On September 10, the Boston Post Cane was awarded to Cherryfield’s most senior citizen, Emeline Torrey, 94 years old on September 19, 2011. The recipient of the Boston Post Cane must be the oldest registered voter in town and must have lived in Cherryfield for at least twenty years.
The 102-year-old cane “to keep for the day” and a framed certificate “to keep forever” were presented to Ms Torrey on Saturday by Kathy Upton, President of the Cherryfield-Narraguagus Historical Society, at a reception organized by the family and held at the Narraguagus Snowmobile Clubhouse near Torrey’s home. Friends, neighbors, and family members from around the state and country joined in celebrating the event that she is reported to have been “looking forward to” with great anticipation.
Ms Torrey was born in Machiasport, ME, in that “populated place” known as Starboard and began school there. When she was nine years old, her family was lured to Minnesota by a relative and job prospects. “They were both carpenters,” Emeline says, “and Uncle Frank kept at him until he went out there.” There she grew up, married Sylvester Northrop in 1937, had three children, and remained until 1949 when the family of seven – Emeline, her husband and three children, and her parents Raymond & Rosie Sprague – returned to Maine and settled in Lubec where her husband died just months later.
While the family was still in mourning, a neighbor had a baby girl, but was too sick to care for her. Emeline stepped up and welcomed the newborn into her home. “Shelley Rae Boo Northrop Sheehan Cleaves” was “a bright spot” in their lives and became the family’s fourth child. She grew up with her “adopted” family and lived with them off and on for years. “When I think of a mother, I think of Emeline, and her family as my family, her home as my home,” says Cleaves. “The house was filled with smells of everything you could imagine cooking. She is just a wonderful person. I can’t say enough good things about her. She is a fountain of energy and an amazingly hard worker.”
Emeline has always worked at something. To supplement her widow’s pension, she did housework and cobbled together a living doing whatever work was available. She would come to Cherryfield and stay with her cousin Laura Tenan while working at the Stewart’s blueberry factory in the summer. After the children were grown, she provided live-in cooking and housekeeping services to Senator and Mrs. Hollis Wyman in Milbridge for ten years, retiring from that position in 1977. Tenan also “recommended” her to Ward Torrey, who worked for the Wymans. They married in 1980 and had seven years together before his death in 1987.
In the 1980s she worked on the inspection line at Cherryfield Foods with Kathy Upton who says, “Hers were the last eyes to see the berries before they went into the can. She was like a mother to us all.” She retired from there in 1993, but she’s still working – washing and ironing linens the old-fashioned way for her friends, Frank and Ada Graham of Milbridge. When I met with her at her home, she had just put up fifty pints of green beans that she had picked from her son’s garden.
Her family has grown to include 12 grandchildren, 27 great-grandchildren, and 6 great-great-grandchildren. Her daughter Alice Reid now lives in Florida, her son Bud lives in Lubec, and Emeline lives with her daughter Bonnie Wallace in Cherryfield. It’s a very close-knit family who share the attitude, “she took care of us, now we’ll take care of her.”
Her grands and great-grands call her “a homemade Grammie” and she is famous for her cooking and handicrafts including, but not limited to, crocheting, sewing, embroidery, needlepoint and quilting. “I got the last baby blanket she made,” her great-grandson Samuel (16) boasted.
At the reception, praise for her Shredded Wheat Muffins and Blueberry Cake were on many lips and her cooking skills still in evidence. “There’s a cheese ball I made right over there,” she said, referring to the centerpiece of the reception buffet and she is always willing to share her recipes. “She’s never cooked from a box,” claims her granddaughter Mary Northrop.
“She still loves to pick cranberries and blueberries and help in the garden,” says her granddaughter, Roberta Willey. “She taught me how to drive when she was 71. At Whiting Corner, she just got out and said, ‘here you go.’” Emeline was driving until she was over ninety and still drives within a twenty-five mile radius of home on a restricted license - “no night driving.”
She has lived through nearly a century of amazing change and suggests that perhaps electricity and automobiles have had the greatest impact on the way we live. “We got our first TV in 1957 and it was great entertainment in the old days. I haven’t been watching much lately because my eyes aren’t so good,” but she still enjoys watching the “The Price Is Right,” “Jeopardy,” “Wheel Of Fortune,” and especially “The Young and The Restless.”
Her “daughter” Shelley Cleaves sums up everyone’s feelings perfectly, saying of her surrogate mom, “She’s just a dear woman.”