Albert Collins Transcript
By Katherine Hagedorn and Jeff Titon.
Fine Edit, 1989
VO = Voice-over; OC = On camera.
OF SOUTH BLUE HILL
A VIDEO PORTRAIT
BY JEFF TODD TITON
Blue Hill Bay. Albert and Ken Taplin row from shore to their lobster boat. Albert reads first half of his poem, "Sold Out." Albert (VO):
'Old boat, I hate to see you go, we've had so much together.
You've borne with me in many miles, in every kind of weather.
We have watched the purple mountaintops fade with the setting sun,
And have raced the rolling combers on that long and homeward run.
We have crossed at night the shadows where others dare not tread.
We have reaped a handsome harvest from mother ocean's bed.
We have knifed the fog in summer, watched the young gulls learn to fly.
Long we've been out there together, where the sea line meets the sky.'
Off Long Island. Albert and Ken on their lobster boat hauling a trap. Albert describes a lobster fisherman's daily round of work. Albert (VO): You go out and you start down the bay, and the water's calm, glossy and calm. The sun's coming up over the islands down there, and your old boat's going along, purring, just as nice as can be, and you've got the hot thermos bottle full of coffee and donuts, and you're standing there, steering, one hand eating donuts, and drinking your coffee with the other. And you're wondering what you're going to get for a catch, and your bait barrel is all ready there for you, you fill your bait bag, so you bring your bait barrel up along side of your wheel, so you steer with one hand and fill your bait bags, you get your bait bags all full, and then you get down there and you start hauling, you'll haul your first trap, maybe you'll get a lobster or two in it. And you bait up, set it back again. And the next one, perhaps you haven't gotten anything in it, and the next one, you'll have a lobster or two. And time just seems to fly by. You—. An hour, I mean, first thing you know, it's ten o'clock, it's twelve o'clock, it's one o'clock. And then you get through hauling. And maybe you'll get through hauling at about three o'clock. By that time, the wind breeze up, you know, a little fresh breeze. And you head for home, and you wash the boat down as best you can, and you get home, and you've got a pretty good catch of lobsters, you've made a pretty good day's work. So you tie your boat up, and then you go ahead and you get your bait ready, and your gas ready for the next day. And it's a full-time operation. When you're lobstering you work all the time.
Map of Blue Hill Bay. Albert talks about his grandfather coming from Scotland to Nova Scotia to settle on Long Island in Blue Hill Bay (Maine). Albert (VO): Well, he come from Long Island and he, they had a thousand sheep, he and the old man together over there, and they were Scots, they come from Scotland anyway, from sheep country. My grandfather was a Scotchman. And he had come from Scotland to Digby, Nova Scotia. And then he come from Digby, Nova Scotia down here, and then he settled on Long Island.
Albert in his kitchen, facing camera, 1-shot. Albert tells story about how his grandfather delivered the mail and played a trick on the postal inspector. Albert (OC): He died in 1926 I think, or some thing like that. But he, when he lived on the is land he farmed and he fished, and he carried the mail for about thirty years, back to the main land. Well, he got a dollar a day. You think of it. Well, one of the postal inspectors was down here one time, 'twas late in the fall, and they said, told the postmaster down here, that was Sylvester, that was John's grandfather, he had the store, and he had the post office too. He said, "Mr. Henderson gets too much money." He says, "All he's got to do," he says, "that's the island right over there," he said; "all he's got to do is carry the mail across there."
Well, anyway, Ben Sylvester said, "Well, now, he'll be coming off with the mail pretty soon. You'll get a chance to talk with him."
So grandfather come off with the mail and it was late in the fall. And so Sylvester told grandfather what was up. And grandfather said, "Well, now," he said, "you know, it's going to blow nor'west this afternoon a good breeze. And I'm going to wait until it gets a damn good breeze and I'm going to take him across with me."
So he did. It got blowing. And grandfather only had a twelve-foot skiff with a sail on her. He got the old postal inspector in the bottom of the skiff, told him to set still and not move. And of course grandfather started out and he had that skiff so the water was right on the rail, you know, and that fellow was scared.
"Oh," he said, "Mr. Henderson," he said, "let's go back."
Grandfather says, he says, "I'm carrying the United States mail." He said, "It has to be delivered." He said, "I can't go back."
"Well," he said, "I'll make an exception," he said, "I'm the postal inspector."
"Oh," grandfather said, "nothing to it," he said, "I do this all the time," he said; "this is a nice day!" So finally he got him over there. When he got him on the is land shore, the old fellow was so scared he couldn't get out of the skiff. Grandfather had to wait. He got out of the skiff and he couldn't walk. Oh, Ben Sylvester told me that a hundred times.
Motoring out of Blue Hill Bay. Albert on his lob ster boat, bagging the herring bait. In voice-over, Albert begins to tell the story of his life and work. Albert (VO): I was born here in 1912, and I was born in the night about midnight, and 'twas a storm, a snow storm, 'twas the twenty-fifth of January, so the next morning mother had father come in and look at me, and father come in and looked at me all over and she said, "What do you think?" And he said, "Well, let's cut out this foolishness now and raise a family."
