Friday, July 1, 2022

Before the memory fades: Hundreds of donations slated to grace historic and newly renovated Village Green

By Walter Lunt

Eric Nason delivers the historic telephone 
switchboard, donated to the Windham
Historical Society and displayed in the
Old Grocery museum on the new Village
Green History Park. A switchboard, nearly
identical to this one, serviced Windham's
telephone system for decades in the 1900s.
(The Windham Eagle, April 23, 2021)

As changes and improvements gradually take shape on the Windham Historical Society’s Village Green museums, supporters have donated literally hundreds of antiques and artifacts that are destined to adorn the shelves, walls, display cases and corners of the various museum buildings that comprise a re-creation of a 19th century public square. Included in the complex is a one-room schoolhouse, the South Windham library and railroad depot, the town’s first library, the Windham Center Old Grocery and a gazebo.

The most recent donation was made by New England Communications of Portland. Owner Eric Nason, who grew up and still lives in Windham, donated and delivered a telephone switchboard, nearly identical to one that first brought telephone service to Windham in the early to mid-20th century. It will be displayed, along with early telephones and communications equipment, in the Old Grocery Museum.

Terry Christy, well-known and longtime Windham educator, gifted several volumes of books written by celebrated Maine author John Gould. Said WHS president Sue Simonson, “We thought it would be a nice collection to have in the South Windham Library (building).”

Included in the book collection is Gould’s 1975 MAINE LINGO – A Wicked-Good Guide to Yankee Vernacular, a compendium of words and phrases, their meanings and usage, that are unique to Maine. Many are lost to time; some are still familiar today.

Here’s a sampling:

Ayeh - Originally aye-yes, this double affirmative may have, over the years, become ayeh.

 - A Maine cellar was the storage vault of winter goodies, including the cider barrel. When a man invites a friend “down to see his sulla,” it means “Can I buy you a drink.”

Wizzled Berries - gone by on the vine are wizzled up.

Canoodlin’ - A Maine nicety for pleasurable dalliance atween the sexes, mostly casual – in the bushes or behind the chip pile.

Fence Viewer - A minor town official whose duties have become obsolete. In early times when there was a dispute between neighbors as to how much of a (boundary) line fence each should build or maintain, the fence viewer would help settle the matter. He was not meant to be a surveyor; he was concerned only with construction.

Gunin’ - unting with a firearm.

Hornswoggle - Standard definitions say it means to swindle or cheat, but Mainers used it to indicate amazement or a happy surprise as in, “Look who’s here. Well, I’ll be hornswoggled!”

Fish peas - Spawn, roe, caviar, haddock eggs.

Bluenose - A less than complimentary nickname for Nova Scotians, whose noses are supposed to reflect the rigors of their climate. Mainers used the term contemptuously for both the people and their boats, as Nova Scotians competed on the fishing grounds.

Daow! - Along coastal Maine, it means an emphatic NO!

Cuss - To use profane language toward a person. Also, a contraction for cussid, as in “I can’t get the cussid thing to run!”

Away - Any other place, non-native. A person who has lived fifty years in your town and paid his taxes faithfully would not be called a furriner but will still be “from away.”

Comeupance - An unhappy occurrence. “Myra’s rich aunt died, and Myra sure got her comeuppance when it turned out the old lady left everything to the church.”

Clabbids - Clapboards.

Floridy - Florida

Drownded - Drowned

Boughten - Store bought – not home-made. The young lady wore a store-boughten dress.

Store choppers - False teeth.

Boston eggs - Brown eggs. Maine family farms separated brown and white eggs. White eggs went to New York.

- Another term for “hind side to,” meaning what it is when it isn’t, or back to front, in reverse. You had to be an old-time Mainer to get this one.

Woods - Preferred Maine term for forest.

- Mainers propensity for transferring a picture from one context to another. Two dogs fighting is jarring and noisy. “That god-awful thing! I wouldn’t wear it to a dog fight.”

State of Maine
 - Out of staters marvel at Mainers insistence on using the full title. People come from Delaware, Floridy or Vermont, but Mainers come from The State of Maine. Interestingly, when Maine separated from Massachusetts, much pondering took place regarding the new state’s title; it is said that most Mainers “had no desire to be another damn commonwealth.”

Hound dog mile - The distance a hound dog chases a rabbit before the hound dog drops dead. Used in estimating distances.

And finally, a word that was puzzling to all who read our story on The Windham Hill Club (The Windham Eagle – April 1, 2022). This group of neighborhood citizens worked tirelessly for decades beautifying the Hill and conducting fund raisers for various charities. It was said that they mowed and planted flowers at the “heater piece” on Windham Hill. We were able to define heater piece as a triangular plot of land, but our readers wondered, “How did it get that name?” At last, we know. John Gould’s book provides us with a clear definition:

Heater Piece - The common household flatiron, made hot on top of a stove, was triangular in shape and was called a heater. A heater piece is thus a triangular plot of land; specifically, a grassy place at a road intersection left untraveled by wagons that always cut the corners.

In his introduction (or overture) to Maine Lingo, Gould writes “Maine speech is essentially a conversation of poetic images in which similes and metaphors are derived and applied.”

The book also observes that the unique northeast vernacular persisted and grew for nearly 300 years until “TV, radio and other leveling media began to seriously erode regional speech distinctions.”

Gould (1908 – 2003) wrote dozens of books over 62 years. His collection, the historic switchboard and thousands of other artifacts will come together soon inside the several clabidded museum buildings known as the Village Green. We feel certain you will be hornswoggled. <

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