Every summer from the year I was born, my family lived and played on Indian Lake in Whiting, Maine. We were “upta camp” as mainah’s say. We spent most days in or on the water swimming, boating, fishing, or sailing, only coming out to refuel on Mom’s lunches and dinners. 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. By the age of eight, I learned to water ski; I had to keep up with my elder brothers, David and Jimmy, and their friends. In this video of multiple 8mm movies, I am the wild child, most often in the yellow bathing cap. For the life of me, I cannot understand how my parents let us (no – encouraged us) to do all these antics. They were having fun too!
Lately, I have spent days sorting and organizing my parents possessions, a collection comprised of years of calendars, newspapers and magazines that tell a story about their lives. In among decades of every greeting card ever received, I pulled out this article from 1985 about Dad’s marine engine business “Rier Marine.” I broke out laughing when I read how he managed to buy a large inventory of engines at low cost. I remembered the stories told at home. Dad bought a train load of Buick engines to marinize for the boats of fishermen and lobstermen.
And 1964 is when Gene’s big break came – the opportunity to buy a large inventory of engines at a reasonable price. The government was after certain specifications in marine engines. Buick had 500 engines for Grumman Allied Industries to put in their Pearson Yachts. The eight engines the government had been given all blew up.
Rier, by this time, had years of experience marinizing Buick engines. He also had a reputation for mechanical wizardry, which was backed up by credentials earned with the US Air Force during World War II. “Well Buick wanted me to check this out [why the engines blew up]. The chief engineer on the project asked me what college I’d graduated from. After I told him Lubec High School, he wasn’t interested in finding out what happened. So I ended up buying the whole mess for very little.”
Dad knew he could marinize the engines, prevent them from blowing up, and make them extraordinarily reliable. He could fix anything, but he was a genius with engines. The chief Buick engineer couldn’t repair the engines and didn’t believe anyone else could, especially a hick from Machias, Maine, who had only graduated from Lubec High School and had no college education. Dad bought 500 Buick engines for a song. The article continues:
Friends may come, and friends may go, the old friends and the new. But through the years I have come to know. That the best of them all is You. Patient, helpful, kind and strong. My teacher, pal and guide. I can’t go wrong while we trudge along. Life’s pathway side by side.
The back of the picture reads: “To Dad from Elsie. January 15, 1930. 75th Birthday Greetings.”
Elsie is my grandmother Harriet’s younger sister. Their Dad is my great grandfather William Gordon Means, born January 15, 1855. He died March 25th, 1930, little more than two months after his 75th birthday.
William Means is buried at the Court Street Cemetery in Machias, Maine. His home was at 24 Broadway, where I grew up.
The back of the postcard reads: “Louise and Robert on a sleigh ride with Chris the man who cares for Billy’s trotting horses. This is Wm’s horse.” ~ Albert J.
The children on a sleigh ride in Machias, Maine, are my Mom and her brother, Louise and Robert Johnson. Billy is their uncle, Billy Means and Wm is William Means, the children’s grandfather. The horse drawn sleigh is on the wooden bridge across the Machias River with the Getchell Grist Mill and the roofline of the Phoenix Opera House in the background.
One day I just might get to my parents’ letters and mine.
You’ve found or inherited old letters. Congratulations! You have a real family treasure. Now you need to learn how to preserve those old letters. I recently spoke with Denise Levenick, the Family Curator, for her tips on preservation. (First step: Don’t burn them.)
Related post: November 1923. Grace Means Letter to My Uncle Bob
When I was growing up in Machias, Maine at the house at 24 Broadway, the soap box derby, sponsored by the Bangor Daily News, was a big deal. Hundreds of boys spent weeks building their derby cars, designed to enhance downhill speed. There were discussions among boys and fathers in neighborhoods and yards about lowering wind resistance, the best wheels.
Then one fine June day the entire Eastern Maine community traveled in throngs to the races held at “Derby Downs” in Brewer, crowds lined the road and cheered on family and friends to be first over the finish line.
A view of the race in 1966 featured classmates of mine.
In 1958, I stood with my family and other, rather overly excited, Machias residents close to the finish line. We watched as three soap box cars sped down the hill in the championship finals. Standing in a huddled crowd, fighting to maintain my view (I was only six and not very tall), I watched Jim cross the finish line first. Everyone around me was cheering – or a more apt description is – screaming. Jim went on to win the Class A grand championship.
The prizes were way too cool. A bicycle. Best of all, at least for me, a 14-foot aluminum boat that was a fixture of summers on Indian Lake at the family camp. That boat was our joyous transport for decades, not just for boat rides. There was endless fishing, exploration of coves and wetlands, and water sports. I learned to water ski behind that boat when I was eight. There were no other girls on the lake, just my brothers, and the boy next door, another brother David. David and I used to take boat rides down by the lake outlet beach and have contests to see who could catch the most blood suckers on our legs in the shallow water.
I diverge from the soap box derby story. It is enough to say that that prize boat led to years of good times, good memories.
The other prize for Jim was an all expenses paid trip for him and his family to Akron, Ohio for the National Soap Box Derby competition. It was my first experience on an airplane. I’m the little girl in the front of the photo with a big smile clutching a carry-on bag, in vogue for the time.
Two reporters from the Bangor Daily News accompanied us to Ohio, pictured at the top of the photo. The man on the right, reporter Raymond Goode, sat beside me on the plane. I remember him vividly. He chatted with me during the trip, easing any fear of airplanes I might have had otherwise. He drew sketches for me and taught me how to draw a cat that I imitated for years.
Jim won his first heat in Akron but lost afterwards. It didn’t matter. It had been a most excellent adventure!
Some photos and descriptions in this post are thanks to the Paper Talks magazine.
This photograph of Mom was found in the old barn at 24 Broadway in Machias in the later years of my mother’s life. It was in an old trunk strapped up under the stairs to the second floor. I had never noticed it before. Mom said that Dad put the trunk there when they moved into the house in 1952 just before I was born, in an effort to store old things in a hurry. The forgotten trunk belonged to my grandmother Harriet and was filled with antique linens, her scrapbook, and old photographs. When the photo was discovered, I took it, along with other items from the trunk, for Mom to see.
“I haven’t seen this picture since I was young,” she said and smiled up at me from the chair where she sat most of the day, her mobility limited by severe arthritis.
“Wow! You’re so young and pretty, Mom,” I replied in excitement. I wanted to add that she still was but I knew that remark would irritate her. She hated getting old and no compliment could assuage her disdain for her reflection in the mirror. Wistfully, she fingered the linens I set in her lap and then looked through her mother’s scrap book which she did not remember. No wonder. It was 2007, seventy one years after that photo was taken.
Today, as I went through cartons of storage in need of one more round of organization, I found the photo in the original frame and another treasure: my mother’s writing.