So I had to live with that all my life. That's not easy to live with, you know? I had a poor beginning, you might say. And then I started going to school down here. The old schoolhouse was right down the road here, it's gone now. In 1919 I think it was. And I went to grammar school and graduated from there. And then I went to high school down in Brooklin, because father owned land in Brooklin. And I went one term. And then I went to work in the sawmill over at North Sedgwick. And I was fourteen. I done a man's job and got a man's pay. We worked nine hours a day, and we got a dollar seventy-five cents a day. And then, that was in the spring of '27, I think. And I worked all summer in the mill, and then that winter we went clamming all winter, be cause there was a big market for clams then.
Off Long Island. Albert and Kenny Haul a trap; Kenny takes a lobster from the trap while Albert continues, voice-over, to talk about his life and work. Albert (VO): And the next spring I went back to the sawmill again, and that summer we raked blue berries. And started clamming in the fall. And I done that up till, oh, nineteen twenty-nine.
And right across the street here, there was an old fellow that built boats. He had a shop right out back here. And he and his wife lived alone, and they didn't have no, their children was gone and growed up and gone. And he got sick. Well, I used to go up and get his wood, get his water, and do all his chores. So the next spring, this was like in the winter, in the next spring the old fellow got a little bit better, and I had accumulated a dozen lobster traps somehow—I don't know how. And so Captain Simpson, he was a sea captain, he said, "What have you got for a boat?"
And I said, "Well, I don't have anything."
"Well," he said, "want me to build you a peapod?"
And I said, "Yes." So he built me a sixteen-foot peapod, with a sail and a rudder. And he loaned me enough money to buy—I had fifty traps. And I set them from here, right up into town, and I lobstered that summer, and I done good, too. And then I done it the next year, and the next year, too. And then the next year, my uncle down in Brooklin had a Swan's Island hake boat. He lobstered in her, and he bought a bigger boat. And he sold me his. Then I started fishing down in the bay. And I couldn't have been more than, God, I don't know, sixteen, I don't know. I got my first lobster license I ever had in 1929. 'Course I think probably I lobstered one summer without a license, but we won't get into that. And I got the license now. 1929.
And then in 1940, there was a fellow up the road here, Carl Finster, he was a vice president of the North Carolina Ship building Corporation. He'd got a cottage right up here. He's dead now. I saw him one day, and he said, "What are you doing, now?"
And I said, "Well, I'm doing the same as I always did."
He said, "How would you like to have a good job?"
I said, "What do you mean?"
He said, "Why don't you come down to North Carolina? Work down there for a while, see how you like it."
"Well," I said, "I don't think so, Carl."
"Well," he said, "tell you what you do," he said. "Come on down. If you don't like it," he said, "you can come back." Well, he said so much, so I got one of the boys up the road to go with me, Hobart Duffy, and we went down. And of course, we didn't know anything about ship building, you know. And they had twelve ship ways, Jeff, one right beside the other.
Albert's Shop, in his garage next to his house. Albert builds a model ship while he continues talking, voice-over, about his work in North Carolina during World War II. Albert (VO): And they were building those war, you know, those troop carriers. And so he said, "You fellows go down and wander around the yard, look it all over." Says, "Take a blueprint under your arm," he said, "and they'll think you're some kind of an engineer." He said, "And take all the time you want. Pick out the job you want."
So Hobart up here, he took crane operator. Well, I looked around and decided that the ship carpenters was where I wanted to go. So he said, "You fellows go down, you go down to the ship carpenter's office," and he said, "I'll arrange it for you." And Hobart never seen a crane before in his life, and they put him right on the crane. You see, he was vice president of the yard. God, you know, he was whatever, he was—. So, I told him I thought I'd like ship carpentry, and he said, "OK." So he went to the phone and he called up the foreman of the ship carpenters and he told him I was coming down.
And so, we started down there. And that was in the fall of 1940. Well, anyway, I done that till September 1945. And I'd been having malaria fever terrible. Oh God, I had it awful the last couple years I was there. It was hot, you know. So, one morning I got up, I didn't feel very good. And I says to my self, I'm going to quit this job, and I'm going home, and go fishing.
Albert's kitchen, 2-shot. Albert tells Jeff how he quit his job at the ship building company and returned to Maine. Albert (OC): So I go down to the office, and the boss said, "Collins," he said, "what have you got lined up for the day?"
"Well," I said, "I'll tell you. First thing I'm going to do, I got to get my ticket."
"Well," I said, "my ticket to Maine."
"What, it ain't time for your vacation."
I said, "Yes it is."
"Well," he says, "how much are you planning on taking?"
"Oh," I said, "probably 25 or 30 years."
He said, "Have you been drinking?"
I said, "No."
"Well," he said, "do you feel bad? Don't you feel good?"
And I said, "No, I don't."
"Well," he said, "why don't you take three or four days off, and go down to Myrtle Beach?"
I said, "No, I ain't going to Myrtle Beach; I'm going to Maine."
"Well, aw" he said, "you can't quit."
And I said, "I can." I said, "Why don't you chase me right around here for an hour or two and find out?"
"Well, so," he said, "you're making a mistake because after the war is over, we planned on sending you to Newport News. And," he said, "and you'd have a damned good job up there."
And I said, "I know, and I appreciate it, but I'm going home and I'm going fishing."
"Well," he said, "I can't stop you."
And I said, "No, you can't." So I went round the yard and got all, you have to get signed—all the papers and this and that—and get all my tools, and I was all done there before noon.
