I’ve found that a city will swallow you up, make you feel anonymous and newborn as it casts you in its bricks, molds you and shapes you until you fold seamlessly into its walls. But a small town will be a mirror. A small town will reveal and inspire you with your own history. A small town will call you home.
I’m not able to go home often, but on a late afternoon in April I succumb to a craving. A drive North, away from Friday night Art Walks, the discomfort of men in suits and Manhattans served straight up; away from the monotony of walking across crosswalks and waiting on red lights to turn green. I’m heading toward the place that cradled me, that rocked me in its streams, tried to keep a gentle hand on my shoulder but ended up giving a gentle push instead; a place that has retreated humbly into the abundance of Maine’s open spaces, Winterport, my hometown.
Winterport is a village on the Penobscot River. Route 1A intersects it’s town center where you’ll find a gas station, an antique store that’s never open, two breakfast spots, a recently-opened BBQ joint and a mermaid-themed bed and breakfast.
Ten minutes out of downtown is the road that I grew up on, where my parents still live, Riverview Heights. I remember the day they paved it. I’ve never strapped roller blades on so fast. Nine years old, the fastest girl in the world. Legs in a squat, a stick of chalk in each hand, sparks of pink dust surrounding me as I fly.
Nearly two decades later, I pull into my driveway. Bald Hill is majestic, catching fire as the sun sets behind it in a halo. Inside, my dad is snoring behind the closed door of my parent’s room. He was on nightshift last night at the casino in Bangor.
From our porch, I can see my mother literally pushing boulders around in my backyard. My mother is a soft-spoken, gentle nurse. She’s 5’7” and maybe 140 pounds. She has the prehistoric strength of a triceratops.
Throughout our white birch forest, there are massive slate boulders. Over the course of my life, I have observed my mother tumbling passionately into her obsession with rocks. She told me once that each boulder tells her where it needs to go. As she walks through her gardens, she can recount the history of every rock, how it came to sit as a stoic placeholder in her massive walls around us.
As I watch her now, fiddling around with the 8-foot rock rake my sister got her for Christmas, I know I am home.
I walk down over the hill and wrap my arms around her mud-dusted shoulders. As if I had always been there, she grabs my wrists and squeezes. I know she is closing her eyes.
Up at the house my father has awoken. “Let’s go for a bike ride,” he calls from the porch.
In my family, the word “bike” does not mean custom fixed-gear vintage Schwinn. A bike is a 1982 Iron Head Harley Sportster, that’s emergence every year is the first real rumble of spring.
A “bike ride” is a trip to the Steamboat gas station, where my father will buy a 6-pack of Coors Lite, and I’ll wedge it between us for the ride home.
I bust through our screen door and leapfrog onto the back.
“Just around the block,” my dad says.
But the block is never enough. We head up the steep hill of the Cove Road, and I grab a little tighter to keep from shifting back. It took me an entire summer to pedal my 10-year-old legs up that incline, but there was nothing sweeter than tasting the gravel wind on the way down.
We fly past the abandoned cemeteries and cow pastures that I grew up in, the same fixtures from my mother’s childhood. She grew up here too.
In many ways Winterport resembles every tiny Maine community. Families have risen generations here, each one swimming in the Marsh Stream and acting in the Nativity Pageant every year. There isn’t much here to put in a guidebook, and even though they may have driven through on their way to some distant, coastal town, many passerby will not remember Winterport. We’re just a little coordinate, just enough time to say, “This is quaint.” And we’re already fading in a rearview.
But here, I can close my eyes. And I can allow myself to be cradled. As the chickadees chirp atop the maples and the sweet spice of gasoline makes me greedily breathe deeper, I know that I will always be of this small place, this place that reveals me.
About the Author: Emma Thieme is a fourth-generation Maine girl currently living in Portland. Emma is a jewelry-maker, a bartender, a dancer, and a seamstress, but most of all she is a writer.
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