Coming at Regrets From A Different Angle


John Clark, thinking about the various kinds of regrets. I came to writing much later than most on this blog, and that’s probably one of my biggest regrets. I started writing in the late 1990s although my mother and sister were both prolific writers. There are a number of reasons for my coming late to the party. Active drunks don’t make for good beginning authors, growing up (or as much as I ever have) on the hurry-up plan, coupled with graduate school twice, and raising a family all come to mind. In any event, it I could hop in the wayback machine, I’d change some things.

I’ve always felt a stronger connection to my father’s side of the family, even though I’m closer to cousins on the other side these days, probably because we all have the same sarcastic sense of humor. My grandfather, Arthur Hight Clark, was possibly the last circuit riding and barter dentist in Maine. He had four different offices, in West New Portland, Kingfield, Bingham, and Rangeley. He was also an avid fly fisherman, stopping between the home office and the others to wet a line. During the depression, he’d pull teeth, do fillings, or make dentures for whatever someone had to trade because money was tight. Moose meat, firewood, bear hides were all viable commodities for Gramps.

Gramps holding me

His sister, Kate Burke, ran the general store in Bingham. I barely knew either of them because they died when I was very young, so most of what I know about them comes from memories my parents passed on. I have very old letters and a bunch of philatelic stuff left to my father by Aunt Kate. Some of them lead me to believe she conducted an active mail order trade with hunters and trappers in the US and Canada. I have a number of envelopes sent to her that carry postmarks from Canadian post offices that vanished a hundred years ago.

My great uncle, Leland Look, was my favorite relative when I was growing up. He was postmaster in New Vineyard, Maine for 35 years, ran trap lines every winter until he was 80, and grew giant dinner plate dahlias along two sides of his porch bordering Route 27, the main road linking the Canadian border and western Maine. One of my other regrets is that I didn’t take more time to ask him about his life and some of the more interesting experiences included in his 88 years. Likewise, I wish I’d been able to interview and save memories of our cousin who grew up in Mississippi and married Fred O. Smith, owner of most of the wooded hills surrounding New Vineyard. I only met her once before she died, but she was a most gracious and interesting lady.

Uncle Leland with my Grandmother Della

My relationship with my father was very abrasive because we were active alcoholics. I got sober in 1980, while Dad never succeeded, and for years following my entry into recovery, all our interactions were pretty ugly until I was put in a position where I took care of him while he was dying of pancreatic cancer. We were able to heal most of our wounds before he took his last breath. I regret I wasn’t able to learn more about his life because he was not only an artist, but grew up in the best part of Maine for fishing,.

Dad with me and Sister Kate

I was much more fortunate with my mother because she got sober six months before I did, and it completely changed the dynamics of our relationship. For many years, I’d pop into the house at 1000 Sennebec Road and we’d chat about life, recovery and writing. Even so, I regret not asking her many more questions about her life, what she saw in the world around her, and the Carman side of the family.

Something good came out of those regrets relating to lost opportunities to learn from my older family members. When I was the librarian in Hartland, I wrote an occasional newspaper column called Getting to Know Your Neighbors. Among the people I interviewed were a renaissance man who never finished high school, but became an excellent self-taught machinist who calibrated Norden bomb sights on planes during World War Two, the widow of a man who fell in love with a line of plastic horses and made a hobby of creating amazing wagons to hook behind teams of them, and a wonderful man who was a gospel bluegrass guitarist and member of the Maine Country Music Hall of Fame.

Some of the models made by Clare Russell

My message to readers here is this. Looking for something new or different to write about? Look no further than your older relatives and neighbors.


  1. This is so true. My favorite local news spots are the Ozarks Life profiles of locals. You could never dream up such rich characters. You've GOT to write a book about Gramps.

    1. Holly, one of the short stories in my anthology Hardscrabble Kids does feature aspects of my grandfather. (and I'm far from anonymous)


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