Recounting the Counties And Helping Dad Deliver
It amazes me that reciting the 16 counties of Maine would stir up so much reader mail. Some bolstered my contention that memorizing never stunted intellectual growth, and most wanted me to know he or she could do the English interjections, or the order of French pronouns before the verb. Nobody echoed the advice of an early editor who told me never to memorize anything I could look up. (That's why I can't tell you my own telephone number.) These letters have persuaded me to tell about Arundel, a village here in Maine, but first a few more words about our 16 Maine counties.
They are: Androscoggin, Aroostook, Cumberland, Franklin, Hancock, Kennebec, Knox, Lincoln, Oxford, Penobscot, Piscataquis, Sagadahoc, Somerset, Waldo, Washington, and York.
Of these, Mother England is the origin of Cumberland, Lincoln, Oxford, Somerset, and York. York is our oldest county and has the oldest records in the archives. Lincoln was second, and was not named for Abraham.
Then we have the counties with American historical names: Franklin, Hancock, Knox, Waldo, and Washington. This leaves the Indian names, all from areas of tribal homelands. They are Androscoggin, Aroostook, Kennebec, Penobscot, and Sagadahoc.
You will notice this leaves Piscataquis. This has usually been dismissed as an Indian word, probably Micmac or Abenaki, meaning "land of our tribe" or some such. School books have made this mistake, and not long ago on our public TV station "Piscataquis" was accepted as an Indian word on a quiz show. If you can find your old Latin dictionary from high school and college days, look up the Latin for "fish" and for "water." You will see at once that the untutored Amerinds were somehow fluent in classical Latin well before high taxes and public education.
Piscataquis County has more than a quarter of a million acres under water. The population density is about four people per square mile. Now, I will tell you about memorizing Arundel.
Arundel was settled early, and was named Cape Porpus because the people came from Massachusetts and didn't know how to spell "porpoise." It had been part of Kennebunkport, but escaped. Nobody knew much about it until Kenneth Roberts wrote his novel about Arnold's march on Quebec in 1775. The title was "Arundel," which author Roberts liked to pronounce "aaron-dell." The town name was then changed to Arundel, which most Mainers call "a-RUN-d'l." Honored was Lord Arundel, Earl of Warder.
It was a no-stop, catch-and-throw station on the old Boston & Maine line to Portland, a whistle-toot sleepy community on the Bangor & Boston Railway Post Office. My father was a railway postal clerk on that run for 42 high-speed years. He didn't go beyond Bangor, but the train was the Boston to Halifax Maritime Express, in its day the fastest over-the-route train in North America. My dad, to hold his job, memorized so many postal addresses that thinking about them perplexes the mind, like considering eternity.
In the city of Boston alone, he knew the street and number of 30,000 firms. That took care of his westbound trip. Eastbound, he worked mail for Wakefield and every other town as far as Dingwall on Cape Breton, on Prince Edward Island. My Dad didn't always know where a place was, but he knew how it got its mail. The next day.
He was required to report at the Boston post office periodically to "put up" an examination on some part of his distribution area. He was permitted a small margin of error, but his own desire to be right was more compelling. He'd get tested on Boston city and score 99.97 percent. Then he'd go home and study so next time he'd do better.
Our mother and my sister and I helped Dad study. He had cards, the size of a businessman's, with an address on the front. The proper destination for a letter to that address was keyed on the back of his card. A letter to Boston might go to Grove Hall substation, by such-and-such a varied route. One of us would read an address to Dad, and when he answered we'd turn the card and check him. We did that by hours, until our mother, my sister, and I knew our US postal delivery schemes as well as he did.
SO I was in school one day, we were studying American history, and we came to Benjamin Frank-lin, our first postmaster general. He had laid out our post roads. His route from Boston to Augusta, Maine, went right through our little town of Freeport. We still had the old "post hotel" where stagecoach passengers stayed the night and the horses were stabled. Our teacher asked us to make a list of the towns the stagecoach went through to come from Boston to Freeport.
Duck soup! I wrote all the town names our mail train pouched on, direct and connecting, and it took me all of two minutes and three sheets of paper. And when school let out, our teacher gave me a note for my mom. It said, in substance, that at times I was obnoxious by intruding nonsense at serious moments, and today I had done so during history lesson, distracting her and my fellow pupils about the towns between here and Boston. Would my mother aid and assist?
My mother, who was very special to me, read this note and asked, "What's this all about?" I told her about my list of towns, and she looked at the list I'd given my teacher. "Humph!" she said. "We'll forget about that. Now, scat! Git! Out of my kitchen!" As I headed for the living room, my mother, the postal clerk's wife, called after me, "You left out Arundel!"