It’s a complete mystery to every member of the younger generation: What’s so good about the Good Old Days?
Well, it wasn’t all good. It’s a matter of perspective. Sometimes the fun in reminiscing with older folks is a shared knowledge that somehow we got through all that and moved on to many welcome changes in life.
I had the pleasure this past weekend of swapping notes on nostalgia with a new acquaintance in Lisbon Falls. Orrison Tarr, a resident of that town all of his 70-plus years, suggested to the Sun Journal that many readers enjoy memories of years past. I looked him up, and we spent a fine Saturday afternoon recalling how things used to be.
It began as an enjoyable exercise, but it wasn’t long before the two of us, who had never met before, were finding connections we hadn’t expected.
Orrison’s youth was a lot like mine a dozen miles north on the Androscoggin.
He talked about tarring roads – a process of spreading wet tar on a layer of sand. There were no trucks to spread the sand, he remembered. It was piled at intervals along the road and workmen shoveled it out.
Woe to the first several cars that passed over the fresh tar. The sticky mess stuck to the underside of the chassis and fenders. The job of scrubbing the tar off the car’s finish usually fell to the younger members of a family.
It was common to go barefoot through most of the summer. Orrison remembers his mother’s scoldings when he would walk in with tar coating his bare soles.
Speaking of early automobiling, Orrison noted windshield defrosters that were a removable arrangement of wires that could be placed over the glass. There were many early attempts to provide heat, but none really worked. Many car owners kept buffalo robes aboard for the comfort of riders.
“Nothing worked until Chevrolet came out with their under-the-seat heater,” Orrison said.
One memory led to another. There was the Cushman motor scooter and – the dream of every boy with a bicycle – the Wizard gas motor that could be hooked up to just about any standard bike.
He mentioned the regular house calls by the ice man, the fish man, the Cushman and Bond bread men, and the man with the saw rig powered by a make-and-break, one-lunger gas engine who would cut up your winter supply of wood.
Names and faces became part of our exchange of memories.
He recalled Walter Farrar, who cut his own ice on a nearby pond.
“I remember the ice truck coming up, and we would run out and snitch chips of ice off the back,” he said.
“His sister was a teacher, and his father was Jim Farrar, who owned a piece of land from North Street in Lisbon Falls right up through to the Gould Road. My father bought it from the Farrars and my father gave $100 for 3 acres,” Orrison said.
Orrison couldn’t remember the name of the man who sold fish from house to house.
“He had lost a leg and he had a wooden leg,” Orrison said.
“Every Friday we had a mackerel for supper,” Orrison remembered, and that reminded him of the salted fish his father always had hanging in the cellarway.
Orrison recalled a man named Harry Edgecomb who came around with a saw rig. For Orrison and his brother, the first job every June after school ended was to lug the wood in. Another boyhood duty was filling the wood box.
This led to talk about the war years – World War II with gas rationing, blacked-out headlights, air-raid wardens and victory gardens. It struck us as ironic how the gas shortage during WWII was endured with patriotic pride, while today’s high prices lead to political turmoil.
Then, Orrison mentioned that his older brother, Kenneth, had served on Iwo Jima, and I told him my daughter’s father-in-law – Marcel Guay of Lewiston, now living in Jay – was also on Iwo Jima and he told of meeting someone from home.
Did those two men know each other so long ago and so far away? I’ll ask, but it doesn’t really matter. Reminiscing is all about connections and the perspective it gives us for the present.
Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and an Auburn native. You can e-mail him at [email protected]