Bean On Wild River
While talking on the telephone and looking out the window upon a cool and wet Maine spring morning, we decided to let the rhubarb tend itself today while we answered the call by driving north-north west for several hours… to Wild River. Wild River is on the western boarder of Maine. It crosses Route 2… just before joining the Androscoggin River for the journey to the sea… at Gilead, Maine. The river travels from the White Mountains in New Hampshire down through the White Mountain foothills in Maine. “Wild” in fact and moderately unknown, it once sheltered a vanished timber cutting ghost town called Hastings and a few private hunting camps. Today the river is in National Forest.
One of the camps was called the “Dew Drop Inn” and was L.L. Bean’s. We mean the real L.L. Bean; the man and we mean “was his” before the Bean Boot “is his”. In that area, people knew Mr. Bean before he “made the boot” meaning before L.L. Bean became a national treasure and destination. Our telephone call on a damp Maine morning was from an old acquaintance’s daughter who “are you interested?” “I still have that” but “am going to sell it”.The acquaintance; her father, was deceased. Her mother was deceased too. The family farm; a humble mountain farm, was “theirs”; a husband and wife with brood. Remote is the location. We had purchased the “old things” a quarter of a century beforefrom the parents. Except the “what they kept”. By antiquarian standards, nothing they “kept” was a “that precious”. Except?
We drove “up there”, then along the Androscoggin River and finally turned on to “the road” “to get in there”. Nothing had changed in the farm yard in the quarter century… except the addition of a … powerful display… of the family’s fleet of ATV’s. It was wet and raining so I was wearing L.L. Bean boots.
I have, probably, seven or eight pairs of Bean Boots in active use. All are accumulated from old estates. I have never bought a new pair and have no plans to. In the estate trade they “always turn up”. The best source? The best condition, old, unused pairs of Bean Boots I get… are from …out of state upper income north east coastal suburban communities surrounding very large metroplex regions. Why? Because they come to Maine, visit L.L. Bean, actually buy a pair of boots, take them back to where they come from, wear them once and… never wear them again. Bean Boots from a Maine estate, including my own personal fleet, are “worn to death” and “not for sale”. ALL of my pairs are still active and carefully selected for an outing based on …what I am wearing them for… right then. This includes the low and semiformal Maine “visiting” “go shoes” pair I selected for today; good enough for protection but “low key” and “formal” enough to show off as …a dress shoe (a Maine wingtip?). Before departing the home, I wore my “old beater” “shuffle” pair out to ground feed Mr. Cardinal. Those, in addition to not having been tied up in a quarter century at least, have big holes in the toes that get my sock tips wet. I don’t like that but I… always… wear them anyways. Beyond the always appropriate “old beater” styling, they “in the my (Maine farm) yard” “send the right message”. In Maine you ARE JUDGED by WHAT Bean Boots your wearing. The “from away” are judged BY wearing Bean Boots meaning the “new ones” THEY are wearing; they “send the right message” TOO. Think your being judged by the Bean Boots your wearing? Need to study the etiquette? You do, I don’t. And… don’t buy your “fleet” new. AND all this does explain why there is a very active secondary market for truly old worn Bean Boots. They are …actually hard to find “that fit”.
