Real Mainers and the Hollywood kind

At Christmastime, somebody said he heard a Santy Claus down south greet a hopeful child with, "Hi there! How ya doin'?" Santy does, they tell me, get around, but a saltwater Down-East Yankee Kris Kringle in Dixie calls for thought. "How ya doin'?" is what we said to Emery Booker every morning at the bank, and Emery would reply, "Just gittin' by!"

Emery was of a large family that cut its teeth on 2 percent for cash, and nobody was astonished when he became cashier at the First National and began working his way up. He was affable as apple pie, and would smile like the Cheshire Cat when he evicted a widow and orphans into a blizzard. Shrewd as a wizard, sharp as a tack, and tight as the bark to a tree, he would stand inside the bank door every morning, listening to the notes falling due. He'd greet the customers as they arrived one by one. Everybody said good morning to Emery in the established fashion: "Mornin', Emery, How ya doin'?"

Emery had no illusions about his market value, and he made the same reply to all, "Just gittin' by!" That was how our town started every day.

I wish I might report that the youngster down south gave Emery's answer to Santy, but I do not know; I wasn't there. I continue the same topic but with a different slant:

Ruth Moore, our favorite Maine novelist, was born on Gott Island, grew up there, and came to the mainland to attend high school. Then she went to New York and worked for Reader's Digest, answering readers' letters. She got fed up and returned to Gott Island to write our best stories about Down East tidewater people.

Speaking of that, I should mention that Ruth was the last secretary of the historical Gott Island Hay Thieves Association. In Colonial times, a kind of grass that grew along Gott Island's shores brought a good price in Boston as a packing for pottery and glass. Salt hay was cut during the summer, piled on little platforms called "staddles" to cure above the water, and then pitched on schooners for Boston.

When somebody began stealing this hay, a commissioner came down from Boston to investigate. He appointed three Gott brothers to find and apprehend the culprits. These three "hay reeves" kept vigil and collected the statutory fees, but they never caught the culprits because the three Gott brothers were the culprits. The mythical hay thieves association was kept alive for many years, until at last Ruth was the only member.

When Ruth's novel "Spoonhandle" was published in 1946, it was bought by Hollywood for a movie, and Ruth was asked to go to movieland as a consultant to make sure the flavor of Down East would prevail. She took with her another Gott Island girl, Eleanor Mayo, as companion and secretary.

The two were being paid generously for their assistance, but they soon found that nobody in Hollywood had the slightest intention of paying heed to a word they said. They tried to tell the moviemakers that no Maine lobsterman had ever worn an overcoat, but Hollywood smiled, said yes, and put overcoats on the actors who played Gott Island lobster catchers.

Ruth and Eleanor devised a scheme. When a script conference became sticky, Ruth would feign a faint, call for help, and tumble off her chair. Eleanor would pick her up and carry her into open air, and they'd keep on going. When Ruth decided she'd had enough, she found Eleanor had already bought the railroad tickets, and they were on the next train eastbound.

Gott Island is offshore in the town of Tremont, not far from Bar Harbor on Mt. Desert Island. In the old days of sail, it was smack on the route of the West Indies coasters. Gott Island had a granite quarry, and Ruth's father kept a sizeable hotel and store and was postmaster.

Ruth grew up in the waning days of prosperity, the only girl in a family of brothers who spoiled her rotten, but she always cleaned her own fish. Gott Island has a kitchen midden made by the paint people more than 5,000 years ago, where Ruth excavated as a girl. Her collection of projectile points, pottery, and fish bones was extensive.

Knowing and loving Ruth Moore gave our family many golden memories. It was good to learn she was home again. Then Ruth got a telephone call from Hollywood. A man said he was an attorney for the so-and-so Studio and he was calling because Ruth had failed to perform on her contract. He felt she should return to Hollywood at once for the completion of the picture.

He said if she did not, he would be forced to sue for breach of contract. I can tell you just what Ruth Moore said to him. It went like this: "Yes. Well, chum, let me put it this way: I've had all I want of Hollywood. I'm back in Hancock County, Maine, and I plan to stay here the rest of my mortal life. And as for suing me, go ahead and sue. All you'll ever get is what a Hancock County jury'll give you, and since Hancock County was set apart to be by itself, we haven't had a jury but that there was a Moore on it. Goodbye."

There was never any suit, but when "Spoonhandle" was finished, we went to see it, and the lobstermen wore overcoats and a Maine State Police officer said, "I reckon so, sir." I guess that's it, except that Emery Booker never played an Alabama Santy Claus.

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