Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Ordinary

We walked everywhere and when we were not able to make the journey on foot, we would hop on public transportation.  Later, when I was older, I rode my bike miles and miles to a friend's house in Saco or a longer distance to Fortune's Rocks near Biddeford Pool.  It took me so long to ride my three speed up and down the hills to the beach that I was not able to stay, but for a quick bare-footed walk on the sand, until I had to turn around and head home before it got dark.

When I visit home, I  feel much like I did during those early journeys on my bike.  It takes so long to get home, I  am never able to linger, explore all the crooks and crannies to recall details of my past life in Biddeford.  Not having lived there in over three decades now, the changes make it hard to remember.  The big historic tree in front of my grandmother's apartment was cut down.  The changes are not all bad, many once empty store fronts have new life now as restaurants have opened and my beloved city is being revitalized as a center for the arts.

When I was little, I would most often walk throughout the city with my grandmother Caroline.  We would visit Butler's where extra attention was given to my grandmother's carefully wrapped in lamb skin feet.  The shoe attendant would take great care in helping my grandmother get the  perfect shoes with the most comfortable fit.  I would walk up and down the sweeping staircase of this small department store slipping my hand down the shiny wooden banister my heels clicking on the large tiles as I landed at the bottom of the stairs.  Once the shoes were purchased, my Grandmother would take me to Woolworth's a door or two down from Butler's for a whirl in the soda fountain stools while I waited for a sundae or a colossal banana split. The price was set in accordance with the small tag found inside the balloon of my choosing that hung like a bunch of bananas above our heads on each stainless steel column that lined the counter area.  The draw of the colorful array of round balloons must have sold a number of banana splits each day, for while my Gram and I sat there we heard the pop of many a balloon the only way to pay for your split.

With a full belly, the walk home seemed long. Sometimes we would stop at a shop near the Thatcher Hotel where they just sold undergarments.  My grandmother would pull a dark green curtain aside while a woman with a short, graying hair and a tape measure dangling from her neck would follow my grandmother.  I would wait patiently until they both emerged.  Everyone would talk in undertones, a parcel was quickly put into a brown paper bag and we would head for home.  After a morning of running errands, my grandmother would arrange her bed for an afternoon nap.  The coverlet folded down at the foot of the bed and then removed so it would not be dirty or wrinkled.  I don't actually recall napping, but we would snuggle in her bed and she would listen to my hours spent with Sister Mary Natalie my first grade teacher at St. Mary's School and she would tell me of the two weeks she spent with my aunt as they traversed this great country with two little kids in the backseat.  It sounds like an adventure, one that my grandmother cherished.

As I age, it is the moments spent  growing up in a bustling little city in southern Maine where running ordinary day to day errands with my grandmother, buying shoes and spinning in a soda fountain chair are what I cherish.  It is the slowing down and the taking time that help to forge the memories.  I went cross country in a big old jet plane, but I don't remember much.  Pardon the cliche:  There's no place like home.

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