Filmmaker recalls ‘Growing Up Bowdoinham’

Posted June 07, 2013, at 2:16 p.m.
Jeff Fischer's documentary about Bowdoinham will be shown on Maine Public Television this week and has spawned a new business for the retired high school teacher.
Jeff Fischer's documentary about Bowdoinham will be shown on Maine Public Television this week and has spawned a new business for the retired high school teacher. Buy Photo

BOWDOINHAM, Maine — For decades, growing up in Bowdoinham has meant smelt fishing, feeding cows and chickens on the family farm, picking peas and swimming in Merrymeeting Bay.

Erla Browne Kelley, 97, remembers riding a horse across the frozen Cathance River to Bath.

Her granddaughter Katie Kelley Winglass had a sheep. “It used to try to get on the school bus with me,” said the 42 year old. “It got stuck in the mudflats pretty regularly.”

Jeff Fischer has captured it all on “ Growing Up Bowdoinham.”

“A Hefty-bag full of smelts,” too-short summers and “epic, beautiful moments when you were out on the bay on the sands at low tide” are among other memories shared by Bowdoinham residents, ages 9 to 97, in the film that airs next week on Maine Public Broadcasting Network.

“My idea from the beginning was not to do a history, but I wanted people of all ages to talk about growing up in Bowdoinham, looking for … common themes,” said Fischer, 61, a retired English teacher.

What Fischer found is that children in Bowdoinham, a quiet town of about 2,600 people, “felt free to be able to roam as they pleased … they had adventures that nowadays parents would be nervous [for them] to have.”

“I don’t know how our mother let us go out and do the things that we did,” Kelley recalled in the film.

Fischer was delighted at how many “fun” recollections he heard, including “stories about daring each other to climb electrical towers and getting terrified, or swimming in an eel tank.”

Kelley spoke of riding her horse to school each day, and feeding it oats at lunchtime.

The interviews are interspersed with sepia-tone photographs of decades of town life donated by the Bowdoinham Historical Society and other townsfolks and groups. The 47-minute film, funded by the town’s 250th Anniversary Committee, was finished last year, in time to be shown at Bowdoinham’s anniversary celebration to a packed Town Hall.

“People really liked it,” said Fischer, who sold hundreds of DVDs and returned the proceeds to the anniversary committee fund.

“One guy said, ‘I loved your movie. I wished you’d interviewed my parents,’” Fischer said. So last spring, Fischer interviewed an older member of his family and turned stories from long ago into a keepsake video.

That prompted him to start Third Chapter Films, where he hopes to make future movies that document families and communities.

“Growing Up Bowdoinham,” though, is special to Fischer.

“There’s something about making a film for an audience I know and showing it to my town,” he said. “I think Bowdoinham’s a neat place. I think the film brought that out.”

“Growing Up Bowdoinham” will be aired on MPBN at 10 p.m. June 13 and 11 a.m. June 15 as part of the Community Films series.

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