Solid. Not the best adjective to describe people, but it’s the one I keep coming back to. I come from solid people. From my parents to my earliest ancestors, they all share the trait. People that endure some pretty trying situations without complaint, while gaining strength and experience. People that make good, logical decisions, the folks we look for when we can’t figure something out. People that care, even if they don’t know you. The sort that you hope will drive by if you’re broken down somewhere, because they’ll always stop to see if they can help. The sort of character that we look for in our teachers, first responders, and politicians. OK, maybe that one is a stretch. The kind of people that you hope your children will settle down with someday. Solid.
Our ancestors were tough. They had to be. Life was a little more challenging, in early America.
Today I’m going to tell you about some Harmons. Harmon is a big name in my little hometown. I spend a lot of time in cemeteries, and I’ve run across a slew of them, it’s become a game. Find-a-Harmon. Across Buxton, there are about 240 Harmon graves, with 150 or so in the big cemetery at Tory Hill. Most all of the Harmons around here trace back to one original ancestor, John Harmon, one of the earliest settlers of Scarborough. Way back, almost 350 years ago. 100 years before the Revolution, when Henry Jocelyn infamously surrendered the Black Point garrison and the entire Scarborough settlement, to Wabanaki Sachem Mogg Heigon. My seventh great grandfather John Harmon was there that day, listed as a soldier in the Militia under Lieutenant Tippen. John Harmon would move to Wells, on a land grant he had earned from prior military service, fighting the Natives. Scarborough belonged to the Natives again. Lt. Tippen would return months later with a little more backup, retake the garrison, and personally kill Mogg. That wouldn’t bring an end to it. Sachem Squando, best known for his Saco River Curse, would step up next. He was pretty brutal, and Scarborough was soon back in Native control. Back and forth for decades, gallons of blood would be shed, leaving local landmarks like Massacre Pond and Bloody Brook. Garrisons would be burned and rebuilt several times. I’m putting together a compilation of all of my ancestral Native stories as we speak, including these stories and many more. Stay tuned.
I’m not sure how much more fighting John Harmon would see. He waited 50 years or so before moving back to Scarborough, where some of his children had settled. This family cell would grow by leaps and bounds. By the start of the American Revolution about 40 Harmons from this clan would join the fight. Cousin Thomas Harmon fought the duration of the War. Under the worst conditions, starving through brutal winters. He was in pretty good company, he belonged to George Washington’s Personal Guard. Valley Forge, crossing the Delaware on Christmas night, Thomas was right there, up front. That’s pretty American. Pretty solid. I’m proud to be carrying bits of that same DNA. Thomas later lived in Buxton, and he would donate a week’s labor to help build the first bridge at Salmon Falls.
So many Harmons. Cousin Japhet Harmon of Machias had 90 grandchildren. That’s a bunch.
Harmon’s Landing on the Dunstan River in Scarborough would see the construction of many tall ships, Harmons would prosper in the lumber and shipbuilding industries.
Cousin Eliot Harmon would be the first settler on Standish Neck, his farm was supposedly at the site of the pumping station for the Portland Water District.
Cousin Alison Harmon was a ship’s Captain, also known as the Strongman of Maine. He lived on Scottow’s Hill overlooking the Scarborough marsh. He’ll get his own story, there’s way too much to tell here. He got angry in his later years, and they built a special iron cage to keep him in. Right in Scarborough. That’s just the teaser, he was pretty incredible. Again, stay tuned. I’m shaking these stories out one by one.
Harmon’s Beach, Harmon’s Flowers, Harmon’s clam cakes, Loring,Short&Harmon Bookstores, all from this same family. Several Harmons would move West with the great Gold Rush, and prosper. All solid, leaving their marks. I get my connection 5 generations back, when John W. Dean moved up from Massachusetts. He and brother Supply opened a painting shop in Portland, on Preble Street, around 1832. John fell for a Buxton girl, pretty Priscilla Harmon. There was something special about those Harmon girls. They would marry and build a house on Harmon family land, the very same house that I grew up in, and in which my sweet Mom still resides. She was born there, in the living room, and says she’ll never leave. I believe her.
