It was a clear, cool Sunday at Head of Falls in Waterville. Clarence Spaulding and Vicky LaBrie were strolling on the RiverWalk, stopping to read the plaques relating the history of the area.

“I remember those pictures there, exactly as they were in real life — the buildings, the factories, the houses and the store,” Spaulding, 77, said.

The couple sat at a picnic table near the Kennebec River, which roiled and rushed toward the Two Cent Bridge.

Spaulding said he was born in Waterville but lived in Caratunk when he was a child. His family moved to Waterville when he was a teenager, and he remembers a bustling riverfront where the Wyandotte Worsted Mill and Waterville Iron Works rumbled away.

“When you came down that driveway,” he said, pointing toward Front and Temple streets, “the first thing on your right was the old grist mill that was pretty close to Front Street. There were apartment houses and lots of people lived down here, the Lebanese and French. By the time we moved to Waterville, I felt like I knew a quarter of the town. I never felt like a stranger here. In the late ’80s, I moved to Bingham for financial and employment reasons and came back around 2002, and at that point, I didn’t know anybody. It was like the whole city vanished.”

It was a different world, growing up in Caratunk in the 1940s and ’50s, according to Spaulding.

“It’s a time that I’d like to go back to — if you could just turn the dial back. Of course, we had problems; we had difficulties. We weren’t rich, but I would say we weren’t poor. We owned our own house, but there was not a lot of money flying around.”

His father, Eldrede, was in the logging business, and his mother, Virginia, a teacher.

“He’d go into the woods, and he had one or two men working for him. In the spring, they would come out of the woods and work on the log drive. I’m going to say every adult in our community at some point in time worked in the woods.”

Spaulding attended a one-room schoolhouse in Caratunk, where younger kids learned quickly. By the time they started delving into a subject, they already knew all the answers because they had listened to and learned from the older kids, he said.

“I know we learned more than these fancy schools today teach. People say, well, back in the ’50s, kids were being taught to dive under desks for fear of an atomic bomb. We didn’t have atomic bombs, but we didn’t have snipers either, so tell me which is safer.”

Spaulding and LaBrie, who is 76, reconnected several years ago after both had been married and divorced. They recalled the first time they ever saw each other was when they sat beside each other in first grade.

LaBrie later became a nurse’s aide and worked in Inland Hospital’s operating room for “32 years, two months and two days,” she said.

Spaulding worked several different jobs early in life, including in construction and as a temporary game warden in Estecourt, Quebec. He wanted to be a state police trooper and passed all the tests, but failed the eye exam, he said.

“I’m color blind,” he said. “I did not go to college, so I didn’t have an illustrious career.”

He was employed several years by tire companies, working as a shop foreman and in road sales. His last job, in the late ’80s and early ’90s, was as general sales manager for J.N. L’Heureux Inc. in Waterville.

LaBrie said Spaulding is a good man and knows his history, backward and forward. He also draws a lot and is quite an artist.

“He’s a relic, I’ll tell you,” she said. “He’s not a person that brags at all. It’s like sitting next to history books and an encyclopedia.”

Spaulding once owned a steam locomotive and built a track from Clinton to Burnham.

“He’s a member of the Narrow Gauge Railroad, and he loves it,” LaBrie said. “If anybody has an obsession with anything, his would be the railroad. He loves Model Ts, too.”

“I remember many happy hours riding in Model T Fords as a kid,” Spaulding said. “I can still take one apart and put it back together blindfolded.”

A cool wind whipped around the RiverWalk as children rode bikes and flew kites and adults supervised. One man stretched out on a bench near the amphitheater and took a nap in the sun. Visitors read the paving stones engraved with names under the gazebo.

LaBrie has been divorced 37 or 38 years and has a son. Spaulding had four children, two of whom died, and he has been divorced about 10 years. He and LaBrie have been together five or six years.

They seemed happy and have reason to be. Spaulding recovered from what was supposed to be terminal cancer.

“The doctors didn’t expect me to be here at this moment,” he said. “That was four years ago.”

He and LaBrie said they do not have a computer or a fancy phone and live an uncomplicated life, which is how they like it. They have a black and yellow cat, Tootsie, who came to their door one day. LaBrie fed and nurtured it until it came inside to join their small, content family.

“Everybody deserves some happiness,” she declared.

 

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 31 years. Her columns appear here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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