Off Long Island. Albert and Kenny hauling traps; Kenny takes crabs from traps. Albert talks, voice-over, about fishing and clamming when he returned from North Carolina. Albert (VO): So, I come home, and I went right over to Benjamin River Boat yard, to see Frank Day. And I said, "Frank, I want a boat."
And I said, "Yeah, I want a boat, I want a thirty-foot lobster boat. When can you build it?"
Well, he didn't know. He didn't think he could get it for me till December. And I said, "All right, December." And I got her in December, and that winter, I made enough money clamming that winter to pay for that boat. My God, they hadn't dug any clams here for five years. And the beaches was full of them. And we got nine dollars a bar rel. And I dug three barrels quite a number of days, which was for them times, now, that was '45 and '46, that was pretty good money. I made enough that winter to pay for the boat. And then, the next year, '47, I started lobstering for good, you know, for business.
Off Long Island. Kenny removes a 3-pound lobster from a trap and pegs it. Synch.
Albert's kitchen, 2-shot. Albert tells Jeff about buying his horse, Sparky, and yarding logs with her. Albert (OC): I want to tell you about a horse I had. One year, Kendall Hodgdon down here, Kendall Hodgdon, down the road, he's in the trucking business, wood business, and he came up here one night, and he says, "You got any money you want to in vest?"
And I said, "Well, I ain't got a helluva lot."
He said, "I know where we can buy a wood lot, seventy-five acres in it, for three hundred dollars."
I said, "Where is it?"
He said, "Right across the road up here."
I said, "You can't buy that for three hundred."
"By God," he said, "I can."
We went up to see the fellow that owned it, and I told him, I said, "There's a lot of wood on that lot."
"No," he said, "there ain't either," he says, "I been out and looked it over," he said, "there's nothing on that lot." He said, "Small stuff."
I said, "OK, I'll give you three hundred dollars, that's what you want." So, we bought it. And I says, "I want three years to cut it off, three years' time."
"Oh my God," he said, "you'll cut it off in a week." He was one of them fellows that knew everything. He knew too much for one man, but not quite enough for two, you know.
So, we bought it, and we went out and we started lumbering. Good God, we took seventy-five cord of pulp wood right off that hill right there, to start with. "Well," I says to Kendall, I says, "we ought to have a horse."
He said, "I know it, but," he said, "I don't know anything about a horse, do you?"
And I said, "No."
"Well," he said, "what in the hell are we going to do?"
And I said, "We can drive a horse," I said, "good God, it ain't that complicated."
He said, "All right, let's go up to Bangor and get a horse."
We went up to Bangor, to the stables up there. Sam Smith, he had all kinds of horses. "Now," I said, "I tell you what, I want a horse that I can yard logs with. I don't want one that'll kick, and I don't want one that'll bite. And," I says, "I don't know a thing about a horse."
He says, "I ain't got what you want now, but I'm going to have it in a few days."
And I said, "All right, now," I said, "you bring me down a horse that kicks and bites, and you come right back and get him, take him right back. Now," I said, "it's up to you."
So I went on two or three days, and I was working over to Castine. I had a job to do over there for the admiral. I had to fix his fire place back. So I went over to do that, which I hadn't ought to, because we was working in the woods. So, this was in the winter, and I come home one night, just before dark. And I had a shed where the barn is now, and here's a goddam great big white mare tied to the barn. And I looked—of course, I'd had my building all ready down there—and I looked that horse all over, and my God, the head was way up there. And I said, I don't know what I'm going to do but, I said, I can't leave the horse out here all night. So I said, by God, there's only one thing to do. So I go up and I pat her, and she seemed to be all right. I untied her, she followed me down to the shed, and I thought to myself, now, am I going in first, or is she going in first? And I got to thinking about it, and I said, by God, here I go, so I go in. She followed me in, just as gentle as could be. Comes right up to me in the stall, just as nice as can be. So I shut the door and I come home, and I got some grain in and hay and fed her. And that was all right.
The next morning, by God, about five o'clock, I never heard such a racket. The pounding, she was poun ing down there. And I went down there and I thought, what the hell is the trouble? Soon as I got down there, she stopped. And I looked her all over, and I couldn't see any thing wrong with her, so I come up and I got her some breakfast, took it down, and all right.
Well, it went on that way for three or four mornings. So I call up Sam Smith, and I said, "That horse, about five o'clock every morning, is kicking and raising hell down in my barn."
"Vell," he said, don't you know vat the trouble is?" I said, "No, I don't." "Well," he said, "she's a yard horse." He said, "The Frenchmen, they feed the horse at five o'clock in the morning." He said, "You feed the horse at five o'clock in the morning, she won't give you no trouble." He said, "That horse is used to having her breakfast at five o'clock right on the button."
"Well," I said, "by God, she's going, I'm going to break her of that habit."
"Vell," he said, "I tell you vat you do," he said. "You wait till quarter past five, and feed her a few mornings, and you wait till five-thirty, and you get her down where you want her."
And I did, but my God if I wasn't down there at five o'clock, she'd kick and kick the floor with her foot. And she had feet big as that; she took a number nine shoe. She weighed 1800. But my God, wasn't that a good horse. We hooked logs on her in the woods, Jeff, and she'd go right out to the landing. We didn't have to go up with her at all. Fellow out to the landing'd unhook her, and she'd come right back in. We put her in the sled, and couldn't do nothing with her. She never worked the sled. She was a yard horse. [JT: She had experience.] Yeah. Well, she knew more than we did. Yes, she did. God, she knew a lot more than we did.
