In the Mist of a Memory

Early in January, I wrote a blog post about cultural confusion.  The post featured an image from the Maine Sunday Telegram, circa 1951; two college co-eds were whipping up some eggnog in a South Portland home.  The article said they lived in the Sylvan Site neighborhood.

I was in South Portland yesterday and motored through this neighborhood.  The houses are handsome and well-preserved, built in the 1920’s by Frederick Wheeler Hinckley.  He built them to stand the test of time and you can read more about the development here, on the Maine Historical Society’s website.  If you conduct an internet search on some of the properties noted, you can find a few of them on real estate listing services.  I found a listing for 6 Richards Street.  The pictures show oak throughout the house, original leaded doors, an interesting partial stone façade, and a detached 2 car garage.

After I finished my drive through that neighborhood, I parked my car near another neighborhood, Willard Beach, and walked around quiet streets.  In the mist of a memory, I found the very first house I ever toured as a prospective home buyer, closer to Meeting House Hill.

It was a beautiful almost-March afternoon.  The neighborhoods around Willard Beach and Meeting House Hill are lined with sidewalks and you can cover a lot of ground on foot.  Tuesday is trash collection day, evidenced by giant garbage cans arrayed like bowling pins after an unsteady frame at the lanes.  Green for rubbish and blue for recycling, these barrels are large enough for gangs of children to play in, although I didn’t see any young folks in my travels.

According to this Down East article, South Portland is a bit of a hipster enclave, with walkable neighborhoods, artisanal bakeries, and land-use planners.

The writer of the Down East article, Edgar Allen Beem, noted “it is that personal connection—the intimacy of neighborhoods where people get out of their homes and out of their cars and get to know one another—that lies at the heart of the new South Portland.”

I extend contrarian apologies to Beem, who has been writing about life in Maine since 1978.  The empty bins and the silent streets make a statement about the nature of South Portland’s “community.”  The camaraderie that exists on Saturdays and Sundays, when long lines converge over steaming paper cappuccino cups at the artisanal bakery and the barrels at Willard Beach are plumb full of wrapped waste from doggie play dates is a weekly event, not some organic mass.  South Portland has become a valuable commodity, a strip mall of mixed use real estate inventory.  What will develop in the neighborhoods over time is difficult to predict.  It’s pleasant now, for sure.  But true community, that place of regularly present people who watch and guard the streets and each other by living long days and years in one place?  If it ever existed, it developed over time, maybe generations.  We’re too busy for that now.  We’re happy, atomized disenfranchised consumers.

Now be a lamb and pass me my cynic’s smelling salts, would you?

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