We’ve driven hours, my mom, dad, little brother and me to this remote town – Sterling, Illinois – and at 10 years old I’ve only got the vaguest idea why. It has something to do with my dad’s grandfather, but I’m much more interested in the atmosphere of the old cemetery he’s brought us to. It’s a foggy day, chilly and the graveyard is appropriately gloomy.
Certainly my dad told us something about his grandfather, but it went right over my head.
It’s the same response I get from my own grandchildren, and their fathers when they were young: in one ear and out the other.
“This was your great-great-grandmother’s napkin ring,” I’ll say, showing them the engraving on the side. “See, this was a baby gift; her name was Helen and she was born in 1882....” hoping for a spark of curiosity.
Even when I describe the stiff and proper woman I called Nana, portraying her as a real character, with tiny reading glasses pinched onto the bridge of her nose (she insisted on “Naanaa” while my other grandmother was a plump, comfy Nanny) nobody shows any interest.
Most likely my dad knew quite a bit more about the Sterling, Illinois, grandfather, but by the time I really wanted to know, Dad was gone; like so many of us, I wish I’d asked more questions. I wish I’d listened more carefully. It’s often not until we’re older ourselves, past the rigors of child-rearing, of making a living, even of caring for the older generation that we start to look back and wonder where we came from.
It turns out Bernard Roesing went to Sterling, Illinois, from Friesland, Germany in 1865 at the age of 16. His mother, worried that her son would be drafted into the Prussian army, sent him to Illinois to live with her brother, Egbert von Slooten, a grocer in Sterling. Bernard grew up to start a brewery in Chicago, Bartholomew and Roesing Cabinet Beer, and sire my father’s father.
MONDAY, June 17
Harbor Committee, 6 p.m., Town Office
TUESDAY, June 18
8th Grade Graduation, 5:30 p.m., Lynx Gym
Book Group, 6 p.m., Library
WEDNESDAY, June 19
Watercolor Journaling, 4-6 p.m., Library
“Tracing Your Family Tree”, 7 p.m., Library
THURSDAY, June 20
Last day of school, LCS
Soup Café, Noon-1 p.m., Community Building, 18 Searsmont Road
LIA Meets, Tick Talk, 5:30 potluck, LIA Building, 33 Beach Road
AA meetings, Tuesdays & Fridays at 12:15 p.m., Wednesdays & Sundays at 6 p.m., United Christian Church
Lincolnville Community Library, open Tuesdays 4-7, Wednesdays, 2-7, Fridays and Saturdays, 9 a.m.-noon. For information call 706-3896.
Soup Café, every Thursday, noon—1p.m., Community Building, Sponsored by United Christian Church. Free, though donations to the Community Building are appreciated
Schoolhouse Museum open by appointment, 789-5984.
Bayshore Baptist Church, Sunday School for all ages, 9:30 a.m., Worship Service at 11 a.m., Atlantic Highway
United Christian Church, Worship Service 9:30 a.m., Children’s Church during service, 18 Searsmont Road
July 1: Red Cross Blood Drive
July 4: Beach Fireworks
July 13: Strawberry Festival
I wonder how much of that story Dad knew. I found it out the new-fashioned way: many Google searches.
A good friend, fascinated with piecing together her own genealogy, has often told me stories about her forebearers, intimate stories which came to her the old-fashioned way: word of mouth. She and her mother lived with her grandparents and an aunt while her father was serving in World War II.
My friend absorbed the story of her grandmother sailing from Scotland in 1905 with a toddler and a baby as just part of who she was. She knows her grandmother’s family had been weavers in Glasgow for generations, knows that her grandfather’s family saw to it that each son learned a trade. When the young family settled in a Scottish community in New Jersey he was able to support them as a master carpenter.
Much of this passing down of oral traditions in families is lost with the generations no longer living together. But there are other forces working against us, as well.
Back in the day, when children could ride in the front seat, trips in the car, even just running errands, gave parent and child a chance to talk. No interruptions, no distractions. Then came car seats, firmly fastened in the back. Try talking to your child now! They do graduate to the front seat after age 12 or so, but by then there’s probably a phone and/or ear buds involved; so much for conversation.
Though this isn’t an O’Brien family tale, it is one that I raised my kids on, especially on those numerous trips to and from Camden during their childhood, the story of Elenora French falling from the cliff overlooking Megunticook. Apparently it impressed one of my sons enough to be repeating it to his children. Here’s a version The Camden Herald printed, based on the story Elenora’s sister told:
"My father's name was Zadoc French, and I was the eldest of 12 children. We lived at Lincolnville Beach (but they called it French Beach, at that time.)
