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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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Noni MacBride’s Blueberry Cake

Whenever our family visited Dr. Bob and Noni at their home in Lubec, there often was fresh blueberry cake in the kitchen this time of year. Mom made it too over the years. Now when I make this cake and the delicious smell wafts through the air, I am filled with memories. Noni’s blueberry cake recipe was published in my favorite old cookbook of Lubec recipes (1988). It’s one of my most valued cookbooks.

I made this cake for family visiting this week. There will be another before August is over.

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Of course, I alter recipes a bit for the times. I use real butter, not oleomargarine, and substitute organic sugar for white. I cook it in an 8″ x 8″ pan so it’s nice and thick, wicked moist, adjusting the cooking time.

In my family, great recipes must be handed down. I taught my grandchildren how to make this blueberry cake. This is my eldest granddaughter, Hayley, learning how to make Noni’s cake in August, 2012. She was eight. Hayley won a blue ribbon and first place in the cake section at the Machias Blueberry festival.

Hayley baking 2012.

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My grandson Odin, age six, won a blue ribbon for a two-crusted blueberry pie in 2010 and for several years afterwards. See that awesome story here.

 

 

Mom’s Record of Trout Caught in Indian Lake, Whiting, ME. 1976 – 1979

Indian Lake Trout Record “Birch Point” USA. 

The record begins in September, 1976.

Mom wrote: “1976 was a great summer for trout.” She decided to keep a record of all the fish caught from the Rier wharf, their size, and time of day.

• Rare “sock” fish (15″ trout) caught at 9:30 AM on September 11.

• 13 1/2″ trout caught at 3:00 PM on September 12th.

1977

May Total Catch: 21 trout, including one 7″ trout caught by my daughter Monica on May 24th. She was 7 years old.

June Total Catch:  6 trout, including four 8 1/2 – 9 1/2′ caught by my nephews, Matt and Bob, ages nine and eight.

July Total Catch: 60 trout, including one 9 1/2″ trout caught by my nephew Matt.

August Total Catch: 31 trout, including six (9 1/2″ to 10 1/4″) caught by me.

September Total Catch: 13 trout

1977 Total Catch: 131 trout.

1978

May Total Catch: 7 trout

June Total Catch: 12 trout, including two 9″ trout caught by me on June 18. On June 29th, two 8″ trout were caught by me and my daughter Monica, and one 9″ trout was caught by my son Jacob, age two!

July Total Catch: 13 trout

August Total Catch: 22 trout, including a 10 1/2′ trout caught by my niece Jessica, age seven. Monica caught 3 trout (8/12′ – 10 1/2″). My son Eric (age six) caught one 8″ trout.

September Total Catch: 19 trout

1978 Total Catch: 73 trout. Mom wrote 71. She’s usually right 🙂

1979

May Total Catch: 3 trout

June Total Catch: 6 trout, including 10 1/2″ trout caught by Jessica, and a 9 1/2″ trout caught by Eric.

July Total Catch: 27 trout, including a 10 3/4″ trout caught by Eric.

August Total Catch: 19 trout, including a 10 1/2″ trout caught by Eric. On the 25th, Mom caught a 17 1/2″ trout after 5:30PM Mass. She writes: “Wow! Wow! Wow!”

September Total Catch: 23 trout. On the 17th, Ray McWaters visited, caught a 11 1/4″ trout and left with his fish and rolls. Three fish (11 1/4″ to 12″) were deemed “fat” in the August catch.

1979 Total Catch: 78 trout

“All in all a good season “

The record book for 1976 through 1979 can be viewed here.

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To Be Continued. Mom recorded all fish caught from the Rier wharf through 1992.

Long journey home: 170 years later an American family reconnects with their Irish island roots

170 years after their ancestor departed from the Ballygill area of Rathlin Island, all 18 members of the Black family journeyed from America to Ireland to reconnect with their Irish roots. From a 4th of July Céilí to meeting living relatives – like singer Frances Black – it was the trip of a lifetime.

Source: Long journey home: 170 years later an American family reconnects with their Irish island roots

My Dad James Eugene Rier

Thinking of my Dad this Father’s Day week-end. Love and miss you Dad!

Voices of Ancestors

The Early Years: 1914 – 1942

Dad was born September 9th, 1914 in Lubec, Maine, the second child and first son of Frank and Elizabeth Keegan Rier. He had an elder sister Marion. As the years went by, Dad had four brothers: Francis (“Babe”), Julian (“Barney”), Paul, Raymond and three more sisters: Evelyn, Patrica and Carolee. In all, Grammy had 10 children. A younger brother, Louis, was born premature and did not survive long. Dad remembered burying the baby in a shoebox in a cemetery in Leominster, MA where they lived when he was young.

Grammy Rier told me that she never intended to have children and was surprised when she was pregnant with Marion soon after her marriage to Frank. “The doctor told me to nurse the baby so I wouldn’t get pregnant right away. It didn’t work. Your father was born little more than a year later.” Grammy…

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Lubec Veterans Honor Roll

This Memorial Day week-end, I am thinking of all the brave men and women who served in the military, especially those from Lubec, Maine.

Voices of Ancestors

LEST WE FORGET

This beautiful memorial honors hundreds of men and women for their wartime service. Lubec, Maine is a small seaside town at the easternmost point in the contiguous United States. In 2010, its population was 1359 residents. Despite its size, many sons and daughters of Lubec fought for their country in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. The memorial also honors those who served their country in Peacetime.

Standing in front of the Memorial, gazing at all the names, I am in awe of the patriotic, brave men and women of Lubec.

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The names of my father, James E. Rier, and three of his brothers, Julian V. (Barney), Paul J. and Francis E. (Babe), are inscribed in black granite for their service in World War II.

This memorial is situated in a lovely park, the grounds…

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My Mother Louise Adele Johnson

Happy Mother’s Mom! Love and miss you today and every day!

Voices of Ancestors

The Early Years: 1920 – 1942

Mom was born January 19, 1920 in Machias, Maine, the third child and only daughter of Ezekiel and Harriet Means Johnson. She had two elder brothers: Warren, born in 1908, and Robert, born in 1918.

She was a towheaded toddler who explored the outdoors in a sweater and boots. The back of the photo reads:

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Mom loved to play in her grandparent’s barn at the house at 24 Broadway. One day, she romped with her brother Bob and cousin Charlie on the upper floor where the hay was stored. While big brother Warren stacked hay, Mom got carried away, forgot about the hole to throw hay down to the horses, and fell through to the lower barn. When she told the story to me over 30 years later, she vividly recalled her surprise descent but didn’t get hurt. There was soft hay below to…

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1913. The Means Family

Voices of Ancestors

This post has been updated with a full scanned copy of the Means Family notebook found here1913.Means

When I was in sixth grade, Mrs. Luce gave the class an assignment: write a story about our ancestors. When I got home that day, I told Mom about my homework project. I hoped to write about my grandparents and great grandparents. She retrieved a small brown notebook from a closet draw entitled 1913. Means Family. Compliments of John H. Means Boston to William G Means. William Means was my great grandfather. I knew the book existed for no one could grow up in my home and not hear stories about my mother’s ancestors but I had never read it, nor glanced at the pages.

I opened the little book and read the first page:

Our Ancestors

Our great-great-great Grandfather and family.

Robert Means born 1689 married Jeane Armstrong, daughter…

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