By Sheila Dassatt
To refresh your memory, in case you didn’t read last month’s article, “where are they” refers to the neighborhood kids and the empty neighborhoods that our coastal communities are experiencing these days. I talked about how each neighborhood had a small Mom & Pop store due to most of the folks only had one vehicle or possibly none at all. This made it possible for our stay at home mothers to walk to the store or send one of us kids for a loaf of bread if needed. It was all well laid out at the time. In these small villages, you didn’t really need a vehicle to get around with, everything was within a stone’s throw of reach.
Each house on the shore had a dock that was used to tie up your lobster boat to load traps or unload traps when the tide was high. There might be a small workshop on that dock for working on gear through the winter months. The shops were usually equipped with a small pot belly wood stove for winter heat. You see, the traps were made of wood back then, so there was plenty of scraps for kindling to start your stove with. All in all, it could be pretty cozy in the winter time. This was back then…
Now, as I was sitting at the Public Landing one day, just taking it all in, I realized that each place in town that had a dock attached to it, was a rental home and the dock now had a railing around it (probably for insurance reasons) so no one would fall overboard. I saw a sign that read: Private property, do no block the driveway. Each dock had some nice Adirondack chairs on them, a portable fire pit, and an umbrella attached to a picnic table to keep folks shielded from the sun. Pretty nice for a week-long vacation on the waterfront at a price of approximately $1,000 a week. They can sit on the deck and watch all of the pretty lobster boats coming and going to the Fish Pier and watch them all working (making a living). Now I’m not being sarcastic at all, this is what is really happening. This is the black and the white of it. I’ve seen some watching from their “deck” with long stemmed wine glasses and a nice propane fire to sit by in the early evening. It is actually quite nice!
There’s actually very few homes with a working pier attached to stack traps and tie up your boat. A few, but not like what I was accustomed to as a kid.
Our village was a lot like the Cars movie, with all of the nostalgia of Route 66. If you have seen that movie, you know what I’m referring to. Route 66 was pretty cool in its day, a lot of cruising going on with classic cars and music of the era. Well, in the time that I’m referring to, I was a teen in the 60’s and early 70’s, all along Main Street, all of the young folks parked along Main Street with their muscle cars and looked pretty cool. There was a grocery store in town called Ben’s, and a Variety Store called Chester’s where they used to give me one of those pretzel rods from a glass jar whenever I went in with my grandmother. A little further down Main Street was the pharmacy with the soda fountain where you could sit and get your ice cream or root beer float. I always had a single scoop cone with coffee ice cream and chocolate sprinkles. It was great! We also had a clothing store called Epstein’s, where we all bought our Wrangler jeans and jackets. What more could you want?!
The bank is in the same place and the stores in town, on each end, like I have said, had fresh butcher cut meat, so our steaks and pork chops were always top grade. Most folks would go in at the end of each day, after they were paid for the daily catch, and get their supper. It might be steak or it might be fried bologna, depending on how the catch went. But regardless, us kids always thought it was great!
When the teens got tired of parking on the side of Main Street, they’d all pile in and cruise up and down Main Street, and if it was a convertible, playing loud tunes along the way. Just good clean fun. We also had community dances on the weekend, with local musicians and everyone could participate. That’s how it was, and I know things don’t stay the same way forever, but it was nice while it lasted.
What I am concerned about is now, in this day and age, you don’t see any teenagers in town or in the neighborhoods, or kids either. The school is in an area where they all need to be bussed. They can’t just walk to town and get that ice cream or root beer float. It is like that in most communities now. The schools and now the churches in town are slowly being closed, used for office malls or simply closed and renovated as a vacation home.
There was always a nice little restaurant where some of the wives would make homemade pies, whoopee pies and things like bread pudding on a dessert list. You could go for a coffee and dessert just for the sociability of it. Not so much now, most of these places are limited as to how much they are open. Most people come to Maine to experience the cuisine that we eat, not what they are eating in some other state or country.
The stores are emptied out in the winter and re-opened in the summer, as well as the eating establishments such as the little local lobster roll and ice cream stands. Where am I going with this? Again, as this change happens, the local economy does not have enough to support it throughout the entire year round season. When this happens, more and more of our young people leave town and only come back to visit or for holidays. We need more sociability once again, such as the community dances, music jams, and storytelling? I know, a little old fashioned, but it might help.
Is there some way that we can make this a happy medium before our coastal villages are completely tourist attractions? Tourists don’t come here to see other tourists and their shops, they want to experience our true way of life. We are welcome to it, as long as our way of life doesn’t disappear forever. We are very proud of our heritage.