Small-town faces

Posted April 02, 2009, at 9:25 p.m.

When Patrisha McLean runs an errand in downtown Camden, even a quick trip can take a long time, much to the chagrin of her songwriter husband, Don McLean.

“It drives my husband crazy,” she said. “Just because he likes to be anonymous, and he doesn’t get that with me.”

McLean is far from anonymous in Camden, where she and her husband have quietly lived for years. She’s hailed by shopkeepers and sidewalk amblers alike, and right now downtown windows are plastered with blown-up versions of the black-and-white photos of people she documented in the year-and-a-half she wrote a column called “Patrisha’s People” for the Camden Herald.

“I had the idea, since I lived here and I met these wonderful people — I felt that more people needed to know how wonderful they were,” McLean said.

Now, lots more people will have a chance to get to know McLean’s neighbors, thanks to her new book, “Maine Street: Faces and Stories From a Small Maine Town,” published by Down East Books. And McLean says that the book launch party, on Saturday, April 4, at The Village Restaurant on Camden’s Main Street, certainly won’t be a speedy, city affair.

Many of the 70 people profiled in her book will come to the party, which will feature live music by her children Jackie and Wyatt McLean, cookies by Leenie Weintraub (p. 91), award-winning blueberry pie by Faye Harvey (p. 100) and a chance to check out the fire truck of Andy Swift (p. 106).

Come to the party. Check out the book. And maybe, by the time you’re through flipping through the pages, you’ll feel as if you know Camden even better than your own town.

“Every person I talked with, there were surprises,” McLean said.

Those surprises include Leona Wood, who lived alone and made pies and treats for her friends until she was nearly 100 years old. There is Gerry Wright, whom McLean met before dawn one morning in McDuck’s convenience store. Wright is a housekeeper who buys a weekly lottery ticket — and who “literally wanted to die” after her marriage of nearly 40 years ended, until she met a good man at a singles dance and realized that her life was far from over.

And then there are the Jones Boys. McLean took photos of them cutting hair in their downtown barbershop, deft with the clippers and scissors after nearly 50 years of the work.

“When the three boys were growing up, Sundays meant climbing into their father’s barber chair, then getting an ice cream sandwich at the drugstore next door,” McLean wrote.

“My father would put all this good-smelling hair tonic on us,’ Lowell Jones said, adding with a grin, ‘We thought we were something.’”

McLean thinks the boys, Roger Jones Sr. and Lowell Jones Sr., are something, too.

The feeling is mutual, although it can be hard to tell in the joking, teasing atmosphere of the barbershop.

“She did a good job,” Lowell Jones said of the book. “We helped her out a little bit — we gave her names and everything, of the not-so-famous people.”

He showed a copy of the book to an elderly man, smock-covered, sitting in the barber’s chair.

“Oh, my, I used to know Leona real well,” the man said,

his eye caught by the photograph of Leona Wood, who looked directly into the camera with her Mamie Eisenhower glasses square on her deeply-lined face. “She was almost 100 years old!”

McLean has fond memories of Wood, who died about a year ago. The photographer was walking through the Millville neighborhood and everybody told her she had to go talk to Leona.

“I was really nervous knocking on her door. There was such a buildup,” she said. “I was afraid she wouldn’t want to talk to me, but she was so sweet. She gave me a piece of pie, and we talked, and it was so wonderful.”

Their relationship lasted longer than it took to eat a piece of cherry cheese pie and take a photo.

“I became really close to her. I would call her often, and go over and visit. I brought my kids often,” she said.

“That was another wonderful thing, to be able to introduce my kids to these people. Their grandparents don’t live in the area, so I felt that a lot of these people were like surrogate grandparents to them.”

McLean found that Camden is the kind of place where the tangle of relationships and connections that makes up a small town hasn’t been lost to time and progress.

That is one reason why she feels so close to many in the town, and so passionate about taking photos that aren’t destined to be glossy postcards of coastal Maine. Her portraits are of real people, living in their own place.

“I never felt this sense of community in a place before, because I was always living in a big city,” she said. “This is the first time I’ve lived in a small town, and also the first time I’ve lived in one place a long time. I really can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

For more information about “Maine Street,” visit the Web site www.downeast.com or call 1-800-685-7962. The book launch at The Village Restaurant in Camden will take place from 4-6 p.m. Saturday, April 4.

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