You may, of course, wonder why I'm writing an ode in a blog about frugality. If you look closely, you will notice that my subtitle mentions living a life of thrift and value, emphasis on value--that's where Fern comes in. Not that he wasn't thrifty also, he's a Mainer, thrift happens by default.
Fernald and I both grew up in Springfield, Maine, population 500ish. He was just 30+ years my senior. And he stayed there. I'm a little jealous on that count. But I digress.
Fern was a rare individual. He particularly loved the youth of the area and spent many hours coaching pee wee basketball, little league and high school baseball. There wasn't a kid on any of his teams who didn't know how much Fernald cared about them. He was also a businessman; he owned some heavy equipment and ran a small construction company. (His son is the owner now, and my brother still works for him.) He was involved in town politics for as long as I can remember (New England still has real town meetings...if you're ever in the position to see one, take the time. The entertainment factor can't be beat.) And he was also the postmaster for 28 years, which I'm sure has a great deal to do with the reason that he knew EVERYBODY in our little hamlet. So that's what he was by profession, but in the realm of character and values, he was so much more.
As I read through the online testimonials left at the funeral home, I was poignantly struck by a couple of things. Fernald made everyone feel special. He offered strangers a hand, stopped and chatted with neighborhood kids (how many adults do that?) and would willingly give you half his sandwich if you caught him eating lunch. He regularly did "dirt" work for our little village chuch and never charged a dime. You always left him with a smile on your face. He wasn't a world-renowned man, and I think that's one reason he so special. He was content in his own little corner.
I started collecting stamps in 6th grade, a hobby that still sneaks up on me at strange times, causing me to grab envelopes out of trash cans and rip the stamp off, stuffing it in my pocket for later use. Since Fern was the postmaster, he helped me out. When I would go in with my meager earnings to buy the newest commemorative or plate block, Fern would give me a few extra. And no, I don't think for a nanosecond that he was ripping off the feds. When I went away to college, I wrote notes to him on the back of letters to my parents...he responded in kind. (OK, hopefully that's not a federal offense...I just thought it was sweet.) He always treated me with the utmost respect for the four years that I was the manager for the baseball team. As in, he told the boys not to swear around me.
Several years ago, after I'd been "away" for quite some time, my husband and I bought a camp near Duck Lake, just up the road a piece from Fernald's camp. One evening we were out for a stroll and just dropped in (in Maine, you can still do that). We stayed for a couple of hours, sitting on deck watching the sunset over the lake with he and his wife, Babe. It was a wonderful evening. Fernald had a stroke shortly after that, and the effects were slow and insidious. I still went to visit him a few times, and even though he had changed, he was still Fernald. It's hard to watch people vanish while they're still alive.
There are very few people in this world who don't have any enemies. If Fernald had them, they stayed hidden. I've never heard an unkind word said about him...that's a rarity. He taught me so much about so many things. I will never forget the man, and even though I'll never measure up, I will carry his values with me. Babe and family, you are truly in our thoughts and prayers. Fernald, well done.