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[The ‘Maine Tales’ article below was written and first posted in October 2011].

We got done digging our potato crop late last week towards evening as a cold rain was beginning to fall. It wasn’t long before Aroostook County got another couple inches of rain. It has been wet ground ever since and no one in northern Maine ‘has spun a wheel,’ that is, worked the field, since then. By the sound of the wet forecast ahead it looks like the potatoes that were still in the ground last week will still be in the ground next week.

While of course it is good that we are done, we can’t help but fret about our neighbors who have potatoes left to dig. Potatoes are still the big deal in this little potato town. Other places, a sunny day in Fall is merely ‘pleasant’. Here, a sunny day is recognized by everybody as ‘a good day to dig’. The fortunes of our town still rest upon the success of the potato crop, just like it always has going back 150 years. Everyone hereabouts knows that Fall weather can turn wet and wicked and against a potato farmer in an awful hurry.

The Old Code

There is always a big collective sigh of relief in Bridgewater when the last potatoes are dug and put under cover. And for most of the last century there’s been nobody in town more relieved to see that last potato picked than Elden Bradbury. To run into Elden this time of year was to hear his query ‘Didjagitdunn?’ (‘Did you get done [digging]’?). Upon hearing an affirmative reply, you would see Elden walk away with a little lighter gait as a certain measure of burden was lifted off from his shoulders. Elden was from the old school. How the other farmers in Town were faring was Elden’s genuine concern. In his day it was everyone’s concern. If a farmer was having bad luck and was having trouble getting done, the other farmers in town after they got their own crops dug, would bring over their crews and equipment to help the straggler finish up. No one was done until all were done. That was the old code.

The Bradburys landed here into Bridgewater back in 1882 when Eldon’s grandfather, that would be Lewis Oswald Bradbury, got established. Since that time there’s been little daylight to be seen between a Bradbury and a potato. Elden planted the first potato crop that he could call his own in 1941. Then Uncle Sam came calling and got him off the farm and over to Europe for the four years following that next year. Once he had finished with his patriotic duty, Elden was back to Town and beginning in 1947 planting and digging potatoes along his brothers Earl and Wilbur in the farm operation that came to be iconic and known as ‘Bradbury Brothers.’

It’s What Potato Farmers Do

Elden never missed a potato crop after that. It is no exaggeration to say he worked every day, every year. This crop year of 2011, at age 93, was Eldon’s 66th crop of potatoes. He died a few weeks ago in late September while shoveling up the spilled oats leftover from helping unload a truck. The Bradbury potato crop was a good ways towards being dug. Eldon’s sons Dale and George and daughter Carrie, his family farming partners for forty years, plus his grandkids, have now been getting the rest of the crop out and into storage without him.

With the passing of Elden, the last potato farmer of his generation, we’re seeing the close of an era in our Town. His contemporary, Dan Bradstreet, had passed just a couple years ago at age 92, Dan himself working grading potatoes for half days up until the very end.

Hard Work and No Fuss

Elden was a serious man and on the quiet side. He spoke no more than what needed to be said. He spoke softly and with authority. He would be the last person in town to want a fuss made over him. And it was incomprehensible to imagine this potato man of potato men for any reason being in the middle of an interruption of getting our Town’s potato crop out of the ground.

His family had planned his services and they fell on a Saturday that was very gray. Early in the day we had good success digging and had dug all the fore noon, expecting rain to stop us at any minute, but it held off. Shortly after noon the drizzle had picked up to a light rain. We hurried and got the harvested potatoes put away just as the rain was picking up in intensity to something steady and more than light.

So it really came as no surprise at all that on that Saturday afternoon when Elden’s graveside service was held, our misty gray day had turned into a steady no-digging rain, hard enough that the fields had become muddy and there was no more digging to be done that day.

Working right until the end and not wanting to cause a fuss. That was Eldon’s way.

Caleb, Jim & Megan