Forward Thinking

I'm Lurking on Maine Town's Facebook Page

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

  • Print
  • Share Share

Josh Nathan-Kazis checks out his roots in Fort Kent, Maine.

Everyone in the Facebook group called “You know you grew up in Fort Kent, Maine, when…” is talking about my great-grandfather.

I’ve been lurking all day.

The great thing about travel writing in 2014 is that you can eavesdrop on locals’ reactions to your story when you’re back home. I don’t know what the guys having coffee at the Napa Auto Parts store in Fort Kent are saying about “The Rise and Fall of the Potato King,” my article about my great-grandfather’s ambitions and failures in northern Maine, which the Forward published on Tuesday.

But I can read what they’re posting online.

Most of the comments on that Facebook page are small memories: One man, whose profile says he lives in Portland, Maine, posted about sledding down the little hill in front of my great-grandfather’s house when he was a kid. Another remembered detouring through the Etscovitz garage on the way to school to warm up on cold winter mornings.

One woman wrote that she remembered someone named Old Man Etscovitz showing up in town to skate in a flooded, frozen lot near the Etscovitz garage. Others said that Harry, my great-uncle, had been friends with their dads, or that their dads had worked for him.

On the Facebook page of the St. John Valley Times, a local paper, one commenter posted about Harry’s golf game, which sounds like it was exuberant, if not so skillful. (The lead story on that newspaper’s website on Wednesday, by the way, was about a state trooper who hit a moose and totaled his cruiser while responding to another moose-related accident. In case you thought I exaggerated the moose threat in my story.)

I got emails, too. Kevin R. Haley, the grandson of John Vaillancourt, who ran my great-grandfather’s potato farm, wrote to say that remembered the auction in May 1985 when Harry finally sold off all the farm equipment. Kevin’s grandfather lived next to the site of the old synagogue in Fort Kent; when he was a kid, it was Kevin’s job to mow the grass around the plaque that marks the spot.

“Your article had me daydreaming about days that to me at least seemed simpler,” Kevin wrote.

And I heard from Kelly Dechene, who grew up in Fort Kent in the 1970s and 1980s. “Your family name was one that was as common as the word ‘potato’ around the dinner table of locals,” she wrote. “We all knew of Harry — and you should know that never a sour or bad word was ever heard about the type of man he was.”

I would have preferred to talk with all these people over eggs and toast at Doris’s Café. That’s a 600 mile drive from my desk in lower Manhattan, though, so Facebook was nice.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: potato king, maine, jewish, facebook, fort kent

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.