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The Fastest Hound Dog in the State of Maine

a celebration of John Gould

Hound Dog cover

I was in Mattawamkeag and not knowing a soul there.

John Gould is a writer from the State of Maine. Maine has a passing fair school system, so that there might be a Mainer who could write (and supposedly read) came as no great surprise.

Never heard of him? Neither had I:

“A good many times people have asked me how I came to own the fastest hound dog in the State of Maine, and why he was known to be the fastest, and I want to tell it just the way it happened so you’ll all know the facts. I came from Wytopitlock, where I was living at the time, down to Mattawamkeag on the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad one day to buy myself a hound dog. Up to Wytopitlock we was having a run on long-legged rabbits then, I didn’t want none of these short-legged dogs that can run all day and not move any. I wanted one with rangy pins that could get close enough to a Wytopitlock rabbit so he’d exert himself and know he was chased. The short-legged dogs we’d been using was no good at all, and I says to myself, ‘The Hell with that!’”

—Fastest Hound Dog in the State of Maine

An antiquarian bookseller friend—whose self-appointed task through the forty-plus years of our association has been the education and cultural uplift of me—some years back sent along a packet of Thorne Smith books. Well, I had asked him for the Smith books. But in the box he added “The Fastest Hound Dog in the State of Maine.” He had done this before with “Poetry by the Side of the Road,” the collected oeuvre of the nameless poets who fired the engines of the Burma-Shave Company.

The book dealer once sent along a first edition of A. A. Milne’s “Two People,” a novel. Never heard of that one either, I bet. Small surprise—although an excellent book, it got clobbered by Winnie the Pooh, and it is thus that we remember Milne. I loved it.

The Fastest Hound Dog went immediately to the bedside table—great expectations, etc. I was not disappointed, and that night read it through at least twice; it’s a short book. Alas, as is the case with many fine bedside books, I immediately forgot the author’s name. FHDitSoM had become, “Honey... where’s that book?”

John Gould holds the record for the longest-running columnist in any newspaper in America. John wasn’t born in Maine but, to paraphrase a politician’s quip, he “got there as soon as he could.”

—excerpted from “America’s Oldest Newspaper Columnist” in the Senior Journal Oct. 21, 2002

Then, one day in a fine a Maine spring I was volunteered, verb transitive, at the Dennysville public library to read at a celebration of the life and literature of John Gould. I went right over and picked up some texts. Inside a flyleaf there was an “Also by...” and there was the FHDitSoM. At home, I hawked the loose effluvia from my larynx and gave it a try out loud. Hot diggedy or words of like persuasion. I was hooked:

“So here I was in Mattawamkeag and not knowing a soul there, but I wandearound thinking if they had a likely dog in those parts I’d soon find out, and if they warn’t I’d soon know that, too, and no harm done. Well, I circulated some, and had made up my mind it was a day thrown away, and I started back to the depot, meaning to pick up a copy of the Bangor Daily News to read on the train going home, and to get there quicker I cut across and came up onto the back end of a barn, and when I did I had this premonition of Dog, and I says to myself that I’d been led to this barn by some power unknown.

“So I said to myself, ‘Dog!’ And just as I did they commenced to bark, and I’d say offhand without exaggeration that the barn had fifty dogs in it, at least fifty, and just then a little door opened and a fellow stuck his head out and wanted to know what I was up to. I said I was just cutting across to the Bangor & Aroostook depot, and moved up closer while I was saying it, and when I got close enough to holler above the dogs I said, ‘What you got in there?’

‘In where?’ he says.

‘In that barn.’ I says.

‘In what barn?’

“I could see we warn’t getting any place that way, and where I didn’t have much time for the train I said, ‘Sounds like dogs.’

“‘It might be,’ he says.”

—Fastest Hound Dog in the State of Maine

Life and Times

[John Gould was] born in Boston and spent his early childhood there, but when he was eight years old, his family moved to Freeport, which then had a population of about 2,000. From the very first, Gould loved Maine, and he particularly loved the town where he grew up. “All I am or ever hope to be,” he wrote later on, “I owe to my mother’s bringing me up in that small Maine town, because growing to a man there gave me the priceless things that universities don’t sell, and other people don’t know.”

I had this premonition of Dog

Gould’s town was full of what he calls “characters,” people who had lived varied and interesting lives and had lots of knowledge to pass on and lots of stories to tell. There were men whose fathers had skippein the China trade, men who were farmers and millworkers and storekeepers. There was “a man who had driven a mule team in Death Valley, and a woman who swallowed swords in a circus.” There were people who could rig a ship, and people who could teach an interested boy how to make maple syrup or apple cider. In fact, Gould writes, “…if anything was worth knowing, somebody there knew it.…No matter what you wanted to do or know, there was somebody in town to turn to.”

