Dateline: 20 September 2014
I've mentioned this agrarian tradition here in the past and, should I continue to write blog posts in the years ahead, I'll likely mention it again, and again.
My family roots are in Northern Maine. My mother's father (the man on the cover of This Book) was a potato farmer in Fort Fairfield. My mother picked potatoes every autumn for all her growing-up years, starting at a young age. She would recollect about how hard the work was, but how good it was. Most people who grew up in Aroostook county have a lot of potato-picking memories.
A few years ago, Yankee magazine published an article about Potato Recess in Northern Maine. It's a good little article. And this Facebook page... Have You Ever Heard of Potato Recess?… has the recollections of people who do.
I grew up in the suburbs of Syracuse, New York. It was a long way from Fort Fairfield. But I always knew what was going on up there because my Grandmother Kimball subscribed us to the weekly Fort Fairfield Review newspaper. The Review was an old and venerable publication that I grew up reading and admiring.
In fact, in the Walter-Mitty-like imaginings of my youth, I dreamed of one day publishing a small-town newspaper just like the Fort Fairfield Review. I even saved copies for awhile, thinking that I would need them someday as a guide and example when I finally did get around to publishing my own Review newspaper. But I digress.
When potato harvest was big news in The Review, my mother would say that she wished I could go up to Maine and pick potatoes. The problem was, of course, getting there and back, not to mention being absent from school in New York for a couple weeks. So it never happened.
But my mother did find me a job picking potatoes in New York. It so happened that Les Ready, and older man in our rural community, grew a couple acres of potatoes every year. My mother heard that he needed help with picking and let me know about it.
I was probably 18 or 19 years old at the time and picking potatoes sounded real good to me, especially since there was a chance to earn some money. Me and an older woman who lived up the road, along with Mr. Ready, picked potatoes all day.
We didn't pick them into handled baskets, then put them into barrels, like they do in Aroostook county. Instead, we picked them into wooden crates that Mr. Ready had made.
It only took one long day to get Mr. Ready's potatoes picked. I remember it being cool and sunny, which is good working weather. I picked as fast as I could and Mr. Ready seemed pleased. The older woman was a steady picker and good help too.
What I remember most was lunch time. Mr. Ready's wife and daughter made lunch and it was a big deal. We all sat down to lunch at their dining room table. I was amazed at all the effort that had been put into the meal, and it sure tasted good.
Many years later, my business partner and I were doing some remodeling work for Carlton and Esther Badman, an old farm couple in our area. Carlton told us not to bring any lunch. "Esther'll make dinner for us."
Well, I guess so! I think we worked there three days, and every day at noon we all sat down to a big home-cooked meal at the kitchen table.
Carlton and Esther, and Les Ready, and his wife have all passed on. And with them has gone an old tradition of feeding the help a good noontime meal.
Okay, so I've covered Potato Recess in Aroostook County, my onetime dream of being a small-town newspaper publisher, and old-time rural hospitality. I reckon that's enough ruminating for now.