In which Bruce Springsteen makes me cry
Maybe it’s the season; I always get a little sentimental in the fall. Or maybe it’s the weather. The remnants of hurricane Issac are blowing through town, making everything gray and dreary. Or maybe it’s just one of those moments when, for no particular reason, everything just seems closer and more real than usual. Whatever it was, I was driving in this morning on Route 1, listening to the radio and not thinking anything much when The Boss came on singing Hometown…and suddenly I was weeping.
See, this is my hometown. I was born in Bangor and we moved a bunch when I was a kid, but this town has been the stable place, the family seat, the homestead, if you will. I am a real Mainer. My kin have been on these granite shores, in Owls Head and Spruce Head, Dix Island and Metinic, South Thomaston and St. George, for 400 years or more. I come from a family of fishermen and itinerant stone masons, woodsmen and island sheep farmers. Braided rugs, baked beans and hot dogs on Saturday night, and fish chowder and biscuits like you just can’t get anywhere else in the world, that’s us. And just like the working class folks in the industrial towns of the mid-Atlantic, we are a bit of a dying breed. So many of our own folk move out of state. So many people “from away” have moved in to take their place. Don’t get me wrong. We’re glad to see them coming, but it does change the character of my hometown.
This town has seen industry come and go. Ship building, stone quarrying, lime production, and fish packing have all had their heyday. And the lobster…never forget the lobster. Things shift, economics drift and one thing supplants another. When I was a girl (and there’s a phrase I couldn’t imagine myself using at the time) in the 1970’s, the fish packing plant was still in operation and Maine street was dying. There was a saying then, lampooning the town motto of the nearby “pretty village,”…it went “Camden By the Sea…Rockland by the smell.” The Brunswick House was the epitome of the South End, and the A&P anchored the North End. The Strand was the only movie theater and Dorman’s Ice Cream was kind of in the middle of nowhere. There were empty storefronts, and more bars than art galleries. But it was my hometown and I loved it.
In the past ten years, Rockland has been having something of a renaissance. Boutiques and gift shops now share Maine St. with art galleries and upscale eateries. We’ve gone from a dying working class downtown to a hip destination for the funky artsy folks in the know. We have award winning chefs, and charming inns, wine cellars and artisan bakeries and a coffee roaster. You can’t swing a cat without hitting a potter, or a massage therapist, or a wooden boat builder, or a yoga instructor or a Nuno felter. (Really? A Nuno felter?) Dorman’s Ice Cream is surrounded by car dealerships and big box home centers, and there are rumors of a SuperWalmart going in right behind. The Strand is a historically renovated road house that features big name indie singer song writers who like the intimate venue experience.
And that’s what struck me this morning. The character of my hometown has changed so much. And I with it. The marks of our shared history are on me; I knit English style and use a long tail cast on that my great-grandmother learned from her mother-in-law at the turn of the last century. My grandfather and cousins are still fishermen and I still make a mean fish chowder. My biscuits are pretty good, too. The old school, traditional way will always be with me. And I’ve opened this yarn shop in downtown specifically to foster the fiber artist community here. Even the way we talk about it has changed. I used to be a knitter; now I’m a fiber artist. Sometimes I’m so nostalgic about my old hometown and sometimes I’m bursting with pride for the new face of my old hometown. Either way it’s been known to bring a tear to my eye. Here’s to ya’, Mr. Springsteen. Come see me in Rockland sometime. I’ll give you a tour of my hometown.