Farr Out

John Hamilton Farr up much too close

When does it start feeling good to be the king

They’re all dead now. Bye-bye, gone. My father, his older brother, and finally his sister Mary, 99 years old. She was fond of saying “after my demise,” so there you go: wait long enough, and everything shows up.

Mary always was my favorite aunt, up until the troubles. She tried to keep my wife and me from moving to New Mexico by crying, “But it’s a wasteland!” (So it is, in the sense she meant, and exactly why I came here.) She’d given us the money for the down payment on our house—actually an inheritance she passed on from her mother—and probably felt betrayed. I didn’t understand that at the time, but now I do.

We had some good times with her at her home in Maine. It suited her up there, I think, where the regional culture’s emphasis on what I’ll call “thrift” for now because I’m being nice meshed nicely with the family creed. She ate all the local weeds and thrived: fiddleheads, dandelion greens, lambs-quarter, berries, fruits, saps, and edible extrusions of just about anything that grew nearby and didn’t cost too much. Besides not acknowledging her due, the worst sin you could commit was wasting something. Anything at all, if it had a second or a third use. Especially food.

She had a specialty called “lobster butter.” After we’d eaten our delicious lobsters that she’d had us buy in town that day, she’d collect the little bowls of melted butter we used to dip each bite and save the dregs for later use on pancakes. That I eschewed mixing rancid bits of lobster meat with maple syrup was incomprehensible to her, though I don’t think she did it for the taste. The lobster butter was a victory over waste. (That no one else had thought of it was even better.) She kept it in the fridge and offered it as if it were the finest caviar whenever butter might be served.

And now I’ve inherited the “contents of the house.” I don’t know what that means yet, but they’ll tell me. At some point in the next few weeks or months, I’ll fly to Portland, rent a car, and drive on up to East Vassalboro. For the first time ever, as I write this, I’m looking at the name. What do feudal tenant farmers have to do with Maine? Just looking at the airline schedules and maps reminds me: take it or leave it, this is what you get.

Very Farr-like, certainly. And did I mention that they’re gone?

  • Gillian Booth April 3, 2013, 12:57 AM

    I am engaging with your latest writing and mind journeying massively. Sorry I thought earlier you were having a breakdown, I was just being a silly old cottontoes, worrying. More like a breakthrough, I think. Age and seniority do that. Strength to you from a nineteenfortytwo-er.

    • JHF April 3, 2013, 1:11 AM

      I can do breakdowns standing on my head. Hope you’re right about the other stuff! Better have my wife read this before she finds her shotgun.

  • Candace McLallen April 3, 2013, 11:54 AM

    “I can do breakdowns standing on my head.” Brilliance!

  • mj April 3, 2013, 7:54 PM

    Be sure and go through all the books, look under the mattresses, and rugs, in the medicine cabinet, and in the cookie jars. I’ve had many an older relative use them to hide their money, for growing up during the depression they didn’t believe in banks. Most of them never trusted the government, or a bank. Maybe that is something we should think about now.
    This brings to mind what stories my relatives will say about me and my quirky ways when I am gone. Ha!

    • JHF April 3, 2013, 9:57 PM

      The house is a small but old traditional place typical of the region, with upgrades and a modern addition. It sits on a paved road in the woods. The sort of old wooden house where the floors aren’t completely flat and creak as you walk. My aunt wasn’t the sort to squirrel things away like that, though. A former Army nurse in the South Pacific and later nursing instructor at Johns Hopkins, she married in her 50s and moved to Maine. After her husband died, she turned everything over to her financial adviser and made him her guardian (!). She would have stashed things in a safe deposit box if anywhere, and I don’t believe I’d inherit that.

      But we never know, do we? Your relatives are contemporaries. Whenever this happens, I’ll go through what I can.

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