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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

 

 

 

 

Did you grow up in Machias, Maine in the 50s and 60s?

Do you have any photos of the games we played in the neighborhood with lots of kids of all ages?  Winter or summer. Playing ball at the Dodge field, gatherings at the field behind the Mace’s house running all the way to Emma Means’ backyard. The pond we skated on in the field in back of Cooper Street Extension. Sliding at St Regis or on the hill in Whitneyville at the top of the Crosscut road. Yard games. Our annual Memorial Day bike trip to six mile lake.

I’m writing a story about growing up in Machias in the 50s and 60s and all the adventures we had playing outside. I find that I have photos of kids, one or two at a time, groups of kids at birthday parties, but can’t find any of our outside activities together. I guess we were too busy to bring our cameras!

 

 

150th Anniversary Booklet for Machias

Pageant of the Machias Valley.

It was quite a celebration in 1913 in the town of Machias at the Sylvan Park! 

There were plays, music, and dancing over three days. Many of the townpeople participated in the festival including some of my ancestors: my great grandfather, William G Means (Transportation), my grandmother’s sister, Miss Elsie Means (Information), my great grandmother’s future sister-in-law, Miss Emma Perry (Information), who later married Billy Means. 

See the booklet here:

My son posted a photograph of 1913 festival participants here. Quite the colorful costumes!

My Great Grandparents 25th Wedding Anniversary.

William and Nellie Means celebrated with family and friends on July 1st, 1905 at their home at 24 Broadway. The event was reported in the Bangor Daily News July 5th.

25th.anniversary.1905

The bride and groom wore their wedding attire. Their wedding clothes are on display at the Gates House in Machiasport.

The Means home circa 1896. 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.

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Today is the Three Year Anniversary of my blog, Voices of Ancestors!

The first post on December 8, 2016 was entitled: This Old House: Secrets in the Attic. Since then, the blog has had 32,309 views from 18,163 visitors from more than 60 countries. 

Family stories truly are universal!

 

Family Photograph Circa 1940s

Lubec, Maine. Grammy (Elizabeth Keegan Rier), three of her daughters, and two sisters.

Pictured above L to R: Patricia Rier, Marion Rier, Grammy, Carollee Rier Dinsmore, Mary Keegan Foley, Teresa Keegan.

Related posts:

My Grandmother’s Sisters, Teresa and Mary Keegan.

Searching for Grammy Rier’s Parents and Siblings.

I’ll be an Ancestor One Day

As a retired endometriosis researcher, I’m pleased to see endometriosis all over the BBC today!

Voices of Ancestors

Even though I don’t like talking about myself, here’s a story about me.

Tampa Tribune. June 20, 1994. Front page: “Illness Turns Life in New Direction.” It’s a story about a young mother with five children, who lived in Whitneyville, Maine, pursued a Biology degree at University of Maine at Machias, became very ill with a disease called endometriosis, and then found a career in medical research.  To learn more about my career after 1994, click on the “Author” link above.

In my life, the worst of times, led to the best of times. And, I’m proud to be from Downeast Maine.

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Note: There have been many advances in the diagnosis and treatment of endometriosis since this article was written.

Related post:

What Will Our Descendants Say About the Earth We Leave Behind? Part II. 

Resources:

The Endometriosis Association

Endometriosis and Dioxins

Endometriosis: Complete Reference for Taking Charge of Your…

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