Way Back Machine

February 9th, 2007

My mother used to tell us stories of her childhood in northern Maine. To my brother and I, even in very rural north/ western New Jersey, it sounded so exotic. Walking off the top of the chicken coop into a snow bank that was above their heads… walking to school in sub-zero temperatures… and potato picking for school clothes money.

We thought it sounded awful, everyone sweating in the hot sun- just to have money to buy school clothes. How sheltered and spoiled we were, I know, thinking that my grandparents were not very nice making kids buy clothes. What kid wants to buy clothes with their money?

It was a different time though and my grandparents had 6 girls to raise on one salary… they were lucky to have the work to get new school clothes.

My mother’s sister loves finding little gems about Maine, anything about Maine, now that she lives down in Florida and I often find emails in my inbox containing forwards of “how you know you are a mainer”, pictures of moose and sometimes some really neat old photographs.


This is the note my aunt sent with the picture, “We picked potatoes every fall, school would close down for at least three weeks. The last I remember we would get .25 cents a barrel. We had sections and picked from one barrel to another, so you can tell by looking at the picture the size of the basket by where the barrels are placed. It was a hard job but we earned enough money to buy our school clothes doing it.”

I still feel guilty buying Idaho potatoes at the store and can hear my mother in my head, “What do you mean they don’t have Maine potatoes?”

Anyway, I thought that was kinda neat.

I was tagged by Betsy to tell my secrets. I don’t know if I have any big secrets but I did my best, for this late at night. yawwn.

1. Speaking of, I am crazy about my going to bed ritual… I am an insomniac and therefore need to have the blankets and sheets perfectly organized, and the temperature and lighting *just right* in order for me to go to sleep. The blanket organization thing causes some discussion between Casey and I because he would be happy to make a big pile of blankets and then just lie tangled in them. (um, nightmare!)

2. I have only kissed 2 boys in my life. I know, what a loser. 😉 The second did such a good job, I married him.

3. I have lots of unfinished knitting that I don’t post about on here. I may have an opportunity to come clean soon but… I admit it. I am (also) a yarn harlot.

4. I guess this blog is kind of a secret. I have started feeling super guilty about not telling my parents about this site. At the beginning, I thought it would be bad if I wrote about something that was upsetting me and it would worry them until they got in touch with me. Now though, I use this space very differently than I did when I first started blogging… but how do you say, oh by the way, I have been writing on this site for three years. Sorry I never told you. eeeek.

5. I have double jointed shoulders and hips- it comes in handy when doing yoga although I was very embarrassed today when my teacher friend did a demonstration showing the whole class what a freak I am. “Just bend over, Jessica… see how her hands almost touch the floor?”

My grandmother used to freak out when, as a little girl, I would put my legs behind my head and walk around on my hands. Ahh, I was a class act from the very beginning. hehe


18 Responses to “Way Back Machine”

  1. Sara Says:

    Just for curiosity, where in Aroostook county did your Mom grow up? It’s weird because when you drive north from my house (I’m in central Maine) and get about an hour north of Bangor, it is a totally different world all together.

    I am just like you with the blanket thing… my side is tucked in with nice corners… Seth hates his feet tucked in so he kicks the sheet out and just piles on the blankets. It drives me nuts!

  2. Steph VW Says:

    My mom grew up in Woodstock, NB, which is just across the border from Houlton. I have heard similar stories from her and her sister and brother. When my mom was a teenager she worked in the Stedmans store downtown, but my uncle “picked” potatoes and has told me about the barrels.

    I agree about the bed. I can’t get into an unmade bed and go to sleep. It’s just nasty.

  3. Kate Says:

    I love that picture. I have a friend from Madawaska, Maine – as far north as you can get and when she was in high school she still got time off in October from school for Potato picking. Sadly none of the students picked potato’s but they still kept the tradition alive by giving the students a week off.

    You’ll have to forward me some of the Maine snippets you get from your aunt. I’d love to see them.

  4. Johanna Says:

    Hmmm, I wonder how the double jointed hips would help during childbirth! Ahh, my perspective on everything has changed! Happy Knitting.

