Alton Ardene “Dene” and Nina Daphne Proctor of Weld have been married almost 72 years. They are seen recently in their A-frame home they built in the 1970s. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

WELD — In more than 70 years of marriage, Alton Ardene “Dene” and Nina Daphne Proctor have created a lasting legacy.

The couple recently sat down to remember some of the highlights of their lives.

Dene, born in September 1928 in a small private hospital in Farmington, is now 91. His father, Alton Proctor, died when Dene was 4 years old. His mother, Annie Proctor, also had a 6-year old son and a 2-year old daughter to raise with no source of income.

“As a kid, I did quite a few odd jobs. They cut ice then and I worked loading ice on the trucks and delivered it,” he said. “I spread sand by hand out of the back of a truck. I hand milked five cows in the morning and again at night.

“My brother Carroll and I boiled sap. We went about a mile up from the road across from Althea Jenne’s to boil sap. We were crazy kids.

“I cut a lot of wood, not with a chainsaw, with a bucksaw. Uncle Orrin Merchant paid me $6 a cord. I earned enough to buy an $800 motorcycle.”

Dene said one of the first things he did was get permission to take afternoons off from school.

“I drove the motorcycle to uncle Orrin’s, hitched up the horses and used a dump cart to clean the barn cellar out and get the manure down on the fields. He had 13 cows and three horses. It took two to three weeks to get it done.

Daphne, born in August 1933, is 86. Her father, Thermal Conant, died one month before her 15th birthday on July 4, 1948. Her mother, Katherine Conant, lived another 48 years. Daphne has a brother, H. Coval Conant.

Daphne remembers in her early teens sliding down Center Hill on a double runner sled. When they got to the village, a sharp turn was made by the cement bridge to continue up that road, hollering as they went.

“Laughing, we would make our way back up for another run,” she said.

Dene and Daphne got married in the Methodist church parsonage in Farmington on Aug. 28, 1948. Their friends Caroline and Clarence Bradbury were with them.

“When we went to sign the papers, none of us were of age,” Daphne said. “The pastor had to get his wife to sign.

“It was pouring rain when we came out of the parsonage. We got soaked getting to my dad’s car.

“When we got back to Weld there was a lantern on in the house. We had no power then. We knew someone had been there, so we went to Caroline’s dad’s camp to stay overnight.

“The next morning we went home and found the bed had been shortsheeted. When you opened one door the next one closed.”

The newlyweds first lived in the house Dene’s mother had been living in on the Wilton side of Weld village. The house had been built using barnboards from the house they first lived in up under Mt. Blue that was his grandparent’s home. Dene’s siblings signed the ‘red house’ over to them, Dahpne said.

“We had a hand pump, didn’t have a well,” she said. “We had a pipe in the ground that came into the house.

“We had an outhouse and often heard a hedgehog chewing on it. Trees and bushes were growing right up to the corner of the house at that time.”

“We had to haul wood. I was working, she took care of everything,” Dene said. “I gave her almost every check I ever earned. She had to go to Wilton in those days to do her shopping.”

“He’d tell me how to spend it sometimes!” Daphne added.

Dene worked at the state park at least three years and worked in the woods, using a chainsaw, for a time. He went to work at the Rumford paper mill in 1956.

“I spent 35 years there. I have been out over 30 years now,” he said.

Besides working in the mill, Dene bought a John Deere tractor, a dumptruck and a Caterpillar to use in a side business. He dug septic systems and cellar holes for new homes, along with other excavation work.

“I did a lot of things, spent decades digging, put over 300,000 miles on the tractor,” Dene said. “I wish I could do some of them now.”

During those years Dene dug out the peat bog near their home, creating two ponds. He built a windmill replica, bridges to the islands in the larger pond and a latticework structure for the property.

“I loved doing that. The pond was dug by a backhoe that we owned,” Dene said.

The couple have four sons, Dalton, Daniel, Donald and Daryl.

“I had my four babies before I was 21,” Daphne said. “I stayed at my mother’s a couple of months when Dalton was born. Leon Winter was putting power in. It was in when I went home.”

Daphne said she never worked.

“I stayed home, cared for the children, kept the gardens growing. I canned, jellied, froze things, kept the yard going when we started growing flowers,” she said.

Dene said money wasn’t a particularly crucial thing.

“I turned my paychecks over to her, she learned how to spend it, done good at it,” he said. “I have always been glad she could buy what she deserved.

“Knowing all those things I did at a very young age was a benefit to me.”

In 1963, the couple built a 20 foot long by 10 foot wide greenhouse and a carport. Five years later they almost doubled the greenhouse.

The couple grew vegetable and annual flower seedlings, at first for their own gardens and later selling some.

“I liked to experiment,” Dene said. “I once grew potatoes that were two to three pounds apiece.”

Proctor’s Gardens in Weld were known far and wide for years. Dene and Daphne Proctor created and the gardens filled with annuals and cold-sensitive bulbs. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

They maintained gardens for both, began selling bouquets of cut flowers and allowed weddings to be held at “Proctor’s gardens” as their property became known as.

