On his 60th anniversary, all that glitters is Gould
Sixty years ago today, a young Maine writer's essays began to appear regularly in the pages of The Christian Science Monitor. John Gould was already a seasoned newspaperman, having filed stories for local papers since he was a freshman in high school. Today he surely holds the record for the longest-running columnist in any newspaper in America.
John wasn't born in Maine but, to paraphrase a politician's quip, he "got there as soon as he could." He and his parents a railway postal clerk and "the prettiest woman on Prince Edward Island" moved to the coastal village of Freeport from Boston when John was 10. That's where John's education truly began. He rubbed shoulders with farmers, shopkeepers, sea captains, and Civil War veterans. His formal education included being graduated from Bowdoin College in 1931 with a degree in English. He married Dorothy Wells in the fall of the following year.
Generations of Monitor readers know all this and much more. John's childhood and his life with Dottie are the well-loved stories of his columns: the mystery of the three-tined fork, molasses cookies, visits to "The Island," the Battle of Gettysburg as told by one who was there.
John Gould's essays have brought readers along on nighttime sleigh rides and through Europe in a VW Beetle. We've experienced the astonishment of a lost baseball replaced by a brand-new one autographed by the Boston Red Sox, and the vicarious delight of a mother's first ride on a fire engine on her 100th birthday. Combine a remarkable life, remarkably recalled, with a gift for storytelling, a mastery of the essay form, an engagement with the everyday, an eye for the ridiculous, and most important a sense of humor, and you'll know why Gould has been so welcome in the Monitor for so long.
We invited readers to send their greetings to John and Dot. We received hundreds of letters and e-mails from across the country, as well as from Canada and Great Britain. Here are some excerpts:
Over the years, John has brought his trademark humor, passion, and independence to bear as newspaper editor and publisher, author, farmer, fisherman, humorist, town moderator, fence viewer, loyal Bowdoin College alumnus, and friend. John's direct experiences as a Bowdoin student and alumnus are often a touchstone for his writing, and [many] stories owe their place in College history to John's spirited retelling. For his contributions to Maine literature, history, culture, and humor he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree in 1968 by his alma mater.
I don't believe that John has missed a single reunion celebration at the College since he graduated in 1931. [Gould asserts: I have attended annual commencements without a skip since I was graduated.] See you and Dot for your 72nd Reunion next June, John!
President of Bowdoin College,
Forty years ago I was a rough-cut, 19-year-old farm boy from Iowa who landed a job as editor of a newspaper in Grove, Kansas. Leigh DeLay, the shop foreman at the nearby Oakley Graphic, offered to teach me some of the ropes. One of the first things he did for me was hand me a Christian Science Monitor and suggest that if I were to write a column and deliver community journalism, I should read John Gould's column.
I can't begin to place a value on my friend's advice, any more than I can tell you how much your writing has entertained and inspired me these many years. Congratulations on reaching this milestone.
Valley Falls, Kan.
For years, we have enjoyed every single essay of yours more than you can imagine. Each one is like a Norman Rockwell cover on the Saturday Evening Post exuding the perfect atmosphere of those times. I save each column for our grown children (and their children) so they can sense what life was like "back then." You have just the right touch. Your style captivates even the unsuspecting reader.
Fay and Ed Kaynor
Your appreciation of and advocacy for the basic, honest values of everyday life ring as true today as they did when we first met via your column, some 40 years ago.
I am 92 years old and still look forward to what you write next. I feel you had something to say and still do to all the world. You helped to make the world and its inhabitants a more decent, kind, and brotherly group. You are witty and erudite with insight and perception, a lover of Maine and its people, and a responsible writer. You love people and the world they are in. Yes, you have brought the whole world and its people closer together.
You've brought much joy and laughter into our lives these 60 years through your essays and books. You have delighted and charmed us with your good humor, wit, and knowledge about Maine and its people and surroundings, and beyond.
We were never without a John Gould "file" of essays to take on road trips to read to family and friends in the car, as well as to entertain people after dinner in our Canadian wilderness vacation home. Your writing always gave us a warm feeling.
Donna and Tom Roberts
I have a wonderful memory of collapsing with laughter over one of your essays in the 1940s and I have been a devoted reader ever since. Many thanks for your Down East wit and wisdom.
Mrs. Charles Wakefield Bishop
Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
This is not a "Dear John" letter how could we send such a dismissive letter to one who has brightened our lives for years? Each Friday's Monitor is awaited with anticipation, to see what event or situation warrants your succinct comment or explanation and we're never disappointed. Carry on!
