The Christmas Conundrum

Here are some childhood Christmas memories from Gramps. Merry Christmas.

It’s Christmastime at Walden Farm and I have spent my allotted Christmas money. The Christmas conundrum is this – how to get gifts for my five siblings and parents with ONE DOLLAR. This is the time to be resourceful. Well, I sent away for Jergins lotion, perfume, powder, and soap samples I saw in Saturday Evening Post magazine. That takes care of my three sisters. The perfume goes to Babs since she is always trying to be such a fancy lady. The pretty smelling soap goes to Ruth and the powder, a more practical gift, is for Lambie. I bought Ma a card of safety pins for 10 cents and for my brother Bud I found a pair of shoestrings. I thought of giving my father a lump of coal or a rusty nail but then I figured that in the spirit of Christmas, I should probably hold off on that thought. And that was my gift to him.

IMG_0016Most years we get a box of gifts sent to us from two maiden ladies, Eleanor Marie Duval and Edith Thompson. They come to the Walden Farm for their summer vacation and these very proper ladies are always trying to educate and civilize us barefoot, scraggly kids. We don’t think of ourselves as lacking in any way; we are proud East Roaders. The gifts Duval and Thompson send at Christmas are nice but I think they send them to teach us farm kids some manners. Enclosed is a box of thank you cards which makes us feel all thankful and warm inside. (Well, not quite.) After Christmas, Ma, being the lady of good manners she is, will make us sit down and write those thank you notes.

Happily, there is also Russell Francis, a famous photographer, who has become Santa Claus to us. A frequent visitor to the Walden Farm in the summer, he has taken a liking to the family. He’s walking around with some lead in his gut since he was wounded in World War One. (Maybe he finds some peace in the quiet, solitude and beauty of the ‘wilderness’ here.)

I don’t know if he feels sorry for us farm kids tucked away in such a remote place all winter or if he just likes us but he sends a big box of gifts every year. I take a moose sled (so called because it could haul a moose, of course) and walk downtown to the Junction where the train comes in, load up the wooden box and haul it the well over four miles back. It is a task I delight in doing!

Let’s just say Russell Francis has a better idea what kids like than the aforementioned maiden ladies. There might be a construction set for me, fishing gear for Bud and dolls, watches or bracelets for the girls. Russell Francis also puts his whole character into the wrapping of those presents. They look so fancy and nice and are cleverly packed into a wooden box about three feet long, eighteen inches wide and a foot deep.

One time he sent a gift I shot myself in the leg with. It was a lemon wood bow with a seventy five pound pull. The arrows were target arrows – not built to kill someone, just to wake them up. All I was doing was shooting the arrow straight up in the air and dancing around underneath trying to see how close I could get to it as it came down. At the last minute I would move out of the way. I had done this about five times, but the sixth time I didn’t move fast enough and it hit me in the leg as I jumped sideways. I ran into the house with it stuck in my leg, my sister pulled it out and life went on.

Thank you notes to Russell Francis are not a chore because we sure are thankful for the gifts he sends. Each year when we get a call on our 8 party line from Mr Canders, the station agent, telling us the box from Russell Francis is in at the Greenville Junction, we know our Christmas is coming and it will be good.

On Christmas morning we are allowed to get up early and get our stockings. In the top is an orange, which I eat leisurely, one section at a time before breakfast. It will be a long time before we get any oranges in this neck of the woods again. After the orange I find a small Dick Tracy comic book, a pack of cards, some of Ma’s homemade candies and a little Uncle Wriggly book.

When  the chores are done, the horse has been fed his oats and the milk is separated, we open the gifts one at a time. Ma exclaims over the safety pins I got her and I feel good about that. My brother, sisters and I happily open our own gifts. Santa Russell Francis has made us East Road Walden kids happy. Once again it is a Merry Christmas at the Walden Farm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Blessed Be Nahthing – the Tree

IMG_0119I have been having a wonderful time listening to the memories of Christmas when Gramps was a boy.  He is 94 now so these memories are from the 1930’s. Enjoy.

