smooth zen stone agains rust colored sand

Wise Eating, Self-Acceptance, Heart Nourishment & Presence

LEWISTON: love, horror and hope 

I was invited as the featured author at a reading the the Merry Barn in Edgecomb, Maine. What a lovely evening, hostessed by Stephanie McSherry, the creative genius at the Barn. Here is an unpublished essay I wrote and read for the event.

As a child, I lived in Falmouth, Maine but my heart grew up in Lewiston. My father’s parents had always lived there. Born there, my Dad attended Lewiston schools. My cousins, second cousins, aunts, great  aunts, uncles, great uncles also lived in this mid-state city. I spent weekends at my grandparent’s home, smelling the taffy my grandmother, Memere, made. She taught me the language of cooking; boil, sauté, bake, broil, candy thermometers, and how you know if pasta is done. She called me her helper, her taster as I tiptoed on a stool next to her. Sometimes she guided my hand on her wooden spoon as we stirred and crafted meringues, caramels, penuche fudge. Sometimes her soft arm cradled my shoulder as she coached, “here, hon, like this. Good job.”

I can still taste the melted chocolate chips in her fresh-from-the-oven cookies. 

I can still feel my six-year-old hand reach for my tall Pepere’s, my grandfather’s fingers as we laughed and skipped our way to the Dairy Joy two blocks away. His eyes lit up when I entered a room. He’d sing, tap his feet and tell me, “I love music because music brings happiness to homes and communities.”

I can hear his trumpet and piano and feel his body wrapped around mine, my back nestled into his belly as he played his instruments, balancing my squirminess on his lap without missing a note. There I could count on being held, cradled and protected, those love gestures we need to thrive. 

None of the people who taught me the safety of unconditional love are in Lewiston now, the two generations there before me have died. So, it had been maybe twenty years since I’d explored those streets where family support and love were predictable.

Last fall I wanted to return, two weeks after a firearm-attack of innocent people in a two-location shooting spree. Eighteen killed in my Lewiston. Thirteen injured. The city, the state, the country, devastated. Predictability ruptured. 

I called a second cousin, Patty. Her Pepere, Oscar lived next door to my Pepere, Lucien brothers. I said, “Patty, let’s go to Newman St. Then let’s walk to find the Dairy JoyI want to ride by City Hall where my Pepere was city clerk for thirty years.”

Knowing that we can both smile and cry at the same time, I added, “I want to remember the sheltered Lewiston we knew as kids and celebrate today’s Lewiston, aching, maybe still terrified, yet daring to trust a teeny bit, to welcome hope just a little and to crawl back into life step by ….”

Patty blurted, “Yes. Me too. Of course. I’ll drive. Thursday. Let’s check out Lisbon Street where my dad had his men’s clothing store.”

Places, relationships, people, alive or dead, live inside us, don’t they? 

For days after our planned visit to Lewiston’s past and present, my thoughts raced; my heart beats quickened as I recalled the two Newman St homes that our grandmothers had always polished. Maybe the old paint would be peeling. Maybe new paint would have spiffed up these old buildings beyond recognition. These homes might be bigger or smaller than my memory of them. Maybe they’d be gone.

Maybe that den where I remember Pepere giving trumpet lessons didn’t really exist. I remembered hearing his clear tones as I ran around outside while he taught.

Maybe I had fabricated Irene Cote and her family across the street, how she hugged me every time I knocked at their door. 

Had I made all this up? Grief messes with memory, doesn’t it?  I prepared to be sad.

I had imaginings in my head. But my heart pulled with a hope that, as much as I dreaded huge change, a lot would feel the same.

Thursday afternoon, we hopped out of Patty’s Outback across from the lawn that separated our grandparents’ housesThe leaf colors of autumn covered the modest yards that once looked like a huge field: browns, yellows, oranges, reds. There her grandmother, my Great Aunt Edna, kept ducks. There were no ducks, no smell of candy wafting from inside to outside, no music coming from windows. But the houses stood mostly the same, not the yellow I remembered, but mostly. My people, Patty’s people, left long ago, but signs of life appeared, cars backing out of driveways, people gathering and chatting on Newman St. 

We gazed a good long while in a ‘wow’ kind of silence. Some moments, I whispered to myself, ”Oh, this. And look at that.” I felt full and empty and full and empty. And then we spoke, “Oh, the den window. Look! And there, that’s the Cote’s driveway.”

As we drove away, I turned to look back, feeling both the grace and the impossibility of recreating time. Then, we headed into town. Heart-enfolded Lewiston Strong signs beamed at us, from billboards, fences, store windows, the doors of homes. A deep well of old grief gripped me for the places and people where I had known and felt the most love, the most safe, the most happy. And a deeper newer grief stunned Patty and me and now, we knew for sure, people around the world.

We both agreed, “as a final stop, we must go to Grant’s Bakery. Remember when we went there as kids?”

Patty and I bought Spanish peanuts there, my Pepere’s favorite. We ate some in her car on our way south. Once home, I parsed them out to myself over weeks, savoring each one, the red skins, the salt, the crunch. The memories.

My physical home is, has always been, 35 miles away. Yet I would still say, “I grew up in Lewiston,” because in its places and with its people, I learned, “I belong here.” 

Real love is never destroyed, is it? So, I pray for Lewiston to thrive as a community again, for music and happiness to return. The little-known Lewiston of yesterdays stands as a global emblem of the reality and horror of present-day, all-too-frequent mass shootings. Today’s Lewiston also raises hope and embodies resilience. The old Lewiston and the new exist not only there in the middle of my state. For many of us around the world, Lewiston breathes inside us, in our hearts. HereNow.

Share Button

4 Responses to LEWISTON: love, horror and hope 

  1. Sue, I was interested to read of your ties to Lewiston. Thank you for showing us a warm and loving Lewiston of the past.

  2. I was soo scared during my years at FHS that I only got to know a few people I so regret that now. Knowing this part of your life and this essay help with this trauma. I was in Vermont in late October and seeing a town that I had known since childhood and had many friends from in the National News for three Days was….. devastating. Your essay pulls it together in a strengthening way rather than the fury that I hold about our inability to face what weapons of war and guns in general have done to My Country. Thank You. I enjoy following you and have for years.

Now, it's your turn. Please leave a Comment or a Question