Our Maine Street's Aroostook Issue 7 : Winter 2011 - Page 57

After turning around and getting back on the main road, we soon reached the University of Maine at Presque Isle. Dan didn’t remember if North of Ordinary, inscribed on the school’s sign, had been their slogan decades ago. On its grounds, Dan’s mother had obtained the autograph of Richard Nixon, which is still in his parents’ home, somewhere. His mother used to keep the slip of paper under a piece of glass on top of their television set. Dan took a right turn onto Maple Street and, before we knew it, we were on Sherwin Street. The wooden address sign hangs in his parents’ garage back in New Hampshire. The simple ranch looked different, Dan said. It didn’t have a garage when they lived there. I wondered if the bathroom still had the heated bathtub where Dan’s mother would put him, after long hours he spent playing outside on a bitter cold day. Dan reminded me about playing in the woods, saying, “I’d love to get back there. I bet I could pick out trees I knew.” The scale of the houses and the street itself looked smaller than he remembered. But, he was most struck by what had happened to all the trees. His father had planted an evergreen out in front of their house and that was gone and so too were other trees that used to be in front of the houses. Back then, it hadn’t been so open. As we drove further down Sherwin, his braking foot gauging a crawl, Dan named the families who had lived in each house. I couldn’t understand how he knew the streets so well when he hadn’t even had his driver’s license before he left. When he was last there, his driving experience had been limited to a handful of road hours spent with his school instructor, although his father used to bring him to the abandoned airstrip of the Air Force Base to practice. Then, I realized that he had ridden his bike for years, throughout all these streets, to and from the houses of his friends and even to and from school at Pine Street Elementary. On this late Friday afternoon, we saw no youngsters riding bikes. This is something Dan often points out in our own neighborhood. Kids just don’t play outside any more. As we took left and rights down adjoining streets. Dan pointed out which house was associated with which story. In one house lived a friend whose father was a popular outdoorsman. One year he shot the biggest buck in the State of Maine. This man wore a jacket with a patch on the sleeve as proof. At another house, every Saturday morning was standing-room-only for cartoon watching. The father used to manage the TV station, WAGM. Dan’s driver’s education teacher lived down another street. We would stop in and visit his widow later on. While sitting in her family room, I noticed a Norman Rockwell illustrated book resting on her coffee table. Seeing it, I thought of the parallel between that artist’s iconic images of American life and the simplicity of Dan’s youth. Around the corner from her house was Mantle Lake. It was on the path encircling this lake that Dan’s elementary school class had one time made stakes with the name of plants. His mother had saved the newspaper article about it. Dan was sure the signs were long gone, but, as we walked around the lake we both kept an eye out for them anyway. Driving down Main Street launched more memories. St. Mary’s Catholic Church was where Dan received his First Communion and Confirmation. Dan pointed out that the church entrance used to face Main Street and it never had a parking lot next to it, where the entrance now faces. Inside, Dan looked up from the center aisle, towards the balcony where he had sung in the choir during the fifth grade. In the center of Main Street, The Northeastland Hotel sign stuck out. That was where Dan’s father would sometimes bring the family for breakfast after Sunday Mass. Dan remembers the English muffins, but what was most special was going out for breakfast. No one did it often back in those days. Next door, the Braden Theatre was where Dan and his friends went to Saturday matinees and where his parents took him and his younger sister and brother one Sunday night to see the Sound of Music. That night the owner let them in for free because he knew Dan’s father. Woolworth’s used to be across the street. The glass fronted building is still there, as are others, one after another in line, where Zayre’s, W. T. Grant’s and J.J. Newberry’s had been. Some of them are occupied by small retail businesses. Some are empty. Other buildings remained which held memories from the 60s. On one corner was where the Buick Garage had stood and where Dan’s father had bought a new Electra. At the old Eddies’ IGA, the owner used to cut special grades of meat for Dan’s mother. The former old barbershop was where Dan’s father brought him to get his crew cut. Dan remembers that the wax used to make his hair in front stand up straight made his eyes water. Just beyond what had always been the edge of town, we passed the mall and other new stores and restaurants. Dan pointed out, “There was nothing here before. There wasn’t even a traffic light.” Passing them, the countryside emerged. It was from then on, for many miles, that I saw expansive fields, sprawling out to my right and to my left. The sky was so big it surprised me, as I thought the only big sky was found out west. It rose in front of me and on both sides, like a true panorama. The clouds were gigantic formations. With the sky blue in between them, it made me think of them as continents on a map of the world. It also caused me to think that Isle in the town’s