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This Old House: Secrets in the Attic

The Means home. 1896. L to R. William Jr., Elsie, Otis, William and Nellie, Harriet. Descendants of William and Nellie Means lived in this home for 120 years.

I grew up in the house on the corner of Broadway and Gardner Avenue, built by Nathan and Ruth Gardner in 1869. My great-grandmother Nellie Getchell Means bought the house in 1887, not long after her marriage to William Means. The home was inherited by my maternal grandmother, Harriet Means Johnson in 1937. My mother and father bought it from Harriet’s estate in 1948 and moved in just before I was born in September of 1952.

This visit to my childhood home, I was cleaning and organizing the sprawling home and barn, filled with 90% junk, 10% priceless family heirlooms, my history. Dad was gone, a stroke victim. Mom could no longer come upstairs, her mobility limited by osteoarthritis. It was my task now, or all would be lost.

The attic was stuffed with cartons and boxes amid glorious, old wide boards and beams, another universe. The outgrown clothes of all my five children rested in a corner under the eves waiting for my grandchildren. Beside the old wooden stairs, I found the petticoats I dearly loved as a five-year old, the insulated skipants and jacket I last wore in the 60s, my mother’s square dancing outfits. How will I ever sort this stuff? I kept the baby clothes and blankets for little ones and my skipants, then packed the rest to donate to a non-profit. By one of the chimneys, I opened one of the old shipping chests of my great-grandparents and gazed at their wedding clothes, well preserved. I moved to another chest, dug deep under school work by me and my two brothers, and found a trove of old letters dated 1908. I carried them downstairs to my bedroom, lined them up according to their date. Each night, I read the letters written by my grandmother Harriet who died before I was born. For as long I could remember, I longed to talk to her, imagined she had written something that told me what she thought about, her struggles, hopes and dreams. It was as though I knew the letters were there, waiting to be found. Through her words, I got to know Harriet and realized that she was a lot like a younger version of me. She fell in love, took risks, defied her parents. Born into a prestigious family, she eloped in 1908 with Ezekiel Johnson from Kennebec, the wrong side of the river, and traveled to Oregon by train without telling her parents.

In 2015, I transcribed Harriet’s letters to share with my family. And, I began to write about the grandmother I never knew, weaving my mother’s stories with the letters written in 1908. To read these eight posts in sequence, begin with “Harriet” and end with “Home at Last.”

Harriet

The Train Can Take Us Anywhere

Papa’s Letter

Papa To The Rescue

Sightseeing and Homesick

Nellie’s Sister Dora Pleads: Please Write To Your Daughter

Christmas Eve 1908

Home at Last: Tough Times Ahead

 

 

 

 

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Happy Easter To You and Yours!

Today is Easter 2019. Time to reblog this post from last year!

Voices of Ancestors

Me and Peter Rabbit many moons ago. I loved the way he liked to lay in my arms on his back. Peter loved to cuddle and he was so soft!

Of course, Easter is not about bunnies. It is a day to renew our hearts and minds and send up prayers into the universe for peace and love in this world.

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Me and my brothers. L to R. Jimmy, David and me (Sherry). I have that (red) blanket on my couch! Somehow I look less serious than Jimmy and David…

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Me and Muriel Watts

A great lady passed this week. I shall miss her so, but know she is at peace at last. I am grateful to have a lifetime of sweet, happy memories of Muriel and our families having fun together.

Voices of Ancestors

my second mother. I’ve known Muriel all my life. She and her husband Phil and their son, David, were always in my life. Phil is gone now, my Mom and Dad gone too, but my memories of our two families together are vivid.

Every summer, our families lived at Indian Lake in Whiting, Maine. We swam, we sailed, we fished, we spent hours/days boating. We started water sports on a surfboard behind the family boat. The first time Dad took me out on the surfboard, I was four or five. Soon after take off, Dad lost his grip on me and I slid between and under his legs into the water.  I remember my surprise to see Dad’s legs fly by. When David and I were eight years old, we learned to water ski. We had to keep up with my older brothers. Soon we were slalom skiing.

David and…

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A Book Recommendation about Vietnam and PTSD.

Honoring all Vietnam Veterans on this National Vietnam War Veterans Day. Thank you for your service!

Voices of Ancestors

Fifty Years in A Foxhole by Charles Kniffen.

I belong to a writing group in Trescott, Maine, headed by Dr. Michael Brown. We meet at Cobscook Community Learning Center every two weeks. I first met Chuck Kniffen there, a few years back. Soon after he joined the group, Chuck and his wife made a trip to Florida and tented out in driving rain. Chuck had flashbacks on his “vacation.” After returning home, he began to write about his experiences in Vietnam and living with undiagnosed PTSD for most of his life.

His book has just been published. It is riveting. You will cry, you will laugh at Chuck’s unique humor, but most of all you will see with glaring intensity the true cost of war. The story is so relevant to the times we live in.

I have been involved with this writing group for more than three years and…

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Mom and Dad’s Photography. Circa 1944

at Stewart Field in Newburgh, NY.

When Mom and Dad were first married, they posed and took photos of each other, then developed them in a dark room. These photos are a couple of my favorites. They look so young and happy!

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Related post:

My Uncle Paul and Aunt Alice. Circa 1944.

 

My Uncle Paul and Aunt Alice. Circa 1944

My Dad’s brother, Paul Rier, served in the US Army Air Corps at West Point, Stewart Field, NY during World War II, as did Dad (James Eugene Rier) and their brother Francis (Babe) Rier. They were from Lubec, Maine. This photo was found among my parents’ old photos of those years. Dad and Mom often posed for each other and developed the photos in a dark room. This pair of photos was taken in my parent’s apartment on a lounge chair my father built.

Uncle Paul was so handsome and my Aunt Alice was beautiful. We called her Aunt Winkie but I’m not sure why. Another story to discover!

Happy 76th Anniversary Mom and Dad

Love and miss you Mom and Dad!

Voices of Ancestors

My mother and father, Louise Adele Johnson and James “Gene” Rier, married on February 15th, 1943 at the Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church in Portland, Maine. Their special day was chosen because it was the day that my grandmother Harriet wed Ezekiel Johnson (and eloped) in 1908, and it was birthday of my great grandmother, Nellie Getchell Means, born February 15th, 1857.

Mom lived and worked in Portland at the time. Dad, now Lieutenant Rier, traveled there from Newburgh, NY where he was an engineer and pilot instructor at West Point, Stewart Field Air Force Base. There was a snow storm. Their families from Downeast Maine, Lubec and Machias, had a time making it to the wedding although Dad’s brother, Babe, and Mom’s mother Harriet, did. It was a long rough drive. Dad’s brother Paul, also stationed at West Point as PFC, was his best man. Mom’s maid of…

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My Mom’s 50th Class Reunion

My Mom, Louise Johnson Rier, graduated from Machias High School in 1936. This photo was taken at her class reunion in 1986. I love seeing my Mom with her high school classmates, smiling, with so many familiar faces. Elizabeth Johnson was Mom’s cousin, who was dearly loved and owned Johnson’s Jewelry in downtown Machias for many years.

This photo and names were provided by Irene Vose Robinson.

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Related posts:

Mom and Brother Robert on a Sleigh Ride. Postcard 1920s.

Mom’s Adventures in Portland: Horse Back Riding. 1942.

Mom at 16. High School Graduation. 1936.

Mom Hanging Out with Friends.

Mom Keeps Men at Stewart Field Air Force Base on High Alert. 1944.

Mom and Friends. Rotary Anns Bowling Team Trophy. 1959.

Mom and Dad. Halloween Rotary Party. 1976.