And, well, that was the experience I had with a horse, and I kept her till we got done lumbering and I sold her to an old fellow over to Orland that I knew would be good to her. He plowed his garden and, you know, used her a little bit. And she got to be a pet, you know. So, when the old fellow come and got her, to get her, I told him to let me know when he come after her, because I wasn't going to be home. And I wasn't.
Albert's kitchen, 1-shot. Albert tells a story about a man who trained some oxen and played a practical joke on the owner. Albert (OC): Well, Jeff, I've got to tell you a funny story. Years ago there was an old fellow, lived up the road here. His name was Joe Small and he always wanted a pair of cattle. He wasn't what you'd call a very bright fellow. So there was a man over in Union that raised cattle, and he knew Small. And so he told Small, he said, "Now look," he said, "I'll raise you a pair of steers but it'll take me about a year to do it." So he figured, knowing Small like he did, he'd have some fun with him. So he trained these young steers so that one of 'em'd go in and face the cart, and the other one'd back up to the cart. And he worked a whole damn year training them so they'd do it, they'd do it right to perfection.
So, in the fall, why, Small goes over to take his cattle. He got 'em and he brought 'em home, put 'em in the barn. He was some proud. So after two or three days he thought, you know, it was time that he hooked 'em up. So he, one morning he took 'em out of the barn, and of course one went up and faced the cart, and the other fellow, he backed in. Well, Small, he looked 'em all over, and he said, scratched his head and he thought. "By God," he said, "one of you fellows are right but I don't know which one it is."
Well, anyway, we had a fire chief in town, and he was full of the devil, and he knew Small real well, so he told him. He said, "Now Small," he says, "I'll tell you what your problem is." He said, "One of those cattle pulls downhill and the other one was used to pulling uphill."
Well, Small thought that all over and he said, "Well, I can't use them be cause my land is level."
So the fire chief said, "Well, you'll have to butcher them and eat 'em."
Small said, "If I do that," he said, "I wouldn't have no cattle."
Close-up of one of Albert's paintings. Albert tells the story, voice-over, about how he sold his first painting. Albert (VO): Now you asked me about that painting, that first painting I ever sold. Well, I'll tell you about that.
Albert's kitchen, 1-shot. Albert continues with the story, on camera. Albert (OC): I painted this blacksmith's shop, with a chestnut tree, you know, in front of it, like Longfellow's poem, you know, there, "The Village Blacksmith." Well, we had a shop here, so I took it out in the shop. I had several other pictures out there. And my wife, in stead of hanging it up on the wall, she leaned it up against the counter like this, you know.
So one day this lady came. She had a dog. I was out there in the shop working, I didn't pay too much attention to it. And finally she says to my wife, she says, "Is that painting for sale?"
And my wife said, "Sure."
"Well," she says, "I'll take it." And I come in then, and I'd seen what was going on. She said, "You know, I'm partly blind, I can't see too good."
And I said, "What is it about the painting you like?"
"Well," she said, "didn't my dog lift his leg up against that tree?"
Albert in his shop, painting. Albert talks, voice-over, about how he learned to paint. Albert (VO): I had two aunts that painted, an uncle that painted. My mother could sit right down here and take a comic paper right there, take some colored crayons and look at that, and she could duplicate that, by God, you couldn't tell the difference. She'd do it for us kids, we'd sit down at the table and watch her.
Albert and Jeff seated at Albert's kitchen table, 2-shot. Albert and Jeff talk on cam era about Albert's paintings. Jeff (OC): You say some times you might wake up, you know, after midnight and go and paint, or some thing?
Albert: I'll show you what I painted last night.
Jeff: Oh. All right.
Albert: Right here. I ain't got it done, but [brings painting over].
Jeff: Oh. Look there.
Albert: A three-mast schooner.
Jeff: You'd better hold it up to the --
Albert: You see, I'm going to put a bell buoy in here, and some more stuff in it.
Jeff: Hold it up to the camera there. Now, look there. So, tell me how—. You mean, you woke up late and did it, or you just did it in the evening, or —.
Albert: No, I guess I started it about—. I was looking at the eleven o'clock news and I couldn't sleep. And I got my paints, I got all my paints right here. So I set down here and that's what I done. Just blocked it out. Cause, see, I remember them vessels, and I know what they look like, see, and that's why I can paint 'em, because I know how they're supposed to look. She's going by that light house. And I haven't got the crew on there and the cabins on or anything; that's just what I done last night. I want to finish it, I may finish it tonight.
Jeff: It's a lovely painting.
Albert: Now, that's done on a piece of masonite.
Albert in his shop, painting. Albert tells Jeff, voice-over, how he decides what to paint. Albert (VO): I'll start out just painting the sky, and then I might decide to put a barn in there, or I might decide to put God- knows-what. I don't have it all planned it out when I start painting -- I just start painting it. And it's interesting to do that, because maybe you'll put in some land, you don't like the looks of it, you think it's too low -- you put in, you make it higher. You might put a barn in, you don't think it's long enough, you put a piece on. Oh yeah.
Albert and Jeff talking in Albert's kitchen, 2-shot. Albert shows Jeff a can as June brought him from the dump that he painted over. Albert (OC): Found this old canvas on the dump.
