Ed Dahlgren of Aroostook County, Maine
It’s been two years since he’s seen his father’s farm, where he was born. We drive down a dirt road, crusted with ice. He tells me to stop, and we skid for 25 yards, coming to rest against a snowbank. In the distance he points out the old Dahlgren homestead, where his grandparents settled and raised ten children. “My grandfather bought the farm for 100 pounds of buckwheat meal” he says.
“Is that true?” I ask.
“It’s true,” he says. “There was a log house on the land and he bought it all. They were sailing people from Sweden. They settled first in Boston, then got their women from the old country and came up here.”
We get out and walk down the road. “There’s my father’s potato house,” he says, and points to a concrete wall surrounded and nearly hidden by poplar trees. He can’t find his father’s house. “There was something here last time,” he says. He peers closely into the brush. He smiles. “There’s the cellar hole,” he says, “that’s all.” Then quietly to himself he says, “It doesn’t take long for things to grow up.”
He says he’s cold, and we get back in the car. We come to the crossroads, and he asks if I want to take the long way to Woodland or the quick way back to Mars Hill. He answers for me. “We’ll go home,” he says. We talk about hunting and fishing, and he says the worst thing about his kidney stones is he never knows when they’ll strike. He’s had ten operations, and so many attacks he’s lost count. Once he was fishing a wilderness stream, miles from anywhere and he took a stone. “I just lay on the ground and cried like a baby,” he says. “I lay there all night, until I could move. Sometimes, I admit I feel sorry for myself. But I keep getting up and putting my clothes on, so I guess I have nothing to kick about.
“And I’ve worked with a lot of people in my life,” he says. “When you can work in an area as long as I have and you can look anybody in the eye and say I haven’t cheated you, I never did anything intentionally to harm you, then I can go to bed at night as far as anything I’ve done in my work and I can go to sleep. At least I’ve got that much to say. Not as a Medal of Honor, but as a man.”
And then we are at his house. “I guess this is the last interview I’ll do for awhile,” he says. And he shakes hands and we say good-bye. That night flying aver the barren Aroostook fields I thought how often we say we have lost our heroes. I don’t think we have. I think they have just come home, to live among the rest of us.