In Stonington there lives a woman married for 72 years to a lobsterman, and with him, the sea.
The seafoam green house rises from the water on strong granite slabs. It looks as if it has always been there, as if it grew out of the pale green lichen covering the rocks of its sturdy base. This house is as much a fixture of the community as the couple who have called it home for 64 years. Rose and Andrew Gove, 90 and 89 years old, respectively, raised two daughters, four dogs and three cats here. Andy fished Penobscot Bay and the surrounding waters for 80 years and Rose has been by his side for 74 of them. She is the lobsterman’s wife. She’s offered him steadfast support, waking with him most mornings to make his breakfast and pack his lunch, seeing their children off to school and returning always to her sun porch, to watch the waters he traversed, the land of the lobsterman and the lifeblood of Stonington.
If you could own a view, Rose claims this one. She’s watched Andy motor out through Stonington Harbor’s archipelago to haul lobster pots in the early morning, seen the tide creep in over the silt and recently, started seeing the waves of winter storms break on the front lawn. “What a wonderful view we have!” she says, pointing to the islands and boats in the harbor. “In the summertime, especially, you can’t believe the different kinds of boats we see headed for Bar Harbor. And when it comes fall we had a couple of ducks came in here, as much as 25 years ago, and the father duck came in and I fed it some crumbs, bread crumbs.” He returned with the mother duck and then as the years went on, she says, there would be four ducks and then eight and so on until now sometimes 50 of them come to see Rose Gove, hoping for some bread.
From her spot on the porch, Rose can look across the cove to her childhood neighborhood, Greenhead, where she grew up with eight siblings in a house on the lower road. When she was a young girl, in the 1930s, Greenhead and the surrounding neighborhoods were full of year-round residents. Main Street boasted, at one time, grocery and furniture stores, bars, and shops with home goods and clothing. Now, there are art galleries and souvenir stores that celebrate Stonington’s nautical history. Most of the homes clustered together on the hills of Stonington are, in the winter and early spring, boarded up for the season. There’s a NAPA Auto Parts, a few year-round restaurants and the Granite Museum, paying tribute to the work men like Rose Gove’s father did at the quarry on Crotch Island before shifting to lobstering. And while Stonington still boasts the highest lobster landings in the state, 15.1 million pounds in 2018, much of the more practical stores have left downtown. If you’re looking for a new pair of shoes, you better get online or be ready to drive an hour to Ellsworth.
During her childhood in the 1930s, children ran as packs. They swam off wharves, visited lobster shacks and spent as much time on the rocks or in the trees as they did in their houses.
When she wasn’t jumping off a wharf, Rose would walk through town, singing songs with her cousin. Once they had an invitation to sing together at the birthday party of the town doctor, Dr. Noyes. Her whole family was musical. Her uncle Archie Hutchinson played in the Merry Mariners, a local country-western style band that moved islanders’ feet at the Legion Hall for decades. Her father played the accordion and her uncle Hermon played both the saxophone and the banjo. “We always used to get together and have a good musical evening at home,” she says. Rose also sang between acts at the Opera House in Stonington.
Before 1939, the year the Deer Isle-Sedgwick Bridge opened, Rose had left the island only once: “My aunt came down and took my mother and I to Massachusetts and so we had to go take the car, put it on the big barge, and got towed to go over to Sedgwick.” The bridge construction marked a change for many islanders, making travel off-island more accessible. Rose remembers going to the dedication ceremony for the bridge when she was 11. There were fireworks, a banquet and a dance. “The funny part is Andrew was there,” she says. “But we didn’t know each other then and I think we were both close to each other because we were both just up on the hill.”
Rose’s early memories are scattered with coincidences like this, moments when she and Andy almost met, but didn’t, including in her earliest days in Greenhead, when they lived within shouting distance of each other. “I grew up on the lower road, just up above where Andrew was born,” she says. “I was 11 months old when he was born. I told him if I’d known it, I’d a crawled up to see him!” Before long, Andy moved to the 263-acre Eagle Island between North Haven and Deer Isle, to live with his grandparents.
“I grew up on the lower road, just up above where Andrew was born. I was 11 months old when he was born. I told him if I’d known it, I’d a crawled up to see him!”
In his early teens, Andy started fishing with Rose’s father. (His grandmother had bought his first lobster license for him when he was 8 for $100.) “He would be over to the house a lot,” Rose remembers. “Poor thing, I’d be coming home with some boyfriend but…he caught me after a while. I tell everybody, I says, ‘I robbed the cradle,’ but I says, ‘He did the chasing.’” They both attended Stonington High School and started “going together” when Rose was 16.
Andy didn’t have much interest in school. “He’d always be looking out the window wishin’ he was out there fishin’” Rose remembers. “And the teacher used to ask him a question and I’d have to poke him with my finger.” After they married in 1947, Andy 17, Rose 18, they both left school to live on Eagle Island near Andrew’s grandparents.