His career as a writer began when he started writing for a paper in a nearby town. He noticed that the obituaries of former sea captains were boring. He knew those people weren’t boring; he’d listened to their stories. And so he wrote to the editor offering to write some obituaries. His offer was accepted—and it wasn’t for some time that the editor found out that his new writer hadn’t even graduated from high school.

—from remarks by Barbara Baig at the Dennysville, Maine library

Lisbon Falls and Stephen King

a Wikipedia update as of November, 2008

The horror writer Stephen King attended high school in Lisbon Falls. The fictional town of Castle Rock, which he used in several stories, is thought to be based on Lisbon Falls. The town is also famous for its Moxie Days, a celebration of the Moxie soft drink, which is sold at Frank Anicetti’s corner store. The store’s official name is The Kennebec Fruit Company, but it is commonly referto as The Moxie Store and is recognizable by its bright yellow paint job. Moxie Days in Lisbon Falls is attended by thousands from around the world each summer. Lisbon Falls was also home to John Gould, famous Maine humorist and author. He was the author of “Farmer Takes a Wife”, “The Fastest Hound Dog in the State of Maine” and “Tales From Harmony Home, What They Don’t Tell You About Senior Living”. In his book “On Writing”, Stephen King recounts his experience working for John Gould at the Lisbon Enterprise, a weekly newspaper that John Gould published. (Although in the book, King does not know that it was the famous John Gould)

Q: [Are] Maine people are less self-reliant and independent than they used to be?

A: Well, it doesn’t make any difference whether they’re Maine people or from Wisconsin. They’re all... Driven by the cursèd thirst for gold. Credit cards... Of course, we don’t go deep enough to rationalize the situation that allows credit cards. I had a Ford pick-up truck, and I bought it from a fellow in South Portland. I took it in for a check-up every six months. Finally, the guy says we can’t take your check. You’ll have to have a credit card. And he named the kind of credit card I had to have. Well, with a little inquiry you get the story. The bank squeezed him. He used to take his accounts receivable and go to the bank and borrow money. And they said no, and they insisted on credit cards. Well, the banks are at fault for this [the financial situation in the country]. The old country banks where you can walk in and shake hands with the manager are gone.

His titles tell you where he’s coming from: Dispatches from Maine, Maine’s Golden Road, Maine Lingo, The Fastest Hound Dog in the State of Maine, The Jonesport Raffle. Most of his books are essays; some are novels. There’s a lot of Down East posing in them. That’s what his readers want. Maine natives don’t take offense at the Professional Mainer; they are probably his biggest fans.

—excerpted from “Being John Gould—Talking with Maine’s old man of letters,”
an interview by Lance Tapley in the Portland Phoenix April 19-26, 2001

A John Gould bibliography

New England Town Meeting, Safeguard of Democracy (Stephen Days Press, 1940, with photographs by the author). This slim (61 pages) book explores the character of democracy in action at the local level.

Pre-natal Care for Fathers (Stephen Days Press 1941; William Morrow, 1946). “A nonmedical, nontechnical, nonscientific explanation of the masculine side of the matter,” says the title page, “with much that is useful and nothing that is wholly useless.”

Farmer Takes a Wife (William Morrow, 1945). How Gould plucked his wife, Dorothy, out of Boston and planted her on a Maine farm. Reprinted essays from The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times Magazine, and the Baltimore Evening Sun. It was a bestseller.

The House That Jacob Built (William Morrow, 1947). The story of the Gould family farmstead in Lisbon, Maine, and how it was restored. Reprinted essays from The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times Magazine, and The Lisbon Enterprise.

And One to Grow On: Recollections of a Maine Boyhood (William Morrow, 1949). Gould recalls growing up in Freeport, Maine.

Neither Hay Nor Grass (William Morrow, 1951). Twenty-eight humorous tales.

The Fastest Hound Dog in the State of Maine, with F. Wenderoth Saunders. (William Morrow, 1953). A Mainer buys a dog and tries to take it home on the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad.

Monstrous Depravity: A Jeremiad and a Lamentation [About Things to Eat] (William Morrow, 1963). Celebrating the food of the past and bemoaning the food of the present, complete with recipes – from custard pies to clambakes.

The Parables of Peter Partout (Little, Brown, 1964). Fictional letters from Peter Partout of Peppermint Corner, Maine, to the editor of the Lisbon Enterprise.

You Should Start Sooner; in Which Widely Separated Topics Are Strangely Discussed by an Old Cuss (Little, Brown, 1965).

Fifty collected essays from The Christian Science Monitor. Foreword by Monitor editor (and fellow Mainer) Erwin D. Canham.

