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Mailboxes, salmon and flaming spears
WEST PARIS — Denise Hall started her life in West Paris. The family moved to Alaska when she was seven. She lived there for more than 20 years before ending back in the area which she began her life.
She recently took time to tell us about her life.
Q: When were you born and where were you brought up?
A: I was born on November 29, 1966 at Stephens Memorial. My parents lived on Curtis Hill Road at the time, but when I was two, my parents built a house on Black Brook Road in Woodstock.
I lived there till I was seven and then we moved to Fairbanks, Alaska and my dad worked at the pipeline for over 20 years. So I pretty much grew up in Alaska.
Q: Did you have many siblings?
A: I have two sisters: Vikki Holmes, who lives in South Paris and Billie Jo Lawton, who lives in Rumford.
Q: What did your parents do?
A: Most of the time my dad was a truck driver and my mom was a homemaker. When I was a little older she got into real estate work and owned Hall and Hall Realty with my grandmother – then we moved to Alaska.
When we were in Alaska, Dad was working two full-time jobs and Mom had to stay home to take care of us and the house.
Q: What was it like growing up?
A: In Alaska, for entertainment we spent a lot of time outside.
With dark winter days, you were pretty happy when summer finally came around.
In mid-winter, you have sun from 11 in the morning to one in the afternoon. You could almost see the sun curve up just a little and go right back down. People can really start to flip out and go a little stir crazy and it’s 50 below too, which doesn’t help!
In the summertime the sun would set at 11 at night and rise at one in the morning.
We played a lot of indoor stuff – my family was lucky with my dad being a part of the teamsters. Members had the luxury of going to a place that had racquetball courts, an Olympic-sized swimming pool and full basketball courts. We would pretty much go there every day ‘cause it was part of his package and about the only thing to do.
We had a couple channels on the television, but nothing great.
We would play cards and board games. My sister was a dancer, so we would go to a lot of her dance shows.
When my dad had time off, he was wonderful about showing us the state. We had campers, ATVs and we would go camping.
The fishing; gosh it was incredible. You can catch the pike in the rivers all day. Pike is a long and slender fish and we would usually catch and release them. They would get three feet long. The lakes had the trout and they could be as long as a couple of feet.
The salmon was just the best; you could literally pick them up out of the water by their tails. We didn’t catch and release them! They got eaten.
The Northern Lights were just something else. It would give light to the entire sky. It was in the winter and they would mostly be green. It was very vibrant and you could see and hear them hit together and also hear a crackling-swooshing sound. It was like they were actively dancing. It was amazing, especially on a clear night; they were so bright. We were 100 miles from the Arctic Circle and you would look up and it would be 360 degrees.
We were pretty much on top of the planet.
Q: Was there anything you wanted to be when you grew up?
A: I wanted to be a race car driver! I never really pursued that, but instead of playing with Barbies I would play with race tracks. We would have the kits and build the electric tracks with the slots. We could buy the bodies and the wheels and build our own special cars. We’d build tracks like Daytona and sometimes build ramps. They were always Chevy trucks or Camaros. Dad would work on them and get them going so fast that it was hard to keep them on the track.
Q: Where did you go to school?
A: I went for two years at Forestdale Elementary in Woodstock. I started when I was five in first grade. I was going crazy and was driving my mom crazy, because I wanted to go to school.
In Alaska, I went all through at Fairbanks. School would not close unless it was 55 below. I actually went to the University of Alaska at Fairbanks for three years and studied chemistry.
Q: Did you get into mischief or play pranks?
A: Living in Alaska, you pretty much had to be creative in finding things to do.
I’ll never forget the time when I was 16, someone designed a scavenger hunt! It was a town thing and we met in Alaskaland which is a theme park. It was late at night and the list was made up of things like toilet seats from a restaurant; stuff like that. One item was a mailbox from a high school principal. Our group got the mailbox from the principal at Lathrop High and we took it to the school and tied it up on top of the flagpole. Well, we are standing there admiring our work and along comes a police car! The kid that actually pulled it up on the pole said that he was from the student council and had heard of there being some trouble and that’s why we were out. It was so funny because the policeman was standing there, and the mailbox was 20-feet right over his head.
We had even gotten a shopping cart and it was in the back of my Camaro as we were talking to him.
Q: What have you had for jobs?
A: When I was 16, I worked at the local McDonalds. Within a year, I was the manager and worked there for four years. I had a lot of responsibility.
