On the Ridge: Remembering Helen Gould

Published: 5/10/2023 7:51:00 PM

I’ve heard it told of how people who live in other places become homesick for regions they seldom ever see or visit!

In New England, they talk about the farms, the gorgeous landscapes, the ambiance of the towns, the stone walls, the Sugar Houses, and of people who have touched them along the way. When they return, these memories are burned into their hearts, like a landmark that tells them, “We’re back again,” if only for a fleeting moment. And they genuinely believed in that moment things would stop and stay that way forever!

Of all the journeys we take in life, saying goodbye to someone that has truly touched our lives is the most difficult. The recent passing of Helen Gould has required Shelburne to once again say goodbye to a person that not only touched the lives of many but was someone who will be remembered in the hearts of people beyond the borders of Shelburne, Massachusetts, forever, as was so evident in the dozens of tributes of her passing. Many of those tributes described Helen as a resolute worker, beloved mentor, a great friend, an inspiration to so many, while being remembered as a person who could make you feel like a member of the family with just her smile. And a visit to Gould’s Sugar House, on a Sunday afternoon during the months of March and April, right around Easter, would confirm every tribute written! Especially when the lines of people would drift back into the parking lot for hours on end, just to have a moment in “Maple Bliss”! Because when you walked into that Sugar House you were walking into a place you hoped would never change. And while you were there, you mattered! Never mind where you came from, you really mattered! And Helen Gould would make sure you knew it before you left! People just loved her for that, and for the way she gave of herself so freely, with nothing expected in return, except that you enjoyed yourself while you were there.

So, people came, and they continued to come, to experience the feeling of that building once again. The scent of boiling sap streaming into their nostrils, the Maple products dancing on the counters, the 25-cent maple soft serve cones, the pancakes, corn fritters, pickles, waffles, and of course, the best maple syrup you could purchase anywhere in New England. But that wasn’t all they came for! They came to stand in line for hours at a time, sometimes in frigid springtime weather, because they knew they might get a visit with Helen’s beloved husband, Edgar Gould, while boiling sap or holding court with children next to the evaporators. Or the matriarch herself, walking towards them with that beautiful smile that greeted everyone equally. Impeccably, but appropriately dressed as if she just stepped out of an L.L. Bean catalog, sometimes taking your hand, remembering your name, and welcoming you again, or maybe for the very first time, to Gould’s Sugar House! And if it was your first time there, you would often leave feeling like you had known her forever. That was the beauty of her eloquence, and the enthusiasm in which she touched everyone she met, and she certainly touched my heart from the very beginning.

I loved sitting with her, and hearing about the stories of her midnight snowmobile rides with her close friend Kathy Jenks in some of the wildest parts of Shelburne. Or seeing her show up at a Grange Halloween Party in complete costume, rejoicing in the knowledge that no one, but a select few, had any idea who it was, or talking about her family, and the pride she had in every single one of them, or just talking about local town politics in the Sugar House, something I enjoyed doing immensely with both Helen and Edgar. And, of course, the way she loved deer season and the pride displayed during the many years that the Sugar House was used as a check-in station for deer. My good friend Bill Davis, retired Central District supervisor for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, first met Helen Gould during the 1982 shotgun deer season when, as a young laborer/biologist for the division, he would come to Gould’s Sugar House to help then Deer Project Leader Jimmy McDonough, at the check station. Over the next 40 years Billy would form a great friendship with the Gould family, and he came to know Helen as the hardest working, and hardest playing, woman he had ever met. He recently told me that, “I always felt like I was a member of the family especially when Helen’s son’s, Leonard and Larry, jokingly referred to me as a “High Ranking State Official” and Edgar scolded me for not disposing a coyote once when I was on a deer drive with the gang. I, like so many others, shared some sorrow with Helen when she lost Edgar and then the untimely loss of grandson Eric York, whom I had watched, with a degree of pride, grow into a gifted wildlife biologist. But Helen persevered and I was privileged to have attended her 90th birthday party where all twenty-three great grandchildren were present! What a fantastic legacy to an inspiring woman.” Billy ended our conversation by saying, “there is no doubt that I’m a better person for having known Helen Gould.” And from where I sit, no greater tribute could be given!

A painting of Gould’s Sugar House completed years ago by acclaimed New England landscape artist, Len Stomski, depicts the Massachusetts landmark with steam rising from the roof vents, and Edgar working in the doorway leading into the boiling area, as a great illustration of a New England tradition. In so many ways, the memories of walking into that Sugar House are the gifts that Helen and Edgar left us all. Because going in there took us back to a time when the world moved at a slower pace. When we cared for and looked after our friends. I think Helen believed this as well. So, we followed her, we loved her, and we will miss her.

Life has become a mile a minute. The world is a mile a minute. Even memories, today, are a mile a minute. But somehow, when memories of Helen Gould and Gould’s Sugar House surface in our minds, you can see it all before you again, just as it was. So slow. So perfectly comfortable. There are times when you’re homesick for it, and you just want everything to stop, and stay like that forever.

Joe Judd is a lifelong hunter and sportsman. He is an outdoor writer, seminar speaker, member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association, and a 2019 inductee into the N.E. Turkey Hunting Hall of Fame. Joe is also on the Quaker Boy Game Calls and Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s Pro-Staff.


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