By Sheila Dassatt
This subject was actually brought to my attention at the Christmas party, hosted by our Dealer, when I met one of the girls in the office. I have been thinking about it ever since that particular conversation. With a group of us telling stories about growing up in Greenhead, which is one of the neighborhoods in Stonington, Maine, this girl stated “you were all the neighborhood kids, you mean there was actually kids in the neighborhood?” Think about that?! I know that it came to my awareness and still does when I go through the neighborhood to get to the dock where we fish out of and sell our lobsters.
I look around, and all I see are empty houses that have been winterized for the long cold winter ahead. There is possibly two or three that still have the original families living in them, but that’s about it. Of course, the days are much shorter in the fall and winter, so when it is dark and I go through the “old neighborhood,” it is all dark. Some of the houses have automatic lights that come on to give the impression that there is someone there.
So now, being one of the “ole neighborhood kids,” I’m always looking and wondering where all of the kids and families have gone. Is this what we have allowed our working Maine Coast to turn into? Is there anything that we can do to prevent this from being an entire “takeover?”
Now I’ll go down “memory lane” with this, which I don’t want to bore anyone, but this is “how it was.” Most of the village had a Mom and Pop store within walking distance, as most families only had one vehicle or perhaps none at all. Greenhead had two of these stores, one was called Bill’s and the other was called Addie’s. There was a filling station in the same neighborhood, called Brad’s. All one name titles, real easy to identify with and also quite personable. Everyone called each other by their first name and no one bothered with the last name, it wasn’t necessary. My Mom worked at Bill’s store and I was able to visit there with my grandmother and pick out a bag of penny candy from the glass display case. It was great! Of course, we walked there from Granny’s house. If we were walking to town to get the mail, we stopped at Addie’s store, where all of the teenagers used to hang out and sit on the soda cooler. They were welcome there and loved to tease Addie, she’d give it right back to them!
I can’t leave out the neighborhood dogs that ruled the hill. They never seemed to get hit by a car and most folks looked out for them. They even went in and out of the local stores for a biscuit or two. They kinda fended for themselves.
We had a fair amount of freedom at a young age in the neighborhood because we all lived close by and all of the mother’s looked out for us. Most of the women were picking out crabmeat for extra money, so they knew where we were most of the time. One of my favorite memories was going down to the dock where the bait was, which at that time was called Clyde’s. Then we would get into the bait and start having a bait war. We didn’t smell very good when we got home, but it was all worth it!
Most of the houses were right on the waterfront because that’s where their boats were moored and they had docks right there to work on their gear. It was all pretty handy and there really was no need for much more than that. A pick up truck was a Cadillac or a Pontiac of some sort, cut down from the back of the front seat and a home made flatbed was built from the rest. They were pretty unique, but did the job quite well.
Now I know and understand that that was then and this is now, and time marches on. But most people that know me well, know that I don’t want to see our entire way of life disappear in time due to changing times. You see, when the neighborhoods became empty, the little stores didn’t have enough business any longer to support them. As time went on, there were less people to support the local economy year round. You can’t support a village economy on ice cream cones and lobster rolls alone. The local economy needs to be supported all through the year. I pretty well know where most everyone ended up, like a lot of the little villages on the coast. They have all moved to the “outer skirts” to a place that is more affordable for them to live, as most of the houses on the waterfront are now summer homes and left vacant most of the year. As a resolution to this, places are being built to house families that are within their price range for everyday living. Most of these homes are in the process of being built and are not quite available yet, but at least people are trying to make homes for the families to live and maintain their way of life which is fishing or a job connected with the fishery, boat building, marine stores, dock workers, driving the bait and lobster trucks, and so on.
Before this trend of empty neighborhoods goes too far, let’s take a long hard look at “how it was then and how it is now.” Let’s work together, but yet, maintain our working way of life and tradition before it is too late. As for me, I’m very fortunate to have lived during a time that “life was good.” Let’s try to keep it that way.