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My name is Keith Michaud and this is “Letters From Away,” a blog written by a Mainer living outside the comfortable and sane confines of New England. The blog is intended for Mainers, whether they live in the Pine Tree State or beyond, and for anyone who has loved ’em, been baffled by ’em or both. Ayuh, I am “from away.” Worse still, I live on the Left Coast – in California. Enjoy! Or not. Your choice.
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Tag Archives: Fort Kent Maine
I know I should not let this bother me, but I keep going back to it in my mind.
I was at the Trader Joe’s in Stockton for a couple of items this weekend and, after gathering those items, made my way to the checkout where the clerk called me “young man” three times during the course of our relationship. My definition of “relationship” in this case is the period from the moment I placed my basket on the shelf at the checkout stand to the point I grabbed my receipt and ran screaming from the store.
Firstly, I am not a “young man.” My graying beard is a clue on that. But most certainly I am not an OLD man, either. Secondly, the phrase “young man” is usually used when speaking to males who are obviously young men. Or used when speaking to obviously older men when someone – say a checkout clerk – wants to flatter them and put them in a good mood. After all, we do not want any trouble in the checkout line, do we.
The thing is – besides the fact that I am not “young,” nor am I “old” – the clerk was perhaps within five years of my age, so she should have recognized that I was neither a young “young man” nor an old “young man.” Really, the difference makes sense to me in my head.
I suppose I should not take it too seriously. I am sure she was just trying to do her job and make me feel more comfortable, more at ease, flattered. But I do not need anyone – most certainly not a complete stranger I may never see or speak with ever again in my life – pointing out to me anything that has to do with age or any other personal information not needed for the transaction at hand. I know how old I am. And people who need to know how old I am know how old I am. But the clerk at my grocery store does not have to make any – none, nuda – comment about my age whatsoever.
Seriously, I am not the type of person who minds how old he is – I was born June, 21, 1962, in Fort Kent, Maine, so you do the math – and I even mentioned in an earlier blog entry that a few gray hairs have sprouted. But that is me. It is not the same when someone – especially someone I do not know – implies that I am older than I am. And I suppose that is what I took her “young man” comment to imply.
Granted, since my most recent birthday I have noticed that I need to bring tiny print in much closer in order to read it clearly. Or hold it at arm’s length. I am sure there is a scientific, medical reason for that, but it is still a bit irritating. But I am not at all ready to join AARP. I am not at all ready to be fitted for a truce or walker. I am not at all ready to have all my food come to me in creamed form … unless it is supposed to be creamed, that is.
It is funny, a former colleague not long ago learned how old I was and was surprised. She is five years younger and thought I was her age. She said that I had “aged well.” She is a bit of a flirt, so it is not surprising that she would say something complementary. But it did make me feel good.
Then there was an incident years ago when my friend Rick and I were at a Carson City, Nev., casino and had just finished lunch at the casino diner. The hostess must have been in her 70s, perhaps in her 80s. Each of us were perhaps the age of her children. She did not look up at us, but asked, “Senior discount?”
Rick and I, both in our very early 40s at the time, looked at each other, shrugged and said, “Uh …”
After all, what do you say when someone asks you if you want the senior discount when you are in your early 40s.
She then looked up and realized that we did not quite qualify for the senior discount – yet.
We paid our tab and walked away, shaking our heads and muttering to ourselves, “Senior discount? … Senior discount?!”
To this day, if one of us is squinting a bit to read small print or having a more difficult time than normal moving around, one of us just might comment that the other needs a “senior discount.” But we have been buddies for about 20 years so we can say that to each other.
I do not desire or am I eligible for a senior discount and I do not wish to be called “young man” when I am clearly NOT a young man, but also not an old man. There is nothing wrong with that. … I sure could use a nap just about now.
It has been years – maybe 20 or more – since I have been back to Maine during the holidays. The 8 degrees below zero temperatures that year may have – just may have – played a part in why I have not returned since during the winter months.
But I also recall that while the weather outside was very cold, the holidays in Maine were pretty warm and toasty. Our family for years went to Fort Kent for at least part of the holidays. It was where my grandmother lived with my Uncle Clayton and his sons, Rick and Mark. I have some recollection of wearing a New York Giants football helmet and being run over by my older cousins. That shows me for wearing a Giants helmet and not a New England Patriots helmet. Although I believe I was wearing the only helmet available at the time, so it was not all bad.
I also have a recollection of sitting at the kitchen table of that home and my grandmother making ployes, the French-Acadian buckwheat pancakes, and loving them. A 1-pound brick of rich butter that sat on the table – not in the “icebox” – was soft and used to cover the ployes, which were rolled and eaten with pleasure.