Enough history. Old news. Let me tell you about some Harmons that I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. Hang on to your hat, we have to go way back in time for this one. Junior High School. Like Middle School, but only two grades, seventh and eighth. New Kids and Big Kids. I was small for a New Kid, four foot something, 85 pounds. I remember walking the hallway, I think I was headed to Mr. Wynn’s class. The hall was strangely empty, usually a teacher or two would be present, and lots of kids would be on the move. Maybe I was running late. I heard a noise behind me, really close. Too close. It was a Big Kid, breathing down my neck. He called me a nasty name. Kids are mean. I hoped that he wasn’t talking to me, I hadn’t made trouble with anyone. I was a quiet kid, and kept to myself. I was in the more advanced classes, we didn’t get in much trouble. I was a garage kid by nature. A grease monkey. Looking forward to getting home, and working on cars. I glanced back at this Big Kid, just a quick peek, then I snapped my eyes back in front of me. I was instantly terrified, and he knew it. The Classic Bully. He continued to taunt me, speaking right into my hair. Old stand bys. “What are you gonna do? Cry??” I sure thought about it. A million scenarios went through my mind in those short seconds of time. My skin was crawling, my stomach churned. I felt like I was falling.
My tiny fists clenched without my knowledge, an automatic reaction. They were useless. This kid was the size of my brother Corey, and I knew how tough he was. I needed Corey right then, he would take this kid apart for picking on me. Corey always had my back, I never had to worry about anything.
Corey wasn’t there in that hallway, though, he was three grades ahead, at a different school. I wished a teacher would pop out in the hallway, wished really hard. Mrs. Tracy would have grabbed him by the scruff of the neck. Mr. Beam would have backed him against the lockers, poking a huge finger to the Bully’s chest while calmly discussing proper manners. None of this would come to reality.
I was completely and terribly on my own. Helpless. I had never felt quite so alone. It stung. I stared straight ahead and kept walking, picking up the pace out of pure fear. Bully kept at it. Laughing. My cheeks were flushed, I could feel the heat as I fought back the tears. I wasn’t sure if I could stop them. Five steps to the classroom. He quit talking but I could still hear him breathing. I wanted to punch him now, maybe a good one right on the end of his nose would stun him long enough for a getaway. Nope. I couldn’t quite talk myself into it. Four steps. Three. He caught me mid stride, and kicked my loose foot like a soccer ball, sweeping both legs out from under me. I hadn’t seen that coming, I was new at this. I didn’t recover very gracefully. I dropped my books and collapsed against the door jamb of the classroom, hoping to see Mr. Wynn at his desk, to save me from whatever was next. He wasn’t there. I felt like throwing up. I braced myself for the beating that was sure to follow, but it never came. It was over as quickly as it had started, a dozen strides before. So much emotion had passed through me in that moment that I felt like I had taken an electric shock. A lightning strike. Stunned. I wanted to close my eyes and turn invisible. It wasn’t over.
The Big Kid kept walking, snickering to himself. He never looked back. I felt like I should say something, but I didn’t have it in me. Even if I had thought of a good threat, my throat wouldn’t have been able to vocalize it. Embarrassing squeals and squeaks, at best. Now I had a room full of kids to face, after that grand entrance. White faced, out of breath, and trembling a bit to boot. My cheeks turned back to red. Why was this happening to me?
The classroom. I had been out of sight to most, right up until my abrupt stumbling finish. There were two girls standing just inside the doorway, they had seen the last few steps, and enough to put the whole short story together. Now they watched me try to recover myself, from three feet away. Witnesses.
They weren’t just any girls. Marjie Harmon and Melinda Howard were cheerleaders. Smart and naturally pretty, they were the popular kids. They would always be the popular kids. Of all classmates to see me at my very worst, it had to be the pretty cheerleaders. The cool kids. I waited for them to laugh at me, and share my pain with the rest of the class. Some kids can be pretty mean. I wasn’t sure I could handle any more humiliation. I didn’t think my voice was quite ready to work, and my throat was feeling all sticky again. This was destined to be the worst day of my young innocent life. For no reason.
I went into full flight mode. I didn’t want to be there anymore. I considered sprinting to the bathroom, but what would I do when I got there? I’d have to make another entrance, with everyone pointing and giggling, my shame would be the latest gossip to run the network. I couldn’t do it. Full sissy mode, I couldn’t risk being late to class. Getting in trouble. Rules are rules. My spinning brain focused on the girls again. The cheerleaders. My tremble reemerged, as much as I tried to contain it. One giggle would snap my will again. I wanted it to end. I faced them and made the dreaded eye contact. I would just take my medicine and get it over with. Man up. Don't cry.