Through the years, thousands of people have visited. Visitors have come from Maine, numerous American states and from around the world.

“We just went from one thing to another. When we dug the islands we had to put gardens there. We had two big gardens by the house,” Daphne said.

Up until last year, the couple also maintained two small flower gardens in the center of town.

“We had an awful variety of colors in our gardens. I liked the colors we used in the village,” Dene said.

In 1974 the couple started to build an A-frame home on the Temple Road. A small pond, gardens and a greenhouse can be found there now.

“Family members mixed the cement for blocks. We moved in in 1978. We only had two

Dene and Daphne Proctor of Weld have spent more than 40 of their almost 72 years of marriage in this A-frame home they built themselves. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

layers plastic on three of the big windows,” Daphne said. “We did have the big sliding window in. The front and back was still open.

“We had $3,000 in the bank. We used that to get the cellar in, didn’t hire any money. As we saved money we put the windows in.”

In the mid-1980s, Dene’s uncle Orrin Merchant and grandmother Thirza Proctor lived with them.

“One was on one end, one on the other. Grammy Thirza would go back to her house across from the red house in the summer,” Daphne said.

In 1979 Dene started work on what is now known as “The Rock Pile” at Proctor’s Gardens. Through the years he collected scores of rocks, many flat, others containing quartz and those that caught his eye. Over the next 20 years, a 9-tiered terrace took shape and a cabin was built at the top.

“The Rock Pile” in Weld took 20 years to complete and thousands of rocks. It is a well-known feature at Proctor’s Gardens. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

Numerous brides used the cabin to prepare for their wedding, families enjoyed picnics and many guest books filled with names and visitors’ comments about their experience. The view overlooking the mountain range in foliage season was especially breathtaking.

“The cabin is closed and locked down now,” Daphne said. “Unfortunately, we had a lot of vandalism. Young people partying were asked to leave, but walked back up after dark.”

Daphne spoke of the many hours during winters Dene spent woodworking in the basement of the A-frame. He made Adirondack chairs, picture frames, benches, plant stands, cupboards and floating planters for the pond, she said.

The Proctors were also known for homemade ice cream. Daphne said they were working on a job in Carthage.

“In the early 1970s, Dene left me with the tractor and went to the store in Dixfield. He came back with a 15-quart hand cranked ice cream maker,” Daphne said.

Many a family gathering would find Daphne in the kitchen preparing the cooked custard base. Grape-nut was a favorite,” she said.

Dene’s grandfather Rossi Proctor taught him to play the fiddle as a boy.

“My grandfather, Janet Storer, Helen Hilton and I used to get together to play. I was just about able to get onto the fiddle then,” he said.

Dene spoke of the time his father and grandfather traveled to Lewiston to hear Fritz Kreisler perform.

“It was probably before I was born,” he said. “He (Kreisler) was one of the most famous violinists of his day. My grandmother spoke of it.

“I never saw the music, but several years later I was playing and my sister told me I was playing Fritz Kreisler’s refrain.”

Dene played at dances in Canton. He played fiddle and ran the Weld Fire Department dances for several years.

“I could whittle off “Irish Washerwoman” in good shape,” he said.

Dene recently refinished his grandfather’s cello.

“It’s at least 100 years old,” he said.

Daphne has been very active in the Weld Congregation Church, its Ladies Aide or Circle and the Weld Extension group. She is currently a deacon for the church.

Dene served as the road commissioner for seven years.

The couple no longer maintains the large gardens they once cared for with such dedication. They do plan to plant some peas and string beans this year.

“We’ve been gardening for at least 60 years. We raised some of the best gardens,” Dene said. “Two or three years ago we were still doing pretty well planting. I don’t dare to do a thing now.

“My eyesight, my hearing is bad. But I don’t like to complain,” Dene said. “These last five years have taken a hell of a lot out of me.”

The couple almost didn’t come to be. Daphne had a serious kidney problem and could have died.

“Sulfa drugs saved her life,” Dene said.

“I lost the second grade. I was supposed to be in school do many days but I had a constant temperature,” Daphne said. “The doctor came from Wilton several times in the night but nothing we could take in those days would knock it down. The doctor came and gave me a shot. I was out of my head screaming, ‘Don’t touch me!’ my temperature was so high.

“I got through it. Years later, x-rays showed one kidney is black and dead. The other one is larger, but doing all right. I had no more trouble after Dalton was born.”

“She’s been a pretty healthy woman considering the start she had in life,” Dene added.

Daphne and Ardene “Dene” Proctor celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary in August 2018. They are seen during the open house their children held to celebrate. Submitted photo

Dene and Daphne have 23 grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and another on the way.

“We miss a lot of things, but there’s only so much time in life,” Dene said.

The couple still takes almost daily trips to Wilton or Farmington to grab a bite to eat or pick up needed items.

With tears in his eyes, Dene added, “We got married pretty young. Daphne has been everything I could ever want. I couldn’t do without her.”

 

 

 


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