December 17, 2017
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The parts of Maine that made us stay

By Sarah Smiley
Sarah Smiley | BDN
Sarah Smiley | BDN
Sarah Smiley

Last month I found a photo that brought back a rush of memories and validated our long-ago decision to stay in Maine to raise our children. I’ve looked at the photo many times since then, mostly because I can’t get over how small the boys were, but also because it reminds me of our first month in Maine and everything I fell in love with about this state nearly a decade ago.

These are important memories as we approach Election Day and vote on issues that will shape our community’s future.

In the picture, my three sons, then ages 7-, 5- and almost 2-years-old, are standing in the middle of the sidewalk with a fresh layer of autumn leaves around their feet. The back of the youngest son’s big, toddler head and wispy blond hair is the focal point of the photo. He is looking at his older brothers, Ford and Owen, standing and kneeling in front of him. Between them is our then-new neighbor, who is a year older than Ford. All three of the bigger boys are smiling at Lindell. They were probably egging him on to say something funny.

And I remember thinking, “This is where I want my kids to grow up.”

That neighbor is now a senior in high school. Next year, Ford will be. Today, they are more likely to be in our living room playing video games or in the street shooting hoops together. They still get Lindell to say funny things.

When I look at the photo, I realize: This right here — this street, this city, these friends — has been my boys’ childhood. And I feel so grateful that it was in Maine.

Much has happened since that day in 2008, and sometimes it’s easy to forget what made us choose Maine as our home. But each year, when the leaves scatter on the sidewalk, I have these memories that bring me back and allow me to see the state as I saw it back then: with a newcomer’s eyes.

Here are just a few of the things that made me fall in love with our area then.

Neighborhood schools

We had just moved from a large school where Ford was one of more than 200 first graders. I don’t remember the principal’s name, and she certainly wouldn’t remember ours. Ford rode the bus because walking was not an option. And when I went to get him early for an appointment, no one knew who he was.

Compare that with our first few weeks in the Bangor schools: By the end of October, the principal knew my boys’ names, their favorite football team and the fact that they had never seen snow. The older boys were each in one of just two classes for their respective grades. Everyone from the secretary to the custodian knew them. They walked together to school on well-maintained sidewalks.

Neighborhood parks

I’ve lived all over the country, so I can tell you: not every community prioritizes walkable streets and neighborhood parks. In many places, neighborhoods are just a place to sleep in between driving back to work.

On my very first drive through Bangor, however, I recognized that this state still believes in community. More importantly, it values giving its youngest citizens space to play.

Back then, the park was a place where I pushed a stroller. It was where I exercised and met my first friends in the area. And I realized even then that these physical epicenters would become social epicenters as our family grew.

And they are.

I don’t push a stroller anymore, but in the spring and fall, my boys can often be found at the Little League field, their bikes and their friends’ lying on their sides near the dugouts. At these safe neighborhood parks, surrounded by homes of people we know, my boys have learned self-reliance and independence as they venture further away from home, and not always (not even usually) with my watchful eye.

Neighborhood stores

Maine’s downtowns and neighborhood markets are unique. Being able to walk a short distance and get a gallon of milk from a small market was a huge selling point for us (not in the least because I was fearful of snowmageddon). Everyone who has come to visit me remarks on the same thing: When you are in Maine, you know you are in Maine. It’s not like everywhere else.

There is still a family-owned hardware store, a local frame gallery, a small dress shop, coffee shop and a children’s book store where the owner knows your name.

“Shop local” isn’t just a sticker, it’s a way of life.

Neighbors

Right away, I noticed something curious about Maine: it took a long time for me to understand who worked where. In the past, I had always been introduced to people with something like, “This is so-and-so. He’s an accountant.”

In Maine, however, they said, “This is so-and-so. Maybe you’ve already met his brother. He grew up in that house over there. He rides his bike every night. You’ll see him at Bagel Central often.”

And so it was. I got to know people in relation to how they fit within the community, not how they made their living.

Is that a product of Maine’s dedication to neighborhoods? Or is it the other way around?

I don’t know.

But good things are happening here. They always have been.

And I’m glad we stayed.

 


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