It’s Christmastime at the Walden Farm and I am so excited. My sisters and brother and I have been as good as gold so Santa will come. Even the woodsboonies have been well behaved. I haven’t had to blame them for much in the month of December.

A couple of days ago Bud, Babs, Ruth, Lambie and I strapped on our snowshoes and headed out through the pasture to find this year’s tree. We tromped around and found the very best tree, a big tall Balsam fir with wide sweeping branches. No sissy tree for us! We chopped it down and brought it back to the house. That was no small feat; it took all five of us to haul it in. Then we had to cut off about four feet, two at the top and two at the bottom because a tree looks smaller out in a field than it does when it comes to putting it in a house – even one with high ceilings, which we didn’t have. Once we stood it up it filled half the room (it was about 12 feet around the bottom) and looked as if you went up attic, you would find the top.

We got the decorations Ma stored in the attic in an old small cardboard box and went to work placing everything carefully on the tree. Crystal sparkling rope and some pretty garland go around the tree first and then we add icicle ornaments made of silver paper that hang down on the branches and reflect the shiny red, silver and blue Christmas tree balls. On top the tree is a home made star, cut from cardboard and covered with tin foil. Last we add the tinsel carefully, one strand at a time to make the whole tree glisten.

The tree will stay up into the New Year. The needles will dry and some of us kids plan to make small pillows filled with the nice smelly Balsam needles. This year I am going to make a pillow to give to my very first girlfriend. I figure that while my competition may come from rich families down where she lives in Massachusetts and the boys who like her might give her fancy store bought presents, my homemade gift that I fashion myself and make with my own two hands will stand out as unique and remind her of summer in Maine and me. (And who knows, maybe I’ll get my first kiss when I see her next.)

One thing we learn young here on the Walden Farm is to make something out of what other people would consider nothing. When you have little in dollars and cents you learn to be creative, look around and make do with what is right outside your door, free for the taking but requiring some thought, imagination and effort.

We are happy in a way that has nothing to do with wealth IMG_2157and much to do with family. Christmas is a time of the year filled with wonder,  joy   and appreciation for the things you cannot touch or hold in your hand.  As my Grampa Ed Walden says, ‘Blessed be nahthing.” He is right. We don’t have much by the world’s standards but we are blessed with happiness, anticipation and love for each other this Christmas season.

 

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An Ode to Election Day From an Oldtimer

Uncle Stan Walden (1892-1960) wrote this poem years ago about the politics of the day. I IMG_1988guess some things never change. I did a bit of editing but the great ideas in this poem are all Uncle Stan’s. I am sure most of us would agree with the sentiments herein.

Every fourth year in the U S of A

A presidential election gets underway.

From past experience we know to prepare

For bunkum aplenty and lots of hot air.

From May to November we are sure to dwell

In a loud, obnoxious oratorical hell

Until after Election Day is o’er

And the mud stops flying for four years more.

Then where do the political prophets go,

Those chosen by God ( at least they think so)?

Once we pass through the voting booth door

We seldom hear from them anymore.

I imagine their next four years are spent

Developing lungs to such an extent

So that when time for an election again has come,

They hope to be able to bawl us dumb.

We live in the land of the free, we say

Yet the IRS and the USDA

Are here to tell us how we should live

And how much to the government we must give.

They promise you anything before November

but after the vote they can’t seem to remember.

And we are lucky if, though they promised us more,

We are left with as much as we had before.

To elect a politician with highest hope

And later find out he’s just a dope

Is a terrible letdown for us all

Our hopes so high crash as they fall.

I sometimes wonder if rule by king

Weren’t, after all, a safer thing.

He might from birth a dumbbell be,

‘T would to his subjects  be a certainty.

We wouldn’t have to take a chance

On all the candidates in the political dance.

We’d put an end and call a halt

To the liberal cha cha and conservative waltz.

Fellow Americans, there’s hope ahead,

When things are so bad, so far in the red,

Don’t cry or despair or mutter a curse

It’s bound to get better; it couldn’t get worse.

