The quintessential Downeast storyteller
John Gould, who passed on early Monday in Portland, Maine, has appeared in the Monitor every week since 1942. To readers, he was a welcome and engaging friend. To fellow journalists, he was a master essayist - and a friend as well. Mr. Gould's storytelling talent, along with his remarkable memory, character, and wit, equipped him to entertain and educate readers with tales that spanned 150 years: from his grandfather's memories of the Civil War to Gould's pungent observations of life in a retirement home. Readers caught glimpses of the author's life in his essays. But with news of his passing came the discovery that Gould had written what he called an "exegesis" of his life. We publish it here, to honor him.Skip to next paragraph
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John Thomas Gould, the subject of this exegesis, was born at Brighton, Mass., on Oct. 22, 1908. His father was a Maine farm boy, born at Lisbon, Maine, on Oct. 8, 1878, to Thomas Jordan and Hannah Foster Gould. Franklin Farrar Gould, John's father, was named for a tentmate of Thomas's in Company I of the 16th Maine Volunteers, a regiment active at Gettysburg and other places. Tom and Hannah had eight children.
John's mother was Hilda Dobson Jenkins, born Dec. 14, 1886, daughter of John Henry and Catherine MacLeod Jenkins of Vernon River, Lot 50, on Prince Edward Island in Canada.
Frank quit school and left home at 15 to seek his fortune in Boston. Hilda, half Scottish, was as pretty as a field of Highland heather. She'd come to Boston to seek a husband. Frank was the lucky man. The couple lived in a three-decker apartment house on Champney Street until John was born. Then they moved to suburban Medford, first to a flat and then to a single-family home on a double lot at 28 Grant Ave. Here, Frank had land enough for a garden and a stable for hens, rabbits, and pigeons. The neighborhood was mostly immigrant Belgian, and the Belgians ate rabbits and raced homing pigeons. The hens and eggs were the assertion of a homesick Maine boy.
Frank studied by mail and passed the exam for a railway postal clerk. In 1916 he was appointed such, and for the next 40-odd years "ran" on the Vanceboro & Boston Railway Post Office. His job began and ended at Portland, Maine, so he found a house in Freeport. In May 1918 the Goulds moved to Maine. John was 10 and had a sister Louise and a brother Franklin Jr. His sister Kathryn MacLeod was born in Freeport on Aug. 24, 1918.
As a railway postal clerk, Frank worked "six and eight": in six days on the train he worked the equivalent of two weeks' time. Accordingly he had eight days for "rest, study, and relaxation" after each tour. This may sound like a bed of roses, but John recalled how his father staggered home to sleep for two days and then sat up for two more days memorizing postal routes and addresses.
But he had his miniature Sabine farm with fruit trees, bees, cow, pig, and a flock of Dominique hens. Son John was custodian and nursemaid to all this when his father worked.
Young John milked and fed the livestock before and after school. He recited his conjugations aloud so he had a cow that knew as much Latin as he did. John also had the company of his Dad on the eight days he was home. He was grateful for the hours they had doing things together, from trout hunting to hiving bees, setting hens, hunting bunnies, and a million other important matters that working daddies don't always have time for.
John's father didn't finish school, so he insisted his son should, and nothing ever interfered with homework. If John didn't get his chores done in time to study, don't let that happen again!
What influenced John Gould to write? His family subscribed to two magazines, the Youth's Companion and the Rural New Yorker. Both had "kiddie pages" and encouraged contributions. John was published in both while still in grade school. Later, the family "took" the Boston Post, a daily morning paper that had the largest circulation in the country.
Two columns on the Post's editorial page every day were All Sorts, by Newton Newkirk, and The Observant Citizen, by several unidentified writers. Both were written rather much by readers. An early contribution to All Sorts by John Gould was a limerick that used abbreviations:
There was a young fellow from Me.
Who went out with a beautiful Je.
But he found with dismay