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Fiddleheads and Ghosts

May 10-12,1999

The engine of my GMC Jimmy is spread out in pieces at Phil's garage, down the road from the Farmhouse. At 285,000 miles it has a burnt bearing, and Phil is rebuilding it.

"And you've never had any engine problems before?" Phil asks

"No major problems of any kind, except a transmission rebuild a couple of years ago." I reply

"Then I'd say you've been very lucky, with these many miles on it."

Other than the crankshaft, the engine's innards spread out on display show remarkably little wear. Considering the hard use and long miles on this 1987 4x4, the two cross country trips hauling a trailer, the backcountry roads and mountain passes it has travelled, the Jimmy has served us well.

Phil will replace the crankshaft, and rebuild the engine over the next few weeks.

People were coming and going the whole time that Phil and I were talking, including a neighbor who I'd met only via e-mail. Sherrill has been following our battle with ladybugs (see the Ladybug Invasion! journal entry) with personal interest. Her own place is under seige from these pests, and she has earned the nickname "Ladybug Killer" from her family for the zealous war she is waging. We are both relieved to have apparently won the battle - the ladybugs are pretty much history - but we have no false hopes that we've won the war.

The conversation at Phil's garage got around to fiddlehead ferns somehow. It is the beginning of the fiddlehead season in Maine. Fiddleheads are the crozier, or early growth stage of ferns that are gathered along the roadsides, woods and riverbanks for a couple of weeks in May. These coiled tips of young fern fronds are a springtime delicacy especially prized by New Englanders and wild food enthusiasts. Fiddleheads are gathered from the ostrich and wood ferns in Maine, but can also be gathered from cinnamon ferns and the common bracken fern as well.

The fiddlehead is ready to pick when it is pushing up swiftly through the ground with its tightly coiled tip. They are best picked in the morning when they are woodsy-smelling and fesh flavored, and snap off crisply into the hand of the picker. By afternoon, the crosier can have outgrown the edible stage, becoming unfurled fern fronds.
Fiddlehead Soup
4 Tbsp butter
1 lb fiddleheads, washed and drained
4½Tbsp flour
5 cups hot chicken stock
¼ cup light cream
Pinch of nutmeg
Juice of ¼ lemon
Few drops Tabasco sauce
Salt and pepper
Melt butter in large saucepan. Add fiddleheads; season with salt and pepper.
Cover and cook 3-4 hours.
Add flour; mix well and cook 1 minute. Add chicken stock and spices. Season to taste. Bring to boil and cook for 30 minutes over medium heat.
Pass soup through food mill. Incorporate cream and sprinkle with lemon juice.

Fresh, crisp fiddleheads are rinsed, rubbing off the skins with your hands as you rinse. They can be prepared a number of ways, but a favorite is to steam or boil them in salted water for 20 to 30 minutes, until just tender. Season with butter, salt and pepper to taste, or combine with other foods. Their flavor hints of asparagrus and mushrooms combined, and they are delightful served with scallops or other sea foods. Here is one recipe from New Brunswick Recipes that you might try. There are several other fiddlehead recipes at their web site that sound delicious also.

We didn't have the time this trip to roam the woods searching for fiddleheads, but have something to look forward to next year.

Foragers guard their personal fiddlehead patches like state secrets, often not even sharing their locations with family members. They revisit their patches year after year each spring to harvest their bounty. Much is consumed by the foragers and their families, but fiddleheads make their way to market as well.

A nice batch of Fiddleheads

We checked at several farmers' markets and food stores in Bridgton with no luck, but finally found some at a place along route 114 in Scarborough. I spotted the roadside sign, and almost caused an accident when I quickly pulled over. This is a garden supply store, and someone has brought in three coolers full of freshly picked fiddleheads. We scoop up several pounds and take them home with us. I've also seen fiddleheads canned, and I have heard that you can buy them frozen as well.

Farmhouse Predecessors

One of the sons of Samuel Meserve built the Farmhouse sometime around 1830, as best we can document now. On a trip to Salt Lake City in May, I was able to stop in at the Latter Day Saints (LDS) Genealogy Library, and gather a little information on Sebago and the Meserves. At least two Meserves were early settlers in Sebago, soon after the town was split away from Baldwin in 1826. John Meserve was born in 1799 in Scarborough, and sometime after marrying Jane Libby in 1826, he moved out of the family home in Limington into the Hogfat Hill area of Sebago sometime between 1820 and 1830. Both he and Jane are listed in the US Census for Sebago beginning in 1830. John's younger brother Samuel Meserve (Jr.) was born in 1804, and left the family home in Limington sometime after 1820, and appears in Sebago in the 1840 U.S. Census - he and his wife Matilda were early settlers in the old Back Nippin section of Sebago - the area where the Farmhouse is located.

We have a lot of gaps to fill between 1830 and 1999, but suffice to say that there have been a lot of people who have been born, lived, and died in the Farmhouse in the roughly 170 years it has been here.

I got an e-mail from Claire, the daughter of George E. and Sylvia M. Chessey Jr. in April. She said: "In early May, I will be in Maine with my family and would love to take a tour of your home which was once my Grandmother's". Claire and her two sisters, Joanne and Suzie, have been following the Journal entries. Although their father lived there as a boy, and owned it from 1947 until 1956, they were raised in Portland. Their brother David had visited their grandparents at the Farmhouse, but the three girls had been too young to remember anything about it.