"That day myself and the school teacher, Miss Hartshorn, were getting ready to drive to Lincolnville Center to see some friends, when little Elenora coaxed her mother to let her go with us. After dinner a young man, Randall Young, invited us to go up the mountain, and the four of us climbed Megunticook from the Lincolnville side.
"We did not realize we were over the boldest cliff on the rock until Mr. Young told us so, and he said he would find a big rock and roll it down over. While he was looking for a rock, Miss Hartshorn and I were sitting down and little Elenora was rambling around us.
"I remember exactly how she looked. Her hat had blown off and with it the net, and when I last saw her she was sitting on a rock near the edge of the cliff putting on her net. I turned to speak to Miss Hartshorn. I heard a scream. I looked where Elenora had been sitting and she was gone.
"We were dazed for a moment and then ran to the edge of the cliff, but could not get near enough to look over. Mr. Young climbed down the face of the cliff to where Elenora had landed, nearly 300 feet they say from where she fell.
"She was still alive and not a bone broken, but she was injured internally and died at 12:30 that night. I do not know how my sister came to fall. I shall always think that a puff of wind took her hat, and she fell over going after it. The cross was erected some years later."
If you want to tell your kids the story about the big white cross atop Maiden’s Cliff, round it out with a visit to her grave in French Cemtery as well as a drive-by of her house, 25 Beach Road and the farmhouse they carried her to where she died, the Youngtown Inn.
Human beings are naturally story tellers, though perhaps story telling is an art practiced more in the country, places where there are fewer distractions. My husband, Wally, told about how his family spent their summer vacations down at the shore (from Augusta) at a ramshackle farmhouse they owned in Friendship. While his grandfather lobstered, the women, aunts and uncles sat around, drinking tea and talking. For two solid weeks. No tennis dates, dinners out, shopping excursions, sailboat rides. Just talk.
Meanwhile, the children, he and his cousins, fished for flounder and picked blueberries.
If I could go back into my childhood, or even better, young adulthood, I’d ask questions, lots of questions. I learned, while writing Staying Put about Lincolnville 1900-1950 and interviewing dozens of people, the best way to pose a question. Don’t ask “what was your childhood like?” or “what did you do as a child?” No one has a good answer for that.
Ask specifics instead. “What did your father do for a living?” “Did you have siblings? Where are you in the birth order?” “What was your favorite meal? Least favorite?” “Do you remember getting electricity?” “What did your grandfather do for a living?” “How did you celebrate Christmas?” “Did you have a pet?”
By asking specifics you open a whole part of the brain where those details are tucked away. Once you open that up lots more memories come pouring out.
Next Monday afternoon the Schoolhouse Museum opens for the season, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, 1-4 p.m. If you grew up here chances are we have photos of you as a student, perhaps of your house, your parents, etc.
Or if you grew up somewhere else, stop by to learn something about the house you live in, the land that surrounds it. Connie Parker, Jane Hardy, and I take turns throughout the summer manning the museum, answering your questions, showing you interesting stuff. Jane will be there Mondays, me on Wednesdays, and Connie on Fridays.
And stay tuned for a new and improved Lincolnville Historical Society website. I’ve spent the winter revamping it, adding new material and new features. It’s almost ready to “publish” to the web. I’ll let you all know.
Congratulations to May Students of the Month: Kindergarten, Saben McCormick, Aiden Grace, Sylvester Larsen and Emily Stanek; First Grade, Aaron Dyer; Second Grade, Vanessa Merry; Third Grade, Sam Black, Violet Prime and Zoe Dalpini; Fourth Grade, Silas Moody and Noah Seliger; Fifth Grade, Ward Morrison and Mikayla Bixby; Seventh Grade, Bella Barnes.
After seventeen years as the music teacher at LCS, Emily Mathieu is ready to move on to her next adventure. According to the Lynx newsletter “Following her final concert she was given a standing ovation by the audience and many hugs from students. During her time at LCS Ms. Mathieu taught general music to grades K-5, directed the fifth grade beginner band, middle school concert band, stage band, and our chorus. In her spare time she has taken to the stage and directed a number of excellent musicals.” As an audience member for many of those performances, I can give an unqualified “thumbs up” to this teacher’s ability to energize her students.
Twenty-four eighth graders will graduate Tuesday, June 18, 5:30 p.m. in the Lynx gym. It’s a day that seemed so far away the summer nine years ago when a certain little girl in our family was eagerly/anxiously waiting for school to finally start. When “days from now” was measured in “how many sleeps”, when a big sister would be starting second grade, nobody could imagine graduation day. I’ll bet that feeling is familiar for the twenty-three other families of this year’s LCS Class of 2019.
