Tales of a mid-century

Maine childhood

Dedham Days: Daley’s Landing

By Bruce Wallace

Published by Ian Ludders

Cherryfield, Maine, 2014

96 pages, trade paperback, $5.15

 

If you want to know what it felt like to be a kid in small-town Maine between Bangor and Ellsworth right after World War II, you should read Bruce Wallace’s “Dedham Days.” If you just like to get the rush of unabashed, unpretentious — and sometimes salty — exuberance for life, then you should read this book.

“Dedham Days” is the first commercial publication (modest though it is) of probably thousands of pages of autobiographical, poetic and unclassifiable writing by Bruce Wallace, who grew up in Dedham, Maine, lighted out for a variety of territories as a young man and returned late in life to a rough cabin in Cherryfield, where he died in May 2012.

He was variously a musician, an Army Security Agency “spy,” an itinerant day laborer, a beer brewer and an Orthodox Christian monk. He was a close friend of the British poet Robert Graves during the nearly two decades when his home base was the Spanish island of Majorca, where he lived what we call, in quiet neighborhoods, a riotous life.

Along the way he filled boxes with mostly handwritten manuscripts he never intended to publish until, during his last years in Cherryfield, he thought they might amuse old friends. So he hired helpers to turn the manuscripts into typescripts that he and his neighbor Ian Ludders duplicated, collated and stapled together in booklets. There are 40 or 50 of them, and they record the events, thoughts, whims, rhymes and characters that happened to him over 70-plus years, in the inimitable, sometimes raunchy literary voice in which he actually spoke. Uproariously, I might add.

“Dedham Days” is among the more conventional of these writings, and a good place to start a trip into Wallace world. In it, he set out simply to remember his childhood and the craziness that went with it. His voice and its hairpin divagations make it seem crazier yet, but there’s something in here for a lot of readers, not the least of whom will be local historians.

One facet of Bruce Wallace’s mental agility was his memory for names, and “Dedham Days” in one of its aspects is a catalog of people and events — of local significance and insignificance — that might otherwise be lost, but for him were undying larks:

 

“Wilhelm Reich lived around there and was carted off from those regions about that time. When I took (music) lessons one year from Claude Monteux in Hancock he had a tent set up in Eva Reich’s field. Outside the house was a cloud-busting machine, which looked like an anti-aircraft gun; and down in the well was that famous blue-tinted pulsating material known as orgone energy. Wells are good for storing orgone energy in, in case you didn’t know.”

 

Once in a while an autobiography appears whose recollections tell you more about how it felt to be there than about how the author felt about being there. In recent local times, “Peripheral Visions” by Farnham Blair, of Blue Hill, is one such book, and “Dedham Days” is another. Hopefully Ian Ludders will keep editing and publishing more of this wallacious trove.

“Dedham Days” is available through Lulu.com.

Dana Wilde writes the Backyard Naturalist column for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel and runs the Parallel Uni-Verse website for Maine poetry at www.dwildepress.net/universe, where more of Bruce Wallace’s writings are posted.