CHINA — The annual potato harvest season in Aroostook County temporarily shut down school every year for young Tom Parent and his eight siblings.

He and the other 10 people in his family would pick spuds every day for about a month, returning home each night with swollen wrists.

“Once you were walking — 2, 3 years old — you were with everybody,” Parent said. “Once you could start to do something, you’d be out in the field working.”

Parent, 67, was among five participants Saturday to tell of their time living in the state, at Maine Memories, an afternoon of reminiscing at the Albert Church Brown Memorial Library in China.

A dozen masked people and library patrons, trustees and community members sat on the library lawn and swapped stories.

The money Parent’s family earned picking potatoes went toward food and clothing for the next year. When gone picking, the family never locked its Eagle Lakehouse.

Parent’s family picked potatoes in Fort Fairfield, but Parent, the library board president, also picked potatoes in Caribou, Presque Isle and other towns.

Carla Gade, the librarian at Albert Church Brown Memorial Library, reopened the facility to the public last week, with plenty of safety protocols in place. At Saturday’s gathering given to reminiscing, masks and social distancing were required.

Gade, who grew up in Massachusetts but has lived in central Maine for the past 20 years, joined the library in August after longtime librarian and Town Line newspaper writer Mary Grow retired.

Gade is an author of historical fiction books who has worked as a webmaster.

There was a concert on the library lawn in mid-August, but this the first event Gade planned as the new librarian.

The Albert Church Brown Libray is open Tuesday and Thursday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“Because of COVID, we were trying to find creative ways to bring the community together,” Gade said. “Because it’s the Maine bicentennial and not a lot is happening, it might be a nice opportunity to let the community speak and share some of their memories about town and about Maine.”

Louisa Barnhart, vice president of the library board, began Saturday’s gathering with a talk about her home, built in 1827, and the history surrounding her neighborhood. She said only three families have owned the house in almost 200 years.

“Our house is built so that when it gets wet, the water comes in the back wall like it’s supposed to and it goes down the cellar, but one year it was 18 inches,” said Barnhart, 67. “We said, ‘Well, it survived 200 years, so it’ll survive this.'”

Marjeanne Vacco talks Saturday about attending a two-room school in China in 1946 and 1947, during Maine Memories, an afternoon of reminiscing at the Albert Church Brown Memorial Library in China. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Marjeanne Vacca also shared a few stories. She recalled attending the China Village School, which was across the street from the library. The two-story, wooden structure housed kindergarten through fourth grade on the first floor and fifth through eighth grades on the second floor.

Vacca said in the middle of fourth grade, students were moved to where China Primary School sits today. She remembered paying a nickel for an ice cream cone on Main Street as she walked home from school.

“The one place that is still there is the house that was owned by the Adams family, which was there for quite some time,” she said.

The crowd Saturday also told of how the mail arrived very late if it came at all.

“We had gotten a postcard postmarked three months late,” Parent said, “and it said, ‘Inadvertently sent to Beijing.'”


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