Library Elizabeth Eudy writes: “The Book Group will meet Tuesday, June 18, 6 p.m. to talk about Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. The Book Group meets every third Tuesday and is open to everyone—no commitment, just come when you have an interest, want to share your impressions, or want to suggest a book for the group to read.
“Wednesday, June 19, 4 p.m. is Watercolor Journaling. This program takes place every first and third Wednesdays and is free and open to all. Bring your own supplies, take a seat and enjoy the calming atmosphere of the library while you paint.
“Also Wednesday, 7 p.m., all are invited to a presentation on "Tracing Your Family Tree” with Maine State Library Genealogist B.J. Jamieson. Jamieson will demonstrate how people can use tools available through the library such as Ancestry and My Heritage to do genealogical research and how to use My Heritage in your own home when accessed through the library’s website. She will show how easy it is to get started finding your family’s stories and will share tips and info that researchers of any level can appreciate.”
Jane Hardy writes: “This Thursday, June 20 the Lincolnville Improvement Association meets, with speaker Paula Jackson Jones and her topic What To Do About Ticks. Paula is the President and Co-Founder of the Midcoast Lyme Disease Association. She serves on the HHS Federal Tick-Borne Disease Working Group and the Maine CDC Vector-Borne Workgroup. She’s also a Maine partner of the National Lyme Disease Association and is active in Maine’s Lyme Legislation movement. As always, we will gather at the School House Museum/Lincolnville Improvement Association building, 33 Beach Road, just a block up from Route 1 at 5:30 p.m. The LIA meetings are always open and everyone is encouraged to come and bring a friend. The evening starts with a potluck supper, so please bring something to share. The delicious meal and good conversation will be followed by Paula’s informative talk and a short meeting. We hope to see you there!”
Lincolnville’s Betsy Morrell wrote on the LBB (L’ville Bulletin Board) this week:
“ I coordinate the donations for the Refugee program for Maine. The refugees, most of who have been living in refugee camps outside their home country for years, have finally been approved by the US State Department and randomly assigned to their final home location. Unless they already have family here in the U.S., they have no choice of where they end up. Maine, particularly Portland, has been very welcoming and the placement and assimilation process is administered through Catholic Charities. Though the majority of those coming end up in Portland or Lewiston where the services are greatest, several are assigned to other towns, some here in coastal Maine.
I spend half of my time for 7 or 8 months in Portland and most of my outreach has been in Southern Maine. While I am here fully in Lincolnville for the next 4 months or so, I wanted to set up a collection point for anyone wishing to help with donations. I have several “buckets” where one can be helpful.
- Backpacks – so many of the refugees are children and they all start school within a month of their arrival. Each child needs and receives a backpack with the basics. I would like to get as many backpacks filled with the needed supplies and labeled by age together by mid-August. This is what goes into each one:
Backpack – new or slightly used
- 1 pocket folder
- 2 notebooks
- 1 pkg. pencils
- 1 pencil sharpener
- 1 lg & 4 cap erasers
- 1 ruler
- 1 pencil case
- 1 water bottle
- 1 age appropriate game/toy
For Elementary grades (k-5) add:
- 1 pkg markers or crayons
- 2 glue sticks
For Middle and High School
- 2 blue & 2 black pens
- 1 calculator
- 1 3-ring binder
- 1 pkg. filler paper
- Household Items – these can be new or used and do not need to match at all, but should not be chipped, broken or threadbare.
- Dishes – plates, bowls, cups, glasses
- Utensils – fork, knives, spoons, cooking spoons, spatulas, ladles, sharp knives, can opener
- Pots and Pans – sauce pans, pots with lids, fry pans
- Towels – all sizes
- Blankets & Comforters
- Toiletries – soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, shampoo, deodorant, razors, shave cream
If you have anything you would like to contribute, please let me know. You may drop off at my house in Lincolnville or I can pick up in the Midcoast area. Thank you.” Email Betsy here.
Found on the Beach
As I make my way around the parking lot and Beach every morning, emptying trash barrels, etc. I occasionally come across something interesting or valuable to someone, like the cell phone I found on the seawall this week-end. I’m not able to use my charger with it so can’t call its owner. Call the town office, 763-3555, if it’s yours.
The tiny (1 ¼”) handmade Christmas stocking I picked up is a puzzle. Who made it? Why? How did it end up on the ground at L’ville Beach? The sort of thing to think about.