By Janet Lyons, Maine Humanities Council’s Consulting Project Coordinator for Local & Legendary: Maine in the Civil War
The old saying “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb” did not apply to this year weather-wise, nor did it apply to the Rumford Local & Legendary team. The beginning of the month was devoted to quiet, steadfast work that exploded into activity as the month went on.
In mid-March, the second group of Mountain Valley Middle School students, along with three veterans who work for the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office, participated in discussions of Gary Paulsen’s Soldier’s Heart: Being the Story of the Enlistment and Due Service of the Boy Charley Goddard in the First Minnesota Volunteers.
After some pizza and mingling, students, teachers, and veterans broke into small groups to discuss the book. Students wanted to know how Charley’s experience in the Civil War compared to that of the Veterans of more recent wars. The consensus was that living conditions haven’t changed much, but combat has; back then you were face-to-face with the enemy, now your enemy is more hidden from you.
All three men touched on the subjects of PTSD, and how war can change you. As one veteran said, “When you see something, it’s like taking a picture, but it never leaves. I was angry but I found the focus I needed; it’s what allows you to get past PTSD.” A special thank you to Sheriff Wayne Gallant for encouraging his men to read and discuss the book while sharing their experiences with the students.
For more photos of the event, visit the RSU #10, Maine Memory Network Western Foothills project page.
On March 24, the Rumford Area Historical Society hosted a well attended book discussion of Uncertain Glory by Maine author Lea Wait. Facilitator Elizabeth Cooke led historical society members, including veterans from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, in a wide-ranging discussion.
Conversation centered on how the community responded when war broke out. In the book Mr. Bascomb, a free black man, is turned away when he tries to enlist. A team member reminded us that a Federal law dating from 1792 barred Negroes from bearing arms for the U.S. army (although they had served in the American Revolution and in the War of 1812).
Veterans talked about being drafted, enlisting, the decision process of declaring as a conscientious objector, and why they fought. They talked about a sense of obligation, personal heritage and love of country–all reasons discussed in the book as well.
The book is set in Wiscasset as war is breaking out so there was much to discuss about life on the homefront, including shopkeepers stocking up on supplies, the Spiritualism movement, and State’s Rights. When the official discussion was over small groups of individuals continued the conversation over snacks. See more photos of the event.
Two nights later, on March 26, facilitator and Vietnam veteran Doug Rawlings joined the “Fourth Thursday Poetry Program” members and guests at the Rumford Public Library for a discussion of four Civil War era poems: “All Quiet Along the Potomac,” by Ethel Lynn Beers; “Little Giffen,” by Francis Orrery Ticknor; “The Hesitating Veteran,” by Ambrose Bierce; and “Driving Home the Cows,” by Kate Putnam Osgood.
Doug and library director Luke Sorensen picked the poems for their diversity of setting and representation of the war. Doug read each poem aloud before beginning the discussion because poetry is meant to be heard.
The group discussed rhythm, rhyme, and whether a poem “worked” for them along with the time period and war. One group member disputed a review of “All Quiet Along the Potomac” as a sentimental poem. “The language is dated,” she said, “but we can get beyond it. It could be about any war, which is what makes it a good–maybe great–poem.” One hour to discuss four rich and substantive poems was a tight fit for this thoughtful and engaging group, but they did it. See more photos.
Finally, the Rumford team closed out the month on a high note as their Maine Memory Network exhibit went live. Check out Rumford’s Notable Citizens in the Civil War!