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Sunfish, trains and red-light districts
GREENWOOD – 71-year-old Blaine Mills has lived in the Greenwood area all of his life. He is all ears when it comes to the town’s past and is now the unofficial town historian.
He recently took time to tell us about his life.
Q: When were you born and where were you brought up?
A: I was born on February 24, 1939. I was born in Berlin, New Hampshire.
My mother's doctor, Harry Wilson was from Bethel, but he was associated with the hospital in Berlin.
We lived in Bryant Pond at the time.
We only lived there for one winter, and then we moved to Locke Mills, a village in the township of Greenwood and have been here ever since.
Q: Did you have many siblings?
A: I have one younger brother. Dwight lives in my parent’s old homestead.
Q: What did your parents do?
A: My mother was a retired teacher. She taught in quite a few one-room school houses. I actually think she closed the Patch Mountain School. She also taught in Shadagee, Mason, West Bethel and in the Irish neighborhood in Greenwood.
Once I was born, she retired.
My dad started out working for the Civil Conservation Corp, and he drove a bulldozer when they were building Route 113 through Evans Notch.
He became an electrician and he also worked at the mill as an electrician and when he wasn’t doing, that he was a fireman for the boilers at the mill. He also did electrical wiring at people's houses.
In 1957 he had a chance to buy a convenience store and he did. It was Lee's Variety (his middle name) and it's still there today. He kept that for about 20 years, sold it and retired.
Q: What was it like growing up?
A: We grew up on the hill and it was a pretty quiet neighborhood and I had a handful of kids to play with.
Most transportation was horse and buggy and people would wave as they went by.
Frank Witkowski and his wife, Anna lived up the hill and I would go up to that farm and probably get under their feet.
We would slide down on the hill since there was very little traffic. I also skied since the age of five.
Back in those days, we used to get cold enough weather and skate from Thanksgiving 'til Christmas before the snow would come. We would have skating parties with big bonfires.
I had a double runner one time. It would hold 10 people; it was like a freight train when it was full.
We spent a lot of time outdoors. We had trucks and were always building roads in the dirt. Then it was off camping and exploring in the woods above our house. As years went by we would get braver and go a little farther away.
We played sandlot baseball or any field would do. We would use anything we could find like a piece of wood for the bases.
I remember the war years, and I remember relatives coming and going on leave from the service in uniform. They would come and stay at my folk’s house.
My mother’s mother would come and spend the day with us many times and those were the best days. She and my mother were always talking about family history and I was always all ears.
Q: Was there anything you wanted to be when you grew up?
A: Well, I was always interested in airplanes and I wanted to be a pilot.
My neighbor, Harold Nutting had a J3 Cub, it was a Piper Cub and he would land on the ice behind the store and give rides
Q: Where did you go to school?
A: Right here at the town office. It had sub-primary through eighth grade. The building started out as a one-room school house, and when I started in ‘46 it had three rooms.
Then I went to Gould Academy and graduated in 1957. Well, they let me out anyway.
Q: Did you get into mischief or play pranks?
A: Oh, I'm sure I did. I had my bottom paddled quite a few times; they didn’t spare the rod when I was a kid.
I even had my mouth washed at school! I heard older kids out on the playground and repeated.
I can remember one episode with my brother. He was five years younger and he was mad because he couldn’t tag along. So he tore my tent down. I had a BB gun that was broken and all it would shoot out was air. I put some flour in it and he came around the corner and I let him have it. It made a big white cloud and he looked like Casper the ghost. My dad wrapped that gun right around a tree.
That reminds me of the time my mother bought her nephew a BB gun for Christmas ... and on the way out, he shot her in the rear end.
Q: What have you had for jobs?
A: Other than chores at home I mowed lawns. It was pretty hard to get a job back then until you were 16 or 17, but my parents always found things for me to do.
Q: Did you ever go in the service?
A: I worked for the mill one summer right out of the academy. It was in the lumber yard and had already put my name in for the service. They called me in November.
I joined the air force and went to airborne radar school at the Otis Air Force Base in Cape Cod. The Korean War was over, so it was peaceful times.
I even flew for a couple of years. Flying was great, but it was hazardous.
Q: How long did you serve?
A: I was in the air force for four years, but I ended up only three years. I was in Canada at a semi-remote radar station in Northern Ontario. I had been there for six months and got a letter in the mailbox to go see the Sergeant Major. I got down there and the place was full of people. He told us that manual radar operators were now considered obsolete and the computers were taking over ... so anyone with less that 16 months left had two choices. We could either re-enlist or get out. All but one of us left. I had 13 months to go and I didn’t want to re-enlist; who knows where they would have sent me.
