A Minute With Josie Quimby

Enjoy this snippet from an interview with Josie Quimby, who grew up on Tween Hills Farm in Orrington. She was born in 1924 and talked to us about one-room schoolhouses and general stores.

7-14-14 Judith Frost Gillis and Josie Quimby b. 1924_church pew from EOCC

Josie Quimby: You know you learned a lot in those one-room schoolhouses. When I went to Brewer High, up until Christmas, my algebra was nothing but review. I had had it all in grammar school before I started.
Judith Gillis: Yes, but I’ve heard something about you, Josie. I’ve heard that you are a very intelligent woman, so you were picking up things all along, weren’t you?
JQ: Well, I do have a good memory, let’s put it that way. The schoolteacher Mildred Ryder lived next door. Mildred was the first teacher I had.
JG: Up at the Goodale School?
JQ. Yeah. And I couldn’t wait to start school. I teased and teased and teased because my birthday was in February. Well, nobody starts school in February. And finally she talked to the superintendent, and he said well if I could keep up, I could start school. So the very first Monday after my fifth birthday I started school. And I loved every minute of it in grammar school.
JG: How many years did you go there? Was this all at the Goodale School?
JQ: I went the whole eight years. My brother was a year behind me and he finished his last year over at East Orrington.
JG: At the Burns Memorial?
JQ: Yeah. We went to school from 8:00 to 3:30, but we had an hour lunch and we had two fifteen minute recesses. And it was different then. In the spring every kid in school had a jackknife and we all sat around on our recess and lunch hours and made willow whistles. There were all boys my age, and we kinda split. Seldon Rogers and Earnest Bowden Jr. and I were one side, and my brother and Benny Smith and Sumner Rogers, Seldon’s brother, were on the other side.  In the winter we’d build snow forts, and we’d get our snowballs all ice you know, and if they’d hit anybody they’d’ve killed them, but the forts were so far away nobody could hit each other. In the snow we’d play Fox and Geese.
JG: Tell us about that. I don’t know it.
JQ: You had a big circle, and the fox was in the middle, and you divided it into four sections, and where they intersect was the safety zone. Of course the geese ran around and the fox had to dart down and catch them before they got to safety zones. We played that all the time in the winter, and hopscotch and stuff. Then one year, Seldon and I discovered a tree over in the woods, and the branches came down real low. Well, we decided that would make a good house if we could cut branches. So the three of us—one of them brought an axe, I don’t know if it was Seldon or Junior, but anyhow—we spent all our recesses and lunch hours chopping branches…We never did get our house built but we had a lot of fun. Oh, and we used to play Alley-alley-oop.
JG: How do you play that? I’ve heard of it , but I don’t know it.
JQ: You play that with a ball. You split up, one side on one side of the schoolhouse and one on the other, and you throw the ball over the roof and when you catch it you run around. It keeps you going.
JG: And so how long were you playing these kind of games? Were you still playing them as you got to be older?
JQ: Oh, we played the same games all through grammar school. You know, of course there wasn’t that many kids in school, but they never differentiated between the little bitty kids and the big ones. If they could play, run, talk and move, they played. And we never had any problem…well, we called it “picking on” then. It was bullying. If anybody picked on you, you beat them up.
JG: And that took care of the problem.
JQ: I was coming home from school once, walking down the hill with my brother, and there was three of them—there was Benny Smith, and Stanley and Johnny Stafanski, and they started picking on my brother. I said to my brother, “Run.” I pushed one of them in a snowbank, I gave the other one a bloody nose, and the third one backed off. My brother never had any more trouble, and two weeks later they were good friends and they played all through school.
JG: Josie, that’s a good memory.
JQ: My seventh and eighth grades, I was janitor of the school.
JG: Tell us about that. I’ve never heard of a student doing that.
JQ: Oh yeah, in these small one-room schoolhouses they used to let one of the older students be the janitor. You had to open up the schoolhouse, and when the weather was cold you had to light the fire so that the school was warm for the other kids when they got there. And after school was over, you cleaned all the chalk off the boards and banged the dust out and dusted the desk and swept the floor. Of course they didn’t have running water so you had to—You know where the Chiappones live up here on the hill? Right across from them, there used to be a well. And so we used to walk up and get the water from the well, and of course they had one of those inverted water coolers there. When I first started I got $100 a year. I got $50 at Christmas and $50 in the spring.
JG: And I bet you enjoyed that didn’t you?
JQ: Yeah. But Sumner started carrying my water for me. And, well, there used to be five or six of us would go up and get the water. It was fun. And so my mother says, “Well, he’s carrying the water, you got to pay him.” So Sumner got $10 at Christmas and in the spring.
JG: Now how would you have used that money?
JQ: Oh, you used it to buy clothes and stuff. You were expected to help out a little, you know. And we all worked more or less. My sister would go picking berries, she’d walk way over to King’s Mountain and pick blueberries and raspberries and stuff, but I guess I was born lazy. My father used to pay us 2 cents a row to weed. Well, I weeded a half a row and I said to my mother, “I’m not weeding anymore.” My mother said, “Well, if you don’t weed you won’t have money for candy.” And I said, “I’ll go without.” That was the end of my weeding, and nothing more was said.
JG: Josie, was there any store for you to walk to?
JQ: Oh, there was little stores everywhere. You know where Perkins’ Orchard used to be? Further beyond that, where the road goes down to the old little cemetery—Walter Bowden used to have a store there. And he sold penny candy and Sundays he used to make ice cream. In fact, he made awfully good ice cream. They used to come down from Bangor for his ice cream. And down to the center, right across from the Grange Hall, Mr. Bowden, Herbert Henderson’s grandfather, had a little store there. And he sold penny candy and stuff. And down to South Orrington, there was one…Almost every place in town, they had a schoolhouse, they had a church, and they had a store that sold these things. I think during Prohibition a few of them sold liquor, too. My cousin’s husband Tom came down from Massachusetts once and my father took him over to the store. Well, of course Tom had on a suit and tie, and he always laughed about it, he said when he went in the store there was five or six men sitting around, and he says all the arms went down. When they found out he was my father’s cousin, he says, the arms came back up. They were drinking.
JG: It was all right then. So did those stores sell grocery products, like flour and salt?
JQ: Oh, they would sell a few things, like maybe tobacco. They didn’t carry a lot. If you wanted sugar and flour and stuff like that, you went out to South Brewer to Herrick’s store, right on the corner of Elm Street. They’ve made it into apartments now. But yeah, old Herrick, he lived to be over a hundred. He claimed that he ran away from home and he fought with Custer. You know, things were different back then. You didn’t need a lot of money. And you know, everybody was the same, this was all farms around here, and nobody was rich but nobody was poor. They practically all had enough to eat, and if you needed flour and sugar, my father would maybe kill off a few chickens and stuff and take it out to Herrick’s and trade it for meat or whatever he wanted.
JG: And Herrick would sell that chicken to his customers.
JQ: Of course, chickens were different back then. Back before World War II a chicken was a luxury. You had chickens at Christmas and on your Thanksgiving and on your birthday, but outside of that, chickens were expensive. 


