Friday, December 03, 2004

Small town America

I had my only day off yesterday that I’ll have for the next 10 days at my still to be unnamed catalog retailer where I’m working for Christmas. In the morning, I interviewed a former semi-pro and town team player from my former hometown, for my book, When Towns Had Teams.

I spent the morning with Stan Doughty, who played local baseball for 23 years. Doughty had been a tremendous player, who I got to see play when he was nearing the end of his playing career. Even at the age of 38, he was still a formidable hitter. Doughty was a high school teacher of mine at Lisbon High School, as well as being my athletic director for four years. Prior to my entering high school, he had coached the baseball team at Lisbon for 20 years. I remember advice he gave me when I was a 15 year old pitcher, playing for him during my first summer of American Legion baseball. I was a tall, lanky pitcher, but got the idea I could be cute with hitters and drop down on the side to righties. He told me that with my 6’4” height, I should come straight over the top. He obviously knew what he was talking about as I went on to win 20 games in my high school career with only one loss.

Each interview I’ve done has revealed new information about town team baseball. I’ve now spoken with over 20 various players from a by-gone era for my book. I feel very privileged that they’ve felt comfortable enough with me to open up and talk about an important, but often neglected part of their lives. I’m looking forward to being able to get this book out to people, as I think readers are going to be surprised and intrigued by the baseball that once existed in Maine’s various communities.

In the afternoon, my wife and I drove to the quaint little town of Damariscotta. This town, located on the Damariscotta River, which flows into the Atlantic, is bordered by the Great Salt Bay, a thriving wetland habitat that is unique to Maine. With its vibrant Main Street, including one of Maine’s best libraries and even a movie theater, the town is a great place to spend an afternoon enjoying a true small town. What’s nice about downtown is the number of locally-owned stores that this town possesses. One of the reasons for the vitality of some of the Midcoast downtowns like Bath, Damariscotta and Belfast is the lack of Wal-Mart stores in this area of the state. All three of these towns also have an old-fashioned department store that is owned by a Maine family. The Reny’s stores are fixtures in many of the more vibrant local downtown shopping areas. I am reminded of my youth when I go into one of the Reny’s stores, as department stores were part of the memories I have of growing up in the 1960’s and early 1970’s in Maine. The last few years, my wife and I have decided to forsake the malls and chain stores and have done our Christmas shopping in Bath, with its many great shops and stores, which also includes a Reny’s Department Store.

Probably the best part of my day was visiting Maine Coast Book Shop. With its welcoming, friendly atmosphere, large assortment of books, including many Maine writers, as well as a great café, it is one of the main attractions in downtown Damariscotta. An independent bookstore that’s been part of the downtown for over 30 years, the staff are readers and writers themselves. As I was perusing the Maine author’s section of the store, the store's manager asked if I needed assistance. I told her I was looking at Maine books to get some ideas of the various publishers publishing books in the state. I told her I was in the process of writing my first book. She happened to have her own book on the shelves in front of me. The Cows Are Out! Two Decades on a Maine Dairy Farm by Trudy Chambers Price is a wonderful book about her 23 years on a Maine dairy farm. Capturing the never-ending work involved in farming, as well as the simple pleasures of life, it’s a great book for anyone wanting to know about Maine outside of yuppie enclaves like Portland or shopping ghettos like the Maine Mall or Freeport.

Price was very interested in my book and gave me some welcome advice regarding publishing. She told me she has been very happy with her publisher, Islandport Press. This is Price’s first book and it has sold out its first printing of 2,500 books in less than a year. It’s set to go to a second printing, which is excellent for a regional book.

Last night, I spent a couple of hours reading from my newly purchased book and found it so poignant and evocative. Dairy farming, like fishing, logging and other rural economic lifelines, is dying out in Maine. Reading Price’s book made me realize the special nature of life in rural America and how it’s all being swallowed up by our hyper-consumerism that is propelled by the corporate machine.

While places like Damariscotta still exist, I’m going to take advantage of visits to them in order to maintain my sanity in an increasingly insane world. Since I still haven’t perfected my time machine, I’ll settle for the next best thing—visiting people and places unspoiled by box stores, malls and rampant commercialization.

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