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Gram's Cupboard

As you can see in the picture, an old cupboard, gram's cupboard, a tribute, a testament to the hardships and hard work my grandmother and all grandmothers endured at the turn of the Century.  This is the story......

The family's farmhouse was built in 1711.  The 100 plus acre farm consisted of woods, fields, pastures, and a tidal river running through the middle of the property.  Unfortunately in the mid 1990's our farm, like many other Maine farms, became victim to greed.  The farm was signed over to my uncle, not the oldest child, but the oldest son, in return for promises never kept.  He put the property up for sale and eventually someone "from away" bought it.  Before the closing, I took time to walk up back, as I approached the old farm dump something caught my eye.  Used and abused by man and weather, stood the cupboard.  Just thrown into a pile of old wood and machinery.  Such a shame, and how sad, a fixture of our family and my childhood, to be tossed away like so many other Maine traditions.  I was fortunate to be from a very large, close-knit family.  I believe the headcount adds up to 35 in all, counting brothers, sisters, parents, cousins, aunts and uncles.  Everyone living within a stone's throw to Gram's house, quite typical of a Maine family living on a farm.  The natural order of getting older was performing chores at the old house, then on the farm, and eventually working in the family's construction company.  After graduating from school my brothers, sisters and most of my cousins moved away for different careers and started their own lives.  I was one of only a few that stayed in the neighborhood until the farm sold and the family business finally closed its doors.

My grandfather was born in that farmhouse in 1881.  He was a farmer, carpenter, cook, musician, and jack-of-all trades one could say.  My poor grandmother was born in Rhode Island in 1887.  Left at an orphanage as an infant, supposedly her mother was an American Indian and the man thought to be her father died in Boston General from a gunshot wound.  No exact records but my aunt's ancestry search came as close as possible to that conclusion.  Dad told me Grammy was basically slave labor and worked as a chambermaid beginning at the age of nine.  She worked her way up the coast for the next 17 years.  It was early summer of 1913 while working at a southern Maine coastal Inn, she met my grandfather, and by late fall, down behind the old house by the farm pond they were married.  We always called it the "deep" pond.  We never really knew how deep it was and were told to stay away from it.  Of course we didn't listen because being so well groomed by the livestock it was the only place to play down back.  Over the next 16 years Grammy gave birth to all 9 children in her bedroom with no help other than Mrs. lind, she and her husband were the closest neighbors; they lived a mile or so down towards the mouth of the river.  Back then the farm sat next to a single lane town dirt road with no phone or power.  That end of town finally got power in the early 1930's.

During each childbirth Gramps would go out into the barn and build a cupboard.  With a kerosene lantern for light, a box full of carpenter's tools, jar of glue, handful of pine board tailings, bag of nails, old hinges he had collected, pieces of a broomstick handle for a latch, he'd start building.  The only paint he had was left over red primer paint used for the new bridge being built across the river.  Gramps would fry up a couple quarts of clams in trade with the bridge workers for the paint because someday he wanted to paint the barn.  He never did.  When finished he'd bring the cupboard into the kitchen and put it behind the queen Atlantic woodstove to dry, then head upstairs to meet his new child.  9 cupboards were built.  2 never left the kitchen because Grammy lost 2 children at birth.  Baby boy, and baby girl is all it says on their headstones and those 2 cupboards never left the farm until it sold almost 70 years later.

My father was 16 when Gramps died.  I was told he died from stomach cancer.  Never an ill word was spoken about my grandfather or grandmother from any of his sons or daughters, just lots of colorful stories about them both.  I never met my grandfather but felt I knew him, or at least I thought I did.  As I got older my mother told me the real story how he died and how all the stories were not so colorful.  Dad admitted to actually what happened to him.  Gramps and Mr. Lind enjoyed "hard" cider far more than they should have and on most trips to the farmer's market on Saturdays, they'd get blind drunk.  Fortunately they had autopilot, the horses knew their way home, all the boys had to do was get into the wagon and let the horses take the reins.  I've heard many a story about Grammy walking down to the Lind's barn on Sunday morning, finding Gramps asleep in the wagon.  I guess too many trips to market finally did him in.  My grandfather passed away in his bedroom in Spring of 1941.  My uncle must have forgotten his father's last coherent words, with all his children present, the last thing he said was, "don't sell my guns and don't sell my land", never mentioned Grammy.  That's just the way it was back then, not many men were affectionate towards their wives or families and women had to be tough as nails.

The 7 remaining children built houses on the farm along the town road.  Each house had their cupboard Gramps built for them on their birthday and over the years those cupboards ended up in their kitchens, basements, garages or the dump. The 2 cupboards left in the farmhouse when it sold somehow mysteriously disappeared just before the deed was handed over. All I can remember about my grandmother is her cooking from sunrise to sunset.  During the "Great Depression" my grandparents had a rock painted white and from time to time would put it out on the front lawn.  That meant there were chores to be done and payment would be a hot meal and a place to sleep for the night.  Dad said there was always an extra place set at the kitchen table for the "hired hand".  The kids never knew who was coming for supper or who'd be sleeping in the barn the next morning.  Finally the time had come for the family to do something about my grandmother.  Concerned about her burning the farmhouse down with her in it, and Gram not wanting to live with anyone, the decision was made to put her into a nursing home.  Less than 6 months after placing her in the "facility", she passed away at the age of 96.  Those 2 cupboards housed all the barter for services rendered.  She decorated them by seasons with different colored doilies on top and usually a bowl full of hard candy centered keeping it in place.  Cookies, jellies, jams, pies, bread, scarves and mittens were payment for any chore done around the farm.  After filling the wood box, I'd open the cupboard and grab the bag waiting for me, always hoping it was my favorite, tollhouse cookies.  She cooked and baked all foods in and on that old queen Atlantic.  Dad said the tops were replaced 4 times because the constant use would warp them.  Her children and grandchildren were her life.  She was our foundation.  There is one absolute in life, nothing is forever.

When I saw that cupboard, Gram's cupboard, so many memories, I actually thought I could smell those tollhouse cookies.  Now that I've retired and still able, with a box full of carpenter's tools, bottle of glue, handful of pine tailings, bag of nails, hinges I've collected, pieces of a broomstick for a latch, any red primer paint I can find, I will start building Gram's cupboards.  A tribute, a testament to all the women that are the foundation of all families and always will be..... Grandchild #17

Searsmont, Maine  04973




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