My hand shakes as I hold my cell phone and press the 701 area code, slowly pushing in the next six numbers written on the pad in front of me, and hesitating before adding the final digit that will connect me to Gerald Tompkins in Grand Forks, ND.
Why the hesitation? Am I reluctant to finally talk to the owner of the sturdy brown cardboard package that I bought two summers ago during one of the weekly yard sale routes my Cross Lake neighbor Nancy and Presque Isle yard sale buddy Pam traveled? The address card in the slot on the front of the canvas strapped package provided the APO address of Gerald Tompkins and the return address of Elmer Tompkins in Presque Isle.
While my son Chris was at camp this summer, I showed him the package. We were able to track the Tompkins family through the 1940 census to an address in Mapleton, ME, a small town outside of Presque Isle. On quest ended there. No Gerald Tompkins was listed in the current Aroostook County phone book and no luck with whitepages.com
When Chris and I hugged goodbye his last day at camp, he said, “Mom, you’ve got to find Gerald Tompkins.” I figured if anyone could locate Gerald Tompkins it would be Mapleton native Dewey Dow, so I emailed him in Meriden. Readers who have been following the last two columns and the mystery of the sturdy brown cardboard package columns know that Dewey zoned in like a GPS. He and Gerry were teammates and members of the Mapleton High School class of 1953! Dewey sent me Gerry’s address, phone number and a copy of the information Gerry provided to the Mapleton High School’s 50th reunion in 2003 entitled, “My life since Mapleton High School,” as well as his yearbook picture!
So here I am, sitting on a bench in downtown Fort Kent so that I can get decent cell phone reception when I connect with Gerald Tompkins. I am so anxious that I write down what I will say to him so I won’t stumble all over my words when he answers the call. If indeed, he even picks up if he sees an unfamiliar number displayed. Will he think me silly? Will he even want the sturdy brown cardboard package?
When he answers, I tell him who I am and that I have a camp on Cross Lake but live in Connecticut and know his Mapleton High classmate Dewey Dow. His response is friendly, the tone of his voice as if we are long time friends and perhaps just haven’t talked for a while. He remembers Dewey fondly and that he was disappointed that he, Gerry, couldn’t make the 50th reunion and catch up with his high school buddies .
I tell him about the yard sale. He is amazed that the package is intact over 50 years later. He recalls the box being sent to him at the air force base in Newfoundland where he was stationed from 1954 to 1958. After his discharge he drove home, he tells me, and the box ended up at his parents’ farm on State Street in Mapleton. In 1969 he was offered a promotion by Potato Service, Inc. and he and wife, Eileen and two sons, Kurt and Daren, relocated to Grand Forks.
He asks if I would mind taking the box to his brother Roland’s home in Presque Isle. He thanks me for caring enough to go to the trouble to reunite the case and its owner. I am pleased that he is elated, that he cares so much for this tangible part of his past.
We both wonder, however, as does Dewey, how the case got from Gerry’s parents’ farm on State Street, to the site of the yard sale on the nearby Hughes Road. Dewey is hot on the “case” and perhaps when I meet up with Roland he can fill in some of the missing years. In the meantime, there’s a few more yard sale Fridays left until Ron and I leave Cross Lake for home. Nancy, Pam and I are sure to be in the vicinity of the Hughes Road and since Pam has remembered that red house where the yard sale was and since people here in Aroostook County are very friendly, well, we’ll just stop in and my guess is that we’ll find the answer to where the sturdy brown package had been for 53 years.