Gramps told me this true story of his life with Grammy (Barbara) when they lived in the house he built at the Greenville airport. Every time we talk about it he adds more delightful details. We will add more details as he remembers them. Barbara was an amazing woman. It is fun to take a look into her life as a young mother. She certainly is one of a kind. Enjoy!
I brought my wife Barbara home to Greenville, Maine in ‘49 and we moved into an apartment at the Wilt Farm, built coincidentally by my grandfather for him and his wife when they were just starting out as a married couple. Barbara and I asked the town if we could build a house at the Greenville Airport and try to keep the airport open and running. The town gave us the go ahead and so we lived in the Wilt apartment for a couple of years while I built our small house.
I worked as a fix-it man during this time. I knew a few things. Water runs downhill and so does any liquid. The appliance might not be plugged in. The outlet might be faulty. A leaky pipe might have a crack in it or an improper suction line or a missing foot valve. I came to be known as a good fix-it man.
Say Uncle Stan needed his furnace fixed. I was the first one he called. (Fix-iting is about 90 per cent luck. You try this and you try that.) So I opened the clean out door in the flue. I left the clean out door open and went away for a while and when I came back, the furnace was running. I fixed it without knowing. It just needed a little airflow. Sometimes I would be fixing an appliance or something and the woman of the house would be looking at me as if I knew what I was doing. I had no idea really but I just tried one thing after another and finally I figured out what was wrong.
Uncle Stan was running his lumber yard at that time and he gave me ‘red hot’ lumber which was good enough to use but not good enough to sell. I used that lumber to build our little house. Barbara and I moved in with our first child, Deborah. I liked to say we had one on the runway and another in the hangar. Margo was born a little later.
At first our house had only one bedroom. When our second child was born, we built the second room to the north. As the family continued to grow we added another bedroom to the south. Eventually we had four children in our little airport house and we were very happy. I gave Barbara 25 dollars a week for groceries and she did well with that, buying groceries and not forgetting toilet paper. One year we tried to grow a garden but the soil was poor and we were too busy in the summer to do much with it. It was a dismal failure. All we canned that year was a pint of chub which even the cat, Schuyler, would not eat.
We built a fire pit outside the house and set up a tent. We all enjoyed the summer months and often cooked and ate outside. Summer in Maine is beautiful but short. We savored every day of it. The kids enjoyed the freedom of country living and Barbara loved the sunshine.
Our first year at the airport we had only 350 landings. When we realized that we were not going to be making enough money to support our growing family, I asked Barbara if she thought she could look after the airport while I went to work for Rod Drew who was building a bottle gas business. He also sold white goods and brown goods- white good being house appliances and brown being televisions, stereos and the like. Barbara agreed that I would go out to work and she felt she could handle the airport tasks.
Barbara was busy at our home and the airport while I worked for Mr. Drew. Some days at the airport were slow with no planes coming in, but there were other days when a very pregnant Barbara with a child on her hip was guiding a plane in. She would give the baby to the pilot to hold while she put gas in his plane and checked the oil. Then she would invite him in for lunch or take him to town with her three kids in our 1930 Chevrolet with a roof that leaked.
At the Greenville town meeting every year I had to ask for 200 dollars to run the airport. I needed it to pay for the cutting of the grass and upkeep. There was a man at those meetings, Peanut Howe, who complained about the 200 dollars every year. ‘Why’, he said, ‘should we pay for him to sit up there at the airport. Go to work like the rest of us.’ Evidently he or someone else reported our airport business to the Internal Revenue Service. I had not been filing with the IRS, because it seemed stupid to report a loss year after year and, although we enjoyed our life at the airport, we were barely getting by.
One day a very serious and official looking large man in a black suit drove up in a big car and came into Rod Drew’s business looking for me. ‘Mr. Walden, he asked, ‘Do you run the airport?’ ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I want you to bring your papers to my office in Bangor,’ he said. ‘Well’, I replied, ‘I have a better idea. How about you come with me and you can see the airport firsthand.’
We headed up to the airport and went into the house. He took a look at our humble, unfinished home and I could imagine the wheels turning in his head. He had expected something a little more ostentatious. He then asked if he could see the business ledgers. So Barbara opened up a kitchen drawer and got out the books. She kept good records of expenses. ‘What year did these people from Philadelphia fly in?’ asked the IRS man as he perused the books. ‘Let’s see’, said Barbara, ‘If I used a black pen, it was 52. If I used a blue pen it was 53.’ He immediately closed the book decisively. ‘Well’, he said, seemingly surprised at the thought that we were making no money; ’I look on this as a hobby. I am not going to report it. If I did it would be reported as a loss financially.’ And so that was that with our brush with the IRS.
The years Barbara and I and our children lived at the Greenville Airport may have been a wash financially but keeping the airport open, taking care of folks who flew in, and enjoying life with our growing family in such a wonderful place was worth more than money could buy. Barbara and I started with one child and a struggling airport. We left with four kids and the knowledge that the airport would be a success. Life was fulfilling beyond measure.
Gramps Walden and Viv Walden