Our Annual One-Week Walk-About
THE special summer vacation editions are due. Over 60 years ago, now, Eddie Skillin and I took an annual one-week vacation and walked off to nowhere. This would be in August, after our summer jobs and before school resumed, and we'd have each a knapsack. We'd get home the day before school opened, and we did this every summer until I went to college. We walked. No hitchhiking then, and not good roads in the back country with few automobiles on them. There isn't much in today's special vacation edition that will help anybody who wants the kind of vacation we had.
First, we'd take a train. Maine has no trains, but once we could reach our place to start by ``steam car.'' On a particular foray, now in focus, Eddie and I took the train to Pittsfield, and then rode the branch line up to the town of Harmony. A good place to start!
I was always told that the early settlers of Harmony, wanting a good name for the proposed township, had quite a hassle and some spirited disputes before they agreed. Harmony was the end of the line.
We stepped down from the only passenger car on the train into a pelting northeast rainstorm that soaked us to the skin before we could adjust our ponchos. We were alone in the mountains of four-foot pulpwood waiting to be piled on flatcars for shipment, surrounded otherwise by Harmony. Not a soul in sight.
We had looked at a map and decided on a place to tent that night. But the rainstorm wouldn't let us get that far, so we decided to hike a mile or so and make-do at the first spot that looked useful. We were woodswise and by no means tenderfooters, and we sacked our needs.
As we slogged out of Harmony (no great distance) we looked up to see a broad open farm stretch, with a home and barn halfway up the long slope, and even in the dismal rain it was a beautiful sight. We turned, walked up the lane, and thumped on the house door - the back door. Understand, this was a time ago! People who were strangers, tramps excepted, were careful not to intrude.
But that was quite a rainstorm, and Eddie and I were reluctant in our enthusiasm for a wet night in a soggy tent. That barn looked inviting! At our knock, the door opened and a man in his underwear looked at us in surprise. Behind him was a gracious lady in housewifely attire, holding a pan of unbaked cream-tartar biscuits. A hound came to sniff Eddie and me, and seemed to find us unworthy of alarm. He walked off the steps into the rain, felt the wet, and with his tail down scooted back into the warm, dry kitchen. The gracious lady said, ``Oh, my - they're wet! Bring 'em in!''
The man said, ``Nothing doing! They're too wet to come in here!'' He looked us up and down, and I suppose he took his hound's tacit assurance that we were all right. ``Give me your matches!'' he said. Eddie and I understood, and knew that we would pass the night in his barn, high in the topmost haymow, snug, warm, and nestled in the fragrance of clover rowen.
On our adventure trips, Eddie and I were equipped with essential fire. Each had a packet waterproofed with wax that would be opened only in the extremity of need. We could fall overboard, and that packet would come ashore and kindle a fire. Then, each of us had a small bottle with screw-on top, in which we kept matches for daily use. Also, and we never used it except for practice, we had a length of cord and could make fire by friction. If our matches failed, that is. Anybody who has ever tried to make a Boy Scout fire by friction is always very careful to keep his matches dry. The man in his underwear wasn't going to have a couple of strange kids burn down his buildings.
It was August and warm, so Eddie and I weren't cold. We sorted things out, and caught a nap on the haymow while the storm pelted the barn roof. We had our campers' food, and knew the supper menu, even if 'twas to be cold-cooked, but with some clothes on our farmer came into the barn to chore, and he said, simply enough, ``Marm's got plenty hot biscuits for all.''
We helped him grain his Ayrshire cows, clean down the stable, and carry the milk to the separator. Eddie wasn't brought up with a cow, but I milked two that afternoon. After supper we did the dishes and then found our blankets on the hay in the dark barn. There was a cat that insisted he could help me sleep. The sun rose in the morning, and we continued our vacation.
Memory is pleasant. The farmer gave us one of his hens, and the next night on the shore of Mainstream Pond we had roast chicken.