Jeff: Oh yeah? Oh, look there. Whoa. Now you, let's hold it up here. How much of this did you paint?
Albert: Oh, all of it. But I ain't got it done yet. I got to put some more on it.
Jeff: That's beautiful. This is really beautiful.
Close-up of painting of Rangeley Lakes Sunset. Albert continues his story about the paintings from the dump. Albert (VO): June was up there at the dump, and she found these two frames up at the dump. She brought them down to me, and I tried to scrape the other painting off.
Albert and Jeff in Albert's kitchen. Albert continues his story and shows the canvas of an abstract painting from a local artist that June retrieved from the dump. Albert (OC): Now you see when you try to scrape this off, see, you can't do it, be cause if you scrape hard enough, you tear the canvas.
Jeff: Tear the canvas, right.
Albert: Ain't it too bad, take a nice piece of canvas like that and spoil it.
Jeff: Show the camera what it is. Take the, hold it up in front of you, come over to the—
Albert: People going to think I done it.
Jeff: No, no, you'll tell them you didn't. Come over to the chair where you, that's right, we'll put it up in front of this. Now, which side is up?
Albert: I don't know. Don't make any difference, does it?
Fade in: Albert and Jeff in Albert's kitchen, 2-shot. Albert tells Jeff, on camera, how he learned to play the fiddle. Albert (OC): Well, I just got an old fiddle, and went up stairs. Mother used to drive me up stairs be cause she couldn't stand the noise. And I kept at it until I got a tune out of it, and then I, after I found out I could get a tune out of it, I kind of lost interest and didn't do it any more. And during World War One when I was down South, I walked by a pawn shop one day and I see a fiddle for five dollars. I bought it, and took it home. Margaret said, "What in the world are you going to do with that?"
Jeff: Oh, you mean World War Two.
Albert: During World War Two, yeah. Margaret said, "What in the devil are you going to do with that fiddle?"
I said, "I'm going to play a tune on it."
"Well, you can't play a fiddle, can you?"
And I said, "I'm going to play a tune on the fiddle."
And she said, "What are you going to play?"
And I said, "I'm going to play 'Turkey in the Straw.'"
Albert's living room. Albert (fiddle), Jeff (guitar), and George Fowler (2nd fiddle) play "Turkey in the Straw."
Albert's kitchen. Albert and Jeff talk about Albert's fiddling. Jeff [OC]: You used to play for dances?
Albert: Mmm hmm. Once in a while, I'd go to dances, and the fellows would always say, you want to play a tune? And I'd play a tune or two with the orchestra, but not—. See, I could remember the tunes then, but now I can't remember the tunes. But if you start playing a tune, then I can go along with you some. But after we get all through, I couldn't play it all the way through myself. I can only play the tunes that I remembered years ago. Like the "Golden Slippers," and "Irish Washerwoman," that I learned years ago. I remember them. But now you can't, I couldn't learn a tune from you tonight. If I did, if I learned part of it, I could forget it. I wouldn't know it tomorrow. See, when you get old, you can't remember good, you know.
Jeff: So you learned by ear, instead of by note.
Albert: Oh, I couldn't play nothing by note, good God, no. I took two lessons. If I took any more, I couldn't play nothing. No, I said, that's not for me. Because I'm not going to play in Carnegie Hall, I don't need no—. If I went to Carnegie Hall, they probably would let me play in the rest room, in the men's room.
Albert's living room. Albert, George and Jeff play "Soldier's Joy."
Fade-in. Albert's kitchen, 2-shot. Albert talks to Jeff about why he has been a lobster fisherman for more than sixty years. Albert (OC): There was only a few of us that stayed and fished. My generation, there's, oh, let's see, there's probably seven or eight that stayed and fished on the neck here. And when I was a kid, there was thirty fishermen on the neck that lobstered and clammed and scalloped and smelt-fished in the winter. Used to do an awful lot of smelt-fishing, seining smelts. And father always went smelt-fishing, and now that's, they can't do that anymore. It's illegal now to take smelts in Blue Hill Bay with twine, but it wasn't then.
Jeff: Did you ever ask yourself why you chose fishing over the other kinds of things? Did you ever wonder what it was about fishing that drew you to it so much?
Albert: Oh, I don't know, Jeff, I loved it since I was a kid. Boats, I just lived on the shore.
Albert's shop. Albert makes a model boat while he continues, voice-over: Albert (VO): I lived down there. Had little row boats when I was a kid and, of course, I was always on the vessels, and went aboard the sardine smacks, and I was always bumming around the shores, and in the carpenter shops, in the boat shops.
Jeff: It's one thing to say that you do it be cause you were around boats when you were a kid, but I wonder if there isn't some thing, you know, some thing deeper than that. Not everybody who was around boats when they were a kid goes fishing.
Albert: Well, I'll tell you. It kind of gets in your blood.
