Emmet Meara, Dave Barry, right whales and hand grenades

Eva Murray: Cleaning House

Industrial arts
Wed, 02/26/2020 - 2:00pm

This is the time of year when many of us tackle our big scary household jobs. In these winter months, while the summer people think we have nothing to do, the DIY-ers among us (meaning most everybody in Maine) spend their tax refunds on new flooring, or finally find time to repair that hole where Big Jake punched the sheetrock, or get out pencil and paper to engineer an improved chicken coop.

In my house this year’s job involves mucking out heaps of paperwork. Old Standard Electric invoices and algebra lessons are easy to chuck, but I also have this bad habit of saving newspaper clippings, thinking I am going to locate and reference a quote later for a future work of deep scholarly research. It wouldn’t be too scholarly, though; many of the clippings have to do with eels. 

Sorting through a pile of old paperwork is like opening up a time capsule. Out it will go, and Marie Kondo would be proud, but I indulged in the time to read some of this stuff before recycling it. That didn’t exactly speed up the cleaning but it was entertaining.

In an armload from 2005-06 I found a priority mail envelope addressed to my house which bore the legend, “Forbidden to be shipped by vessel or aircraft.” Somehow it got to Matinicus. There was a small slip of paper that read simply, “Caramelized Banana Ragout served on a lavender-soaked brioche with green peppercorn ice cream.” No idea. There was a stern letter to me from the resident of a nearby island, bringing me up short for suggesting in a column that citizens of that isle tended to hold themselves in rather high regard as compared with the people of Matinicus who might be, as they used to say, from a bad neighborhood. The writer of the letter was genuinely mad at me for that column, although we still got along just fine face-to-face.

It is important that every now and again I re-read Carmen’s letter and be humbled. I will keep it. 

Mostly, I unearthed newspaper clippings. Several of Emmet Meara’s pieces turned up in the general mess, and here is a good chance for me to nod my head in Meara’s direction. The scraps of newsprint will go, but maybe I’ll hang on to his self-written obit for a while (it’s online, so that’s easy). Sometimes it is the things a person grew up avoiding that allows one to feel a small connection with them.

A 1999 issue of the Gulf of Maine Times turned up, the front page dominated by an article entitled “Right whale rescuers expand disentanglement efforts in Gulf.” The dateline was simply “Bay of Fundy.” Around here, we call that “Canada.” There is a trite expression, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” In any case, as the powers that be and the lobster industry work out the “whale rules” or don’t, let us be reminded that this is not a new issue.

There was a June, 2006 Bangor Daily News article by Abigail Curtis with the headline “Two men caught golfing on Cadillac.” She reports that a man from Saco and his buddy from Texas were given tickets for littering after “rangers caught them hitting golf balls off the summit of Cadillac.”

“You know,” quipped the park ranger, whose name was given in the original BDN story but I won’t bother him again in this day of Internet searches, “You can’t just go up there and start teeing off—unless you ask for a tee time.”

That reminded me of our own local golfing invitational, a one-hole par 37 a few years back when Eric, Emily and Liam took a couple of random yard-sale golf clubs, a machete, and some other hand tools to play through from the Steamboat Wharf to the only known golf hole on Matinicus, one rumored to be on Henry Thompson’s lawn a mile away. They didn’t find the hole and had to dig themselves a new one. Many bushes were wacked in the process.

An Associated Press piece ripped out of an unidentified newspaper with dateline Cushing announced: “Elisabeth Ogilvie dies at 89.”  I never read the iconic Elisabeth Ogilvie books (I know, I should, and I promise I will someday) but I did get to meet Ogilvie years ago when I worked at Rockland Business Machines on Main Street in the mid-1980s. She’d stagger in there, aged –well, old—under the weight of some great moosey old manual typewriter which required a dunking in the parts washer. She evidently had several of those black iron behemoths. I’d love to have one these days (although no idea where you go now to get them washed).

I found humor columnist Dave Barry’s last regular column, published January 1, 2005.

Barry, who along with Patrick F. McManus and Charles Schulz, taught my kids to read, refined the art of completing a regularly-scheduled piece, on a deadline, based on random factoids he found in other newspapers, reassuring his readers that, “I am not making this up.”

In that final column, Barry wrote about the fun he’d had, including being invited to do things like drive the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile (with which he picked up his son from junior high school, always a comfortable place to showcase a parent who acts like a lunatic) participate in an opera performance (after commenting on how opera is potentially fatal to human beings) and ride in an Air Force F-16 fighter jet (in which he threw up).

This is where I look up to Dave Barry. A large part of my rationale for writing newspaper columns or anything else is to angle ways to get rides on cool things. I’ve managed a Blackhawk helicopter, and a police boat in a large city, but no F-16, and I am nowhere near important enough to be entrusted with the Wienermobile. One can dream.

Barry explained in that essay that after he, “made fun of North Dakota, the city of Grand Forks invited (him) up there one January….”

If the residents of the other island I so foolishly took in vain 15 years ago would invite me there, in order to set me straight, I would gratefully go. To be honest I’d actually prefer to visit in January.

Barry described how throughout his career of writing about exploding cows and the like, many of his “favorite columns were suggested by readers, an amazingly alert group. If an important news event occurs…for example, a boat being sunk by a falling cow…. I can count on readers to let me know about it. On the other hand, if I write something that turns out—despite my relentless fact-checking—to be inaccurate…. I will receive dozens of letters, often very irate, correcting me. I cherish those letters most of all.” Sure.

Moving on, I had for some reason cherished a clipping from the January 12, 2005 Village Soup Times with the following headline: “Police to attic cleaners: Don’t deliver any more grenades.” 

Then-lieutenant Randy Gagne (you Camden folks know him?) told the newspaper, “We don’t want a grenade here at the station and we certainly don’t want someone to drive it here.” 

The article went on to describe a second case of somebody delivering an unexploded grenade to the Camden P.D. for disposal.

“In both cases, (Trooper Shawn) Whalen and Gagne took the hand grenades to Laite’s gravel pit and detonated them.”  

“If found, leave it where it is,” said Gagne. “Call us, and we’ll call the state police, and they’ll come get it. Don’t bring it into town.” 

We had a hand grenade out here once, or Nellie Blagden had it, and then Maude Ames had it, and then Paul Murray had it. Paul locked it up in his backhouse until the men in the helicopter came to collect it.

Maybe 20 years after that hand grenade I had occasion to call the State Police Bomb Squad to come out and help the Historical Society get rid of another potentially unstable explosive item, despite Suzanne, our Town Historian, expressing some reluctance about parting with an interesting artifact.

I remembered to put two matching license plates on the Cherokee before I went to pick up the troopers at the airstrip. They climbed off the airplane clad in protective gear, with an ammo box full of primacord (used for detonating things,) an empty two-liter Coke bottle, and a children’s L.L. Bean knapsack (green, with geckos) stuffed full of Pampers and a bullet-proof vest. The gecko backpack was for carrying the explosive to the beach, where the bomb squad guys touched it off on a flat rock with the primacord wrapped around the soda bottle. Boom. 

I am not making this up.


Eva Murray lives on Matinicus