Virginia C. Sheppard
Our kids were raised on the wit and wisdom of John Gould's columns. We often laughed until we cried. Half a century has passed, and he still entertains. He is adept at sticking a pin in the foibles of humanity (especially non-Mainers!), but entirely without malice. I wish to send him greetings and sincere thanks.
Red House, W.V.
Your column has always picked me up with its wry but gentle humor. What a treat to learn so much from a man with a twinkle in his eye and mischief in his heart! I share your columns with my son. He, like me, appreciates your view and your take on days gone by. Keep up the good work.
At age 70, my Aunt Dede came to live with me and my husband and daughters. And Dede and I both being strong-willed, tense moments were not uncommon, and we looked for ways to defuse them. Your column became chief defuser. Each Friday we would sit and read aloud to each other and be happy on this common ground, in the warm feeling we shared.
Ocean City, N.J.
It is impossible to say how many years of pleasure John Gould's articles have given me over the past 50 years. I still remember some of his vivid descriptive prose:
Does it get cold in Maine? "Yesterday the mercury hung at two clapboards below the bracket." That's cold, but it wasn't until I lived in Rockford, Ill., that I realized how cold.
Is there a summer in Maine? "Of course there is, this year I was in the basement changing the wicks on the lanterns and missed it."
Many thanks, John Gould, for the joy that you have brought into the world.
John L. Miller
via e-mail from England
Over the past 15 years I have become an obsessive reader of all of your works and am trying hard to acquire copies of everything you have written so far I have been quite successful. When I first started this interest, it was your writing style and Maine humor that attracted me. As the years have progressed, I have come to realize and appreciate that your real forte is being able to relate everything and anything about life in Maine and impart a significant point or moral with each work, delivered in a very enjoyable way. When I review all the subjects you have written about since your "Basswood blossoms and honey," which appeared in the Aug. 4  issue of the Monitor (preceding your "Dispatches from the Farm" initiation piece titled "Buck-saws and Christmas trees"), it is clear that you have covered virtually everything that has happened in the State of Maine during that period and before. You have a wonderful knack for spinning a tale in such a way that, at the end of it, the reader may be still looking for more; yet, when he reflects upon it, you have said it all.
Robert A. Domingue
Where do you fly to celebrate a new pilot's license? You airlift yourself and three others Down Maine from Boston to visit John Gould in Lisbon Falls.
Merelice (then-Kundratis), Bette (then-Bousquet), and Dick Mather remember fondly the day Peter Beck flew us in a small plane to accept John Gould's open invitation, to all Monitor readers, to "go up in my woods and picnic at my sugar-house spot."
We cherish the memory of the warm welcome he and his wife, Dorothy, extended to four young adventurers on a sunny, crisp day in October of 1963. They took us through pasture and woods, on foot and via tractor-drawn cart, and then cooked up a delicious outdoor meal using the famous three-tined fork (source of several stories). Dorothy had baked a spice cake for the occasion.
Thank you, John Gould, for your humor and your hospitality.
Bette Mohr Grants
Pass, Ore. Merelice
John Gould has 30 books to his credit so far. They include novels, essay collections, history (more or less), autobiography (pretty much), and, above all, humor. Most are now out-of-print collector's items except for his latest, "Tales From Rhapsody Home." Here is the annotated bibliography readers requested.
New England Town Meeting, Safeguard of Democracy (Stephen Days Press, 1940, with photographs by the author). This slim (61 pages) book explores the character of democracy in action at the local level.
Pre-natal Care for Fathers (Stephen Days Press 1941; William Morrow, 1946). "A nonmedical, nontechnical, nonscientific explanation of the masculine side of the matter," says the title page, "with much that is useful and nothing that is wholly useless."
Farmer Takes a Wife (William Morrow, 1945). How Gould plucked his wife, Dorothy, out of Boston and planted her on a Maine farm. Reprinted essays from The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times Magazine, and the Baltimore Evening Sun. It was a bestseller.
The House That Jacob Built (William Morrow, 1947). The story of the Gould family farmstead in Lisbon, Maine, and how it was restored. Reprinted essays from The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times Magazine, and The Lisbon Enterprise.
And One to Grow On: Recollections of a Maine Boyhood (William Morrow, 1949). Gould recalls growing up in Freeport, Maine.
Neither Hay Nor Grass (William Morrow, 1951). Twenty-eight humorous tales.