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Malapropisms, Democrats and a Little Laughter

OLD-MEN-ON-BENCH-CHATTINGBack in the day when people were not sitting in front of their televisions or computers or playing games on their phones they did a lot of that old fashioned thing – talking. Uncle Stan Walden was always listening for a good story that he could retell later albeit with a few embellishments and pauses in the right places. Jake Drew, one of the town’s two democrats, had a way with words and Uncle Stan would remember the malapropisms that came out of the mouth of Jake and tell them for years – with fondness and respect as was the style of the day. So as remembered by Uncle Stan and told to his nephew -our dear Gramps- and passed on to us come a few stories guaranteed (or quarantined as Jake might say)  to bring a chuckle or two.

Jake Drew came to Greenville, Maine when he was about twenty. He hailed from Bangor where he liked to say he was ‘raised by my aunt and uncle but never officially adapted.’ While it is true he was never officially adopted he certainly did become part of the fabric of East Road.

He bought a farm house built by JJ Grinell and married a young lady from Canada who became sick and died and he then married her sister, Alice. They had Rod and Ethel. In time Rod Drew and Uncle Stan went into business together in the running of a saw mill.

sawmill-turner-and-carriage-e1411940148676In his older years Jake would help at the saw mill in the afternoons. It took two men to run the saw carriage. Jake would be on one end with HG Walden (Uncle Stan’s brother)  on the other. Now you have to measure the logs and HG was an honest man. If it was 3.4 board feet he would mark it as 3 and if it was nearly 4.7 but not quite 5 he would mark it 4. He did not want to shortchange any of the customers.

The log goes on the saw carriage to cut. Jake was on the back handle of HG’s saw. He sees HG marking all the lumber and being so careful not to cheat anyone. Jake sees how conscientious HG is about this. It really bothered him so one day he sidles up to Uncle Stan and says, ‘That Harold Walden, I seen how he is marking the wood and he’s just too darn subconscious!’

Every four years when the election came around folks on East Road gave Jake Drew a hard time. They were all rooting for the Republican while he was supporting the Democrat. Back and forth went the teasing until finally the day came when the election was held. Being the strong yellow dog Democrat he was, Jake had his ear glued to the radio.man listening to radio

So the men at the saw mill had just started their lunch when down the road comes Jake. And everyone is curious as to how the vote is going. ‘How’s the day going with the voting?’ asks Uncle Stan. The men are really interested and stop talking and eating their lunches and wait to hear Jake’s response. With all eyes on him, Jake takes a deep breath and says in a loud excited voice , ‘It’s going good! Four states have gone democrat- Ioway, Peoria, Chicago and Illinoise!!!

 

 

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Dahn Ol Democrats and Republican Dave

FDR Jake DrewBack in the day in the small town of Greenville, Maine, the farmland of five families was seized by eminent domain. The government wanted their land for an airstrip. Two of the farms  were owned by neighbors Jake Drew and Dave Curtis. They both moved less than a mile down on East Road and resettled across the road from each other.

Jake Drew took his house apart, neatly piled the wood onto a wagon and hauled it down the road. It was good pine wood and Jake built himself a nice little cottage complete with a basement, dug well, and a cozy sun porch facing south and closed in. Being the strong yellow dog Democrat he was, he hung a large picture of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the wall behind his chair. Often, on summer evenings he could be found sitting in his rocking chair on the porch, relaxing in the sunshine after a busy day. The work of the day was done. The sun was shining. A democrat was in the highest office in the land. Life was good.

Dave Curtis decided he was not going to take apart his house and rebuild it. Instead he took his small photography studio (about 18 by 20 feet), put it on skids and moved it down the road to live in. That was just fine for him and his dog. He had a six cover wood stove to cook and keep warm by and a small 5 by 3 foot table which was usually full of clutter with just enough room left for a plate. He tried to dig a well with the help of Lonnie Rowe but even with help he had no luck. All he got was a 10-foot hole full of mud and water. So every day or so he had to cross the road with a couple of pails and get some water from Jake Drew’s perfectly functioning well.

