A boy's world

By John Christie | Feb 23, 2012

As a young grammar schooler growing up near the base of Mount Battie on Megunticook Street, I assumed what was, to me, an awesome responsibility, and I recruited my school chum, Paul Davis, who lived on nearby Central Street to help me.

World War II was going on, and those of us who lived in Camden during the conflict were aware of it because of the uniformed Navy officers assigned to oversee the building of wooden landing ship tanks at the shipyard in town. In fact, two of them rented rooms from my mother in our house.

As Paul and I played in the woods on the mountain behind my house virtually every day after school, we looked across at what we thought was the entire expanse of the Atlantic Ocean to Europe, and the dreaded Hun preparing to launch their assaults on the United States.

Little did we know that the land that covered our horizon was actually Hurricane, Vinalhaven, North Haven and Islesboro islands.

No matter, we knew that it was important that every day we had to climb up to our gun emplacement (an old log poking out of a crevasse where we had wedged it) and maintain vigilance in the event of the anticipated attack.

And every Wednesday, we tasted the thrill of victory as a huge column of smoke, obviously a direct hit from our well-aimed armaments, arose from precisely the same spot in Germany. Or rather, on Vinalhaven. Little did we know then that Wednesday was the day the town always burned the dump!

So Paul and I did our part in the war effort, and we must have done it pretty well. Camden was never attacked, and we assumed that our vigilance and commitment were the determining factors.

Thinking about my youth, and the power of imagination in the heads of a couple of kids on the coast of Maine, got me to thinking about how our entire world was circumscribed by what we could see and assimilate. There weren't any television images exposing us to a bigger world beyond the environment we experienced on a daily basis, and pictures in books were nothing more than that. Images of things almost beyond our comprehension.

So our reality consists of only a few square miles, expanded occasionally to include such far-off places as Rockland and Belfast or, for the lucky few, Bangor or even Portland.

I even thought of Rockland as this exotic place where lions roamed. Lions, you ask? Yeah, lions. All because I remember my first trip ever to Rockland with Captain Husby, our near neighbor at the top end of Harden Avenue, who is still one of my life's greatest heroes, and at the intersection of Old County Road and Route 1 at the top of Power House Hill stood a huge sign with a roaring lion staring menacingly at the traffic. I asked Cap what the sign was there for, and he told me that down the road to right was where the lions lived.

Years later I learned that the sign actually was erected by the Lions Club to welcome people to Rockland, and to announce its meetings at the Thorndike Hotel.

At a gathering just a couple of weeks ago of my classmates from the graduating class of 1955 from Camden High School, a luncheon which involved some 20 local survivors who meet the second Tuesday of every month, and has now been going on for several years thanks the organizational efforts of Millard Eugley and Joyce Milliken (now Joyce Richard), we were chatting about our years growing up in Camden.

To a person, we shared the sense of comfortably inhabiting this special little corner of the world, with only passing curiosity about what was going on beyond there, and the realization that few of us ever even ventured more than a few miles away during all our formative years. In fact, Walter Campbell and a couple of other classmates remarked that it wasn't until we took our Senior Class Trip to Washington, D.C., that they had ever been outside of the state of Maine.

For me, it wasn't until I was in college that I even got to Vinalhaven! And I only went there after the parents of my roommate, Charlie Graham from Marblehead, Mass., and now, I'm delighted to say, retired in Camden, came to visit and remarked how beautiful it was out there, and waxed eloquently about the ferry ride through Lairey's Narrows to get to Carver's Harbor.

Who knew? I had always thought that Vinalhaven was just this place from which smoke arose every Wednesday.

Now, like so much of Maine beyond the confines of Camden, I know it's one of the special treasures that it took leaving home to appreciate.



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