Citizen profiles: Arlene Harrington, 90
Anyone who knows Arlene Harrington of East Bethel knows that she holds nothing back and is very matter-of-fact.
Whatever is on her mind comes out of her mouth, and you are all the better for listening and not arguing back. If you don’t like what she says, well, according to her, “you don’t have to listen.”
In her small kitchen where she once shared coffee with her husband, Chester, and fed breakfast to their five daughters, the sun-filled morning is just beginning to filter through the windows. Arlene laughs at the thought of having a newspaper article written about her.
“What’s so interesting about me, anyway? Is it because I’m the oldest in East Bethel? I just don’t see what the big deal is.”
Arlene turned 90 years young on May 3, when she was celebrated by her family at her house, complete with a “Honk! Nana’s 90” sign at the end of her driveway. “I don’t know which fool was responsible for that,” Arlene laughs. “But I have that sign in my shed and I’m just waiting to see the culprit who’s responsible to come and get it.”
Arlene was born in 1923 to Ralph and Ruth Remington on their farm in Andover, which once stood just beyond Crockett Bridge on the East B Hill Road. The homestead was lost to fire years ago.
“I was born on a farm and I’m gonna die on a farm,” said Arlene in her thick Maine speak. “I just don’t understand what people see in the cities. Best place to live is right here. I love it here. The city is not for me. I wouldn’t give a nickel for a place in the city.”
Arlene and her husband, Chester, were married in 1941. Soon after his return from the service, they moved into his childhood home with his mother to help with the farm after his father had passed on.
“Once you live on a farm, I just don’t understand how you can live anywhere else. We had cows and pigs; we had a big old garden down in the field. That was the way it was back then. We grew our own food and canned it for the winter.”
Fiddling with the side of the hand-stitched table cloth on her small table, Arlene remembers back to her school years before she moved to East Bethel.
She attended elementary school until the fifth grade at the old school that stood on the other side of Crockett Bridge in Andover. “When I went into the fifth grade I had to start walking two miles to the elementary school in town. I went there until I graduated high school,” she said.
Arlene only had eight classmates throughout her school years and recollects that there’s hardly anyone left who attended school with her. “There’s no sense crying over spilled milk. Some just live longer.”
Arlene has set a goal to live to 100. “Why not, I always told myself if I made it to 50, then I can make it to 100. You just gotta do it. It’s a goal. I’m gaining. I’m the oldest person in East Bethel, aren’t I?”
She was asked what she attributes making it to 90 to, and what she’s going to do to make it another 10 years.
Arlene laughs, “There’s no thinking about it. Don’t put thought into things like age and how you got here. It’s just something you do and you keep on living no matter what. No sense in worrying about when your time is gonna be here. I always tell my kids that He is gonna take me when He wants to and it doesn’t matter where I am. Sometimes the kids don’t like the way I answer them. But I don’t know why I should listen to them, they don’t listen to me.”
Arlene enjoys being outside and mentions that her kids worry about her being in the woods by herself and that something might happen. She tells me that she assures them, “You’ll eventually find me. Don’t worry so much.”
Arlene still enjoys mowing her own lawn, tending to her much-smaller garden than in the days of raising a family, and in the winter getting out for some cross country skiing.
“Those two skis don’t take nothin’ to start,” said Arlene. “You just put your feet in and go. Nothing like that old snowmobile (that she drove around until two winters ago), it cost money to run and it’s a hassle to start half the time. Heck, this winter the crust on the snow was so hard, I just took my skis off and walked. I did a few laps down there across the field, came up here and went around and it felt good.”
In her younger years, she hunted, hiked and picked berries.
“One time Chester and I went hunting and he sat on the top ledge and I sat down below. I heard something coming and looked down over and it was a bear. I watched that thing for the longest time and when it was gone I went up to Chester and asked if he saw the bear. He didn’t answer me. There he was sleeping by the tree. If you sent him out hunting and he sat down, he would fall asleep. That man was always sleeping. He worked hard in the woods.”
Another time, Arlene took their four-wheeler up into the woods to pick raspberries. She thought she heard something and it was a bear on the other hill at the foot of a maple tree. She got the four-wheeler, picked up her bucket and drove down a little ways. She sneaked back up through the trees and the bear was still there. So, she brought the berries back to the house and told Chester she was going back up to see if the bear was still there and he told her to stay put. Arlene didn’t like that very much and had to be convinced by her husband that the animal could turn and chase her. She decided it was a good idea to let the bear be.
Glancing out her kitchen windows, Arlene said she hopes to have a cucumber in the next few days. “Wilma [her daughter] went away for a couple days and told me to watch for the cucumbers, they might be ready any day. Well, I guess I watched them darn things too close, because they didn’t grow. Wilma and I have a bit of a competition to see who gets the first cucumber out of the garden. I hope I win.”
Arlene enjoys gardening, but even more than the gardening, she enjoys making her own tomato juice from the fruits of her labor. “A couple of years ago I could have reached right out that kitchen window and picked tomatoes. The plants were so tall and did so well and then last year they got the blight. What a shame.”
Being a hard worker and wanting to tend to her own lawn, Arlene has another sort of competition going with her other daughter, Gloria.
“I still have a push mower and I do what I can when I feel like it, but sometimes Gloria thinks it needs to be done sooner. So, as long as I’m here when she stops to argue that it’s too long, I still get to do it. I tell her to just let me be. I’ll do it when I’m good and ready.”
Arlene said that she likes to get outside for two or three hours each day, but when the bugs are bad it takes a little creativity to be able to stand them. “I just start up the weed wacker,” laughs Arlene. “It smokes so bad, nothing comes near me. Now, that’s the way to enjoy the outdoors without the bugs pestering you.”
Knowing that Arlene has plans to attend her nephew’s pig roast on this day, we switch the conversation over to her family.
Chester and Arlene had five daughters; Judy, Esther, Gloria, Wilma and Dodi. The five daughters gifted their parents with 12 grandchildren, who added 18 great-grandchildren to the family. Chester passed away in 1992.
Wilma, living right next door, had two girls, Jennifer and Stacey. “Those are my girls,” said Arlene. “I took care of those two while Wilma worked. We had a lot of fun and they still come around to visit often. Jen’s girls come over all the time. We go sliding in the back field and have lots of fun.”
Asked if anyone else holds an extra special place in her heart, as most grandparents do, Arlene reveals that Gloria’s son, Aaron is a special one. “He is so good to me.”
With five daughters, Arlene is always out and about visiting and invited to their houses for the holidays, but remembers a special Easter when Aaron invited her to his house.
“I went up and was sitting there visiting for a while and all of a sudden I spied this beautiful Easter lily in the corner near the door and asked who got that beautiful lily. Aaron looked at me and said, ‘It’s for you, Nana.’ Well, I was so pleased. I told him he didn’t have to get anything for me. He told me that he wished he could do more for me. I told him, that he has his own family to look out for and didn’t have to worry about me.”
But she agreed that as a mother, grandmother and great grandmother, she’s always going to have someone worrying about her - and that feels good.
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