Jake would be sitting there on his porch of an evening relaxing in his rocking chair and man in rocking chairsmoking a pipe. When Dave came for water, there was Jake sitting all happy in his chair with the picture of the President Roosevelt(D) behind him. Dave, a serious rock ribbed Republican, would grit his teeth as he came in and grumble a bit in his peculiar way about President Roosevelt as he passed by the picture to get his water.

Since Roosevelt was elected four times, Dave Curtis had a lot of years to complain (in a good-natured way of course, as was the style of the day) about how the Democrats were ruining the country. The time came when Roosevelt, in the first year of his fourth term, passed away. Shortly after, Dave headed over to Jake’s house for water and he wondered if maybe Jake had taken that picture of Roosevelt down now that he had died.

So Dave took his pails and crossed the road to Jake’s house. He went in and he saw right away that harry s trumanRoosevelt’s picture was indeed gone. Jake was sitting there in his rocking chair as usual but behind him on the wall was a picture of the new president – President Harry S Truman (D). Dave came in, looked up and saw the new picture. This seemed to rile him even more than the old picture of Roosevelt – which I guess he had gotten used to. ‘Sniff Sniff, Truman’s a dahn old fool,’ he opined, and then added with another sniff or two, ‘I wish Roosevelt was back in there.’

Jake, puzzled by this odd turn of events, says to Dave, ‘You never had a good word to say about President Roosevelt when he was living.’

To which Dave replied with perfect logic, ’Sniff sniff sniff. Dahn old Roosevelt, he could never do anything right. He lived longer than he should’ve and died before he oughtta.’

– Gramps Walden and Viv Walden

 

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Rock Ribbed Republicans, Yellow Dog Democrats and the Cranks in Washington

By Gramps Walden and Viv Walden

There is this nice thing about small towns – a sense of familiarity and ease among folks. When you have grown up together or lived for years on the same road you understand each other in a way city dwellers do not.

Pol-ButtonDave Curtis and Jake Drew were life-long neighbors. They lived on farms on upper East Road which were seized by the government in 1939 via eminent domain for an airport. They subsequently moved down East Road a bit and remained neighbors.

Dave Curtis was many things. He was a bus driver, a photographer, a piano player, a dog owner, a bachelor, and a rock ribbed Republican. (That, says Gramps, is what they used to call us old people who refused to go along with all the stupid stuff that goes on today.)

Well, Dave Curtis had a rundown farm he worked and to make extra money he drove the school bus. First he used the horse and buggy. (That was before school buses picked up every kid even if they live ten feet from the school. Now you have kids with weak legs because they don’t walk anywhere. – Gramps again) Later Dave graduated to a car, an old unreliable Hudson.

new_yellow_dog_democrat_35_buttonAs I said before, Jake Drew lived across the road from Dave Curtis. Jake, a married man with a few kids, was busy on his farm most days and did not have to take on odd jobs. Jake was as strong a Democrat as Dave was a Republican. In fact, he was a strong yellow dog Democrat. If a dog had run for president on the democrat slate, Jake would have voted for him, so they say. In those days there were just two Democrats in the whole town.

As you can imagine there was a fair bit of good-natured arguing between the rock ribbed Republican and the yellow dog Democrat. Dave Curtis (R) was always complaining to Jake Drew (D) about the democrats who were in charge in Washington. He had a peculiar way of sniffing when he was about to say something. ‘Well’, he would say,’ sniff sniff, Them dahn democrats don’t know what they are doing. They’ve been in charge for years and are doin’ this country no good.’ And then ‘Sniff sniff, Cranks, that’s what they are. Sniff sniff. Goshdahned cranks!’

car and crank 2One cold morning Dave Curtis  was getting ready to pick up the neighborhood kids to take them to school and was having some difficulty in getting his Hudson started. This was in the days when a car could be started with a crank if nothing else worked. It was 20 below zero and the car wasn’t going to start without some help. Dave was not the most organized fellow and he couldn’t find his crank so he hobbled across the road to get one from his neighbor, Jake Drew.