There was no laughing, not even a hint of a stifled smile. Both looked concerned, the kind of look you get from your Mom. I have to say, it sure made me feel better, just like Mom would have. Marjie actually reached out and touched my arm, asking if I was OK. I was stunned again, it was absolutely not the reaction I had expected. The rest of the class seemed oblivious, things were suddenly looking up. I stopped trembling when she touched me, and it didn’t start up again. They both gave me words of concern and encouragement. I couldn’t quite muster up a thank you, but I hoped they could see it on my face. I could sure feel it. They had saved me. Out of pure solid kindness.
I didn’t have much trouble with bullies after that. I caught on quick, I’d try not to let myself get isolated again. Ever. I looked over my shoulder a little more often. The buddy system. Two skinny kids are safer than one. Once I got to high school, I was without fear. Corey was a senior while I was a freshman. There would be no more Big Kid trouble. As a little bonus, I grew about a foot one summer. Still skinny, but it was a much better perspective.
Marjie’s Dad raced cars with my Dad. He was the team Owner, Kenny Lund drove his car back then. They were always a class act, in an era when a lot of rough stuff went on at the track. The Harmon cars were immaculate, straightened between races, or just not getting bent up in the first place. They were ready to race when they unloaded the car, while we might be scrambling to set the toe-in, or running around the pits hoping to borrow an 83 inch tire. The Harmon team was cool, they wore his company colors, and acted like professionals. Always fast, with a clean driving pilot, they would win many championships. They were all gentlemen, there wouldn’t be much post-race scrapping around their pit. C.W. himself was always kind to my Dad, with polite and encouraging banter. Scarce and appreciated in that environment.
Each season wrapped up with an awards banquet at the Portland Expo. It was nice to get everyone together away from the track. We’d dress up, have a decent meal, and the liquor would flow. My Mom would even go, her only participation in the racing program, outside of washing his firesuit and packing him up a few sandwiches each week. Dad was drinking bloody marys at the time, and I was his personal bartender. It was cool to be involved, making drinks for the adults instead of being banished to some kid’s table. I welcomed the promotion. I learned to make a pretty good bloody mary.
It wasn’t very long after the hallway incident. I saw her coming from a ways off, when she first walked in. Marjie Harmon. All dolled up, she looked like a million bucks. My mind flashed back to that awful hallway, that rotten Big Kid, and the kindness she had shown me. When I had really needed it. She had to walk by our table, everyone did. I prepared myself, I would have to say hello, without doing anything stupid. It was an awkward age. I was clumsy. I had to be careful. I had to be cool. In front of both of my parents, and the whole party. Concentrating. She was about to save me once again.
She was smiling this time, it was much more comfortable. She walked right to me, and gave me a quick, polite hug. She asked how I was doing, while I was in close, and she was sincere. I could tell. We hadn’t spoken much in between, I had never had a chance to thank her. Honestly, I may not have fully appreciated the importance of the small act. I didn’t imagine remembering it 40 years later, but here we are.
I couldn’t speak. I had prepared a greeting, but she beat me to it. I had no practiced reply. Drat. “Better now.” Truth will set you free. I got it out without squeaking. Mom heard me, and cracked the slightest laugh. Marjie laughed, and went on her way. I still hadn’t thanked her. I’d have to practice for that, too. Mom made a comment about me taking after my Dad. Everybody laughed. I felt fantastic. It was a good day to be me.
Marjie had blessed this skinny awkward boy once more, the prettiest girl in the room hugging me in front of my parents. Making me blush. She certainly didn’t have to, and I wasn’t expecting it. It was simply a sweet gesture.
I would never get that chance to thank her.
I saw her parents a while back, I worked on an appliance for them. It was nice to chat, and reminisce about the old racing days. I’ve researched my family tree, and Marjie is actually my 4th cousin, we're tied to a common Harmon back around the Civil War. He’s buried right there in Richville. We gabbed about our ancestors for a bit. I enjoy that kind of thing. Solid folks, these Harmons, it felt like talking to my own parents. Down to Earth. Comfortable. The kind of people you hope will move into the house next door, but you never get that lucky. The kind of people we need now, more than ever.
I guess this is my awkward Thank You, Marjie. I sure appreciate you, and I’m proud to be your distant cousin. I always thought I saw a hint of my sweet mother in your face, maybe it’s that Harmon gene.
Thank you Mindy, for being just as sweet, kind, and solid.
I hope you are always well, and that Karma is real, because you both certainly deserve the best that every day can bring.