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Hello, everyone. At some point this summer, either in person or on Facebook, you’ve probably come across my name, but I’ll introduce myself again. I’m Polly Bickford-Duane, the intern at the Orrington Historical Society. I’m going into my senior year at Wheaton College in Massachusetts and double majoring in English literature and French. I grew up in South Orrington and Judith Gillis, president of the OHS, used to be my middle school English teacher. We connected last winter for the first time since then to discuss what I could do for the Historical Society, and realized that an internship would both give her the extra help she needed and allow me to add a great experience to my resume.

Over the summer, Judith and I have been busy (if you know her personally, you know she hardly takes the time to breathe). Among other projects, we’ve been interviewing residents of our community about what life was like when they were growing up. Here in Orrington we’re lucky to have a number of people who are willing to share their stories with us.

Judith and I have also been working on the digital repository at the Maine State Library. It’s essentially an online database for old books and personal records. Judith and I use the new cradle scanner at the library, which allows you to scan books without flattening the spine. The file of the book then goes into the Maine State Library database. Thanks to Adam Fisher, who works at the library and manages the digital repository, we’ve been able to integrate the Orrington collection with our new website. If you visit our Special Collections page you’ll find all the books Judith and I have scanned so far. We hope to scan even more in the future, so the page will be continuously updated.

Speaking of our website, my main project this summer was updating ours. It has been redone in a completely new format and I hope it’s both informative and easy to use. Working on the website has been a lot of fun for me – it’s an opportunity to exercise my creativity and improve my technology skills at the same time.

Clearly, this summer has given me a range of new skills to add to my resume, but it has become more than that. Working with the Orrington Historical Society has been an incredible experience and has taught me to appreciate history in a way that doesn’t always come across in a classroom. Interviewing people about their lives has made me realize how important it is to keep history alive in a format accessible to as many people as possible. With that in mind, I’ll be working as much as I can with the OHS even as I head back to school – I’ll be managing and updating the website from my dorm room two states away.

If you have any questions, comments, concerns, or historical or genealogical information to share, please contact us at info@orringtonhistoricalsociety.com or post on the Orrington Historical Society Facebook page. We look forward to hearing from you.

Enjoy the rest of your summer!


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