This old Maine woman is a great storyteller

This is a Maine you may remember. It is surely a Maine you will want to know.

Glenna Johnson Smith’s book, Old Maine Woman, published in 2010 by Islandport Press, features “stories from the coast to the county.” And oh, what stories!

Growing up in the 1920s and 30s in rural Hancock County. Living on the farm and teaching school in Aroostook County after that. Reveling in her old womanhood, with wisdom and humor.

“I like the sound of the words old woman,” she writes. “They’re strong words – earthy, honest. I’m grateful I’ve survived long enough to be able to label myself by them.”

Glenna certainly has done more than survive. Many of her stories appeared in Echoes magazine over a 20 year period. In fact, it was the editor of Echoes, Kathryn Olmstead, who pulled together these stories and submitted them to Islandport Press. We all owe Olmstead a debt of gratitude.

Glenna introduces herself and her book this way: “I am a product of rural Maine… Although no two of us are alike, I’ve observed attitudes that seem typical of many country people, past and present… Most country people take responsibility for their families. They treat their farm animals well, and neighbors look out for each other.

“Rural people may not talk about love and loyalty, but they know their value. Most of us try to do right, but when we mess up we can laugh at ourselves and start over. Because I am one of the rural everyday people, I like to write about us.”

I do too Glenna. Many of the stories in my new book, A Life Lived Outdoors, also published by Islandport Press, are about rural Maine, home, family, and faith.

Glenna captures rural Maine with great insight and humor. “The Sears and Roebuck Wife” is a classic. Her first ride in the rumble seat of a red Chevrolet with her hoped-for boyfriend, her first year of teaching (without any training or education), the animals people were always dropping off at her farm – all marvelous stories.

“Glenn and her husband live way up there in Aroostook with all that empty space, so they’d love to have Snotty, I know,” said a friend of her mother’s, eager to get rid of a dog. People drove to her farm to deliver rabbits, dogs, cats, ducks, a parakeet, a rare Abyssinian guinea pig, and even a golden monkey. Her stories about their dog Butchie, a real womanizer, are sooo funny! But she didn’t enjoy some of the animals.

“Neither the rare Abyssinian guinea pig nor the golden monkey were enjoyable pets,” she says. “Rare Pig had hair so long he looked like a dust mop, and he didn’t move much. My only clear memory of him is that he liked to eat lettuce, and that I had to move his hair to see which end to feed.”

“The monkey was beautiful, but he hissed and snarled at us most of the time. I hated it that every time I played the piano he put his little hands over his ears and screamed.”

In addition to the wonderfully humorous stories, there are serious ones too. I will leave those for you to discover. But I will say the story, “My Mother, the Stranger” is heartbreaking.

There is a special treat at the end of the book: four fictional stories. “The Week that Had Two Tuesdays” is hysterical. Wish I’d written it!

Given that my grandmother on my Mom’s side was a Johnson from Lubec, and my Dad is a Smith, I can only hope that I might be related to Glenna Johnson Smith. And I am also hoping that I’ll be first in line for Glenna’s new book of stories that Islandport Press will publish in June!

Old Maine Woman

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. George also hosts, with Harry Vanderweide, a TV talk show called Wildfire, now in its 13th year and focused on hunting, fishing, environmental, and conservation issues. The show is owned and produced by Maine Audubon and seen on its website as well as on the Time Warner cable TV station throughout the state.