He crossed the road and said, ‘Jake, sniff sniff sniff. Can’t get the dahn old Hudson started this morning. Do you have an old crank I can use?’

Jake, thinking to have a little fun, said to Dave,’ Why don’t you write down to Washington and get them to send up one of those cranks down there you are always complaining about?’

Well, sniff sniff’, said Republican Dave, determined not to be outdone, ‘I would, sniff sniff but they are so dahn crooked I couldn’t use them.’

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Little House at the Greenville Airport

IMG_1926Gramps 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 monthsIMG_1924 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.

IMG_1919The 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

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Flying by the Light of a book of Matches, a Walden Farm True Story

IMG_0026 In the years after WW1, pilots who came home from the war were trying to find a way to make a living. They would take an old Jenny (Curtis Jn-4s, which after the war were sold for as little as $200) and fly around the country taking people up for flights to make money. At the Walden Farm we had a field 1800 feet long that was perfect for barnstormers to land in.

Whenever we Walden kids heard an airplane in the distance, my sister Lambie would holler, ‘Airplane!’ and we would run and put white sheets out on the lawn so the barnstormer would know we had a place to land and down he would come in his Jenny. Ma would bring out doughnuts and milk for the pilot and we kids would stand around excitedly. My sister knew how to make friends quickly and sometimes the pilot would even take us up for a ride.

IMG_0044Later when I was flying people for hire in 1952, I had a day I felt like a barnstormer.

I was living at the Greenville airport in a small house I had built for my little family. (The government had taken our Walden Farm property by eminent domain – but that is a story for another time.) After coming home from serving overseas during WW2,  I had used the GI bill to get my commercial pilot’s license.  I had a Piper Cub on loan from Augusta Flying Service for a year or so. Every now and then I would fly people where they wanted to go and they would pay me a little sum of money. It wasn’t enough to make a living but it was  enough to put gas in the Piper and I loved to fly.

One afternoon, this guy called from Rockwood asking me to fly him to New Hampshire. So I got ready to go, made all the checks on the airplane, went and picked him up, and headed to New Hampshire. I was planning on landing at the Portsmouth army base which had a 2 mile runway.

As we approached New Hampshire my passenger said, ’Could you land me at my farm?’

‘Can you tell me where to find it?’

‘Yes, see that road? Follow it. Now take a right. Now a left.’

‘I don’t need to follow the roads’, I said, ‘Just point me to the farm.’

So he did. Finally I saw the field he wanted me to land on.

The field was about 600 feet in length but straight across it was a big ditch cutting it in two. So I saw I had a very small area to land in.  There were two woodchuck holes in one half and a grove of one-hundred foot tall pine trees at the end of the other. Below the field was a river. I realized I would have to land downwind, and the proper way was to approach into the wind. So I decided I would fly over the river with the wind. I planned a power- on stall. I flew over the river and as soon as I passed over the ditch I killed the throttle and landed fifty feet in front of the pine trees at the end of the field. It was a little like landing on a tennis court but I had figured out how to do it and there we were on the ground safe and sound.

Out of the house came a lady with a glass of milk and some cookies. Her bird dog was going crazy. He never had a bird that big in his field. The missus gave me the cookies and I ate them like a true barnstormer would.  We chatted a while and it was a delightful time. But soon I said goodbye because I knew I had to get all the way back to Greenville before dark.

Now to get out of that field was nothing because now I was going downwind. I backed the plane up to the pine trees, pointed it to the river and made a short field takeoff. I put on full power and let the brakes off. As soon as I got clear of the ditch I pulled the stick back and took off.

Now there are no lights in a Cub. There is no battery or anything. There are no lights on the dashboard or wing. I did not even have a flashlight. What I did have was a small book of matches. I soon realized I would not get home in daylight. When I was fifty miles from home the sun went down. But I had already set my course, and I flew according to my compass. I had to correct for wind direction every little while. The last thing I saw was Wyman Dam. Then it was dusk and then dark. The last fifty miles I had to use my training and wits.

