When the heart is awash in memory, it's easy to get lost

Gordon Stewart
Gordon C. Stewart is a Presbyterian minister.
Submitted photo

The Rev. Gordon Stewart is pastor of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska and a source in the Public Insight Network for MPR News.

After my mother died in 2002, I decided to take a trip back in time to the old Andrews homestead in Woodstock, Maine.

Pete Andrews, my mother's favorite cousin, was the last Andrews to own and operate the Andrews mill, casket company and funeral home that had been the Andrews homestead for 250 years. The last time I had seen Pete, years before, he had sold the property except for the house. He was old, and I knew from my mother that Pete had been in poor health.

Although my memories of the Andrews property and the cemetery were vivid, when the day came to find them, I was lost.

It's easy to get lost when the heart is awash in memory. I was a child again visiting my Great-grandfather Andrews and Angie, his housekeeper, whose biscuits no one in the family could replicate. Grandpa Andrews was a big man with a big white mustache. He had suffered a stroke, but his laugh and his eyes were big whenever my mother and I would visit him. I was three or four years old, his pride and joy, the son of his favorite granddaughter, Muriel.

I stopped in at the hardware store, introduced myself as a member of the Andrews family, and asked directions to the cemetery and the place where Pete had lived.

"Jeepers! Pete died?" The man yelled to the back of the store, "Hey, Elwood, did Pete die?"

"Couldn't have. He was just in here yesterday. Looked fine to me ... When did he die? What happened?"

"No, no," I said. "Pete was my mother's favorite cousin. My mother died. I knew Pete had been in poor health 10 years ago. I just assumed .... "

Nine years later, when my 99-year-old Aunt Gertrude died, I returned once more to Woodstock.

I flew from Minneapolis, rented a car, and drove to the Mollyockett Inn where my cousins and my brother would be staying.

A mile before the Mollyockett I passed a sign: "Fried Clams." You have to have fried clams if you're in Maine.

I pulled into the driveway to the restaurant where a man welcomed me and asked if he could help. "I'm looking for some fried clams," I said.

"Well, we're not open, it's Sunday, but let me get the wife. We'll open up."

He got the wife, opened up, and we began to chat. Clearly they were not blue bloods like the Andrews family. They were Rhode Islanders who had come to Maine 20 years ago to get away from the city. They came to visit a brother, saw a "For sale" sign on the restaurant and bought it. They'd been here ever since.

"Where you from?"

"Minneapolis, Minnesota."

"Sure ... where Michele Bachmann's from, right? So what brings you to this neck of the woods?"

"I'm here for a funeral. My family used to own the old Andrews casket company and funeral home. The family's coming in from Wisconsin and North Carolina. We're all staying at the Mollyockett."

"So you're here for Pete's funeral."

"Pete? Pete just died?"

"Well, gory, I thought you knew. I thought you was here for Pete."

"Pete died? Are you serious?"

"Yep, I guess he died yesterday ... wasn't it yesterday, Mabel? Gorry, he just in here a few days ago with a good-lookin' lady friend, wasn't he, Mabel? Didn't look sick ... looked good. A real gentleman, that Pete. He came in here all the time ... love fried clams. He was quite a lady's man. Always had a lady friend ... lots of different ones, but always a gentleman. Always wore a shirt and tie."

I couldn't stay for Pete's funeral but visited the old homestead one more time. I stood on the property by the old mill and the trout stream. All my thoughts were lost in time.

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