Bob’s mother was originally from Ft. Kent, Maine. That is way the heck up there, a farther north latitude than Quebec City, Nova Scotia or even Prince Edward Island. Several of her family members moved south to Lewiston and she did the same, eventually moving even farther south to Connecticut. After we left Gloucester, we stayed with Bob’s cousin Jim and his wife Debbie in the town of Buckfield, Maine, about 30 minutes outside Lewiston. They have a lovely home, at the end of a dirt road with acres of woods, ponds and frogs that chorus all night! We had so much fun with Jim and Deb, watched the Bruins, ate great meals, cooled off in their pool and spent hours talking and laughing.
One day, we drove around Lewiston visiting family. First stop was Uncle Vernon, who I had never met before. Such a sweet man and full of stories! I felt bad that we were only able to visit for a short time, but the next day he stopped by Jim’s house and stayed for a few hours visiting. We also visited Uncle Larry & Aunt Anita, their son John and his girlfriend Liz. A skilled guitarist, Uncle Larry checked out Bob’s new guitar and showed us several of his own.
We’re so glad that we were able to visit these folks. Getting together with Bob’s family is always fun. Great conversations and lots of laughs. Tessa loved having the freedom to roam around Jim’s yard and woods … we almost didn’t want to leave!
EDIT: I just realized that I have a picture that I meant to post. It concerns the Buckfield Mall in Maine. Here is the story: Several years ago, Bob’s mother visited family in Lewiston and, during an outing with Uncle Larry and Aunt Anita conversation turned to the subject of shopping. (Bob’s mother loved to shop.) Uncle Larry offered to take Priscilla to the Buckfield Mall. She was delighted! She said she needed a new pair of shoes, and what better place to search than at a mall. They piled into the car and Larry drove and drove until they finally reached their destination … Bob’s mother was fit to be tied!! I’m sure she had a couple of choice words for Larry that day!!! Here is the Buckfield Mall …
But, we did move on. We continued northwest to Newport Center, Vermont and the home of our friends Judy and Vern. The four of us met three years ago when we all signed up for a two-week long Habitat for Humanity building project in Las Cruces, New Mexico. We parked our RV next to theirs, saw their Vermont plates and almost immediately became friends. We worked together every day and Vern taught me how to cope! Judy and Vern have a large farm and have become Boondockers Welcome hosts. Although they no longer keep a milking herd, they still crop the land and lease some pasture space for a neighbor’s cows. We were parked right next to the pasture. The cows were enthralled with Tessa and kept us entertained for three days. Our RVing friends who are members of Boondockers Welcome should look them up if you’re heading to the Northeast Kingdom … Hurdland Farm in Newport Center. You won’t be disappointed!
The city of Newport is about five miles from the Canadian border, and the town of Derby Line lies just a little farther north right on the border. We went there to visit the Haskell Free Library and Opera House. The library was built 1901-1904 by Martha Haskell, a Canadian, in memory of her husband Carlos Haskell, an American sawmill owner and merchant. They lived in Derby Line and she wanted everyone to have access to a free library and music, so she had a combination library and opera house built straddling the international border. We were unable to see inside as the building is still closed due to Covid, but there is reportedly a black line painted along the floor marking the border. The library collection and the opera stage are located in Stanstead, Quebec, but the most opera seats are located in Derby Line. Because of this, the Haskell is sometimes called “the only library in the U.S.A. with no books” and “the only opera house in the U.S.A. with no stage”.
Outside the building, there is a small obelisk with United States engraved on one side and Canada on the other. Since the pandemic, yellow police tape spans the street. On the other side of the tape, you see cars with Quebec license plates. There is apparently more than just tape preventing people from crossing the border, because seconds after Bob allowed Tessa to step beyond the tape, a border patrol truck came by to investigate! We’re lucky they didn’t confiscate her!
Judy and Vern took us on a drive around the area and brought us to two farms, one where they have a big maple operation and the other which uses robotics to milk the cows. Yes, we bought a bunch of maple products … our last name is Viens! And the robotic milking operation was fascinating. This is how it works: there is a large barn with a number of cows inside roaming freely around. They have stanchions which are open with hay and water and the cows can choose to eat hay, drink, change locations, walk around, etc. There is one “stall” just wide and long enough for a cow with a grain feeder at the head. When the cow starts feeling uncomfortable and she knows it’s time for milking, she enters the pen, an ID tag is scanned that tells the system when the cow was last milked, how the udder is shaped and the rate at which each teat dispenses milk.She steps forward, the grain bin opens and she begins eating. In the meantime, a robot cleans her udders, rinses them, and using laser beams it lines up the suction cups which latch onto her teats and begins milking. Fascinating!! When milking is done, she is rinsed, the grain bin closes and she exits.
There was one cow, #1001, who we thought was interested in us as she kept looking through the door. Turns out, she was waiting to go through the milking machine. When it was vacant, she walked in. The robot read her stats and rejected her because she had recently been milked (she was not swollen at all). Well, #1001 has a little problem with the grain, we think, because she kept circling around for another turn in the stall! LOL
After three days at Hurdland Farm, we had to continue on. Our drive around the northern end of Jay Peak mountain brought us to the other side of Bob’s family. The Viens’ originated in St. Albans, Vermont by way of Quebec, Canada. Bob’s father was born to a dairy farmer and had 14 siblings! There are tons of cousins and many of scattered, but we were able to catch up with a few who remained here.
We stopped first at Cousin Richard’s retirement farm. He sold the 300 acre farm that he worked his entire adult life and settled just a short way up the road on a 45 acre farm. As usual, he doesn’t sit still much, and he’s cleared a ton of the woods to let the maples get more air and spread their canopies. I have been kicking myself for not getting a picture with Richard & Maggie!!
One evening, we met up with Cousin Jeanne and her husband Bob and Cousin Betty. We had a great time chatting and catching up at a nice little outdoor cafe in St. Albans. Good food and better company!
We also stopped at cousin Donna’s house to visit her, husband Mike and, of course, Aunt Joanne. What a sweet woman. She’s still smiling and laughing at life. It was really great for everyone to catch up.
All in all, this portion of our trip has been all about visiting family and friends, spending time and sharing the love. Along the way, we’ve had some interesting experiences. What a great combination! These couple of weeks have been good for the soul!
PS: I’m trying a new tool to insert photos into the blog posts. This should make them load faster, but I’m not sure if the pictures will be large enough. I appreciate any feedback you want to send!