Albert's kitchen, 2-shot. Albert and Jeff continue, on camera. Albert quotes John Masefield. Albert (OC): You know. And there's an old saying that my father always said: 'If you don't know how to work, go fishing.' But I like it, I like the water, I like the boats. If I couldn't see the water every day, I don't believe I could stand it. I don't think I could live out back where I couldn't see the water. Even though I didn't go out in the boat, I still go down to the shore every day, just the same. I think it's a habit from my childhood, so to speak, you know? It's rooted, embedded in you some how. I don't know, it's just, you miss it. Now when I was down south, we was on the river, Cape Fear River. But, my God, that was fresh water; that wasn't salt water. That was different. You could look out there and see the alligators swimming around. Now that to me was not water. I got to be, to have the salt water. Somehow it's—. But you know, John Masefield's poem there, 'I must go down to the sea again'—
Jeff: Do you know it all by heart?
Albert: Well, let's see. 'I must go down to the sea again, to the lone some sea and the sky; All I ask is a tall ship and the stars to steer by, the wind's kick and the wind's song, and the white sails shaking; the grey mist on the sea's face, and the grey dawn a-breaking. I must go down to the sea again, for the call of the running tide is a clear call and a wild call that cannot be denied. And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow rover, and a sweet sleep on the quiet deep when the long trek is over.' That beautiful?
Jeff: It is.
Albert: And that's the way I feel.
Jeff: Is it.
Fade-up; Albert's kitchen, 2-shot. Albert tells Jeff he prefers the older English poets. Albert (OC): I like the old masters. Milton and Shakespeare, Tennyson, those are the kind of books I like. Fitzgerald's translations, Grey's Elegy.
Jeff: What about Frost's poems about farming? Do you like those?
Albert: Well, yeah, I like them. But I've read so much of that high-class stuff, and there's a helluva difference. You get used to reading the old masters, and you, this modern stuff, you don't, it's different altogether for me. It's a different meter and it's a different subject. Now, I like to read stuff that I don't always understand all of it. That's what I like to read. Here, Sam! Milton's Comus, and stuff like that. The ordinary fellow wouldn't read it, but I like it. I mean, everybody laughs at me be cause I read that kind of stuff.
Jeff: They do?
Albert: Well, they say, that's foolishness, you know, nobody can understand it. Well, you can't understand all of it, but you can understand, you can get the foundation, what he's talking about.
Jeff: What about Paradise Lost, Milton's Paradise Lost?
Albert: Yeah, Paradise Lost, and Paradise Regained. I got both them books. I like Spenser's Faerie Queen.
Titon: Lot of books in that.
Albert: Well, I got that, too. But I, but see, it's been so long, now, that I forget. The only way, I have to read it again to remember. See?
Titon: But that gives you more pleasure.
Albert: Yeah, uh huh. Now, I was just reading the other night, I was reading the Rubiyat of Omar Khayam, and I love that. I don't understand all of it. 'Some love the glories of this world, and some sigh for the Prophet's paradise to come, but take the cash and let the credit go. Heed not the rumble of that distant drum. The sun we love, the loveliest and the best, who from his vintage rolling time has pressed, have drank their cup a round or two before, and one by one gone silently to rest.' Now, that's beautiful. That is beautiful. Robert Frost wouldn't write that.
Titon: I guess, I guess not. Of course, I don't imagine he wanted to.
Albert: No, no, he, that's not his type. He's not that kind of a poet. He can't see that. I mean, he can go out here and look at a stone wall, and write a poem about it. But there's a difference. It's just like "St. Ann's Reel," which I'd rather hear, than I had Bach's Symphony in A Minor, or something.
Fade-in, Albert and Jeff talking in Albert's kitchen. Albert reads one of his own poems, "A Tribute to a Spar Buoy." Albert (OC): Here's one I wrote, "A Tribute to a Spar Buoy." I was coming in one night, and it was thick, snowing hard. And I couldn't find the buoy. I hunted for quite a while, and I finally found it. So I wrote this:
'Straight and tall in the channel's tide, guarding the spot where the shadows hide, no bard could ever sing your fame, let me pay tribute to your name. Through summer's calms and winter's snows, marking the lanes where the tall ships go, a sentinel grim stands duty-bound to guide the mariner through the sound. I love to watch you dip and sway from under tons of winter spray, and out of the many that bounds our coast, never was one to leave his post.'
Fade-in, Albert's kitchen, 2-shot. Albert reads an other of his poems, "Dear Doctor." Albert (OC): Doctor, there's a doctor got a summer cottage cottage up here, Doctor Godfrey, he still comes here summers now. One Thanksgiving he sent me a turkey for Thanksgiving, so I wrote this poem and sent it to him. And he had it printed in I don't know how many places. 'Dear Doctor: A turkey no finer, a turkey no fatter ever was served on a tray or a platter, with a body so firm or a flavor so sweet as the fowl you sent up for my Thanksgiving treat. I have not the words nor the power of pen to sing of the praise that I have for the hen. I also have dined on a gander and drake and rose from the feast and give thanks for the bake. But a salad just right and a turkey baked brown you'll agree, I'm sure, puts a star in your crown. And so my dear doctor let me thank you tenfold. May the blessings of fortune fly on to your goal and I will stay home like a pilgrim of old and eat from the bird whose drum sticks are cold.'
Jeff: That's great.
Albert: He got a hell of a kick out of that.
Jeff: I'm sure he did. I'm sure he enjoyed that poem almost as much as you enjoyed the turkey. Maybe more.
Albert: Well, that's about all that I could find.
