Our Maine Street's Aroostook Issue 7 : Winter 2011 - Page 56

No Ordinary Place by kathleen Fortin The rain ceased just before we reached Presque Isle. For the first time, I would see northern Maine’s potato fields. For years, I’d heard about this area from my husband. Dan had lived in Presque Isle back in the ‘60s. His father had taken a transfer to manage the F.W. Woolworth store on Main Street. After ten years, Dan’s parents decided to move back to New Hampshire to be closer to their families. They left Presque Isle right after Dan completed his sophomore year at the high school. He hadn’t been back since then. Ever since I first met Dan, I had heard stories about this place in rural Maine that had all the makings of what sounded like an idyllic childhood. As far as Dan’s parents were concerned, his father found his job there most satisfying and Dan’s mother reflected on Presque Isle, where they never locked their doors, as the best place to raise the family. For Dan, the area meant simple memories: long winters spent tunneling through lofty snow drifts; riding his bike for hours and hours through a maze of neighborhood streets; playing army and building forts in the backyard woods, and catching skippers and building dams in nearby streams. He was always outdoors is what he has told me. Most of all, Dan spoke about the fall potato harvest. When the schools closed for three weeks in mid-September into October, Dan picked potatoes. So, it was during this time of year Dan wanted to see Presque Isle again. When my in-laws first drove to northern Maine, the trip took eight hours. Today, it takes about six to travel the 385 miles due north. Back in 1959, Interstate 95 used to end around Orono. The rest of the way, 175 miles, was two lanes, 40 miles of which passed through the isolated Haynesville Woods. This stretch, the Haynesville Road, inspired one of Maine’s favorite country singers, Dick Curliss, to create the hit song, A Tombstone Every Mile. Its 54 No Ordinary Place WINTER 2011 lyrics tell the story of the lonely truckers hauling loads of potatoes across the desolate road they called a ribbon of ice in winter. It was a road that has “…never, ever, ever, seen a smile.” Even though, today, the four-lane interstate doesn’t pass through the same isolated stretch, it is cut through deep woods that gave me enough of a flavor of what the old route must have looked like more than fifty years ago. Seeing this, I understood why my mother-in-law had said to her husband during their first drive to the county, “Where are you taking me?” Now, I stood in her shoes. I was about to find out. *** About a half mile before we reached the first potato farm on the right hand side of Route 1, Dan’s instinct told him we were coming up on it. Right after pointing out Stewart’s Farm to me, Dan took a sharp left turn onto Tompkins Road. I knew he was heading somewhere specific. Soon, he pulled off to the shoulder of the road. Off to his right Dan recognized the fields and the barn of the ol’ Duncan Farm, as locals refer to it, as if he had been there yesterday. This was the site where Dan had picked potatoes in endless fields and where his friend’s father had let him drive the farm tractors. He and his friend had played in that barn until Dan’s eyes were red from the hay dust. But, today,