I was 9 years old the year we visited Aunt Mart and Uncle Elmar in historic Paris Hill, Maine. In a childhood full of cool summer memories, this trip is a clear stand-out.
Everything seemed like a movie–the enormous forest behind the house, riding around town in a golf cart, Uncle Elmar’s brilliant household inventions and that library. I’d never seen anything like it.
Built in 1822, this granite structure’s first life served those serving time. This fascinated me as only a jail-turned-library could. I remember walking in, feeling claustrophobic, wondering what manner of delinquency gets you thrown in here. Richly knotted wooden shelving supported the teeming books. Under glass casing, artifacts from Paris Hill’s early history–quilts, black and white photos–rested humbly. But what struck me most was the silence. It seemed like air stood still, ominous, watching you. Succinctly, this place was cool as sh*t.
The library, having opened in 1902, has long outlived the jail. She’s still in operation today, guided by the original deed’s stipulations. This was Dr. Augustus C. Hamlin‘s vision, nephew of Lincoln’s VP, Honorable Hannibal H. Hamlin. I’m sure Dr. Hamlin would be pleased with his library’s current incarnation–Wi-Fi is available, an eLibrary is remotely accessible and, yes, they’re on Facebook.
This childhood memory is made richer by the experiences surrounding our visit. My brother and I were given free reign to explore, he more so than me, when he drove a golf ball from Courthouse Square, across the street, through the 2nd floor window of our host’s picturesque colonial. We thought we were dead, but the unflappable Uncle Elmar dismissed this incident without a word. We were kids, and kids get into trouble. He understood.
Behind the house, we spent hours in what seemed like an endless expanse of woods. We made homemade bow and arrows that really worked. Unfortunate for some we were skilled bowsmen–countless bullfrogs lost their lives that summer.
And Uncle Elmar fed my love of words. He introduced me to the palindrome, as in “Madam I’m Adam.” I was fascinated. He threw in onomatopoeia—bang–over Bran Flakes one morning. Bran Flakes and Uncle Elmar… I almost forgot that one.