“Playing With Fire: A Childhood Memoir,” by Tom Lyford; Green Bough Publishing, Dover-Foxcroft, 2011; 284 pages, trade paperback, $20.
Tom Lyford’s “Playing With Fire” is in reality the second volume of his memoirs of life on the grid in Dover-Foxcroft. The first was “Work Aversion Trauma,” published last year, which includes autobiographical essays from his earliest memories up through his life as an English teacher. The present volume fills in more details of his hapless youth in the 1950s.
The ’50s were the best of times and the worst of times in Dover-Foxcroft, as the little impromptu preface to the book forewarns us. Best because, for example, on sweet summer nights two nervous teenagers with (forbidden) Roman candles in a field of fireflies could trick the crotchety old neighbor into thinking he’d seen UFOs. The worst of times because the local drugstore owners, thinking to teach the cocky neighborhood juveniles a lesson, devised potions only the bravest and manliest would dare to drink at the soda fountain — one of them a taste of hell itself. But what self-respecting, self-inflated boy could resist?
Not Tommy Lyford, who one caper after another tells us, now with about 50 years of retrospect and tongue firmly in cheek, exactly what kid-life was like in Maine towns back then. Like “Work Aversion Trauma,” “Playing With Fire” could make a really nice companion piece — if not a sourcebook of the feel of postwar life — for a lot of Stephen King’s small-town Maine characters and stories. These essays are unlikely to be studied as classroom classics, but they tell their stories honestly and humanly, and with a nonstop sense of down-Maine irony.
Tom Lyford, who in his long career as an English teacher worked in Belfast, Mexico and 23 years in Dover-Foxcroft (and still lives there), has seen his essays and poems published widely in Maine, including in the BDN’s weekly Uni-Verse column. “Playing With Fire” and his other books, including poetry collections such as “My Cinema Paradiso” and “Kilroy Was Here: Me Too!,” can be purchased through www.tomlyford.com and online booksellers.
Dana Wilde’s collection of essays “ The Other End of the Driveway: An Amateur Naturalist’s Observations in the Maine Woods,” is available in paperback and electronically from Booklocker.com.