Lewiston Memories, In Song

Helen Sylvain, Irene Mercier & Irene Cody

You might want hold onto your hats! Helene Sylvain and Irene Mercier have incredible energy. Helene and Irene are sisters. They grew up in Lewiston, Maine. And, like many people from their generation, recycling memories and sharing life’s experiences takes on special meaning — especially their deep connection to family and the love of a good song and a good story.

Helene and Irene were interviewed in Lewiston, Maine in 2010. In the photo by Kathleen Mundell, Helene is to the left, Irene in the middle, and, on the accordion is Irene Coady.

Basketmaking Traditions

Molly Neptune Parker basket


Molly Neptune Parker is a Passamaquoddy elder and basket maker who has devoted her life to practicing and teaching ash basket making and passing on the Passamaquoddy language. A recipient of a National Heritage Award, she was recently honored by the National Endowment for the Arts and continues teaching new generations, including her grandchildren, basketmaking.

Molly was interviewed in the Story Bank Maine mobile recording booth in 2010 at the Maine Folk Festival. Photos by Peter Dembski.

Snowshoe Maker

6Mackowski snowshoe

7 Mackowski in workshop

It’s hard to know where to start with Bill Mackowski. Bill’s a Maine Guide, a bush pilot, a trapper… that’s plenty, right?

Well, Bill also makes traditional pack baskets and creels which are baskets for carrying fish. He’s also the recipient of a Traditional Arts Fellowship from theMaine Arts Commission. And, we haven’t even mentioned what Bill may be best known for: snowshoes.

Bill was interviewed in 2009 in the Story Bank mobile recording booth at the Maine Folk Festival in Bangor, Maine.  Photos by Peter Dembski.

On this edition of Story Bank, a tale from Somalia. It’s a story about Egal Shidad, a wise coward. The story is told by Jama Osman Mahdi a Somali elder living in Lewiston, Maine who carries on the Somali tradition of oral recitation. Jama’s story is translated by Hassan Adan.

Jama was interviewed at the Lewiston city hall in 2011.
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Listening With Deer’s Ears

Bill White grew up on a farm in Ludlow, Maine in the 1940s and 50s. His grandfather, Nehemiah, lived in a cabin on the property. And Bill says Nehemiah was important to him for many reasons – two stand out.

First, he instilled in Bill a love for the outdoors. So much so that bill became an environmental scientist. And second, Nehemiah was exactly what a young boy needed growing up – even though it drove Bill’s mother crazy.

Bill was interviewed at the Houlton Historical Society in the fall of 2010.

Tuesdays With Molly Neptune Parker

Basket makers George Neptune with his grandmother, Molly Neptune Parker (photo by Peter Dembski).

George Neptune is a master basket maker. That’s quite an accomplishment for a 21-year-old – the title of master is usually bestowed on older practitioners. For generations, the Neptunes have kept alive the traditional art of basket making. George is the latest generation. He learned from his grandmother, Molly Neptune Parker.

George Neptune was recorded at the 2010 American Folk Festival.

Not Just For Pretty

13Tom Cote

2 Cote stump man 14 Cote carving


Tom Cote of Limestone, Maine comes from a long line of talented woodcarvers. In fact, his great, great grandfather, Jean Baptiste Cote of Quebec, carved church altars .  Tom learned to carve wood from his mother and now he’s teaching his grand-daughter.

Tom only uses hand tools – nothing motorized. He works with mallets, chisels, and knives and he can carve anything from toothpicks to… donut turners.


Tom Cote was recorded at the American Folk Festival in Bangor in 2010. Photos by Peter Dembski

Music From the Heart of Home

Irene Coady lights up the keys and buttons!  (Photo by Kathleen Mundell)

There’s a substantial population of Franco-Americans in the Lewiston-Auburn area of Maine. For the French speaking community there, music springs from the heart of their homes. Especially around Christmas.

Irene Coady and Lorraine Ouellette were recorded at the Franco-American Collection at the University of Southern Maine, Lewiston.

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Worse Things You Can Get Into

Buster Prout details the unique qualities of his hand-built Merrymeeting Bay Gunning Float, a duck hunting boat.

It’s probably fair to say that Merrymeeting Bay is the duck hunting capital of Maine. Buster Prout can testify to that. He’s lived his whole life right near the bay in Bowdoinham and started hunting at age twelve, in the 1950s. And to say Buster’s an avid duck hunter and guide would be an understatement.

“Actually,” Buster says, “duck huntin’ is addictive I think.”

Buster Prout was interviewed as part of the Merrymeeting Bay Oral History Project which was sponsored by the Maine Maritime Museum and funded by the Merrymeeting Bay Trust.


Bruce Berry shows off a wedding anniversary gift from his wife — an eel, stuffed and mounted.

The eels that live in the Kennebec River got their start far out in the Atlantic Ocean. All American eels spawn in the Sargasso Sea near Bermuda. The newborn eels drift north along the eastern seaboard. A bit mysteriously, they locate a river, like the Kennebec, and head upstream where they mature.  Years later, the eels swim back to the Sargasso Sea to repeat the process.

Unless Bruce Berry was working. For over thirty-five years Bruce fished eels in Merrymeeting Bay. Four to five thousand pounds a week.

Bruce Berry was interviewed as part of the Merrymeeting Bay Oral History Project which was sponsored by the Maine Maritime Museum and funded by the Merrymeeting Bay Trust.

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