MAINE TALES. MAINE FARMER GEOGRAPHY. Bridgewater, Maine. Circa 1917.
Of course, it has the markings of a Maine outlook, but who might have thought a Maine Potato farmer could impart such a deft distillation of American geography?
With Covid now in the rear view mirror, Americans are traveling again and making up for lost time. New vistas, new experiences and new territory. At least that’s what Mainers imagine is going on in the rest of the country.
As a breed, Mainers are home bodies and are more or less happy with their lot in life. One friend recently confided that he hasn’t been outside of the State of Maine in over twenty years. This fact would not surprise that many Mainers, folks mostly accustomed to thinking the Pine Tree State is a pretty could place to call home.
Our old next door neighbor Joshua (“Josh –shoe –way”) Morse – everyone in Bridgewater called him by his nickname ‘Doss’ – was a farmer his entire life. Doss was born in Bridgewater in 1899, when this side of Town was still the ‘Wildlands’ that had ruled Northern Maine ever since the last glacier melted. Unlike the east side of Town, the trees in these western parts had never been cut to make fields where potatoes could be grown.
When Doss was 18, he eloped into Canada with 17-year old Etta Sharp. That move kept them out of earshot of townsfolk who might have liked to otherwise cast aspersions on his idea of marrying Etta. Time would prove Doss & Etta had got it right and their solid marriage lasted 67 years, until Etta passed away during the Fall of 1984.
Doss and family would grow six or eight acres of potatoes, and oats and hay for their horses, cows and pigs. They kept a big garden and cut many cords of firewood to keep their rambling farmhouse warm during the cold Winters. Doss was a wise man, and like many of his contemporaries, he had benefitted from eight years of grammar schooling. Taught practical skills by his father and kin, Doss knew how to do everything needed of a pioneer farmer, including skillfully hewing out beams with a broad ax.
Frugal to a fault, that classic Maine characteristic no doubt helped Doss and Etta raise their big family during some very tough times. They held onto their farm and in this country that counts for something.
True to their Maine upbringings, as a couple Doss & Etta were not much geared for traveling. Etta, a Bridgewater farm girl herself, was sixteen years old before she ever laid eyes on the County seat of Houlton, twenty-three miles away. In that era, seldom did one ever need to set foot outside one’s little farming Town. A foray over to “The Province” of New Brunswick, Canada, six miles away, or an infrequent train trip ‘Down to Bangor’ represented the outer reaches of Doss’ domain. As is the reality of farmers yet today, there was always plenty of work to do and traveling outside of Town was rarely necessary or contemplated.
For Doss, geography was a simple matter and his United States was divvied up in thirds. So, first there was “Down to Bangor.” Then next, there was “Below Bangor” which approximately meant the various other corners of Maine, including Portland. Finally, the mother of all geographic catchalls, “Way Below Bangor,” was reserved for the entire balance of the United States, from Boston to Bozeman to Bakersfield.
Below Bangor things may get complicated, but be that as it may, it doesn’t change course for a Maine farmer like Doss Morse.