In a house up in the woods of Mason Township, near Bethel, lives an 80-year-old man with a powerful hankering for popovers. 

The now-famous eggbeater, or a reasonable likeness, that will hopefully provide years of popovers to the Grovers of Mason Township thanks to Mrs. Sun Spots and a humble Livermore Falls donor.

Rich Grover, his name is, and for many years, his wife made all the popovers his heart desired. Then her favorite cooking tool broke down and life as they knew it shuttered to a halt.

“My original (egg) beater went to pieces,” says Mona Grover, 91 years old on her last birthday. “It clogged up and just wouldn’t turn anymore.” 

She tried beating the batter by hand, but it didn’t work. Electric beaters ordered through Amazon were no help either. 

“The whole point of it is getting air into the batter,” Mona explained. “You need to get that air in them so they’ll rise up in the oven.” 

No decent eggbeater to work with. No popovers for Rich Grover. The poor fellow was sad. And hungry. And desperate. With nowhere to turn, he dashed off a letter to Sun Spots. 

“Dear Sun Spots,” he glumly began. “Does anyone know where I can purchase an old-fashioned eggbeater? My wife, now 91 years old, has been complaining that she can’t find a hand eggbeater and all of the small electric handheld mixers don’t have a slow enough speed . . .” 

Grover went on to describe that pain of going without warm, delicious popovers as the eggbeater vexation dragged on. Reading his letter, you could practically hear his belly rumbling. It was touching. It was charming. 

And my, how the people — the Sun Spotters, if you will — responded. 

“I think I had about 20 responses on that,” says Mrs. Sun Spots herself, “many from people willing to give Rich an eggbeater for free. It was really cute.” 

Cute sure, but for Mona and Rich, it was so much more — a straight path back to the tasty world of popovers they had previously reveled in. Dale Farrar, an antique dealer in Livermore Falls, was moved by Grover’s appeal in Sun Spots, enough so that he was willing to send along an eggbeater from his collection. 

“I have an antique shop and I knew I had a selection of them,” Farrar said. “Seemed like a basic and easy act to make someone happy.”

And it’s not just any eggbeater. 

“It’s solid stainless steel and works like a charm,” says Mona. “It’s working great and he wouldn’t take any money for it. We’re sending him a check just as a kind of thank-you.” 

“This eggbeater is solid,” echoed her husband. “They don’t make them like that anymore. I expect it’s going to last longer than I am.” 

Sun Spots had come to the rescue once more, enriching the lives of those it touched. Answering questions and enriching lives, that’s Sun Spots, all right. It’s practically its raison d’etre. 

BEHIND THE GAUZY CURTAIN

In mid-December of 1972, three letters appeared in the Lewiston Daily Sun, each an appeal for information about one thing or another. One letter asked opinions on insurance coverage. Another sought advice on how to reduce travel expenses, while the third claimed to be from a reader named Barbara who was seeking a special type of canning jar. 

As it happens, all three letters were written by Kent Foster, the newspaper’s managing editor at the time. Foster had a notion about launching a reader column and this was his way of getting it off the ground. 

It worked, too. Within a few days, one reader wrote in to declare that she had seven or eight of those nifty canning jars that “Barbara” was looking for. The column caught wind. After that, it became a free-for-all of questions and answers; a place where strangers could mingle through phone calls and letters and all of that business conducted under the steady hand of Mrs. Sun Spots. 

“In 1987 my wife and I started a laundry business as a door-to-door laundry service after a local provider stopped offering it,” says Rick DeBruin, former owner of DeBruin Family Laundry in Auburn. “A Sun Journal reader sent a query in to Sun Spots asking who offered a laundry service, now that the local provider had stopped. Sun Spots offered our name and phone number and business took off. We operated the company for eight years, before selling to a competitor. Thanks, Sun Spots!” 

Throw a rock down any street in the Sun Journal’s coverage area and chances are good you’ll hit somebody who has had contact with Sun Spots, either on the giving or receiving end. The feature is as popular as ever and Mrs. Sun Spots herself has not lost a bit of zeal for the job over the years. 

Although, her work may not be quite as magical as some would like to believe. 

“I like to have readers think that I’m spinning a wheel behind a gauzy curtain that twirls me into a magical, mystical realm where I’m really smart and know everything,” the lady tells us. “In reality, I keep really good track of records and have digital files with every column I’ve ever written. I go back to the archives, research, use social media, use the library, e-mail, call and text. I make connections with THOSE IN THE KNOW and I’m really nice and patient to everyone I talk to.”

It may not be magic, but digging up answers to all those questions does require a deft hand and a smooth manner. It helps that Mrs. Sun Spots has evolved into something of a rock star, as far as advice columns go.

“I have to call and sweet-talk people (for answers), then I contact them again when I need to,” she further explains. “It might be the city clerk in Lewiston. It might be the owner of Fishbones. It might be the Moxie Festival planners. It might be the director of SeniorsPlus or the little old lady in charge of the historical society. All I have to say is ‘This is Sun Spots’ and everyone wants to help.” 

The feature simply would not work as well if the enigmatic Mrs. Sun Spots wasn’t dedicated and passionate about her work. And she is. Always has been. 

“I never know where Sun Spots will take me when I open the inbox,” Mrs. S tells us. “The questions and requests are always interesting, sometimes delightful, sometimes frustrating. I love the research and making a match, solving a problem, or finding something or someone. Recently, an expensive meaningful necklace was found and returned to the owner because of Sun Spots. The woman called me crying — she was so grateful. I really like having the end of the story to share with readers.” 

