Not all my travel is to far away bucket list destinations. Sometimes it’s to little ol’ out of the way places like Phillips, Maine. Situated in the western part of the state, its one of those places in Maine where people talk kinda funny. A place where people not from Maine are called outta-state-ahs. Its a place I’m familiar with because it’s the place my wife’s family hails from.
Phillips is a small sleepy town with about about 1,000 people. It’s a town that should have died years ago but it seems to be determined to hold itself together. Its claim to fame is, well, not much. It’s the birthplace of “Fly Rod” Crosby – Maine’s first registered guide. ‘Nuff said.
Every summer, in the third week of August, the little town shrugs off its sleepy demeanor and comes alive in what’s called the Phillips Old Home Days. Its a nice small town celebration and week long party where the town struts its stuff. There are barbeques, a bean hole bean suppah, competitions, contests, an aaht (art) show, displays, horse pulling, a street dance, and a parade. In Mainah lingo, its a wicked fun time. (Mainah’s often use the term “wicked” in place of the adverb / adjective “very”)
For my wife and sons, going to the Phillips Old Home Days is an annual ritual. I’ve been up to it a few times and can attest that it’s a fun time. But once I got colitis, and was poopin’ more than your average cowboy, the 5 hour drive and limited availability of public restrooms in little ol’ Phillips was just not worth the stress and anxiety.
But now that I have an RV with my own bed and a good sized holding tank, its a little more manageable. This year, my wife’s Mom offered me a spot to park my RV in her yaahd (Mainah lingo for yard). So, I said yes to her invite to come up to the Phillips Old Home Days. I’d get to see my wife’s relatives and show them what a flatlander – aka outta-state-ah, looks like. I also figured it might make for a wicked good bloggin story.
We arrived on Thursday so we could take in the last three days of Old Home Days (which in when the most popular events are held). As promised, I had a great spot to park my View in my mother-in-law’s driveway. With water and electricity and being close to the town center, it worked out perfect.
It’s a little tough to write a narrative of the whole weekend, so instead I’ll comment on the highlights of my Phillips Old Home Days experience.
- While the Phillips Old Home Days (POHD) is a town wide celebration, it’s also a time for family gatherings. Many families flock back to their local homesteads to reconnect and see members who have either moved away or stayed put. That was the case with my wife’s family. We were joined by our sons (2), my step-son and his family (7), and my wife’s brother and some of his family (7). My wife’s Mom is mother of two, grandmother to six, great grandmother to ten, and great great grandmother to one. It’s quite a throng that’s she’s super proud of. All but two of those “kids” where there at POHD and her house of a hubbub of activity all weekend.
Just a comment on my mother-in-law. She’s one of the “bedrock” residents of Phillips. Born and raised in Phillips, she and her late husband (also from Phillips) ran the local hardware store for many years. She was a newspaper reporter, photographer, and book author. She’s an avid golfer, runs two golf leagues, and is a certified golf instructor. She runs her own pitch and putt golf course (Just-A-Field Golf Course) and has a bakery business (Pleasant Street Popovers). She’s usually out of the house by 5:00 am each day and on the go all day long. She’s an 80 year old dynamo that few can keep up with. When I’m in Phillips, I usually introduce myself as Nona D’s son-in-law. It may be thin, but it’s my local pedigree and it gives me instance status. I may be an outta-state-ah, but I’m Nona’s son-in-law and that’s good enough for most folks in Phillips.
- All the businesses and most community organizations open their doors for the celebration. I visited the Congregational Church to see the Narrow Gauge Quilters (a local group of ladies who like to make quilts) display of quilts. It’s an incredible display of labor, colors, and art work. The quilts are magnificent and many have stories associated with them. Maine winters can be long and cold. As I see these ladies proudly showing off their quilts, I can just envision them sitting around someone’s living room on a cold winter day, drinking tea, talking, and working on their quilts.
- The other place I visited was the local Historical Society. Phillips has one of the best historical societies in the state. They have genealogy records, newspaper records, railroad records, and an incredible display of historical artifacts. Once I mentioned that I was “Nona D’s son-in-law”, I was warmly greeted, given an extensive tour of the building, and doted on by two very nice ladies. They made me feel like a local dignitary.
- The Friday Parade is the highlight of POHD. Each year it has a theme and the locals go all out to compete for the best float. This year’s theme was “Disney Comes to Phillips”. On Friday, the weather did “rain on the parade” but it didn’t diminish the fun for those in the parade and those watching. Here’s a video I made of the parade.
Another Friday night highlight is the bean-hole-bean suppah. Growing up in Maine, baked beans, hot dogs, and brown bread was a popular Saturday night suppah in my house. Making real baked beans is a two day process. The beans have to be washed and soaked overnight. Then they are slow cooked for the entire next day. For bean-hole-beans, a large fire is made in a pit the evening before and burned down to get a good bed of coals. Large covered cast dutch ovens full of beans, water, molasses, some salt pork, and spices are then placed on the coals and the pit is covered with more coals and dirt. The beans stay in the pit overnight and most of the next day. The Men’s Club in Phillips still does it the way it was done in the logging camps years ago. I had a plate of Yellow Eye beans with brown bread and it was just delicious. And I got to enjoy it while eating and chatting with some of the locals (used my “Nona D’s son-in-law” intro as a icebreaker).
- Another of my favorite events is the horse pulling. Logging was and still is a major industry in Maine. In the early days (before skidders where invented), draft horses were used to haul the logs out of the woods in the winter. For logging, draft horses didn’t need roads and could easily maneuver in the woods. In some places they’re still used today. I love watching these huge stately beasts – Percheron’s, Belgiums, and the high stepping Shires. A team weighs over 3,300 lbs and can easily pull double their weight.
- The highlight of my weekend was taking a short plane ride over Phillips. Just down the street from my mother-in-laws house is the Lindbergh Airport, named for the famous aviator who once landed there. Its sounds more impressive than it really is. It’s just a long grass strip of land with a couple of old sheds for planes. During POHD, a local aviator was giving short plane rides over Phillips for $25. I’ve flown commercial in jets many times but never in a two seat single engine prop. I have a pretty good case of acrophobia, but something about this plane ride appealed to me. It would be a new experience and I figured at age 61, with the kids grown, and the mortgage paid, what the hell. I went for it. My step-son said it would be like riding in a VW beetle that slowly goes up in the air. That’s exactly how it was. It was a blast and I had no fear or panic while up for the 20 minute flight. Here’s a video I made of the experience.
I had a wicked fun time visiting Phillips again and attending the Phillips Old Home Days. This wasn’t a tourist type travel trip (e.g., see a sight, take a picture, marvel a the scenery). It was a great small town immersion experience.
In addition to having fun and seeing family, I got to see and experience some of the things that bind a small town together. I saw people of all ages making a contribution to the celebration, showing pride in what they have, people preserving their history and legacy, people being generous and welcoming, people having fun together, and people looking out for each other. All the things that make a small town special were on full display at the Phillips Old Home Days.
Let me know if you have a small town story or experience to share.