Jeff: There're some others there. You haven't—
Albert: Well, them are stuff I wrote my wife. My wife's mother used to make good spareribs. Course those southerners are good cooks, you know; anything to do with a hog. So I wrote this note to her when I was here alone and Margaret was down south staying with her mother. 'I get up in the morning and I make my coffee brew. I eat with sheep and chickens and sometimes a cat or two. But my grub don't seem to thrill me like it always used to do unless I grace my table with some beans and corned beef, too. So now Alice, hear my pleading; you can see the fix I'm in: how my rations come in relays, sixteen ounces to the tin. When at night I toss in slumber, how my dreams plug up my head; I can see your plate of spareribs, sprayed with catsup nice and red. And I reach out in my slumber just intending to pull a sparerib to my bosom and I see Don Carlos' bull. Oh it's then that I must realize that it's just some more bad dreams, so I stagger to the kitchen, open up a can of beans.'
Fade-in, Albert's kitchen, 2-shot. Albert tells Jeff how he began to read poetry in school. Albert (VO): What I done, see, in school, I'd get my lessons and I would read Evangeline, Myles Standish, and Tennyson. See, we had some of that poetry in the schoolbook, see. And I would have those books in my desk, and when I got my lesson done I would take that book out and I'd read Evangeline from cover to cover, I loved that. Longfellow's Evangeline, and Myles Standish, Courtship of Myles Standish. And The Wreck of the Hesperus, and The German, and I'd read that, see, and that's why I got started at an early age. None of the other kids done it.
Albert in his shop, painting. Albert and Jeff continue, voice-over. Titon (VO): What did they do?
Albert: Well, they played ball, and at recess time, I'd come home, because I only lived a few houses, and I'd come home for lunch, and them kids, they'd play ball, they didn't care nothing about—. All they wanted to do was get their lessons and out of there. But I, they used to laugh at me because I was different than the rest of them. I read poetry and painted pictures.
Albert's kitchen. Albert and Jeff continue, on-camera. Albert (OC): And, you know, I was the oddball. I didn't play ball, wouldn't care nothing about it. I spent my time painting pictures and reading. And my brothers, none of them, well, my youngest brother, he likes poetry, but my other, the rest of my family, they didn't give a damn about it. My sister comes in here once in a while, and I ask her about, you know, I say, you ever read this poem, and, "Nahh." I mean, if people's not interested in anything they ain't interested in, that's all.
Albert's kitchen, 2-shot. Albert reads his poem, "Lines Written on Receiving Sheep." Albert (OC): When I first got my sheep, years ago, they published a sheep magazine, sheepman's magazine, and I used to get it. So I wrote this poem, and sent it to them, and they printed it: 'Lines Written on Receiving Sheep': 'Long ago my old grandfather came from Scotland's mountain sweeps. And he brought with him an ancient knowledge with a love of lambs and sheep. And the old man's sons and grandsons had that feeling inbred deep, handed down for generations, ours but to hold and keep. And tonight across the ocean, wafting on the evening air, I hear music from those mountains, I can hear my sire there. Yet so still, the herd about him, milling on that great plateau, flock and master, bound together, o so many years ago. As today, I lift his chorus, take up the burden of his song, give to me a flock in numbers, I'm a shepherd, now, for long. Let the season of our Christmas flood the earth with peace untold, enrich me ever with the wisdom, I have sheep within the fold.'
Albert's kitchen, 1-shot. Albert reads his poem, "The Deacon's Plate." Albert (OC): 'The Deacon Johnson's Plate: Have you heard the latest ballad, friends, that just came out of late, starring Deacon Frankie Johnson, with his plastic dental plates? For years, as you remembered, he chawed with one old spear, which hung suspended from his jaw, and pointed to his ear. But when he got religion, and again was borned anew, on inquiring from the brothers, found his teeth was far and few. Now, they say the last church supper that was held in his be half, he could only gnaw the gravy that come off the fatted calf. All the savor from the onions in the dainty turnip stew [zoom in to closeup] both saddened and reminded him of nothing he could chew. As he sat among the brothers while they blessed the pie and cake, he could not help but envy all those others' dental plates. So at last it was decided, he must have that spike removed. Friends, we know it must have hurt him, for he said his bowels moved. Weeks have passed since this all happened, but today he takes his stand, shouting glory hallelujah for the best set in the land. You have heard again the story of all discomfort that he had; out of two and twenty false ones, only seven ached real bad.'
Albert's kitchen, 1-shot. Albert reads his poem, "From Pillar to Spruce." Albert (OC): Here's another one that I wrote about this same fellow. He was cutting wood for a neighbor up here in the pasture. And that was after he joined the church. Well, every day when he went home, he'd take a stick home with him, see. Sneak down through with it. Not that the fellow that owned the wood give a damn, but he—. So I wrote this, and I sent it to the fellow that owned the wood lot. And I called it 'From Pillar to Spruce: Some people are born for a purpose, and some are born to be good. You would think by the sound of my neighbors, I was here to steal wood. I refrain from calling it stealing, the word in itself is too mild. I just carry it out from the pasture, and build me a neat little pile. I never take nothing too heavy; I touch not the limbs nor the tops. When I take off from my chopping, I never intend on to stop. Now, they say I've a beaten path way I trod through the woods every day. That's only a gossiping fancy, friends, I only go up there to pray. [Closeup] And when I have prayed in the pasture, and sang a few hymns to the good, before I take leave for my cottage, some times I gather some wood. A spruce, maybe, or a cedar, that fell by the wayside to die, I clutch it close to my bosom; it will make me a cake or a pie.'
