A fascinating look back at life in the early 1900s

Fireside Chats offers a fascinating look at life in the early to mid-1900s in rural Waldo County. The interviews, by Jeff Shula, were originally published in the 1990s in the Waldo Independent.

And I have to thank Belfast Historical Society and Museum for recently publishing Fireside Chats, the first time all 18 interviews were put together. Every chapter features the stories of an old time Mainer and the photos by Peggy McKenna are captivating.

The very first story of 88-year-old Milo Blood, captured me. Milo was walking through his corn when he spotted a deer coming in his direction. The deer got close enough that Milo jumped on him and they had quite a wrestling match.

“All the time the deer was blattin’ something terrible’,” he said. “It was a spike horn buck, a little over 100 pounds. I’m tellin’ you, I’d never try it again. I couldn’t hardly walk for two weeks!”

Milo ended up killing the deer with his knife! There are lots of great hunting and fishing stories in the book. And wait til you see Norris Mitchell’s giant togue!

Many of the stories feature life on the farm where the kids started working at very young ages. Some didn’t get to school very often because the school was some distance away and they had no transportation. As adults, some worked in sardine packing plants, like my grandmother who lived in Lubec.

Jeff tells us that, “some of the subjects were reticent and retiring and had to be coaxed to talk. Others, like Montville’s Norman Nash, were storytelling machines.” He was certainly right about Nash, who was a local legend in Montville.

There were lots of hardships as they struggled through the depression and two world wars. Given our difficult spring this year, I loved Pem Carter’s story titled, “So you think mud season is rough now, eh?” Pem had a Model A Ford rigged with airplane tires to get him through the mud.

And Marjorie Sewall’s stories included one about a friend who slept on a moose hide and said it kept away his rheumatism. Interesting!

Most of the folks interviewed for the book are now deceased, so it’s a special gift that they left us their wonderful stories. I hope you are writing your own stories, which will be treasured by  your family.

In the afterword, Jay Davis explains the book this way, “This book memorializes an attitude, a spirit, a rural intelligence that are vital to appreciating Waldo County life, both then and now…. Fireside Chats are a way of seeing and feeling the old. We should all embrace them for their part in all of us.”

I will treasure these stories and read them many times.

You can and should get a copy of this book from Left Bank Books in Belfast. But you also should get down to Belfast and visit the museum. During the seven years that Linda and I wrote weekly travel columns for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, we often wrote about Belfast which features many great restaurants and art galleries. And in several columns we mentioned the museum which is a fascinating place.


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. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.