Q: When did you move back to Maine?
A: I was 27 and I think I came back to Maine for about six months. I had a seven-year-old son at the time and my parents had some property in Florida, so I thought it was a great opportunity to see more of the country.
Q: Did you finish school?
A: Yes. I was able to finish my college at Florida State in Tallahassee.
Q: Did you work as well?
A: Yes. I worked at the football stadium for the information systems at the college.
We were able to set up our offices in the sky boxes during off season.
Football was huge in Florida and Bobby Bowden was the coach and he was well-loved. He was with the university for over 30 years and built quite a dynasty. The only year he had a losing team was his first year.
The mascot was a horse named Renegade and he was a great horse and would always hang around the field. And before every game, he would run out on the football field with Chief Osceola and the chief would throw a flaming spear to the ground.
Q: When did you come back to Maine?
A: Eight years later, in 2002, I moved back to Maine. My dad would always tease me to come home and he said he would help me build a house on some property he had next to his house. Another great opportunity, and I took it.
Q: What do you do now?
A: Shortly after coming back to Maine, I started a job at Acadia Insurance Company in Westbrook and I am still there.
I am a computer programmer and we write business applications for insurance professionals. It can be agents that we have or people at Acadia.
Q: Anyone said you look like someone famous?
A: My little sister used to tell me that I looked like Helen Hunt. I guess, maybe with lighter hair I do. I always wanted to be the Princess Quarterback anyway!
Q: Did you do much traveling?
A: I have seven more states to visit and I will have visited all 50. I don't have souvenirs or anything and I don’t count layovers. I need to see Idaho, Utah, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Kansas. I’ll get Utah next spring.
Q: Which place was the most fascinating and why?
A: It would definitely have to be Alaska and the scenery and wildlife.
You would see bear everywhere and the moose would come right up to the window and look in.
Q: Did anyone influence you to the point of changing your direction in life?
A: The support from my parents and asking me to come home from Florida. I am very glad I have moved back home to Maine to stay.
Q: Do you collect anything or have a hobby?
A: I like to play the guitar and I like to play alternative music and a little bit of country music now and then. I don’t collect anything.
Q: What is the last book you read?
A: It’s called Lobo Outback Funeral Home, by Dave Foreman. He is the founder of the environmental group Earth First. The book is actually my boyfriends and it is a signed, first edition. I’m interested in the environmental efforts. I like to buy and support local people. It’s great to introduce Maine ingredients and products. The best thing we can do is to think globally, but act locally.
Q: What does your boyfriend do?
A: Scott is a freelance marketing research director.
We have been together for three years and we love to go hiking.
Q: Besides family, what is the one thing you could not give up?
A: Raspberry frozen yogurt. I don't think I could give that one up, ever.
Q: Do you have a hidden talent or a talent you wished you had?
A: Ever since I was little I could read easily. I could then and still can do the alphabet backwards. I do see things backwards as well. Maybe I’m dyslexic and don’t even know it. But it is a cool thing to be able to do.
Q: What is the one thing you would happily do over again?
A: Two Thursdays ago snowboarding at Sunday River... all by myself! It was awesome.
The snow was so soft and the last run was so painful, but that was the day I finally got my turns down; it was a blast to finally be able to do it.
Q: What was the best memory that this interview brought back?
A: My son reeling in salmon as big as he was in Alaska. He doesn’t fish so much now, but we got really spoiled up there.
Q: What would you like people to know about you?
A: I am good at beginner’s luck. I start out well, but never master anything. Maybe I just catch on quickly, but get bored easily.
I love the western Maine mountains. I am an avid hiker in the summer and fall and I snowboard in the winter and spring. I spend a lot of time in the mountains.
I am very proud of my son. He is now 23 and is a part-time student and lives in South Paris.
Q: Last day on earth; what would you do and who with?
A: With my loved ones, sitting at a camp fire on the lake, cooking up the fresh fish that we just caught.
Q: What scares you the most?
A: I don't like snakes and I recently found out that the astrological signs just changed and I am now a snake. I am completely devastated.
Q: If anyone could walk in right now, who would you most want to see?
A: Besides my son, who even though he lives 10 minutes away I still don’t see him enough, I would like to see my Grandpa Thurlow. He died before I was born, but I've heard so many great things about him. I would tell him that his youngest daughter had wonderful children!