2015-09-25 / Community

Everyday Maine: South Portland’s Marita Gould

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


Marita Gould, left, is honored Sept. 12 with a proclamation by South Portland Mayor Linda Cohen, right, establishing “Marita Gould Day.” The day was designated in honor not only of Gould’s longevity, but her tireless energy. Even today at age 101, Gould continues to give piano lessons, as she has done in Ferry Village since 1930, instructing more than 1,000 students over the years. (Duke Harrington photo) Marita Gould, left, is honored Sept. 12 with a proclamation by South Portland Mayor Linda Cohen, right, establishing “Marita Gould Day.” The day was designated in honor not only of Gould’s longevity, but her tireless energy. Even today at age 101, Gould continues to give piano lessons, as she has done in Ferry Village since 1930, instructing more than 1,000 students over the years. (Duke Harrington photo) Marita Gould is, by all accounts, the oldest resident of South Portland’s oldest neighborhood, having moved to Ferry Village from Portland in 1921, when she was just 7 years old. Today, at age 101, she still lives in the same house, where she continues to give piano lessons, as she as done for the past 85 years. She has instructed more than 1,000 students along the way.

At the 30th anniversary party for the Ferry Village Neighborhood Conservation Association, held Sept. 12 in the School Street Park, Gould took time to share some of the story of her life and times.


Ferry Village resident Marita Gould, 101, poses in School Street Park Sept. 12 with just a few of the 1,000-plus students she has given piano lessons to since 1930. (Duke Harrington photo) Ferry Village resident Marita Gould, 101, poses in School Street Park Sept. 12 with just a few of the 1,000-plus students she has given piano lessons to since 1930. (Duke Harrington photo) Q: Where and when were you born?

A: In Portland, in January of 1914.

Q: What brought your family to South Portland?

A: Well, my grandfather lived here and daddy went to war you see — this was World War I — and mumma was left with two children, me and my sister. Grandpa didn’t want us to be alone, so we moved in with him.

Q: What did your family do for work?

A: My grandpa was a finish carpenter, and he used to travel around doing cabinets and building things for people. Dad was a pipefitter. He worked in the shipyards putting in the copper pipes for heating the ships.

Q: What was your family like?

A: Well, my sister died when she was 6. So, I was all alone. I was 11 then. I don’t remember what she died of, some kind of kidney thing. You never really knew in those days.

Q: What are some of your earliest memories of South Portland?

A: We had lived in the country before, so, when we came here, it was so different. My mother used to let me stay up until it was dark so I could watch the light boy come around and light streetlights. They were all fed by gas back then. He’d come and stick this long pole up into the lamp to turn on the lights.

Q: What was Ferry Village like when you were a girl?

A: It was really a small town in itself. There were two drug stores, five grocery stores, two bakeries, a hardware store and three very active churches. But there were very few cars, just horse and buggy, or, in the winter, sleighs and wagons. My grandpa never had a car. Then, when I was 10 or 11, my dad got our first car, a Ford with what they called a rumble seat that folded up out of the back, where the trunk would be today. But the roads weren’t plowed then, just packed down for sleighs, and so the car was put away in the winter.

Q: So, city streets were much

different then?

A: Yes, I can remember my street was gravel, with grass growing down the middle. Imagine that!

Q: Did Ferry Village still have a Ferry when you were young?

A: Oh, yes. We used the ferry, it was

called the “Lottie and May,” to go to Portland, or sometimes the trolley cars.

Q: What was it like having trolley cars then?

A: It was quite an experience. You could go to Old Orchard Beach in the summer by taking an open trolley on Sawyer Street, at High Street. It was open on the side and the seats went all the way across, so you just slid over. And the seats flipped over. So, when the car went one way the seats pointed in that direction, and when it went back the other way they flip all the seats over to face that way. That was fascinating to me as a child. Then, in the winter, they had a car with an aisle down the middle.

A: How was life different then as child?

Q: Oh, there was nothing organized like there is today. You just got outside and made your own games.

Q: How were the schools different then?

A: Oh, my goodness. You had a pen and a piece of paper with letters on it and you had to trace the letters, and that was how you learned to write. Not much of that anymore.

Q: Where did you go to school?

A: I went to the East High Street School. It’s not there anymore, of course. It was torn down when the shipyards came in. Same with the schools I went to on Broadway and Pleasant Street.

Q: What was your first job?

A: I remember I got $3 a week tending a small grocery store. This was when the average wage was 22 cents an hour.

Q: What were prices like then in the grocery store?

A: Sugar was 4 cents a pound, eggs were 14 cents a dozen, and coffee was 15 cents a pound. You could get a load of bread for 10 cents. Two cents bought you a first class stamp and a penny postcard cost — can you guess? — a penny. All much different than today.

Q: How else was life different when you were young from what young people might expect today?

A: Well, instead of getting in your car and going to the store, the stores came to you. There were carts that came by about once a week, with everything you can think of — ice, milk, fruit, baked goods, ice cream, fish, apples, meat, spices, and even pots and pans. There were carts that delivered the mail and carts that took the rubbish, and carts that brought around different services. If you wanted a cart to stop at your house, you just put a card in the window.

Medical care was also very different then. Ninety percent of the physicians had no college education. Instead they attended a “medical school,” many of which were later condemned by the government and deemed to be substandard.