The Fastest Hound Dog in the State of Maine, with F. Wenderoth Saunders. (William Morrow, 1953). A Mainer buys a dog and tries to take it home on the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad.
Monstrous Depravity: A Jeremiad and a Lamentation [About Things to Eat] (William Morrow, 1963). Celebrating the food of the past and bemoaning the food of the present, complete with recipes from custard pies to clambakes.
The Parables of Peter Partout (Little, Brown, 1964). Fictional letters from Peter Partout of Peppermint Corner, Maine, to the editor of the Lisbon Enterprise.
You Should Start Sooner; in Which Widely Separated Topics Are Strangely Discussed by an Old Cuss (Little, Brown, 1965). Fifty collected essays from The Christian Science Monitor. Foreword by Monitor editor (and fellow Mainer) Erwin D. Canham.
Last One In: Tales of a New England Boyhood, a Gently Pleasing Dip Into a Cool, Soothing Pool of the Not-So-Long-Ago, So to Speak (Little Brown, 1966; Down East, 1979). More of Gould's Maine boyhood; dedicated to his grandson Willy.
Europe on Saturday Night: The Farmer and His Wife Take a Trip (William Morrow, 1968; Down East, 1979). John and Dorothy travel through Europe in a VW Beetle.
The Jonesport Raffle, and Numerous Other Maine Veracities (Little, Brown, 1969; Down East, 1979). Tales of Maine, from 16th-century fishing camps to the lumberjack days. "Much of it true, but some of it isn't," Gould notes.
Twelve Grindstones: or, A Few More Good Ones, Being Another Cultural Roundup of Maine Folklore, Sort of, Although Not Intended to Be Definitive, and Perhaps not So Cultural, Either (Little, Brown, 1970). "Anecdotes, tales, jests, and other Maine apocrypha," from blueberry picking and prison reform to smart dogs.
The Shag Bag, Which, Considering Our Perculiar [sic] Present, Has No Motive, Purpose, and Dedicated Aim, and Is Meant Only to Be Amusing Which Not Very Much Is Nowadays, Is It? (Little, Brown, 1972; Down East, 1979). Some "magnificently renewed and embellished" columns from The Christian Science Monitor and the Baltimore Evening Sun.
Glass Eyes by the Bottle: Some Conversations About Some Conversation Pieces (Little, Brown, 1975). Forty-four "conversation pieces" of wit, nostalgia, and Maine folklore.
Maine Lingo: Boiled Owls, Billdads & Wazzats, with Lillian Ross (Down East, 1975). A compendium of Maine regional language.
This Trifling Distinction: Reminiscences From Down East (Little, Brown, 1978). Stories about the Gould clan. Tall tales and heroes roam freely.
Next Time Around: Some Things Pleasantly Remembered (W.W. Norton, 1983). Reminiscences "by a man who would make only a few changes here and there if he had his life to live over."
No Other Place (W.W. Norton, 1984). Gould's first novel. It concerns Jabez Knight, his family, and "above all his daughter, Elzada" in pre-Revolutionary War New England.
Stitch in Time (W.W. Norton, 1985). Humorous short stories about the inhabitants of a Maine village.
The Wines of Pentagoët (W.W. Norton, 1986). The saga of Elzada Knight continues, taking up where "No Other Place" left off.
Old Hundredth (W.W. Norton, 1987). Dedicated to Gould's mother, Hilda D.J. Gould, on her 100th birthday. Fifty-one tales about life in Maine.
There Goes Maine! A Somewhat History, Sort of, of the Pine Tree State (W.W. Norton, 1990). Maine's history, Gould-style.
Funny About That (W.W. Norton, 1992). Short humorous stories, collected mostly from his previous books. Many of them first appeared in The Christian Science Monitor.
It Is Not Now: Tales of Maine (W.W. Norton, 1993). Fifty humorous tales.
Dispatches From Maine, 1942-1992 (W.W. Norton, 1994). Fifty years of selected columns from The Christian Science Monitor.
Maine's Golden Road: a Memoir (W.W. Norton, 1995). Narrative of the retreats that Gould and his daughter's father-in-law made over the years.
Our Croze Nest: A Morning River Farm Story (Blackberry Books, 1997). His third novel completes Elzada Knight's story and "brings us into today, when summer people have discovered Down East."
Tales From Rhapsody Home, or, What They Don't Tell You About Senior Living (Algonquin Books, 2000). A fictionalized, humorous-but-pointed look at living in a retirement home.