Coming to Maine

By Stell Shevis | Sep 05, 2015

Searching the Sunday papers in 1944 we learned that property in Maine was the most reasonable, so in October Shevis took a bus to Camden to look for a place.

I had said to find a house in the country with no close neighbors, so he didn't even look in town where there were lovely homes right on the harbor for about $5,000. We had read "5 Acres and Independence," and "We Took to the Woods," by Louise Dickinson Rich, and hoped to live off the land.

When a real estate agent showed him a neat little house in Belmont, only 10 years old, surrounded by 12 acres of fields and woods for only $1,800, he bought it immediately. When he got home (Hackensack, N.J. at the time) and described it, I knew it was the right place and couldn't wait to see it. Of course, it had no plumbing or electricity, but we could add that.

So in January 1945, we left the children in charge of my Aunt Mabel, who had come to live with us and keep house, and took a bus to Maine. We stayed at the same tourist home he'd stayed in before, where the hostess gave us a warm welcome.

For this excursion in the wilds of Maine, we had bought warm clothes. I had a red plush coat with green felt trim and silver buttons, a bright woolen scarf for my head, and warm lined boots. Shevis had a short, tan coat with a fake fur collar, from Sears Roebuck, a colorful knit cap and warm lined boots.

People stared as we walked down the street.

The local taxi driver agreed to take us out to Belmont to see our house, $7 round-trip and 12 miles each way. It was a beautiful sunny day, blue sky, white snowy fields against dark pointed furs. Arriving at the house, we told the driver that we wanted to stay for awhile, do some planning about furnishing and that he should go back — for we would walk.

He was amazed at the idea, said "Oh no, you can't do that. I'll just sit in the cab and wait, have me a nap." But we insisted, told him we were used to hiking, so off he went, shaking his head.

In mid-afternoon, we headed back to Camden, along the plowed roads, passed few houses, met a family riding in a horse-drawn sleigh. They waved, but didn't stop. Then a station wagon pulled up and the woman driver offered a lift. When we said no thanks and that we enjoyed the walk; she shook her head and drove off with the same look on her face as the taxi man.

In town we noticed window curtains being pulled back, faces peeking out, in almost every house. After a short rest in the room, we went out to dine, in a strangely silent diner. The next morning, planning a day of sketching, we sat at the counter for breakfast in the same diner; and were greeted with a frightened belligerence.

"We ain't gonna serve you nuthin'. We don't know who you are. Where are you from? What are you doing here in the middle of winter? Just leave 'fore I call the police!"

Bewildered and angry, we left and headed for the drugstore to get a cup of coffee. On the way a burly man accosted us and demanded to see our identification papers.

"We want to know who you are and what you want here," the man said.

Shevis angrily replied, "Who are you? What the hell is going on here? All you people are acting crazy!"

"I'm the town manager and I want to know who you are and what you're doing here. Show me your identification or I'm calling the Army base right away," the man said.

"You say you're the town manager, well show me your papers, and I'll show you mine! We just bought property here, but now I don't think I want to keep it. We're artists and just came to do some sketching around here," Shevis yelled at him.

"Well now," said the guy. "If you'd come here in the summer nobody would have paid you no mind at all, but coming up here in the middle of winter when their ain't no scenery to look at just don't seem reasonable at all, now does it?" He turned abruptly and hurried away.

We had normal treatment with coffee and donuts at Boynton-McKay and then walked 2 miles to Rockport Harbor. There were fishing shacks on the ice, something we'd never seen before. So standing on the bridge, we started to draw. We hardly had time to make a few lines when interrupted by a small boy, exclaiming "You can't do that! It's against the law! Don't you know there is a war on?"

A small, round man was hurrying toward us buttoning his coat as he ran. Before he even reached us, he panted, "You can't make drawings of the harbor, or take photos. You must stop!"

We were both angry and confused. Shevis said "Damn it, we're just visitors for a few days, and we're being hounded everywhere we go!"

The small round man said severely," I'll have to report you to the authorities. I'm the local warden in charge of security in this town," and off he went.

"Stell, let's get out of here. I think we've made a terrible mistake," Shevis said.

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