In the muddy yard we were greeted by the muddy truck ruts, “the Mrs.”, the barking chained giant dog and the “socked in” wood smoke curling around the yard. “Mr.” appeared at his barn door and half lift arm waved down to us. I half lift arm waved back. The males were done communicating for the day. The Mrs. said “Come inside”. For the record, “inside” on these very remote Maine woods farms can be a little hard to distinguish from “outside”. It is the space where the woodstove blasts dry heat and all the wet wools starts to announce to the nose that it is wet moments after entering this space that is usually “the kitchen”. Doing an obsessive wiping of your Bean Boots on the doorway mats… is NOT appropriate. You are either “The People” or NOT “The People”. If you are a NOT your are … NOT THERE (in the kitchen). And your muddy new Bean Boots are NOT THERE EITHER. Once in that “kitchen” one is in a …very Maine woods.“In the Maine woods” means business. No one is there to look at the trees including those with permanent residence status. “We STILL HAVE THAT I TOLD YOU” the Mrs. announced as her large wet form swirled in her kitchen and the resulting shake off of water droplets popped and snapped on the hot woodstove. “WE STILL HAVE THAT BUT ITS TIME FOR IT TO GO SO I CALLED YOU. YOU’RE THE ONE DAD SAID. MOTHER TOO. BEEN NOW HOW LONG? DON’T MATTER. TIME FOR IT TO GO I SAY.” with this all stated as a kitchen cupboard door was opened to show the …domestic paper file of the whole farm from “forever”… neatly tucked onto the right side of two lower shelves and held in place with two used-like-bookend old clear pattern glass sugar bowl (missing the lid) and a side handled (probably once had a lid too) “open sugar”. Out was selected a small brown envelope carrying an old 1930’s postage and a to the Father address. Slipping a small mounted photograph out of that she turned to me with extending hand and arm in the now steam filling kitchen and hands me…
Her father’s old photograph of L.L. Bean and a companion in the Maine woods by the Dew Drop Inn holding their rifles in a fresh morning snow just before going hunting. The photograph is in perfect condition and had lived in the envelope since received. Bean is a young man and has not created L.L. Bean boots yet. It is a known “earliest (?)” image of him and certainly a splendid youthful image of him doing the right thing in the right place at the right time. “DADDY KNEW HIM YOU KNOW.” She said with emphasized pride as my hand received the photograph and my mind confirmed that what I was seeing was just as fine as the last time I saw it… at least 25 years before. “$$$$$$ YOU SAID THEN IF WE EVER SO HERE IT IS FOR YOU NOW WANT IT?”. Concentrating on the image I paused and then said calmly and firmly “Oh yes it is fine; as I remember it, very good, no problem” and… handing the image to my wife for her inspection… I stepped to the kitchen table beside the Mrs. and I and… paid cash. This was spread Monopoly money style on the table for her to easily see “it” “all there”. I understood that this was more cash displayed on a table at that farm then SHE could remember.
She, smiling down on the money, did not touch it. She said “YOU WANT TO LOOK AROUND ME? MAYBE SOMETHING?” “NOTHING HERE” her arm lift gesture meaning …nothing for sale in the kitchen.
“EVEN THAT? TWENTY ON THAT” I said pointing to the wooden handled iron two tined Civil War era toasting fork hanging behind the woodstove (JUST WHERE IT WAS WHEN IT “FOR SALE?” “NO” TWENTY-FIVE YEARS BEFORE).
“That’s Daddy’s. WAS DADDY’S. … OH TAKE THAT. HE AIN’T USING IT ANYMORE”.
I put another twenty down on the table slightly separate from the other money. Then we walked through the house doing just what we just did; pointing, stating cash price, paying, and watching the cash fold and be put …in her wet wool jacket pocket. No one ever batted an eye, mentioned a word about the wet and muddy Bean Boots, talked about the money or any of the things and…
Before anyone could have caught up to the whole of this we were back in the hot kitchen from the …cold house… having “ALL PAID” and taking the purchases outside to the truck with the old photograph “I put it in my purse” while the Mrs. shouted up to the barn “CHETTY!” and roused her husband from the back of the barn to shout “HE’S COMING UP!” as he appeared at the barn front. “HE WON’T SELL ANYTHING HE SAYS JUST WAIT HE DON’T KNOW YOU GO IN THE BACK – WAY BACK.” She loudly confided to me.
We did “go in the back” with Chester on guard to protect his “stuff” but I distanced the “in daily use” “tool barn” and “men stuff” traveling quickly to the back barn “more stuff” piled all over and… zeroed in on the old workbench that …used to be right up barn front and had been “NO NOT THAT NOT FOR SALE”… that probably was made and used on the farm BEFORE THE CIVIL WAR but NOW was… “not being used”. As I stepped to it glowing in my own “I REMEMBER THAT” I felt Chester, who was my shadow, tighten just behind me so I said in a clear concise voice “two hundred fifty cash now today” and touched the top.
The Mrs. moves her feet.
“Oh… I GUESS.” says Chester.
I count the cash out on the bench before his eyes and hand it to him. He folds it and puts it in the front pocket of HIS wet wool jacket. The Mrs., smiling at Chester, says nothing. We spend the next hour creeping through all the darkest regions of the barn using my small flashlight and having Chester ever more contentedly saying “Oh… I GUESS”.
The Bean photograph is a known image and is pictured in a Bean Co. book as the photographs show. The old writing on the back of the one we purchased identified the second man differently than the book does. Who’s right we don’t know.