Q: What did you do when you got back?
A: I worked at a number of jobs. I worked for the Portland Pipe Line a couple of summers; I was an assistant operator at Waterford. In the winter I worked at Mt. Abrams; I was the first paid ski patrolmen up there. The second year I switched over to the second instructor.
I worked for AC Lawrence for about six months, and then worked for Stowells Mill in Bryant Pond for six months.
Then I got a job working over here back at the Mill. I started out at the yard, but ended up being a mechanic working on the spray equipment, I did that nights and worked on the mountain during the day. In the spring I worked at the Bryant Pond Telephone Company. I did that part time. I was a lineman.
I worked at the mill for 40 years. As far as skiing goes, I took over the ski school and ran that for about 10 years. I left the mountain in 1979.
Q: Any good stories?
A: There was one really funny thing. We had a guy that lived down the street with his wife and the mother-in-law lived upstairs. He also had a girlfriend. I got a call to go fix his mother-in-law’s phone. When I went by, he was at the girlfriend’s house. I got to his house and fixed the phone and his wife showed up, obviously coming from a different direction. She was mad and wanted to know if I had seen him. I said nooo, then went back to get the rest of my tools and he showed up. She asked him where he had been and he said he’d been down the street taking care of this woman. He was such an habitual liar, she didn’t believe him! I cracked up all the way back to the telephone company.
Q: What do you do now?
A: I was married at 25 to my first wife and we were divorced two years later.
I met Margaret at an Eastern Star Meeting. A neighbor had talked me into joining. She was from Litchfield and she came to visit our chapter.
We dated for a couple of years and got married in 1983.
Q: Did you do much traveling?
A: No, not really. I had had basic training in Texas. I have been to New York City and all the New England States. When I was in the air force I flew into Bermuda.
There are a lot of places I'd like to go.
We do go to Arcadia National Park and go hiking every fall for a week. It's too much of a madhouse in the summer time.
Q: Which place was the most fascinating and why?
A: Acadia National Park.....it's just beautiful. I image there are many places that are spectacular, but this is nice and it's in Maine.
Q: Do you collect anything or have a hobby?
A: I used to hunt, but it just wasn't worth it any more.
I ride my bicycle, I have a 10-speed and that's fun. Margaret has a bike too so we ride together. We hike more than anything and we have a canoe and like to cross country ski.
We live on the pond, so I get to go fishing whenever I want.
We used to sail with a 21 foot sloop, but we sold it.
We have a sunfish sailboat and we race that. We have a fleet that used to race with North Pond Sailing Assoc. It’s celebrating its 40th anniversary and I’ve run the races in the last 30.
Q: What is the last book you read?
A: Most of my reading is research. Right now I have the series of articles by Addison Verrill. Late in life after he retired, he wrote the history of Patch Mountain and Greenwood City. I am the unofficial historian for the town of Greenwood and I also do the research for the historical society.
Q: What is the one thing you could not give up?
A: I've already had to give up a lot of stuff because I am borderline diabetic.
I think I would have a tough time having to give up being active.
Q: Do you have a hidden talent or a talent you wished you had?
A: The only thing I like to do artistic is in my model railroad.
I used to have one in Ho scale, but went to N scale and have had that for 45 years. It has all the scenery with streetlights, hobos and there is even a red-light district.
Photography is also a hobby of mine.
I have belonged to quite a few organizations such as the Masons, Eastern Star, St. Andrews Society and the Clan McBean Society.
Q: What day would you happily do over again?
A: The day I married Margaret. She's the love of my life.
Q: What was the best memory that this interview brought back?
A: My grandmother and her coming to the house. That's how I got interested in history; that’s all we talked about. I was always pressing my parents about different things.
Q: What would you like people to know about you?
A: I've always kept a pretty low profile. I wouldn't say I was woods queer, which is a person that runs out the back door when company comes, but I never particularly liked to be on the front lines. I rather be working behind the scenes.
Q: Last day on earth; what would you do and who with?
A: Go hiking with all my friends.
Q: If anyone could walk in right now, who would you most want to see?
A: My grandmother ... do I have all kinds of questions for her about history!
Editor's Note: "Woods queer" — an adjective — is defined as a mild form of insanity that results from living in a rural isolated environment, typically the woods or forest.