  5. elisa Says:

    I always have to run into the bedroom before Mike to straighten out the covers and “fix” the bed because he will just climb in no matter what state the covers are in. Makes me batty.

  6. gleek Says:

    i love that photo of the potato pickers! this is something that i wish my kids could do. when i was younger, we lived in a house that had an acre of land with some apple and quince trees. my father always made us go out during the fall and pick up the fruit from the ground and compost it. i’m sure that kept me from being delinquent… and after all, my parents always believed that you had kids for slave labor purposes 🙂 hehehe.

  7. Kim P Says:

    Maine potatoes are the best! Love that photo.

  8. Macoco Says:

    The photo is so interesting! My sister went to school with kids that would get pulled out of school by their fathers to pick crops. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a big enough farming community that everyone would get the time off, so the kids just ended up missing classes.

    I love hearing stories like the one your mother told.

  9. maya Says:

    Cool. I didn’t even know that potatoes were a major crop in Maine. Oh the things you learn when you leave the midwest…

  10. Betsy Says:

    I hear the circus pays big bucks for that kind of action!!!!!!!!!!!

    I tell my kids stories they think I am full of it. I literally used to have to walk 2 miles to the bus stop, up a huge hill, in the freezing cold, I would have ice in my hair till I got there. Now the dam bus stops at every freakin driveway! Spoiled kids………

  11. Kirby Says:

    Interesting secrets. I hesitate in telling people about my blog too. When i finally did I practically had to beg my mom to even look at it. Most of my non blog friends now read it but never leave a comment. Such lurkers!

    Congrats on being double-jointed, freaking people out is fun!

  12. maryse Says:

    no one in my real life knows about my blog. well my husband knows i have something but he’s never read it. i have shared my blog with a couple of people but i know they don’t read regularly. i like that it’s my own little thing though.

    if you feel guilty about it, maybe you can start keeping a blog that you can share with your parents.

  13. maryse Says:

    oh and i always buy maine potatoes. unless they’re from idaho 😉

  14. Christie Says:

    I’m going to sound like the stupid California girl, but I didn’t know potatos were grown in Maine. I guess since Idaho is so much closer [it is closer, right?] we get most of our ‘imported’ pototos from there. I will look for Maine potatos now and think of your mom and aunt filling those damn barrels from school clothes money. What a job for little kids! Although, it would be pretty cool to play in the dirt.

  15. Dorothy B Says:

    I have only told one sister about my blog and that is only because she is so far away. Neither my parents nor his know about my blog because it would be like inviting them along on every get together with my friends. I don’t feel guilty about it. I think people need lives outside of family too and family doesn’t need to know everything you do. After all the person who counts most (your husband) knows about it and that is what really matters.

  16. Jackie Says:

    What a cool story and picture – I didn’t know they grew potatoes in Maine, though it makes sense seeing that the soil in New England is pretty much useless for any grain crops.

    And hey, it’s your blog. You get to decide what it is to you, and who knows about it, right?

  17. Meghan Says:

    I’ve never heard of Maine potatoes. That’s so interesting. I grew up in a town that had a Potato Festival every year. Spudderific!

    It’s amazing to see the difference between kids growing up in the early part of the 20th century versus kids growing up in the early part of this century. I have a hard time believing any of them, nowadays, would bother to put down the iPods and XBox controllers to work to pay for their own school clothes.

    Great post…

  18. craig Says:

    hey there, i grew up in madawaska maine, went to school there and graduated in 1992. i got school off for picking potatoes and i did every year. i worked in the potato house one yr and worked on the harvester for 3 yrs, but when i was in 7th and 8th grade, my older brother who was in high school by then, did pick them by hand, so unfortunately, me and my dad, who is die hard worker from the county, got to go help, and i’ll tell you, it is just like that picture, wooden barrels and baskets. it is very hard work and most kids today dont get to experience it cause they are spoiled. working the harvesters is very hard work also and i’m gald i had the parents i did that encouraged me to go and make the money. thanks mom and dad, i love ya! and thank god for god’s country ;)!!!! bye now, thank you for the memory!