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Little Gussie

January 25, 2013

It seems that the New Year invariably brings with it some early spring cleaning. While organizing photos, letters and papers we’ve gathered about the history of our property, I came across a real life Cinderella story. Mary Stewart Hafer, the daughter of Archie Stewart, sent it to us some years ago. Archie typed up the tale after it was shared with the family by Rob Golding in the spring of 1966, at their Maine camp in Grand Lake Stream.

Robert Nathaniel Golding was for many years a guide for the Stewarts, of Newburgh, New York on their numerous, hunting and fishing expeditions into the wilderness of Maine. This all started in 1914 when Archie was just 11, and Rob was nearly 40. By his old age Rob had become a beloved adopted member of the Stewart family. They affectionately called him the “Colonel” (though he never rose above the rank of Private), a reference to the time he spent serving in Cuba in the Spanish American War. A gifted storyteller, the Colonel spun many a yarn over the years for the Stewart family and Archie made it his mission to record them (as many as he could) on film and audio reel for the benefit of posterity.

Rob’s parents, Nathaniel and Mary, built our home in the early 1890s. After his mother’s death in 1917, Rob took over the family farm where he lived until his passing in 1969. From the very first day we arrived on the scene, the home seemed to radiate a positive feeling. The following story preserved by Archie might explain something of the source of that magic.

Little Gussie

For a year or so after her husband’s death [in 1911], Rob’s mother lived alone in the family homestead. During that period Rob resided with his first wife at her father’s residence. Nearby lived a family by the name of Seeley. Normally the Seeley household consisted of a middle aged couple and their two children.  At the time of this event, a third child was staying with them. She was a little girl named Gussie Barrett and had been left there by her father some time previously following the death of her mother. Gussie was a sweet child of seven or eight which was somewhat younger than the Seeley’s own boy and girl. Just why Mr. Barrett had chosen to leave his little girl with the Seeley family is not clear. The only relationship was that Mr. Seeley was a brother of Gussie’s maternal grandmother which would have made him her great uncle. That a father would have left his young daughter in such a place is even harder to understand when one considers the type of people they were. Not only were they poor, ignorant and lazy but in addition they were cruel, mean, quarrelsome and oppressive. They sent their own two children to school while Gussie was forced to remain at home and work. Even at so early an age she was assigned such household chores as washing, scrubbing and doing the dishes. If she broke one, she was severely punished. The older children teased her but when a disturbance occurred, she invariably was given the blame.

Each evening on his way home, Rob passed near the Seeley house and was greatly disturbed by the manner in which the little girl was being treated. Oftentimes, if Mr. or Mrs. Seeley saw him, they would bemoan their misfortune for having had the child left with them. “All she is is a nuisance”, they would tell him in her presence. “She’s careless and a trouble maker.” At this the child would invariably break into tears. Rob was heartfelt sorry. Finally, when he could tolerate it no longer, he went to his mother’s and proposed that she take the child with her. He told how nice she was and suggested that she would be company for her.

Mrs. Golding rejected the idea. In doing so, she pointed out that she was making out quite well by herself. She explained further that her opinion of the Seeleys whom she had known was not a high one. Rob persisted, proposing to hitch up the horse and drive her to see the little girl for herself but to no avail. Visibly disappointed, Rob returned to his home.

The following evening he had occasion to visit his mother again. He was pleasantly surprised to find Little Gussie and his mother having supper together. Later, Mrs. Golding explained privately that the thought of a little girl having to live under the conditions which he had described bothered her all night. The first thing in the morning, without waiting for Rob and the wagon, she walked to Seeley’s, acquired the child and walked back home holding her hand all the way. That evening Mrs. Golding gave Gussie a bath and then spent a considerable part of the night removing lice from her hair.

After Gussie had left, the Seeley’s decided that she hadn’t been such a nuisance after all. They made a number of trips to see her in an endeavor to prevail upon her to return. At the end of three or four weeks Gussie asked to go back for a visit and Mrs. Golding permitted her to do so. Three days later she returned and Mrs. Golding was forced to go through the bathing and delousing process for the second time. During the cleaning procedure Mrs. Golding told Gussie that she would not go though the performance again. If she went back to the Seeley’s again, other than for short visits during the day, she would have to remain there. Little Gussie never went back.

Mrs. Golding sent her to school and in a short while the two became fast friends. As Mrs. Golding grew older and more infirm, the girl waited on her with loving care.

After his mother’s death, Rob arranged to have Gussie boarded in Eastport while she attended high school there. After graduation, he secured her admission to a hospital where she became a registered nurse.

Later on, she made a fortunate and happy marriage. The couple raised four splendid children.

Last month, in his ninety second year, Rob Golding attended Little Gussie’s funeral. At the conclusion of the service, the husband told him that a finer and more devoted wife and mother had never lived.

(click photo to view larger image)

(comments = 1)

 
Christi
January 26, 2013

What an entirely sweet story and how fortunate that you found a home whose history is being revealed to you in such wonderful ways!
An inspiring post, thank you.

 

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