Memories are faulty at best. Often, the things that we remember happening, either never did, or they happened much differently than our recollections offer. Of course, as writers, many of us use memories, experiences, and even hometowns as touchstones to craft stories and narrative, swimming around in the pool of what we think we remember.
My final essay in The Perfect Number: Essays & Stories Vol. 1, “Goin’ Back,” is a narrative about my hometown of Lisbon Falls. I often describe the town where I grew up as “a bit rough around the edges” to characterize the changes that have happened to a place that was never high-end to begin with—however, it was never as shabby as it looks right now, in 2014.
Thomas Wolfe was another writer who mined personal experiences and his hometown and included them in his fiction—me, I’m an essayist, not a fiction writer. As far as I know, I’m the only writer who hails from Lisbon Falls who has managed to weave together Thomas Wolfe, Libya Hill (the fictional town of his best-known book, You Can’t Go Home Again), and Lisbon Falls. I bind them together to try to articulate what’s happened to the town over not just the past 5-10 years, but I decided to go back much further than that to the 1970s, when the current unwinding began.
The Facebook page that pushed me to write the final essay in this new book of essays, “You know you’re from Lisbon ME if…”, was all lit up over the weekend about smoke, stink, and what many were calling a “controlled burn” down at the former U.S. Gypsum mill that’s no more—it’s just a big pile of rubble these days that sometimes smokes and stinks (like on Sunday afternoon). Rather shabby-looking, really.
We live in a time where communication is mostly reduced to short bursts, sometimes offered as the God’s honest truth on whatever the topic happens to be. Facebook pages like the one I mentioned are top heavy on nostalgia, and if explanations are offered on the town, they almost always are framed by the usual binary back and forth that afflicts so much of our communication in 2014. This binary banter most often is steeped in personal opinion, facts be damned.
There was a time when the Town of Lisbon—comprised of the villages of Lisbon Falls, Lisbon Center, and Lisbon Village—had a newspaper. Not the kind that gets mailed out to all the towns across the region by one particular publisher based in Turner, either.
This paper had a newspaperman at the helm—someone with a journalist’s eye, and an understanding of the town that I’d argue has been lost since he shut down his final incarnation of the hometown newspaper, at that time, a monthly called the Lisbon Enterprise.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Norm Fournier published the Lisbon Post every week, from his offices on Union Street. I’m not going to spend much time today writing about Norm—I’ve touched on hometown newspapers and Norm’s handiwork before on this blog. I will say that Norm offered his thoughts and opinions every week for more than two decades, and at the end, it was a monthly meeting with people in the town. More than mere personal observations, however, Norm grounded these in what was happening at the time. Thanks to the efforts of people like the Lisbon Historical Society and their archives at the MTM Center, you can actually go back and read what Norm wrote about Lisbon, back in the day. It’s incredibly informative and at time, even prescient to what’s happening right now.
So, on Wednesday night (Sept. 24), if you can pull yourself away from your keyboard (someone recently referred to people like these kinds as a “keyboard warriors”) and make it down to Lisbon Falls Community Library, I’ll be talking about Norm, his service to the town, why the place looks so darn shabby right now, and possibly, what might be done to turn the town’s fortunes around. I’ll probably mention another Lisbon newspaperman, too—some guy named John Gould. No, I won’t be talking about economic development—at least not the kind practiced by developers who are happy to sell off the assets of a place, or pave it over—or even tear down every remaining vestige of the past. I never went to economic development school, so my thoughts are my own, or at least they’ve been forged in a place much different than the usual caverns of empty-headedness, what we refer to these days as “higher ed.”
I’ll be reading from The Perfect Number: Essays & Stories Vol. 1 beginning at 6:00 pm in the space where I learned to love books and reading. Actually, this is the place where I enrolled in my first course at the University of Autodidactica, too.