Mrs. Sun Spots has been around a long while. She can give you example after example of people who have been helped, either by her deep dive into her so-called “Famous Rolodex”or by other readers who stepped up to help. People whose bananas are ripening too fast and they want it to stop. People who have a pile of Canadian coins and don’t know where to unload them. People who have written to Sun Spots to report lost items and then wrote back to declare the lost item found.

“It’s very nitty-gritty and a real slice of life,” she says. “Readers lay bare their curiosity and concerns and other readers help. It never ceases to amaze me how generous people can be. For example, there was a couple who needed a ride to the airport from South Paris and about eight people wrote back willing to do it free of charge.” 

Mrs. Sun Spots presently gets around 50 to 100 questions per month. The variety of the questions is always impressive. The day Grover’s appeal for an eggbeater ran in the column, another writer was weighing in on a fruitcake cookie recipe, while another was looking to find a home for her yarn. 

“Most frequently asked questions are around repairing something: lamps, clocks, stereos, coat zippers, reupholstering. These come from folks who are older,” Mrs. Sunspots says. “A lot of my readers are elderly and don’t use the internet.” 

In the early days, Sun Spots ran three days a week in the newspaper. It’s popularity has been so enduring, it now runs Monday through Friday. Mrs. Sun Spots gets weekends off. 

WHERE THE ORANGE GUMDROPS AT?

Mrs. Sun Spots is Mrs. Sun Spots and there’s no reason to think of her as anything else. Which is not to say that her style, her methods and even her face haven’t changed slightly over the years. In her various incarnations, Mrs. Sun Spots sometimes goes through a period of adjustment. 

In the early part of the new century, Mrs. Sun Spots found herself in fresh awe of how connected the people were to the column. And vice versa. 

“The connection between Sun Spots and the community was mind boggling,” she tells us. “For many it was the start to their day. Sun Spots, they thought, knew everything. Might even be a godly figure of sorts. Any question or query they could think of they were sure Sun Spots would have the answer. Sun Spots was a person to them, who shared their morning cuppa. She was chatting with them in their kitchens and elsewhere. Shared their favorite recipes, songs, or little known facts. She was a friend, shared their losses etc. I think it took me time to get around to understanding that. Sun Spots was a lifeline of sorts.” 

As she always had, Mrs. Sun Spots got into a groove and the questions kept on rolling in. Questions about anything and, it seemed, everything. 

“There were songs from their childhoods, traditions, family recipes they no longer had,” Mrs. Sun Spots says. “Crafts. Knitting. Crochet. Mustard pickles. Maine blueberry pies. Traditional baked beans. Grandmother’s tourtiere recipe. Or poutine. Sun Spots would locate one recipe and another reader would be quick to share her sister’s or aunt’s recipe. Sometimes Sun Spots could even call in the local bakeries and they’d share something. Or if not, Sun Spots could let readers who didn’t bake know where to find an authentic one. And if another reader had a better response, they’d not be a bit shy in sharing that.” 

In 2015, a reader wrote in wanting to know where she could find the largest orange gum drops available. It was such an odd question, Mrs. Sun Spots initially thought it might have been a joke. She got over that real quick, however. 

“I realized that, to someone, my answer was going to be important,” she said. “I put on my detective hat and did a Google search for that candy. I called the Auburn Mall’s candy kiosk. I found at least three retail stores in the Lewiston-Auburn area where the large orange gum drops could be purchased. The query and my answer were published in Sun Spots. It was a feel-good, reflective moment to think that I may have helped a reader (who doesn’t have) the same resources and detective skills available to me.” 

In an age where Google and Bing, Alexa and Siri, Wikipedia and WebMD are right there ready to answer any question a person might have, Sun Spots nevertheless continues to draw readers with their wild array of questions. Maybe they don’t own computers. Maybe they just like the more personal touch of writing to a trusted local source who’s been taking questions for nearly five decades now. 

Sometimes, Mrs. Sun Spots is a little bit TOO good at digging up information. 

“I was always amazed at how many questions I got about local TV news anchors,” she says. “Many readers wanted to know what happened to an anchor when he/she left, of course, but they also wanted to know who was getting married, having babies, etc. I finally had to stop answering some of those questions when some of the anchors objected to having their privacy invaded.” 

It’s sometimes hard to remember just how long Sun Spots has been around. Think about it: When the column was first launched, Richard Nixon was in the White House, “The Godfather” was brand new in theaters and the top song of the year was a catchy little ditty called “American Pie” by some unknown songwriter named Don McLean.

And a lot of the people who were enjoying it then are still enjoying it now.

“I first became acquainted with Sun Spots mid-1970s,” writes Louise Landry Mease, of Lewiston. “I was a newlywed in nursing school, my husband was at police academy. We lived in my in-laws apartment house, close to nursing school. Living on a shoestring I could neither afford or have time to read the  paper. Every morning after my mom-in-law finished her paper, she would leave it on my steps folded to the Sun Spots page. She was a great Sun Spots fan. She turned me into a fan, and of course the comics on the other side too.”

For some readers — and for Mrs. Sun Spots, too — it isn’t always about the destination alone. Sometimes the journey is just as important. Coming up with answers is great and all, but engaging with people you might never have met otherwise is a big part of the thrill. 

Ask Rich Grover up there in Mason Township. He’s got fresh, hot popovers these days, but he also has a few new friends, and it’s all because of the earnest and hopeful letter he sent to Sun Spots when the hunger pangs became too much to bear. 

“It really turned into a fun thing,” Grover says. “I’m real happy with that.” 

We’re told that Mrs. Sun Spots is pretty happy with it, as well. 


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