Family Color: or the story of my hunting jacket

John Clark taking you back to 1980 and the story of how the Orange Mailbox came to be Mom’s trademark and what happened over 30 years later. The people at Skyward in Owls Head may have saved Mom’s life. They certainly saved her sanity and her career as both a teacher and a writer. There was a 2 ½ year period where she struggled to get and stay sober. It seemed like every time she strung six months together, my father would go into demon mode and she’d have a slip. Each time it happened, the Skyward folks would remind her that staying sober with another active alcoholic in the house wasn’t the best remedy for success. My football playing friend Chainsaw Charlie had a perfect saying for the dilemma. As he put it, “Which time do you learn the play?” Well Mom finally got it.

The Orange Mailbox at 1000 E. Sennebec Road.

At the next town meeting in Union, a funding request for Skyward was in the budget. Merv Merrill, an excellent blacksmith, but a misogynistic curmudgeon, got up and essentially said that women didn’t need any tomfoolish treatment program, all they needed was to stay home and obey their husbands and everything would be fine. He never imagined that Mom would get up, tell her story of recovery and shame him silly, but that’s exactly what happened and the request was funded.

Merv thought he got his revenge when Mom took the family mailbox to him for much needed repairs (Yours truly had put 20+ .22 rounds through it one 4th of July while drunk as a skunk),. He welded all the holes shut, then painted it lobster buoy orange, thinking that would put that uppity schoolteacher in her place. As anyone who knew Mom can attest, that act of revenge backfired and the mailbox not only became her trademark and the name of her long running column in the Camden Herald, it made her world famous.

Fast forward to 2012. I’d been an active hunter since age nine and looked forward to deer season every November, but while walking through new growth behind sister Kate’s blueberry field, I looked down at my blaze orange jacket and saw lots of tiny moving specks. I’d gone through one heck of a bunch of deer ticks and they were crawling everywhere. It’s not the smartest move to strip to white long underwear during hunting season, but at that moment, getting shot was a lesser worry than ridding myself of the evil parasites. By the time I finished,I’d removed and killed 34of the little devils. The experience was enough to get me out of the woods and keep me out. Subsequent stories I heard from others about the size of tick infestation, particularly near Union, was enough for me to turn to other pursuits during November, NANOWRIMO being one of them.

The jacket during the design process

While I might be done with hunting, my jacket wasn’t ready to retire. Beth started wearing it while walking our dog and I used it on those in-between days when coat is too much and a t-shirt not enough. A couple years ago, it took some serious hits from sparks during our annual spring bonfire in the middle of the garden.

Jump ahead once more to post-election America, 2016. Beth and I awake to a terrible new reality. It takes a few weeks for the shock to wear off, then the inauguration comes and shock turns to anger and a realization that there’s no way to stay inside our comfort zones and retain any shred of self respect.

I was very active in college and for a few years after graduation, but the night I told the mayor of Portland to do something biologically impossible at a large gathering following Brownie Carson’s primary loss, was enough to send me into political seclusion for a long time. I contented myself with voting in every election and serving on town budget committees and planning boards. However staying quiet was no longer an option.

The Jacket as part of the exhibit in Bangor.

Beth got involved sooner than I did, making a decision to participate in the Womens March in Augusta. As she pondered how to prepare, she asked if she could wear my hunting jacket. As she thought more about how to make a statement, she pulled out some unbleached muslin and researched women who had impacted the rights movements in America. Each got their name stenciled on a piece of muslin and then were sewn on the jacket.

Little did we know how big an impact her efforts would have on others in the march. Many who marched commented on the jacket and took photos. The next we knew, she was asked if the jacket could be part of a community space exhibit in Bangor highlighting the march. But that wasn’t the end for my jacket. Word continued to spread and it’s now about to become part of an exhibit at the Maine State Museum.

Like the jacket, our activism lives on. We were part of a 30+ group of citizens who went to Susan Collins office to express our concerns about the new presidency as well as to express our disappointment over her support of some of the cabinet appointees. Two weekends ago, we marched in Portland in support of affordable health care. On Presidents Day, I participated in the Not My President demonstration at the state house in Augusta. Beth plans on speaking at a legislative hearing in support of school funding this week, while both of us have made numerous calls and have written letters and postcards to state and national elected representatives. Her latest act was to be part of an open air town hall in Bangor to put more pressure on Susan Collins to have open town meetings.

This Saturday, we’re participating in the Maine Resistance summit at the Augusta Civic Center. ( Neither of us expects to fall by the wayside any time soon. In fact, Beth posts ‘Why I Continue to March’ on Facebook where she shares her thoughts and insights about stepping out of the comfort zone.

Many of you reading this may disagree with what we’re doing. I’m fine with that. As I said when interviewed by New England Cable News at the Not My President demonstration, I’m ashamed of the world we’re leaving for my granddaughter.

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13 Responses to Family Color: or the story of my hunting jacket

  1. Gram says:

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Wonderful, wonderful story! And how proud I am to be friends with you and Beth.

  3. Beth Clark says:

    Thanks for letting me use your jacket! I always enjoy hearing the story of how your mother spoke up at town meeting. That is one reason why I used her unbleached muslin for the names. Now I wish I had added her name to the group of activists.

  4. Julianne Spreng says:

    It’s so good to hear from those others who are letting the world know that America is not our current Washington. I was a student activist in the 60’s and 70’s. Never in a million years would I have believed we would backslide to the swamp we’re in now. I live by the adage “Be the example”, but I surely didn’t expect to have to march again when I was in my 60’s!

  5. I applaud you, John, and Beth, too. Sustained active participation is necessary and patriotic in the very best sense. See you out there in the streets!

  6. Lea Wait says:

    Love what you two are doing! And where the orange jacket ended up ….. March on!

  7. C.T. Collier says:

    Adding my applause and my support, John!

  8. Calla says:

    Thank you for your service and efforts! Sooo appreciate!

  9. Paula Keeney says:

    Wonderful messages here. I applaud your (and Beth’s ) efforts.

    Adjusting to this new post-election reality takes longer for some of us. We left the U.S. the day before Inauguration Day, timing that did not go unnoticed by lots of people. For another month, we remain here in Paris. Alas, then we return home to join you in the fray.
    Paula Keeney
    Mainely Murders Bookstore

  10. Ruth Nixon says:

    A wonderful blog. I’m in full agreement with you and Beth and at 82 trying to do more than I ever thought I’d do besides just voting. I too am ashamed with the leadership at this time and I want better for my grandsons.

  11. Sennebec says:

    Thanks for the comments everyone. I’ve noticed at almost every rally/march/event that the participants are split 50-50; half under 30, the rest over 60. I wonder what it will take to get the 31-59 crowd involved.

  12. Amber Foxx says:

    Thanks for writing such a great post, and I thank you and your wife for your activism. As the chant at the Women’s March went, this is what democracy looks like. The country needs people getting involved consistently, not just during an election cycle. You did a great job of weaving a story around the jacket and the mailbox that led into this theme.

  13. What a great story. I am so proud to be part of this family.

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