After 23 Years in Business, Dad’s Car Dealership Burned to the Ground

It was February  1971. I was living in Flint, Michigan where my husband attended General Motors Institute. Our daughter, Monica, was five months old. We rented a one bedroom apartment and her crib was in the living room.

The phone rang. Thankfully, Monica was not taking her nap. I answered. My mother began to speak and then began to cry before she could get the words out. Immediately, I was scared. My mother did not cry often in my lifetime, at least not that I knew of. She was always calm, cool and collected, even in a crisis. In split second, I remembered her answering a call when I was growing up and bursting into tears. One of the Machias womens’ bowling teams, friends she knew well, had all died that night as they traveled home from a tournament, slid off a bridge in Robbinston in a snowstorm.

In a split second while my mother gathered her breath and words, I thought someone in my family had died.

“What’s wrong Mom?” I asked, choking down tears of my own awaiting her news.

“The garage burned down,” she said. “To the ground. It’s gone.” She went on to explain what had happened.

Well the news was bad but no one died. I breathed a sigh. Although at first Dad did not say he would rebuild, by August that year he was busy constructing a new building for Rier Buick Pontiac at the corner of Dublin Street and the Roque Bluffs road in Machias, Maine. I knew he would.

Years later, Mom gathered the photos and news articles of the fire into a scrap book. Dad was in the nursing home, a victim of multiple strokes. Mom wanted him to remember all his accomplishments in his life. And, remind his children of them too.

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My Dad James Eugene Rier

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 had her babies at home in her bed. Sometimes the doctor arrived. Sometimes Frank delivered the baby.

Grammy was a staunch Irish Catholic. I have no idea why she thought she wouldn’t have any children. I could not imagine life without all my uncles, aunts and nearly 40 cousins, most lived in Lubec.

When Dad was little, there was no pretense to dress boys and girls differently, or to cut boy’s hair short. As a toddler, Dad wore dresses and had long, flowing, black hair. “Mother said my hair was too thick and beautiful to cut,” Dad explained.

Dad (R) with his sister Marion (L). Isn’t that a necklace on Dad?

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L to R. Frank and Elizabeth Rier in front of the Rier garage in Lubec. Grammy is holding the newest baby boy (Paul) beside Marion and Dad who sported pants and a hair cut by now. Frank looks so much like my Uncle Raymond, the youngest son in the family, it is stunning.

Dad’s education was intermittently interrupted. When he was about eight years old, he became very ill with scarlet fever and spent a year at home recovering. Later, he was often kept home to help his father in his garage and care for his many younger brothers and sisters. As the eldest child, Dad had a lot of responsibility from early in his life. His father was an auto mechanic and talented artist painting and detailing cars. “He could run a line down the side of a car free handed. It was always perfect. I’ve never seen anyone paint like that ever again in my life,” Dad told me.

High School Years

 

 

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Dad graduated from Lubec High School when he was 19 years old. He had missed a lot of school growing up so he was older than most students. That didn’t stop him from attaining a perfect score in math (100%) he told me. Dad liked to build (and fix) anything. When he was 20 years old, he and his best friend Bud McCaslin built a futuristic car in his father’s garage. From Dad’s stories, he and Bud enjoyed playing pranks now and again. They hooked up a train whistle to a car, hung out by the railroad tracks, blew the loud whistle just as a car crossed the tracks, scaring the bejeepers out of the driver of said car.

Dad’s first serious girlfriend was Rose. Mom used to tease Dad about Rose. Evidently, Rose ditched Dad and he was bereft  until he met my mother, Louise Johnson, one day in downtown Machias. He said he knew then and there she would be his wife. But, that goal took some time. Mom’s mother Harriet at first objected to Dad. He was from Lubec and a family of little means, and not likely to succeed in life. Harriet went to visit the Rier family for the purpose of investigation and fell in love with the Riers herself. In the years ahead, Harriet would visit my grandmother to sit for a day, taste the bread hot from the oven, and enjoy the hubbub of all the children.

In 1940, Dad accompanied Mom and Harriet to the World’s Fair in NYC. Dad was their escort. Most of one family scrapbook is dedicated to the sights they saw and the memories they made there.

 

 

Dad took a photo of the two of them in front of a warped mirror…

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One of the highlights was the precision formation flying exhibitions. Dad was entranced. Then and there he decided to become a pilot. That dream would be fulfilled. In 1942, he joined the US Army Air Corp, went to boot camp in Texas, was assigned to Stewart Field in Newburgh, NY, and trained as a flight instructor. Mom was still living and working in Portland. They decided to marry.

 

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Related posts:

Dad’s Graduation Class: Lubec High School Yearbook 1934.

Dad’s Graduation from US Army Air Corp Advanced Flying School. 1942. 

Dad Received West Point Assignment as Flight Instructor. 1942.

Dad Greets Rosalind Russell at West Point. Circa 1943.

The Beginning of A Business in Machias Maine. Rier Buick. 1949.

One of Dad’s Projects in the late 50s and Early 60s.

My Dad, James “Gene” Rier and Phil Watts. Just Kidding Around. 1963.

After 23 Years in Business, Dad’s Car Dealership Burned to the Ground. 1971. 

My Dad, James “Gene” Rier: Maine’s Dean of Gas Engines. 1985.