Lunetta and Ephraim Chessey in 1937

The three sisters arrived Sunday morning and we gave them a tour of the place. They passed along some of the stories of their parents and their grandparents. Ephraim and Lunetta Chessey lived there from 1930 until they too moved to Portland. They loaned us this photo of Lunetta and Ephraim on their 25th wedding anniversary in January, 1937. Ephraim was a woodsman, and Lunetta was a school teacher (see the Frost Heaves and Pussy Willows journal entry). Joanna said that she had a bunch of old property deeds, and would go through them to help us piece together the history of the Farmhouse and its former owners. She also would talk to some of the local historical society people to see what information they had.

Things that go Bump! in the night

We are interested in the history of the Farmhouse for a couple of reasons. First, in doing renovation there, we'd like to be as faithful to the original design as we can. This we know will be difficult, because of all the changes that have taken place over the years, in the hands of a series of owners. We have some very unusual architectural features, however, that we'd like to know a little more about. For example, there is a curved wall off the living room downstairs, and in one of the bedrooms upstairs. This feature was not common until the 1880's, and we're curious as to when it was put in, and by whom if possible.

We are also curious about who has lived in the Farmhouse over these 170-odd years, because some of them are still hanging around. From the very first day of our tenancy in December, they have made their presence known. Both Penny and Marilyn (Paul's wife) have heard them knock on the kitchen door on separate occasions. On at least 5 separate occasions, Paul and Otto (our cable installer) have come into the bathroom and found all the cupboards and cabinet doors open, at a time when each was alone in the house. Each time they were sure that all the cupboards were closed the last time they were in the bathroom.

Paul, Penny, and I have almost lost track of the number of times that we've come up to the Farm at night and found the attic lights turned on. We've run an electrical circuit check, and all is fine. When I make a specific point to make sure they are turned off when we leave the house, and find them on when we come back - it is a bit unnerving!

Penny has heard old-time music like at a party, voices and laughter, and smelled maple syrup. Paul has heard women talking, and children laughing. Both Marilyn and Otto have been awakened from a sound sleep to hear footsteps and jumping sounds on the stairs at night. Marilyn described it as sounding just like kids were running down the stairs two steps at a time, and then jumping over the bannister at the bottom.

Others that we've talked to who lived here have their own tales to tell. About two weeks after one of the people who use to live here had died, he was seen standing in the front door way by a neighbor. Another of the former residents of the house recounted how, when he was lying on a couch in the living room, he was startled when something flew through the air over him. Paul and I have a sense (or think we do, anyway) of seeing fleeting shadows just out of the corners of our eyes from time to time. Goldie, Paul's dog, couldn't be restrained from running up the stairs to the barn loft and standing there, tail wagging, while she stared off into empty space.

As disturbing as these events may sound, other than the strangeness of them, neither Paul nor Marilyn, nor Penny nor I, sense anything threatening or a sense of danger. Paul recounts (October 30) how he was sitting in the barbershop, when he felt a firm hand on his shoulder. Not threatening - just reassuring. Goldie didn't stir from her sleep on the floor beside him.

On another occasion, Marilyn called (June 26) and told about being in the kitchen when she heard three knocks at the kitchen door. Paul was in the back yard, and when she went out to the door to check, no one was there. When she went outside to see if perhaps someone was out in the driveway, there was no one there either. However, she did hear tires screeching in the road in front of the house. Goldie had wandered off, and was laying in the middle of the road. Cars were coming over the blind hill and swerving to miss her! Marilyn would not have seen any of this from the kitchen, but thus alerted by our helpful ghosts, she was able to run out and drag the dog back to safety before anything happened. Whatever the cause, the knocking came at just the right time!

Once (summer of 2000), when Marilyn and Paul were having a picnic in the back yard under the big oak with her parents, Marilyn's mother looked up at the upper back bedroom window (northeast bedroom) and saw a lady in a long white dress standing there. Her hair was tied up in a bun, and she was just looking out at the picnic group. When everyone else looked up, she was gone.

We have now had three sitings of an older gentleman at the barn, with a long beard and work clothes on (1999, 2000 and 2001). He is usually wearing overalls, and once had a straw hat on. Twice he has been seen in the loft, once standing there and once just sitting on the edge of the loft hanging his legs over. The third time he was out by the side of the barn, by the stone wall. The sitings were by three different people at different times. I was out in the barn late one night working on stuff (summer 2000), and saw a small, sparkling light out of the corner of my eye. When I would focus on it, it would disappear, but it then would come back when I would go back to working on my project. I finally stopped what I was doing and explained to thin air my work - after that the light went away. Apparently I'd satisfied its curiosity.

Truly, there is a strong sense that we are not alone at the Farmhouse. However, it is big enough that we don't begrudge the company - besides, they were there first.

We invited Gloria up to the Farmhouse on Saturday (May 11) to help us understand some of these things a bit better; she had been referred to us by an acquaintance in Portland as someone who was sensitive to the spirit world.

She toured the place, and talked to us about her impressions of our spirits. She gave us some insights and suggestions which have been very helpful. All in all, her visit seems to have put some of our predecessors a bit more at peace. At least, the incidents are not the threatening, slightly scary things that they used to be.

Renovation continues

Additional office windows are now installed

Paul has installed the windows on the back side of the office, lights and insulation in the ceiling, and a deck and stairs to the new carriage house door. Things are coming along nicely.

The whole-house cabling has arrived, along with the junction box. Otto has started to install the phone/coax/fiber optic cable in the office for our computer network, and around the house.

I brought up a lawnmower from Clifton Park, and mow the yard for the first time. The pool is uncovered and reconnected for the summer, but it will be another month before the water is warm enough to swim in. The bats have not yet returned, although the black flies and mosquitoes have. Our next trip up will be over Memorial Day, when I have a fishing trip with three buddies to the Rangeley Lake area of Maine.

Allen and Penny Crabtree

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Last updated February 9, 2001