By striking a match about every three minutes I could check my compass and make sure I Matchbook for grampswas still on course. (A book of matches contains twenty – to go along with the 20 pack cigarettes, but I was not a smoker and had used none.) Strike a match, check the compass reading, match goes out. Wait a few minutes and repeat. On the last match, the lights of Shirley were right ahead of me and I made my way to Greenville just a few minutes beyond.

When I got to Greenville I flew at low level over my house. I had told my wife previously, Honey, if I am ever late, go down to the runway that you want me to come in on and shine the car lights across the runway. But when I got there, she was so terrified and worried that all she could do was turn on the porch light. It was like a candle in the darkness.

I could vaguely see the horizon with Squaw Mountain in the distance. It was a good point of reference. The airstrip was 100 feet or so from the house I had grown up in so I was familiar with the landscape. The moon was not full and bright but instead a dim sliver. I managed to land the plane on the last 500 feet of the 3000 foot strip without incident.

I got out of the airplane, walked over to our little home and hugged my wife. And thus ended the day I put my Cub down in a farmer’s field, flew by the light of a book of matches and landed in the dark. I was a true barnstormer.

By Gramps Walden and Viv Walden

 

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The Unfortunate Double Date – a Lad and I Walden Farm Tale

IMG_0463When I was 14 my father told me I had to take over the family farm. He was leaving for Bangor, Maine to make money for the older kids to go to college. We brought in over 1000 bushels of potatoes from the farm; some we stored for the winter and some we used to barter for things in town. But college could not be paid for this way and there were five children in our family to educate. So Dad got a job at the Farm Bureau Administration during the week and came home on the weekends.

So there I was with the responsibility of the farm. My instructions the first week Dad was away were ‘Build a barn door.’ ‘But how?’ I asked. ‘Figure it out!’ was the answer. I did indeed figure it out and this was a lesson in ingenuity and confidence that lasted me all my life.

My cousin Lad came to help me run the farm for two or three summers in those years before the war. I was pretty young and Lad was three years older than me. We each had something to teach the other. I had learned a lot about farming and crop rotation from my father who had taken two years study of Agricultural Engineering. I taught Lad what I knew.

Lad, being older and from the city of Boston, knew a lot about girls. He tried to tutor me in the ways of dating. He was a quick learner on the farm. However, despite his best efforts at teaching me how to handle myself around the opposite sex, I remained a bit of a clueless farm boy. Our first double date occurred when I was fifteen. It made such an impression on me that I remember it to this day.

Most of our time in the summers was spent in the fields. In the rotating of crops our habit was to put down at the same time oats, clover, and timothy. Dad had taught me the fine art of sowing the seeds. He would sing a song as he sowed so the rhythm of the song kept the seeds even. So there were no bare spots or skips in the fields and everything came up good.
Now the first year, oats came up and when you cut the oats you left a six-inch stubble so you didn’t hurt the clover and the timothy. They were coming but just started.
The second year you had thick clover and that summer we cut four acres. The clover is so heavy it is a lot of work. Pitch it in the hay rack. Go to the barn, pitch it off. It seemed like tons and tons of clover.

Lad and I worked hard day after day and when Sunday came we were ready for a day off. Lad had arranged a double date for us. We were to take out two girls from Greenville and I listened to Lad as he gave me the do’s and don’ts of dating once again. He often said, ‘Just watch me and do what I do.’ He was in the front seat with his date while I was in the back seat with mine. Trouble was, he was in high gear while I was in neutral or reverse.

On this particular day, we headed downtown in our 1927 Chevrolet four door hatbox. We picked up Lad’s date, Octavia Sanders, who was the prettiest girl in school. Then we stopped by my date’s house. Her name was Hortense Graham, known in high school by her nickname, Hot Pants Graham. (I have no idea why.)

