Skip To Content
Back to Opinion

I’m Lurking on Maine Town’s Facebook Page

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.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.