Fade-up, Albert's kitchen, 1-shot. Albert reads his poem, "The Deacon's Hymn." Albert (OC): This poem here, he was telling him how he could sing, you know. He wanted to sing in the choir, see? Well, they didn't want him to, you know. Them women didn't want him up there. So—
Jeff: Is this Frankie, Frankie Johnson?
Albert: That's Frankie Johnson. So I used to tell him, I'd say, "God, you know, Frank, you're a good singer, you ought to be in that choir." And I kept telling him, you know, and of course the women would give me hell for doing it, you know. But I kept telling him.
Finally, one time, he decided he'd sing a solo. And I told him, I said, "God, there's no reason why you can't." I said, "You get right up there." So, he did.
The name of this is 'The Deacon's Hymn: He stood before the parish, a pious little man, while o'er the keys the organist with nervous fingers ran. Upon that pedestal of faith our hero cleared his throat, with arms out, relaxed, and tongue stuck out to bite off the first note.' Hmm, can't see. 'Music lovers filled the benches, all the aisles was free from sin, while an usher at the doorway stood to welcome all within. And on through those swinging portals swelled a crowd who gladly came to respect the new born—. As on through those swinging portals swelled a crowd who gladly come to respect the newborn singer as he brought his chorus home. After all had gained admission and the plate was passed along, there came a sad announcement: Deacon Frank will serve in song. I shall not forget the smiles as he went up to sing. There was rapture in his footsteps, with his script beneath his wing. Then that mighty organ lifted out a melody so rare that the first four verses ended be fore our singer found the air. Loud he sang, and as the minstrel flowed across the river old, touching long on hallelujah when the sheep ran out the fold. And he sang the Psalms of David like the saints sang in the choir. Then he told us how that Moses led his people through the mire. Then it came, at last, the ending, for his voice was getting numb. When they led him from the altar, he was breathing, "Here I come." It was o'er, the music ended, all the eyes was filled with tears, yet that song on all its merit will help bridge the future years. And you, my friend, I know, must love the lore that music brings, so come on down and bring your flute some night when Deacon sings.'
Fade-up, Albert's kitchen, 2-shot. Albert tells Jeff about when he first started writing poetry and his being a community poet. Albert (OC): Everything that happened up here, the boys would get me to write a poem about it, see, and that's how I got to doing it.
Jeff: Like what? What sort of thing would happen?
Albert: Well, you know, if anything exciting happened, why, --
Jeff: Shipwreck or something?
Albert: Yeah, or some foolish damn thing somebody would do, you know, and they'd get me to write a verse about it, see.
Jeff: So do you have some of those?
Albert: Well, yeah, but I can't find them, Jeff. I gave a lot of them away, and sometimes I'd write one, now, if I wrote one for you tonight, and I'd give it to you. And then, by Christ, I've forgotten where the hell it was, some body would say, "Well, you got any more of them po ems you give to Jeff Titon?" And I said, "That's the only one I had, and I give it to him." So, I lost a lot of them that way, I just didn't write only one, see, and didn't ever copy them.
Off Long Island. Albert and Kenny hauling traps. Albert speaks, voice-over. Albert (OC): You see, if you take something away and you don't put anything back, eventually you ain't going to have anything to take away. Just like you plant your garden out here on that fertitizer. That fertilizer doesn't put any thing into the soil. It takes it out. But if you plant your garden with manure, you put some thing back in the soil. You're taking some thing away, and you're putting some thing back and replace it. And it's the same with the fishing. Got to do something. Now the salmon and the trout, see how they stock these brooks? They got plenty of fish; they stock them. Maine could have a couple of those hatcheries on the coast just as easy as could be. And everybody, of course, is geared up with the biggest gear they can get. The lobster boats are getting bigger every year. They start at forty feet, they got fifty, sixty, now they're up to hundred, huh? You know, you can get too big. You blow up a balloon hard enough and it'll bust.
Jeff: Yeah, that's right.
Albert: I know a man in Stonington, he told me, he says, he had a beautiful boat, and a beautiful house. I know him. He has a garden tractor, he got every damn thing you want. He told me right down on the fish pier, he said, "I don't own one damn thing. Nothing." He said, "I don't own nothing."
I said, "Who does?"
He said, "The bank owns it." He said, "If I don't make any money," he says, "listen, it's their worry, not mine." He said, "I don't worry, I ain't got nothing, I don't own a thing."
[Albert reads the end of his poem, "Sold Out":] 'Scenes like this I'll always re member when you've faded from my sight...
Lobstering with Ken Taplin
Talking with Jeff Todd Titon
Fiddling with George Fowler and Jeff Todd Titon
Thanks to Barry Dornfeld
Camera, Sound, and Editing by Jeff Todd Titon
Albert continues voice-over to the end of his poem, "Sold Out," as the credits come up. Albert (VO):
'...It seems but yesterday we met to start in life's long day.
I was one and twenty; o, what time has stole away.
Years that we have been together weave around this parting scene,
And I feel like one at midnight, ever walking in a dream.
Oh, tomorrow you will leave me, out across the harbor bar,
Younger hands will set your tiller, other hearts will find your star.
In my mind I'll keep a picture that will never fade away:
May luck be with you, boat of mine; I'll remember this to day.''