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The Lincolnville Blog

Walking on Layers

Diane O'brien - Sunday, March 29, 2015

Every place I walk in this town of Lincolnville, Maine I’m conscious of the ones who walked here before me. Imagine layers beneath our feet, each one a different era, but peopled with individuals whose lives were every bit as filled with the stuff of life as our own.

  On Pond Bridge at the Norton Pond inlet, now a bland state highway culvert, lovers kissed in the moonlight. In the kitchen of a certain house near Youngtown Road a mother rocked her dying child until its breath stopped. Living rooms saw paper-flower- bedecked weddings as well as funerals, sometimes for an aged parent whose life had ended with a satisfyingly peaceful death, but just as often for a younger person—mother, beloved child or sturdy breadwinner—knocked down suddenly by accident or disease leaving their numbed relatives to carry on.

Bedrooms saw birth under every possible condition, rooms that can be stifling in summer with their low eaves and only one window to let a little breeze in. And in winter they were frigid; how did the laboring woman stand it? Babies were delivered by husbands, grandmothers, sisters, aunts or perhaps the neighbor woman everyone called the midwife. Husbands made long, desperate rides through snow or mud or rain, usually at night it seems, to get the doctor. If he didn’t get back in time his wife delivered alone. Sometimes the baby died, and too often, the mother did. But mostly both thrived.

Do you live in a brand-new house? No layers there, you say. But think again; you live on top of somebody’s hayfield, potato patch or woodlot. Think how haying season could stress already-beleaguered marriages. Thunderclouds piling up when the hay was almost dry, but still in the field, every family member working to the limit of their strength to pitch the hay onto the wagon and load it into the loft of the barn. The man worried about feeding his stock, caring for his family, while the woman worried about getting the next meal on the table. Woodlots saw tragedy—a hung-up tree or limb is called a widow-maker for good reason. 

But sometimes a newly-married couple, before babies kept the wife home, ventured down to a camp in the woods behind Slab City, say, for the winter; she cooked while he ran a crew cutting wood. Maybe he worked for a wealthy summer family, and they both stayed nearby in a seaside cottage, brief interludes before real life put an end to such intimacy.

Our gardens yield bucket after bucketful of broken crockery, metal buckles, nails, latches, hinges, even rotting leather shoes. Did a child drop the sugar bowl one morning? Did he get whipped for it? Or did the husband, angry at his inability to get a few dollars ahead, smash his wife’s favorite vase, or did she, worn out with too many kids, throw the plate at him? Or did things simply get broken, worn out and thrown away, just like ours do today?

Anywhere in town you might pick up a horseshoe, the only tangible sign of the legions of animals that made life here possible. The horse was revered then as a man loves his pick-up today, his snowmobile, his racy little car; all that’s left of them is some mildewy harness hanging in old barns and the thousands of iron shoes they wore. How many hundreds and hundreds of docile cows grazed on our rough pastures, chewed their cud under this or that very oak and fairly trotted to the barn, udders swinging, to be milked at dusk? What about the hundreds of thousands of chickens, hens and broilers, spending their brief lives in the now-ruined henhouses crumbling around town?

But did anything important happen here? In Lincolnville’s 230 years since “settlement”, (that obscure day in 1770 when the first white settlers, Nathan and Lucinda Knight, built their log cabin and stayed), has anything of historical note happened here? Truthfully, very little. But looked at another way, every human thing did. The people who lived then knew a Lincolnville both radically different and essentially the same as the one we live in today.

We no longer raise all our food, make our clothes and marry someone just down the road. The animals in our lives are pampered pets, not the means to survival. Yet we are raising children, loving (and hating) one another in turn, striving to get ahead while, at the same time, trying to do the right thing.

Most likely, you don’t live in this town; you may never have heard of Lincolnville, much less have the intimate connection to it that I do. But no matter where you live you walk atop layers. I'm talking about Lincolnville, my town; It could just as likely be where you are.

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