Christmas works

Our series of three, on working xmas, begins HERE.

…There is a cold breeze outside the car, though nothing moves but a plastic rag knotted on a tree limb — the tree one of those slender naked beauties above the car. Just so light, the rag floats on an otherwise nonexistent breath available to any eye passing or peeping out the nursing home window. I’m parked below the Church between it and the nursing home, waiting for Mass to begin. I don’t recall ever being in a Catholic Church before.

All over New England, in old once-successful mill towns, one finds these astonishing structures in brick or stone. One day this granite mass before me will be christened a basilica. Now it is a reminder that those coming across the border, the French-Canadian immigrants, gave unstintingly out of a bounty of labor not well-paid. For these workers, especially, often were not well treated… and in Yankee communities they were often despised.

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Christmas working

Our 3-part working Christmas series begins HERE.

I arrive in Auburn down route 4, glide past the empty parking lots and deserted stores of Center Street and down into the inner business district, pull to a stop at the traffic light and wait for it to change. A young happy-looking man in a red windbreaker walks in front of the car… now looking like reaching for the doorhandle, so I stretch out a forefinger and press the lock, averting my gaze from his smiling face, ashamed. I suspect he’s developmentally disabled and feel ungenerous for refusing to share even a smile with what could be an angel in disguise. Neither of my sons, I think, would have refused him. My hard suspicious nature has robbed me of a telling moment. It is Christmas Day.

He passes away down the main street toward Lewiston and, more waiting, then the light changes and I turn that way myself. I cross a bridge over Maine’s Androscoggin River and enter the old textile milltown, stopping to make another collect call on the pretext of determining whether I unplugged the coffee pot before leaving earlier. During the exchange JD and I wish one another Merry Christmas again and I’m listening for a tone, a timber in his voice to determine if he’s unhappy about being alone. His tone is light, uncomplicated, content. I hang up and sigh.

The morning’s coffee has triggered the bodily system and I find myself in need of relief: but where can one find a public toilet in a deserted city on Christmas Day?

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working xmas

Winter thematic Maine Metaphor may be published next year.  Hopefully. This entry, here with some notes, is part of that experience–our experience in Maine. first those notes:

Working Christmas. 4:45 a.m. make coffee, plug in the white-lit wreath, turn on the radio to the Mt. Washington station playing Christmas carols.

Marginalia: read Brault’s French-Canadian heritage in New England for info on Sts. P. & P. and the people, remember theme of despised and rejected. Here in Maine the French were so treated in the established Yankee culture.

Relate when I’m inside; interspersed with service. Something on the language – the need to retain it. The Québécois newcomers retained their agrarian small-town mores and language in the mill towns of Maine. “Lose your language, lose your faith,” went the saying.

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Democracy in a small Maine town

HERE IS A VINTAGE CIRCA 1941 PHOTO OF A LOCAL TOWN HALL.

 

greenwood town hall

 

No account of Maine’s development and spirit would be complete without mention of its great sea-faring activities. Even before statehood in 1820, Maine produced ships for the military and for private merchant fleets. Maine had the lumber to produce ships, it had the ocean front–2500 miles of it–from which to commence. The CHRONICLE editor points out that sea-faring gave what would have been a fairly provincial existence the worldly experience necessary to broaden thought. Country boys were given a chance to learn the skill, gain in authority, and see places only dreamed of by many.

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the little girl who stopped the big war

samantha smith

the little  maine girl who stopped the big war

In America and in our country there are nuclear weapons—terrible weapons that can kill millions of people in an instant. But we do not want them to be ever used. That’s precisely why the Soviet Union solemnly declared throughout the entire world that never—never—will it use nuclear weapons first against any country. In general we propose to discontinue further production of them and to proceed to the abolition of all the stockpiles on earth. 

–from Yuri Andropov’s Response to Samantha’s Letter

In this little world of learning,

a goodly heritage

CHRONICLE editor Lee included words about the village school in his collection of Maine writings. The educator Mary Ellen Chase writes of the old-time two-room school she attended as a child. She points out the flaws of the “system”; reuse of old books, obsolete maps, “harassed and overworked,” teachers. And she tells of its strengths: “pride in learning well,” “solidarity of outlook” and the instillation of morally strengthening ideas. In this little world of learning, foolishly considered narrow by some today, a love of learning flourished in Mary Ellen Chase as she glimpsed learning at levels higher than her own. Learning was something mysterious and wise, as she saw in “the beauty and order of common fractions” that an older student had transcribed on the board. In this I find the idea that knowing is not as enlivening as the process of learning. Once the thrill of revelation wears off, one wants to proceed through the process of learning afresh.

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humor succeeding in maine

MAINE: A LITERARY CHRONICLE

Maine humor, dry, often self-deprecating, was popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. According to Editor/ compiler W. Storrs Lee, Mark Twain was influenced by Maine’s Artemus Ward (born Charles Farrar Browne just over the hills in Waterford). Ward practiced Maine humor. Lincoln wanted him in the room with him during the Civil War–at least he wanted Ward’s words there, opening a meeting of the cabinet.

I found exquisite humor and style in George S. Wasson’s “Standing Room Only” where night life at Cap’n Simeon’s Store is described. Here old salts gather round the stove, and youths atop barrels and meals sacks listen while simple wisdom and lore unjaded come forth from the humor of experience.

 

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Faith in Maine

My favorite selection in a particular book was written by Robert P. Tristram Coffin. So good were his words that I did not want to come to the end of them. His subject was “Cathedrals of the North,” a celebration of the Maine barn and the “worship” that is performed therein. He speaks of the fullness of summer being brought into the barn and stored against the leanness of winter. It is fed there to the patient beasts under the farmer’s care.

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