Last One In: Tales of a New England Boyhood, a Gently Pleasing Dip Into a Cool, Soothing Pool of the Not-So-Long-Ago, So to Speak (Little Brown, 1966; Down East, 1979). More of Gould’s Maine boyhood; dedicated to his grandson Willy.

Europe on Saturday Night: The Farmer and His Wife Take a Trip (William Morrow, 1968; Down East, 1979). John and Dorothy travel through Europe in a VW Beetle.

The Jonesport Raffle, and Numerous Other Maine Veracities (Little, Brown, 1969; Down East, 1979). Tales of Maine, from 16th-century fishing camps to the lumberjack days. “Much of it true, but some of it isn’t,” Gould notes.

Twelve Grindstones: or, A Few More Good Ones, Being Another Cultural Roundup of Maine Folklore, Sort of, Although Not Intended to Be Definitive, and Perhaps not So Cultural, Either (Little, Brown, 1970). “Anecdotes, tales, jests, and other Maine apocrypha,” from blueberry picking and prison reform to smart dogs.

The Shag Bag, Which, Considering Our Perculiar [sic] Present, Has No Motive, Purpose, and Dedicated Aim, and Is Meant Only to Be Amusing – Which Not Very Much Is Nowadays, Is It? (Little, Brown, 1972; Down East, 1979). Some “magnificently renewed and embellished” columns from The Christian Science Monitor and the Baltimore Evening Sun.

Glass Eyes by the Bottle: Some Conversations About Some Conversation Pieces (Little, Brown, 1975). Forty-four “conversation pieces” of wit, nostalgia, and Maine folklore.

Maine Lingo: Boiled Owls, Billdads & Wazzats, with Lillian Ross (Down East, 1975). A compendium of Maine regional language.

This Trifling Distinction: Reminiscences From Down East (Little, Brown, 1978). Stories about the Gould clan. Tall tales and heroes roam freely.

Next Time Around: Some Things Pleasantly Remembered (W.W. Norton, 1983). Reminiscences “by a man who would make only a few changes here and there if he had his life to live over.”

No Other Place (W.W. Norton, 1984). Gould’s first novel. It concerns Jabez Knight, his family, and “above all his daughter, Elzada” in pre-Revolutionary War New England.

Stitch in Time (W.W. Norton, 1985). Humorous short stories about the inhabitants of a Maine village.

The Wines of Pentagoët (W.W. Norton, 1986). The saga of Elzada Knight continues, taking up where “No Other Place” left off.

Old Hundredth (W.W. Norton, 1987). Dedicated to Gould’s mother, Hilda D.J. Gould, on her 100th birthday. Fifty-one tales about life in Maine.

There Goes Maine! A Somewhat History, Sort of, of the Pine Tree State (W.W. Norton, 1990). Maine’s history, Gould-style.

Funny About That (W.W. Norton, 1992). Short humorous stories, collected mostly from his previous books. Many of them first appeain The Christian Science Monitor.

It Is Not Now: Tales of Maine (W.W. Norton, 1993). Fifty humorous tales. Dispatches From Maine, 1942-1992 (W.W. Norton, 1994). Fifty years of selected columns from The Christian Science Monitor.

Maine’s Golden Road: a Memoir (W.W. Norton, 1995). Narrative of the retreats that Gould and his daughter’s father-in-law made over the years.

Our Croze Nest: A Morning River Farm Story (Blackberry Books, 1997). His third novel completes Elzada Knight’s story and “brings us into today, when summer people have discoveDown East.”

Tales From Rhapsody Home, or, What They Don’t Tell You About Senior Living (Algonquin Books, 2000). A fictionalized, humorous-but-pointed look at living in a retirement

John Gould, 94, Columnist

The New York Times: September 3, 2003

John Gould“We’ve come through the twentieth century all right, and if there’s anything about the twenty-first century that’s better, please write and tell me.”

John Gould, whose essays about life in Maine ran in The Christian Science Monitor for more than 60 years, died on Sunday in Portland, Me. He was 94. Mr. Gould had been suffering from congestive heart failure and was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia, said his daughter, Kathryn MacLeod Christy. Mr. Gould started writing his weekly columns in 1942. The essays, many of them set in Maine, cover topics like the mystery of the three-tined fork, the origin of molasses cookies and the Battle of Gettysburg as told to him by one who was there. He also wrote 30 books, including the best seller Farmer Takes a Wife and his most recent one, Tales From Rhapsody Home, or What They Don’t Tell You About Senior Living (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2000).

RESOURCES:

The epitome of a down-Maine Yankee www.csmonitor.com
The quintessential Downeast storyteller www.csmonitor.com
The Wikipedia entry www.wikipedia.org
*Stephen King and John Gould: Lisbon Falls, Maine. (2008, November 3). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:19, November 9, 2008

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