them on every tree I could so you will find a dozen of them here and there in all of the pastures. Deer eat them as soon as they drop. This week, they are eating my beans. There is one seek-no-further tree near the far east stone wall. I grafted it on a wild tree over 40 years ago.

And then there are all the houses in the neighborhood. I might be the only living person who knows that Frank Kerswell built his house next to his grandfather’s house before 1907. And that Frank’s cousin, “Uncle” Ern Wiley, lived in the house across the road from that.

For years I meant to film my brother Jim riding through the neighborhood telling me who built each house and who lived in it. It would be a good thing to have in the St. George Historical Society’s archives. But I never did. And now no one can do it.

Because I am suddenly the oldest person in the neighborhood who seems to be interested in local history, you would think that I’d occasionally be asked about this or that. When Glenn Hall dug an iron post out of the ground and wondered what it was, I told him that in 1951 it supported the flying red “hoss” sign in front of Russ Thomas’ Mobil gas pumps.

Should I put a sign in front of my house that says, “Aged Maine Man – Available for Conversation”?

When precocious children are young, most of them know what they are going to do with their lives. Some build radios. Some study gorillas. My brother was interested in town and family history, and as soon as he was able to walk, he visited old people and asked them questions.

My grandfather’s brother-in-law Harvey Kinney was one of his favorite sources. Already a polished historian at the age of 5, Jim would ask Harvey how he knew this or that. And Harvey would say, “Nobody told me. I always knew it.”

The humble Farmer can be heard Friday nights at 7 on WHPW (97.3 FM) and visited at:

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