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When Life Was Young At the Old Farm in Maine

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When Life Was Young

Away down East in the Pine Tree State, there is a lake dearer to my heart than all the other waters of this fair earth, for its shores were the scenes of my boyhood, when Life was young and the world a romance still unread.

Dearer to the heart; — for then glowed that roseate young joy and faith in life and its grand possibilities; that hope and confidence that great things can be done and that the doing of them will prove of high avail. For such is ever our natural, normal first view of life; the clear young brain's first vision of this wondrous bright universe of earth and sky; the first picture on the sentient plate of consciousness, and the true one, before error blurs and evil dims it; a joy and a faith in life which as yet, on this still imperfect earth of ours, comes but once, with youth.

The white settlers called it the Great Pond; but long before they came to Maine, the Indians had named it Pennesseewassee, pronounced Penny-see-was-see, the lake-where-the-women-died, from the Abnaki words, penem-pegouas-abem, in memory, perhaps, of some unhistoric tragedy.

From their villages on the upper Saco waters, the Pequawkets were accustomed to cross over to the Androscoggin and often stopped at this lake, midway, to fish in the spring, and again in winter to hunt for moose, then snowbound in their "yards." On snowshoes, or paddling their birch canoes along the pine-shadowed streams, these tawny, pre-Columbian warriors came and camped on the Pennesseewassee; we still pick up their flint arrow-heads along the shore; and it may even be that the short, brown Skraellings were here before them, in neolithic days.

There are two ponds, or lakes, of this name, the Great and the Little Pennesseewassee, the latter lying a mile and a half to the west of the larger expanse and connected with it by a brook.

To the northeast, north and west, the land rises in long, picturesque ridges and mountains of medium altitude; and still beyond and above these, in the west and northwest, loom Mt. Washington, Madison, Kearsarge and other White Mountain peaks.

The larger lake is a fine sheet of water, five miles in length, containing four dark-green islets; and the view from its bosom is one of the most beautiful in this our State-of-Lakes.

Hither, shortly after the "Revolution," came the writer's great-grandfather, poor in purse; for he had served throughout that long, and at times hopeless struggle for liberty. In payment he had received a large roll of "Continental Money," all of which would at that time have sufficed, scarcely, to procure him a tavern dinner. No "bounties," no "pensions," then stimulated the citizen soldiery. With little to aid him save his axe on his shoulder, the unremunerated patriot made a clearing on the slopes, looking southward upon the lake; and here, after some weeks, or months, of toil, he brought his young family, consisting of my great-grandmother and two children. They came up the lake in a skiff, fashioned from a pine log. Landing on a still remembered rock, it is said that the ex-soldier turned about, and taking the roll of Continental scrip from his pocket, threw it far out into the water, exclaiming, —

"So much for soldiering! But here, by the blessing of God, we will have a home yet!"

While going through the forest from the lake up to the clearing, a distance of a mile or more, they lost their way, for night had fallen, and after wandering for an hour, were obliged to sleep in the woods beneath the boughs of a pine; and it was not till the next forenoon that they found the clearing and the little log house in which my great-grandmother began her humble housekeeping.

Other settlers made their way hither; and other farms were cleared. Indians and moose departed and came no more. Then followed half a century of robust, agricultural life, on a virgin soil. The boys grew large and tall; the girls were strong and handsome. It was a hearty and happy era.

But no happy era is enduring; the young men began to take what was quaintly called "the western fever," and leave the home county for greater opportunities in Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa. The young women, too, went away in numbers to work in the cotton factories at Lowell, Lawrence and Biddeford; few of them came back; or if they returned, they were not improved in health, or otherwise.

The third son of the Revolutionary soldier and pioneer remained at the old farm and lived on alone there after his own sons had left home, to enter other and less certain avocations than farming.

Then came war again, the terrible Civil War, when every one of these sons, true to their soldier ancestry, entered the army of the Republic. Of the five not one survived that murderous conflict. And so it happened that we, the grandchildren, war waifs and orphaned, came back in 1865-6, to live at grandfather's old farm on the Pennesseewassee.

We came from four different states of the Union, and two of us had never before even seen the others. It is, therefore, not remarkable that at first there were some small disagreements, due to our different ideas of things.

We were, of course, a great burden upon the old folks, who were compelled to begin life over again, so to speak, on our account. At the age of sixty-five grandfather set himself to till the farm on a larger scale, and to renew his lumbering operations, winters. Grandmother, too, was constrained to increase her dairy, her flocks of geese and other poultry, and to begin anew the labor of spinning and knitting.

It is but fair to say, however, that we all — with one exception, perhaps — had a decent sense of the obligations we incurred, and on most occasions, I believe, we did what we could to aid in the labors of the farm.

Much as we added to the burdens of our grandparents, I can now see that our coming lent fresh zest to their lives; they had something new to live for; they took hold of life again, for another ten years.

Ten years of youth.

It was Life's happy era with us, full of hopes and plans for the future, full, too, of those many jolts which young folks get from inexperience, nor yet free from those mistakes which all of us make, when we first set off on Life's journey. Like some bright panorama it passes on Memory's walls, so many pictures of that hopeful young life of ours at the old farm, as we grew up together, getting an education, or the rudiments of one, at the district school, and later at the village Academy, Kent's Hill Seminary and Bowdoin College.

And later I may try to relate how we came out and what we are still doing in life.

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