I come home to do things I never really did, growing up. I go bowling at Moose Alley, built just after I left town. I go ice skating (though not this year) on the rink set up not long after the bowling alley. I sip coffee at the hip little coffeeshop where the pharmacy used to be. I drink beer with my father, listen to my mother’s old records.
The strange part is, all these activities are done with the same somewhat sentimental bent which colors everything when I visit home. So it starts to feel like I really did grow up bowling, and skating, sipping beer and coffee, listening to vinyl. But, of course, I didn’t. And let me add: Thank God. Thank God I don’t come home and do only what I did when I was growing up here. Thank God I’m bowling and drinking instead of working at the grocery store and watching The Simpsons alone in my room. That’s what I did my first Christmas home from away. I actually did get my job back at the grocery store, and worked part time thru the holiday. Seems insane now. Not that I couldn’t still use the money, but that door feels finally and mercifully shut in a way I guess it wasn’t, back then.
The thing that remains, the holdover between when I was growing up and now when I visit, is the town itself. And the town really is mostly the same, both in the two years since I was last here, and in the little over five years since I left. On this visit I’ve noticed the little gift shop where I job-shadowed in middle school is finally gone, the grocery store where I worked renovated, and couple of the businesses that always seemed to be changing owners, indeed, have new signs on them. But people still recognize me, and I still recognize people. It’s still Rangeley.
Catching up with people it becomes clear that I have changed, quite a bit. Or maybe changed isn’t even quite the right word. I have made a life. In the two years since I was last here, I have cultivated and sustained a life that is largeley independent of who I was, and what I did for the first eighteen years of my life. And the result is strange: I reconnect with people who have known me all my life, who know me pretty well, and I describe for them a life which has no obvious tether to the person they knew, the kid I was. I never did the community productions, never sang in the choir or anything. I wanted to. But I didn’t. And so now I’m describing my life in the theater–not a glamorous life, but a life of auditions, and and rehearsals, and performances–to people with whom I grew up, but who never saw that side of me. And it feels insane. Unreal. Feels like I’m returning not from Oregon, but from a mental hospital, and my delusions just happen to include the mundane, hard, occasionally frustrating details of real life in the theater.
During the intermission of Our Town at Portland Center Stage this fall, I told my companions, “I basically grew up there,” pointing to the stage. And it’s true. I am wrting to you from Grover’s Corner. It’s 2015 here like everywhere else, but other than that, life here is pretty much like the play Our Town. It is a simple, quiet, peaceful life here. There is a tranquility in Rangeley, a quality of life a lot of people search for, sometimes at great expense, and never find. It’s a beautiful town, and people are friendly. I guess this is the last thing I do when I come back that I never did growing up. I see the town. I see this place with I wouldn’t say clear, but clearer eyes. Fresh eyes. I see the beauty of the surrounding area. I see the empty storefronts, and the economic fragility of what’s become a tourism-based economy. I see the startling whiteness. I see four churches and one grocery store. I see a shocking amount of of camoflauge and hunter-orange. I hear dropped Rs, long, loud As. I see a lot of familiar faces, people who helped make me me.