Also, so many things people don’t even think about today did not exist then. There were no crossword puzzles. Iced tea had not been invented yet. There was no Mother’s Day, no Father’s Day, no Social Security, no Medicare, no radio or TV, and certainly no computers.

Q: Do you have a computer?

A: Oh, yes, I have email on my phone.

Q: So, you’ve seen the full gamut of technology then?

A: Oh, boy! I’d say so. I remember my first radio. I was a teenager at the time, this was in the 1920s, and we used to take the trolley down to Bath to visit my Uncle Tommy. One time when we went down he had what they called a “crystal set.” That wasn’t even really a radio yet. He took mum and I upstairs and he put one wire from the set on the bedspring of the bed, which acted as an antennae, I guess, and he put the other wire up to my ear. Suddenly, we could hear music and people talking. We were just amazed — thought it was just, oh, the most wonderful thing ever in the whole world.

Q: As a teenager in the 1920s, were you a flapper?

A: Oh, I don’t know. But we kept up with the fashions of the time. L. A. Anderson had a store down here, what they called then a dry goods store, and he sold these hats like (Charles) Lindbergh wore, you know, with just a strap under the chin, and leather jackets. Of course, everyone then wanted to be like Lindbergh, and my mother, she bought me the leather jacket and the hat from Anderson’s. I remember that. They also had at the time a short skirt that was full of pleats. They called it a butterfly skirt. I can remember having that. It was quite scandalous at the time. It was what you might call right up to date.

Q: How did you get interested in music as a career?

A: We stayed on Peak’s Island in the summer. My grandfather bought a cottage there to be near my Aunt Dolly, who worked a nurse for an elderly man who lived there. We all loved Aunt Dolly. Anyway, her son had a girlfriend who was a piano teacher. She’d come to visit Aunt Dolly and Grandpa would be there and she would hear her play, and he thought she was wonderful. So, he wanted me to take lessons and he paid for them. I was 9 at the time and as it turned out, I was pretty good at it.

Q: Did you practice quite a lot?

A: Oh, yes. And if I made a mistake I didn’t like, I would pound my fist on the piano. My mother would come right in and get me when that happened and put me to bed. She’d say I needed to rest. I hated to go to bed, so I didn’t do that too much.

Q: How did you get your start as a piano teacher?

A: I started when I was 16. I had three students — a schoolmate, her little brother and his friend. I asked my own teacher about it and she changed my piano lessons to a teaching course she was giving. From my first three students, I made 50 cents per week (note: that’s the equivalent of $7.14 in 2015 dollars).

In 1942, I had my first recital, with seven students. By the 1960s, I saw around 40 students each week, including exchange students from many countries, like Australia, England, Germany, India, China, Japan and South Korea. I’d have seven or eight students each afternoon. It was always fun with the kids

Q: Where did you go do college?

A: I graduated from the Sherwood Music School in Chicago, where I studied piano and organ history, music theory, four-part harmony, and things like that.

Q: What other jobs in music have you held over the years?

A: During the 1950s and ‘60s I taught morning classes in the Cape Elizabeth schools — third or fourth grade. There were about 20 to 25 students in each class, one at the Cottage Farm School and one at the Town Hall School. The Cape Elizabeth Town Hall was a school then. The classes were quite large, so we taught them using paper keyboards at their desks. There was one piano in the hall and I would take them each one at a time to play their piece on the real thing. That was in the morning, and then in the afternoons I went home and continued to teach my own lessons.

I’ve also been a National Guild Organist, a member of the Portland Music Teachers Association, director of the Choristers, director of the Senior and Junior Handbell Choir, and a National Federation of Music Clubs Junior Councilor.

And I was the assistant organist at Peoples’ Church for about 25 years, and played as substitute organist at many churches in area, in Portland, Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough.

Q: What did you do during World War II?

A: During that time I worked at Cassidy’s Drug Store up on Cottage Avenue, waiting on customers and preparing lunch for Willard School teachers. I also prepared syrups for the drinks, ice cream and sandwiches for the shipyard workers. We would stay open late to given them extra support, so they could come in and eat. Their shift would let go at 10 at night. At 11 o’clock we’d close and then run for the last bus, me and two girls who worked with me.

Q: What was South Portland like during the war years?

A: When the shipyards were going, it was something else. Every square inch of lawn, front yards and back yards, was parking for cars, all packed in right close together, all over. Our yard was always covered with cars, because people came from everywhere to work in the shipyards.

Q: What was the mood like at the time among people who lived in Ferry Village?

A: It was scary. Because of the shipyards, everyone was afraid we might get invaded. You couldn’t have a light on at night anywhere. No streetlights or nothing. We were given patterns for curtains that we made to put in the windows to block out the light.

Q: Did you ever get married?

A: No, I didn’t. I could have, but I didn’t.

Q: You still give piano lessons today?

A: Yes, I still take maybe half a dozen. Just a few. When I teach, I teach all sorts of different music, from the classics to popular music today. If you give them the music they like, they’ll do it. You have to do that to keep them interested.

Q: So, do you enjoy the current music styles?

A: Well, it’s not Scott Joplin is all I’d say.

Q: To what do you attribute your longevity?

A: Just the music. Music is what’s kept me going, I guess.

Q: Finally, do you have any advice for young people?

A: No, just do what you love and always make time for music in your lives.

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