Later, after my grandmother died, I seem to recall spending holidays at my Uncle Richard and Aunt Gloria’s home in Fort Kent and then in Eagle Lake, Maine. The place in Eagle Lake had started out as a vacation home with the idea that it later would be a more permanent residence, which is the way things turned out. It was on the eastern shore of the lake – beyond the town of Eagle Lake, beyond the picnicking area on the hill above the road, beyond the housing complex overlooking the lake and a lookout turnout, beyond old farm houses and new homes. There, across the road from the home perched on a steep hillside, was a dirt road that crossed the railroad tracks and went down to the lake to a collection of vacation and permanent homes on a point.
Aunt Gloria, my mother’s older sister, always greeted us with a kiss and a tight hug. By this time, her sons were getting older and spending more time away; having my sister and me there gave her an excuse to spoil a couple of young children.
In the summer months, only the brave ventured into the lake to swim. I recall that Eagle Lake was very cold, even compared to other Northern Maine lakes. My sister and I instead would skip rocks on the water, play with their pet dog, Penny, or simply run around the point.
The winter was different, of course. Eagle Lake is a rather long lake and there is plenty of open space for a very, very cold wind to pick up force and a cutting edge. My sister and I would hunker down in front of the television – it was a color TV, I seem to recall, and was such a step up from our black-and-white Zenith – especially during the holidays with a large Christmas tree in front of the large windows facing the ice-covered lake.
My Aunt Gloria always made sure we had plenty to eat and seconds were the rule; no one was allowed to leave the table unless they had eaten enough to require belt loosening. And that usually was before the main course was served.
Then there came the mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, ham and, of course, a turkey. I always asked for the turkey leg. Not sure why, just did. I suppose I liked the smokier flavor of the dark meat. And the turkey leg is sort of like meat-on-a-stick. With a turkey leg there is little concern for a plate; simply grab hold of the leg and dig in. With sliced turkey and other holiday foods, there is a need for plates and utensils. What growing boy or girl wants to be weighted down by plates and utensils? An amateur turkey-mealer, perhaps, but not me.
Even later, when we stayed closer to home for the holidays, most knew not to get between me and the drumstick. It just was not a good idea for anyone to do that. Now, I still enjoy the occasional turkey drumstick, although I also enjoy white meat as well.
I won’t be having turkey – leg or white meat – this year for Thanksgiving. I am living a bit far to drop in to visit my Mom or Aunt Gloria for a homemade turkey dinner. Instead, I will be digging into a couple of Cornish game hens. The drumsticks are a bit small, but will be plenty big enough to remind me of those Thanksgiving meals of my childhood.
I knew this day would come – a correction. Mickey Thibodeau took the photo of my Uncle Clayton Jandreau next to his new truck, a 1960 model, in the winter of 1960-61 in the street in front of his family’s home not too far from where my Uncle Clayton, my Mom and their siblings grew up in St. Francis, Maine. Mr. Thibodeau’s father, Phillip, is standing with my uncle. Mr. Thibodeau did not receive the photo from my cousin.
[Posted November 12, 2009 (See correction above): I wanted to get this photo up. I will post more later on it. The photo was e-mailed to me from another Mainer “from away,” Mickey Thibodeau, who now lives in Lake County, California. Actually, the photo comes from Mr. Thibodeau who received it from my cousin Cindy Jandreau. (Yep, the moose hunter.) The photo, taken in St. Francis toward Allagash, shows Mr. Thibodeau’s father, Phillip, and Clayton Jandreau (nearest truck), an uncle to Cindy and me. I am not sure when the photo was taken, but I am guess it had to be in the 1950s or ’60s.]
As I recall from family tales, one of the things my Grandfather and uncles did to get by was cut pulp to be used in mills. They used horses to haul the pulp from the woods to sidings or the nearest road where it was loaded – I am assuming usually loaded by hand – onto a truck to be taken to the mills. Of course, pulp is used for paper and other products.
I seem to recall a story my mother told me once that one of the horses they used to haul the pulp broke loose and was racing toward my Mom, who was pretty young at the time. If I recall the story correctly, one of her brothers threw her behind a fallen tree and the horse leaped over them and the fallen tree. It must have been a pretty exciting time for a little kid.
Mr. Thibodeau also mentioned an old parish hall in St. Francis my Uncle Warren – Clayton and my Mom’s brother and Cindy the Moose Hunter’s father – own and subsequently tore down. He later built a home there for himself, his wife Monica and their children.
I seem to recall that for a time – perhaps between when the building was used as a parish hall and when my Uncle Warren tore it down – that he ran a couple of businesses, including a barbershop and a pool hall/pinball parlor. I recall seeing photos of my first haircut and I am pretty sure Uncle Warren handled the shears that day. If the photos are any indication, I was not particularly pleased to get my hair trimmed.
For those who are unfamiliar with where St. Francis is located, it is on the border with Canada near where the St. Francis and St. John rivers meet. If you look at a map of the state, St. Francis is in the large notch at the northern border. Allagash, where the Allagash Wilderness Waterway ends to the north, is east of St. Francis. Fort Kent, Maine, to the east is where I was born.