Life there was quiet. Rose harvested vegetables from Andrew’s grandmother’s garden, tended to the hens and her new baby, Myrna, and prepared for the long winters, canning mackerel and perishables. The couple still debates how many canned goods were in their cellar on Eagle Island—he says 400, according to her, it hovers around 150. Rose might be underselling a bit. “I loved that kind of life, then,” she says. “I really didn’t want to leave, I liked it so well, but we had to.” Myrna needed to go to school, so they bought a house in Stonington. One aspect of it was a welcome change from life on Eagle. “I’ll tell you this much,” she says. “I never had a toilet—inside toilet—until we moved. And oh, I’m telling you, I thought that was the most wonderful thing I ever had!”
They had a second daughter, Sandra, and settled into a life in the house perched on the edge of the harbor. Andy grew into a legend among Stonington fishermen. “Andrew’s worked so hard all his life,” Rose says. “He’s done a little bit of everything.” He caught halibut and lobsters and got so intensely into herring fishing that he bought a plane to spot herring in the inlets and coves of Penobscot Bay (only learning how to fly it after making the purchase). As the herring fishery collapsed and lobster landings soared in the 1990s, he devoted himself to lobster fishing.
From the land, Rose Gove kept an eye on the sea. Some of her stories are the stuff of children’s books. There’s one about Dundee the Cat, who rode the back of a seagull right off the edge of the rocks but lived to roam the neighborhood and another about Tomfool, a cat who rode a dog’s back all the way from Rose and Andrew’s house to the Stonington Opera House. And there’s the story of Lou-Seal, the seal who comes back to bask on the rocks outside Rose’s window every spring on June 9, her birthday.
She’s also seen cultural shifts in this fishing town: Stonington’s transition from a town that faced the ocean to one that faced the land, her neighborhood’s change from a year-round to largely seasonal community, the loss of a diversity of fisheries and rise of lobstering as a thriving and lucrative multi-million dollar industry. As she watched, the harbor bloomed with more lobster boats as landings continued to increase, attracting more and more fishermen to the harbor. By 2008, Stonington alone was pulling in 10.28% percent of the state’s haul. A decade later, it was up to 13.17%. That’s partly a result of shifting water temperatures driving the lobster north, part of climate change. Rose Gove gauges those changes with her eyes. The sun porch window frames a small island, more of a rock, really, called Two Bush. “The tides are gettin’ higher.” Rose says. “I have seen [Two Bush] washed away. It’s gettin’ smaller and smaller on these high tides and I told Andrew, ‘You know there’s gonna be a time when all we’re gonna see is the top of those trees. All you’re gonna see is the trees.’ So I keep watch of it anyway.” Rose says the water has begun to lap the bottom of the houses and shops on West Main Street, those buildings that hang over the water on their wooden stilts. “I just know the land is washing away. And it’s gettin’ higher and higher. I might not be here to see it, but everybody else will have to wait and see, I guess.”
Despite all those changes, some things that have remained the same. Rose’s love of family, her love of this community, and her reverence for nature persist. “I’m so glad I live here in Stonington and on the island, of course, because I think it’s the most wonderful place you can be now. We’re very lucky, very fortunate, I got a wonderful family and a wonderful home. We’re both fairly healthy now and what more can you ask for?”
The summer of 2018 was Andy’s last summer fishing. He’s sold most of his gear, save for a few traps still piled on his fishing wharf. “I will say I am glad that he is through fishing because I worried so much,” his wife says. The heavy lifting of traps, all 80 years of it, finally wore out Andy’s shoulders, she says. “I know he was overworking himself and I was so glad when he finally listened to the doctor.” Now the two spend most days together, traveling off island for healthcare appointments and working on puzzles in their warm, sun-soaked porch.
At 90, Rose is remarkably healthy. She attributes it to a few things, including that she never drank or smoked, and tried to eat the right things, like a lot of seafood. She loves hake and halibut and, especially, a delicacy she calls a knuckle sandwich. “Not this kind,” Rose says, holding up her fist. “I take two [lobster] claws and Andrew and Myrna give me their knuckle meat which is the tenderest and sweetest of all and I make me what I call a knuckle sandwich.” But time does take its toll: Rose is hard of hearing and uses a cane to walk, to prevent her back from aching.
In June they celebrated their 72nd wedding anniversary and her 90th birthday. There was a party in town. “I didn’t expect to live this long, to tell you the truth,” Rose says. But there is still the striking view out those windows, the knuckle sandwiches to enjoy, the company to keep. “[Andrew] takes good care of me. He’s a good man,” she says. “I couldn’t-a got one any better.”
Galen Koch is the founder of The First Coast, a project that records oral histories from members of Maine’s coastal communities and brings them back in exhibit form. She is a native of Stonington.