Nancy Hopkins-Davisson – Photo by Bill Trevaskis

"You’ve got to have a community-minded spirit. You want the community to be here and be healthier for the next generation and the generation after that." 

I'm Nancy Hopkins-Davisson. I was born in 1957, so I've lived here for 61 years. Two years I went away to college, but other than that I've lived on North Haven my whole life. 

Feeling rooted and grounded in a place. I mean, I feel, literally when I go out for a walk, I sometimes do this visualization where my feet are going right down into the bedrock.

And, when I walk down the street in North Haven, I feel like it's mine. I feel ownership in a good way. Like this is my town, you know? 


Young Nancy

When I was a kid, we didn't have electricity. When I was really little, we didn't have running water. We didn't have central heating. We didn't have indoor plumbing. And my mother always had to cart her laundry down to her friend Phyllis Cooper's house or my grandmother's house, back and forth, back and forth, or do a lot of it by hand. 

I had two older brothers and three younger brothers. We, basically, had two rooms that we lived in. There was eight of us and we lived right on the water. And I was just outside all the time. All the time.

You know, being a middle child I think I was a little bit–I could be a little bit bossy. But I also sometimes felt like I was a buffer zone between the older brothers and the younger brothers. And I was the only girl, so I was expected to do the girl stuff. But, yeah, I mean we all had to do carrying wood and carrying water. 

I'd just grown up that way. I liked going to school because there was running water and a toilet. I would go to the gym for basketball and I'd be, maybe, one of the only people that would stay and take a shower.

And then when I was 16, we moved down the road to my grandmother's house, when my grandmother died, because there was–there still wasn't indoor plumbing. But there was some electricity downstairs and I think there was a pump in the kitchen. And there were like little oil space heaters, so it wasn't a wood stove thing so the heat was a little steadier. And then, when my brother went into the Navy, he made enough money and he put in a bathroom.

There was none of this, oh, I'm going to take a towel and throw it on the floor or I'm going to change my clothes every five minutes. So, when I had kids I was like, if your clothes don't look dirty and they don't smell dirty, they are not dirty. And we are not going to waste water on doing them.

Nancy with her five brothers

I started working for Mrs. Cobb when I was nine years old. I don't know who decided it I don't know if my grandmother, who was a friend of hers, or my mother decided it. But, at nine years old, Mrs. Cobb would come over and pick me up in the morning and I'd go to her house, which was just down the road. I'd stand on a little stool and she showed me how she wanted the dishes done and dried. And she had an old cast iron sink so I had to learn how to deal with that, so it wouldn't rust. And I did the dishes and I swept the floor and I made her bed.

Nancy in elementary school

I have a cousin that was here a while ago and she goes, “Yeah, it was so funny. We'd come over to visit you and you'd go, ‘Well I gotta go to work.’” And she goes, I was like, “What? You're nine!” Yeah, and I thought, well, you know, I got out of the house for a few hours every morning. And started out at a couple hours, like five days a week. She'd pay me at the end of the summer, so I'd write all my time down. I got 50 cents an hour when I started and I can't remember what I got up to but she would give me a lump sum at the end of the summer and I could buy my own school clothes. So, you learn lot. You learn about being responsible and being on time and doing a job and you learn some independence and some pride in what you're doing. 

And as I got older, I learned–I did the gardening. She had a little rock garden and she had a little mini vegetable garden. And I would pick up the apples and rake the fields, when they got mowed. And then, as I got older, I would open the house up in the spring and close it up in the fall and so she and I became quite close. 

Because I was nine years old when I started so she was like a surrogate grandmother. She was a very unique woman, just very open and honest and we became quite close and we'd talk about all sorts of things. And she'd tell me her perspective and as I got older and got to be a teenager I would tell her my perspective.

She made me feel like I was just–we were just equals. And she got North Haven and she was actually a different kind of summer person. You know, she wouldn't–she'd have people over for tea and all that stuff. But she was more down to earth, I think, she was very down to earth and treated everybody the same way. I felt like anyway.


Nancy with her brothers and cousins at the Gillis cabin


When I was 18 I was just like, I wanted to get off North Haven. Well, I'd never lived anywhere else and I think every 18-year-old chafes at the bit. And you get sick of people and you get sick of the confines of a little town and your family and everything. And I wanted out. But it was still a big step, it was like a culture shock for me to go to college.

It was a college of like 10,000 people at the time, University of Maine at Orono. And so, when I got there I was like, first of all, I was like, just trying to physically get around and find all the places and then I did realize I could make friends quickly that was not hard. At that point, I didn't know how much work was required to get a good grade.

And then, I think, part way through I realized, I'm not doing very well. I don't want to fail, I'm not a quitter and I don't want to fail, so I kind of bumped up the working part of it. I had a job at college I could work as much as I wanted and I–at a USDA lab at the end of campus. So, I did a lot of working. I worked probably as much as I was in class.

And then after being in college for a year I was like, oh I kind of–I had a whole new appreciation of North Haven.

Nancy out on a boat ride

I really missed the island. I missed, kind of, being able to do the things that I wanted to do. I missed the nature part of it. I felt when I was in Orono that I was a little landlocked and, I think I said to you before, it was like, there were probably more people in my dorm than there were on the whole island. I felt like that was weird. I didn't necessarily like being around all those people my age. I’d always grown up being around lots of different age groups.

Another thing I really missed when I was, at college, I was up there and there was like pulp mills and you'd come out in the morning and you'd smell this disgusting, awful smell and it actually made me sick to my stomach. And I'm like, I really miss the ocean, I miss seagulls, I miss being out in nature. And you can be out in nature, but I don't know.

I think when I was done my program and I was–I just looked at North Haven with whole new eyes. And so, I decided to come back and just get involved in things and change things or work on things that I was interested in.

I never thought that I’d be living there. But then, I thought, after I moved away, I thought, and moved back, I was like, I mean, probably took me a while to figure out, really where did I think I was going to live. It's not a bad thing. Everybody should go away for a while, even if it just instills that little bit of appreciation.

First, Waterman's came, we built Waterman's while I was being a school board member. And then, I was on the school board and we built a new school.

I have seen the generosity of people and that is really good fuel for me. I talk about–a lot about the generosity of spirit, generosity, for the town, year-round. And I think that's how Waterman's was built and the school and, of course, the major funds came from summer people.

But things have to be tended. And a lot of us had to really fight hard and work hard to do Waterman's and to do the new school and I'm not sure everybody is now fully aware of how much work that was and how it needs to be tended. You don't just get something and then slide. You have to be in it, you know, like an old saying is, in ass, head and stomach, and really put your time and effort where your mouth is.

You have to pay attention to things you can’t just assume it will all be there and everything will be there for you to take advantage of. You’ve got to have a community-minded spirit and it can’t be about you’re going to get out of it. You want the community to be here and be healthier for the next generation and the generation after that. 

I mean, you know, it's the same old stuff. It's corny, but it's true. You’re working together for a better thing. And I think it's hard for people to keep that in mind, what is that. What is that? How do we get there?

Nancy with four of her five brothers


Photos courtesy of the Hopkins family