June 26 – July 2, 2020Vol. 22, No. 3

Mrs. Herling's Helpers

by Rod Johnson

Growing up in a rural Maine town during the 1950s and 60s surely was an experience that one never forgets. In addition to the fun stuff that we kids usually created (think kick-the-can or swimming at the dam) we were expected to be helpful around our own family homes. In addition, in keeping with our parent's expectations, getting small jobs that earned money happened fairly early in life, usually around the age of 10.

Everybody had a piggy bank. If you didn't pick up on it without prompting, a parent would surely help you along with a strong suggestion or more. Few questioned the need for money as the local store was always calling to come by and get a candy bar or Coca-Cola. How everyone earned their first dollars varied, but often it was mowing lawns, raking leaves in the fall and general cleanup around a neighbor's house. For the girls it was baby sitting or learning to clean camps.

My first job was mowing grass for Elmer Green. He and I mowed his home lawn and that of Gilman's Camps (now the Village Camps) by the dam in Belgrade Lakes. It didn't take long to grow a small clientele of homeowners who asked for their lawns to be mowed. A couple of years of that and youngsters were ready to move on. Possible jobs were, among others, at a summer camp in the kitchen, at the local store sorting bottles and sweeping, or at the local rec center as a helper. My friend Ralph Pope and I each had summer stints of working for the Herling family. Here's the story.

Robert and Stella Herling came to Belgrade early in the 1950s. They bought a piece of land on Long Pond in Rome, directly across from Belgrade Lakes village. The area is somewhat hidden from the villager's west view by Blueberry Island, previously known as Frink's Island. There was no road access to the shoreline, only an old trail leading part way to it off the Blueberry Hill road. A portable sawmill had once created a large sawdust pile on the property, still intact at that time. More to come on the sawdust pile.

The Herlings hired local men, including my father Clifford, to build a small cedar camp and a pumphouse very near the water. I suspect they sit there today in expanded form.

The couple loved their simple summer home and made an arrangement with Jim Day to keep their car behind the store. Bob Herling trekked back and forth across Long Pond every day or two for miscellaneous needs. Their chosen craft was a 12 foot flat-bottomed skiff with a 5.5 horsepower outboard. Needless to say, the trip was not fast. Stella disliked the boat trips as getting in and out of the skiff was difficult. She would seldom be seen in the village until it was time to go home in the fall. After several years, the Herling's bliss came to a halt when Bob passed away. My folks got the call from Stella during the winter and she was undecided what to do about the Maine camp.

Ultimately Stella decided to give it a try on her own, with some assistance from a helper of sorts. My father, then her friend and caretaker of the cottage, suggested hiring me or another kid to go back and forth daily with the skiff, weather permitting. Our duties included bringing whatever she had listed the previous day, start the gasoline powered water pump and let it fill the tank, and last but not least, continue making and maintaining Bob's trails in the woods with sawdust from the big pile.

The last item, Bob's trails became my nemesis. Maintaining the trails in the woods was hot and sticky in the summer heat, with no shortage of flies and other bugs. We were also charged with keeping the trails weeded and cleaned out. By the second hour, visions of swimming and boating were prevailing and any excuse to leave early was easy to come by. Stella was a gentle understanding woman and always let us off the hook pretty easily. As I recall, one year was enough to cure me and Ralph took the job the following summer. He claims now that he didn't mind the trail repair, but he is a botanist now and perhaps spent his trail days gawking at plants and bugs!

Not many years after my tenure of working for Stella, I heard my parents discussing the letter they had received. Stella regretfully would not be back as her health and agility were poor. That was about 60 years ago. May she rest in peace, a wonderful lady and her husband Bob was of like kind. We were blessed to have them as summer guests for many years. I wonder if the remnants of the sawdust pile are still there?

Rod Johnson was born and raised in the Belgrade Lakes in the 1950s and '60s.