Always on my mind

By Jenna Lookner | Sep 26, 2012
Courtesy of: Leonard Lookner Dad and Wanda in Montville circa 1971.

I was driving out to the Common Ground Country Fair on the morning of Friday, Sept. 22, when I found myself captivated by the familiar countryside. A little tour of Waldo County, on the other side of Route 3, lies a place with special significance to me.

My dad moved to Montville in 1969 after college in Colorado — a Boston native with geology degree and a brand new Chevy pick-up truck. His neighbors were skeptical.

Somehow he found work as the dairy inspector and soon acquired 20 head of his own milking cows. He went on to become a Montville selectman. I guess he was warming up for big city politics in Camden.

I wasn't born until the 80s. The farm had long since been sold, the only remaining trace was dad's big, white Pyrenees dog, Fog. We had settled on 40 acres in the pastoral part of Camden. Fruit trees had been planted, I liked dead things and nature, I played outside a lot and ate snap peas procured from our big vegetable garden. By age 7, I had successfully worn my parents down and I got a pony.

I always felt nostalgic for the life I missed by just a few years. Grown now, I still feel nostalgic in that aching way, it's as though I'm remembering a time, a place, without ever having been there.

So I have a thing about Waldo County that takes me by the time I head through Morrill. I pass the big post and beam barn barn wrapped in a full mural of immaculately painted American flag, I am alone and smiling from ear-to-ear. I try not to miss my turn.

It's the stretch of Route 220 in Knox that really gets me. I am silently willing the traffic to be light as I approach the fair grounds, thinking about my first volunteer shift — in the kitchen — and hoping my tardiness won't be an issue. The road opens up to emerald on both sides. Big, red barns punctuate the landscape like lighthouses in a sea of pasture.

I am thinking about the farms my dad tells me he inspected. He has been telling me the same stories since I was small — most recently on the way to the FEDCO Tree Sale in May with my boyfriend Kelly along for the trip.

“Have you ever driven through Waldo County with my dad?” I ask Kelly in a stage whisper as we wait in dad's sedan for him to come out of his house. “We're going to stop at least six times on the way to the sale.”

As predicted, we take the back roads, stopping frequently. Dad tells us the tales that I've heard again and again, rebooted with a level of enthusiasm for the newcomer on board. I listen like I'm watching a favorite film. For me, it's Kubrick, masterful stories that never get old.

As I'm entering the last few miles on the approach to the fair I pass a farm and I remember that it's one dad used to inspect. The farmhouse is situated high on a hill, behind a Baptist church. It isn't pretty, but it's honest. I notice that it's for sale.

The farmer that lived there wasn't very nice — I recall something about money owed, about angry neighbors. An anecdote from a land well before my time when vigilante justice wasn't just a figment of Cormac McCarthy's blockbuster imagination.

As the story has always been told the angry neighbors had reached a breaking point. There may have been marijuana involved, it was, after all, the 70s. The disenfranchised group went to that farm, perched high up on a hill, and confronted the farmer who lived there. When differences proved irreconcilable, the mob did the logical thing — they duct taped his feet and hands and locked him in a meat freezer.

Somehow luck prevailed, the farmer's hired hand showed up to milk, and heard him thumping about inside the chest, freezing to death. Needless to say, the “bad farmer” as my dad called him recently, lived to tell.

Undeterred by the historical context of the place, I wondered immediately how much they wanted for it and I called my dad as soon as my cell phone's weak signal would let me. Though he's always shunned my attraction to the nether reaches of Waldo County he encouraged me to look into that pretty farm.

“It's some of the best farmland in Maine,” he said.

Kelly was less supportive.

“What would I do way out there?” He wondered.

I arrived home later that afternoon and I immediately looked up the listing. Though priced at almost nothing, the farmland had been broken up, sold off. The property on offer was a mere two acres and my bubble was effectively burst, though likely not forever.

Those big red barns, those lighthouses, are always on my mind. Bright spots calling me away from the rocks, beckoning me home.

Courier Publications reporter Jenna Lookner can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at

Comments (1)
Posted by: Narda Sue Smith | Oct 01, 2012 07:01

What a wonderful story of what must have been a great childhood. I love the way you speak about our beautiful Maine, and especially your Dad. I truly enjoyed this..

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