Tired of robocalls and negative political ads? I have an antidote. Get yourself a copy of “Events,” Bob Tweedie’s self-published book of stories about life in Maine and beyond. It may restore your enthusiasm — if not for politics, perhaps for human nature.
“You’ve got to write this stuff down!”
You might have said those words to a talkative Grandpa, or Great Aunt Flo, or that quirky old neighbor down the street. Stories from the people who lived before our time tell so much more than individual histories. They also teach us about the evolution of human culture and society, both in the world at large and in our own neighborhoods. Too often, they never get recorded.
Bob Tweedie has lived in Westfield, Maine, since his birth in 1935, and he took the time to write this stuff down.
I confess that I was skeptical about looking at someone’s self-published book, and it took me more than a year to get around to it. Bob even admitted that the book might be “rough,” since he had virtually no editorial help. “Events,” however, exceeded my expectations.
True, the writing could be more polished, but part of the charm of the book would have been lost. A feeling of homespun, unadorned honesty infuses Bob’s book, start to finish, which was part of his intention.
“Anything in there …” Bob said as we drank coffee in his kitchen, “… I tried to have it be honest, no exaggeration. I know it could’ve been better with professional help, but I wrote from the heart.”
So he tells about his father’s early horsepower potato farming, planes flying in and out of Presque Isle Air Force Base during World War II, getting to know German POWs who picked potatoes under guard, the story of the largest bank robbery in Maine history (perpetrated by someone he knew), and encountering a bull moose in the middle of the street with his grandson (“His mother should have told him not to do that,” said the little boy) — all with the same straightforward, narrative voice.
It is that narrative voice that ties the book together. Although we do get a sense of the course of Bob’s life by reading the book — his military service, his years running a potato-shipping company, his family life — Bob’s story is not the main idea. The book is a treasure trove of personal, local and world history told from the point of view of a philosophical, compassionate and entertaining storyteller.
It was, in fact, other people’s stories that first inspired Bob’s book project. Bob’s parents, whom he credits for his attitude of open-mindedness and generosity, took in a wayward teenager some years before Bob was born. Aurelius Piper was a 13-year-old, dark-skinned Native American who had had a difficult life of mistreatment and discrimination when his aimless wanderings brought him on foot into Westfield. Racism influenced a lot of the Tweedies’ neighbors, who advised them not to take the boy in, but they did for about a year.
Thirty years later, the Tweedies heard from him. The young man had become a widely known and respected spokesman for Native American rights, lived in Connecticut and was known as Chief Big Eagle. Two books were written about the chief, and he counted his experience with the Tweedies as a turning point in his life.
Both to highlight the goodness of his parents and to bring the important work of Chief Big Eagle to light, Bob started writing his stories. Then he got to telling startling World War II stories of local people he admired, and tales of many other characters both quirky and heartwarming in the Mars Hill region.
“I wrote the book off and on for about seven years,” he said.
Then he had some setbacks in his 70s, including a heart attack.
“It was around then I thought, ‘Better finish that book!’” Bob said.
Bob’s book paints a picture of earlier days that any history buff will find intriguing. Without heavy-handed moralizing or judgment, his stories illustrate what is best in human beings who know how to trust and support each other, not to mention the fact that many of the stories are surprising and very funny.
If I needed any more convincing of Bob’s sincere motives, I got it when he handed me a stack of books to take home with me.
“Take these along, if that’s OK with you. Sell ’em for twenty bucks and give it all to charity. I just want it to help someone who’s having a hard time.”
I told him I was happy to do it. I also asked him, other than charitable donations, what did he hope would come of people reading his book?
“I hope it will keep alive certain people, and old ways and stories,” he said. He also hopes it might help people to focus on all their good days, which for me, now includes the day I got to hang out in the kitchen with Bob Tweedie.
Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback at email@example.com.