We then went up to Squaw Brook to see the fish hatchery run by Archie Buldoc. It was nothing new – just someplace to go. We got out to watch the little fishes being hatched. Then we got back in the car and rode the square one way, then the other. It was a pleasant summer evening.

Lad and I were extremely tired because we had worked so hard on the clover. At the end of the date, which was way too long, I was exhausted. Lad stayed in the Sanders home in front of the fireplace with Tavie while I walked my date down Prospect Street, left onto Washington Street to her home. Now I was dragging my feet; I was dead tired, barely keeping my eyes open.

So, as we neared her house at the bottom of Washington Street, I suddenly and quite unexpectedly and loudly broke wind – it came upon me without warning and I was as surprised as Hortense. Red faced, I saw her to her door and walked back to Octavia’s house to pick up Lad and head home.

As we drove home in our hatbox Chevrolet, we exchanged stories and between gales of laughter, I told how my date had ended.
‘ Oh, man’, he said when I got to the unfortunate part of the night. ‘ Was it audible?’
‘ Audible?’ I replied, ’It was almost edible.’

Obviously, his lessons on dating, manners and behavior toward the fairer sex had not taken.

By Gramps Walden and Viv Walden

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The Voice – Gramps Sings at Church

choir Gramps storyBack in the day, I was a member of the UCC church (located next to the famous Sanders store in Greenville, Maine) and I sang in the choir. I sat in the back row with four other men – three undertakers, a dentist and me. We were singing a one hour cantata for Easter. And we had practiced much. The choir director was Ray Miservy’s granddaughter, Eva Davis. She was a nice lady with musical ability who had volunteered to help us get ready for Easter.

The problem was there came up a man’s solo and we had no men’s soloist. So we back row men took out a coin and flipped it. I lost. I had to take the solo. I could range in both directions – tenor or base. Base I preferred.

Now I would go out in the woods and stand under a birch tree to practice. I had heard that it is important to sing from the diaphragm and I tried my best to do so. Standing there in a grove of trees behind my Pleasant Street house, I let my voice soar. ’I knowww that my redeemer liveth.’ I hated to spoil anything because the choir was doing such a great job. We were singing this cantata in three parts and all – soprano, alto, and men.

So after weeks of practicing, Easter Sunday came around and we all filed up to the choir loft. We men were dressed in our best suits and ties with our hair slicked back as was the style. The women looked nice gussied up in their Sunday finest; some even wore Easter hats. As we stood to sing the sun shone through the stained glass windows and the Easter lilies at the front of the church added to the beauty of the day. Standing there with my fellow choir members, I felt excited and ready to do my part to make this Easter morning service a resounding success.

I was a little nervous but determined to sing to the best of my ability. The cantata began and I thought it sounded great. I was more than ready when my solo time came.  I jumped in it with all my might, remembering to sing from the diaphragm.’I knoooow that my Redeeeemer liveth…..” I sang straight from the heart and I don’t know what it sounded like to anyone else, but I know it was beyond my normal voice, very loud and full of power. I sang with gusto and feeling and outdid all my practice sessions.

Well, we got through the cantata in extremely good voice. At the end of an hour we came down off the choir loft. In the first pew sat Jess Drew, a kind and sweet older lady. Understand this- Jess taught singing, although she never taught me. She held singing lessons at her house and had a reputation for being one of the best in town!  Not only was Jess Drew built like an opera star (pleasantly plump), she could sing like one too. And for good measure, she had a daughter and son who did quite well in musical careers. I had noticed her sitting there as we sang and I hoped she was impressed.

Anyway, as I came down from the choir loft after the cantata and church service was over, Jess Drew was the first to greet me. She took one of my hands in both of hers, looked me right in the eyes and gave me this wonderful encouragement. “Eddie,’ she said earnestly and sincerely, ‘You knew just how to sing that solo!’ Well, I thought, I guess I did do a good job.  But then she added this heartfelt and honest remark, ‘It’s a shame you don’t have a voice!’

By Viv Walden and Gramps Walden

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