A Maine Hamlet
A MAINE HAMLET, by Lura Beam, describes the village of Marshfield, near Machias, Maine, at the turn of the century. Lura Beam, who was born in 1887, lived in Marshfield for twelve years with her grandparents, spent summers there another five, and visited off and on thereafter. A graduate of Barnard with a master’s from Columbia, Beam had taught black children in the South for the American Missionary Association, worked for the Interchurch World Movement and the Association of American Colleges, wrote numerous articles and co-authored two books, and then, in the 1950s, turned a gentle sociologist’s eye on a village she remembered quite clearly, where, for the most part, the inhabitants were closer to their Revolutionary forebears in the seasonal rhythm of their life, in the agricultural nature of their economy, and in their sense of status and family self-sufficiency, than they are to us today.
Beam describes her grandparents’ life in detail in the book’s wonderful first chapter, noting “in a cold country, you could understand the balance of a marriage if you knew which of a couple got up to start the kitchen fire in January.” Her grandfather farmed, worked at a local sawmill and as a woodsman and shipbuilder, did market gardening (and lit the stove). Her grandmother “did housework for a good seventy years.” When Beam asked her grandmother one day what she was thinking as she lay on the sofa and looked out the window, her grandmother replied, “I laid myself down here to think about how we would transplant the peonies, but I got to thinking about the stars. I was wishing I’d had the chance to learn astronomy and to know more about the wonders of the world.” Lura Beam pays homage to the smaller wonders of village life, from the rhythms of work dictated by weather, to education in a one-room schoolhouse, parties and celebrations, and the customs and structure that created a community. Though A Maine Hamlet may seem to be about what American life has lost, for those attuned to rural life in Maine life today, it resonates and delights with rich detail that reminds us what was so special and what, indeed, survives.
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