I think there’s one in every town. Perhaps it is the little post office where people gather to exchange news, the barber shop where you get clipped and inhale the latest news, but in my home village of Locke Mills, Maine ( and back then we called it Locke’s Mills so who knows?) it was the Town Hall.
Oh , that precious building whose walls can never talk, but oh, if they could! It was the hub of activity for all ages and I first encountered the hallowed hall when I was probably eight or nine years old.
Grace and Charlie Day asked me to attend the Ken MacKenzie Show with them. The very distinct smell as one entered the hall was one of oiled floors or maybe just the aroma of excitement. Hard, wooden folding chairs were set up in rows. Soon the big wine colored velvet curtain parted and there was the man himself. My heart went into my throat and I could scarcely breathe. After a few songs, he waved his arm to his left and said, “Say hello to Simone, the Missus”…well, the audience just went wild.
Ken MacKenzie was not the only traveling, singing cowboy. Grace and Charlie treated me to another show. As the curtain was pulled, there stood a big man with a guitar singing, “Come along and listen and I’ll sing and play for you, I am the Lone Pine Mountaineer”…oh, how I loved to hear him sing and his wife, Betty Cody yodel! One evening they brought a special guest, a young singer named Hawshaw Hawkins and I went home with an 8 by 10 autographed picture! Years later, he was killed in the same plane crash that took Patsy Cline.In my career as a writer/ reporter, I wrote a two page feature on Betty Cody. Strange how life turns sometimes.
Grammar school kids marched down the school sidewalk, assisted across the Bird Hill Road by teachers to the main road and marched two by two down the sidewalk . Teachers held up what little traffic there might be for the kids to cross Route 26 and we were in the Town Hall…the magic place. Whatever the occasion, we were always thrilled to think we were going there…even if it were only to decorate or set up chairs.
The local grammar school put on plays and many times I stood on the stage singing duets with my friend, Kay Dorey. There was the 8th grade graduation and down the aisle between the wooden folding chairs I marched, dressed in white and trying to keep my balance wearing white sandals with heels a bit higher than Ked sneakers.
The Greenwood town meetings!! Once we reached the 8th grade, we were permitted to attend for a short time. Residents sat, Greenwood Town Report in hand, following the proceedings article by article. Occasionally a discussion turned into a cacophany of voices, but neighbors were neighbors and the meeting usually was adjourned with a few grumblings and mumblings. The old Town Hall stood straight and tall through it all.
As a very nervous 18 year old, I stood in line to sign up for unemployment benefits downstairs in the hall. The line snaked around a table; when my turn came, I answered a few questions and bolted. In this same room, many a Saturday evening, I worked in the kitchen and waited tables for church suppers. The Ladies Circle provided a feast fit for a king!
I took ballroom dance lessons in that hall..well, until I realized I was never going to be another Ginger Rogers.
The years went by and the hall stood the test of time. It was the only place..THE place for my first wedding reception and years later, my four little ones paraded around the same floor in their Halloween costumes hoping for a prize.
I attended my first Union meeting in the Town Hall and all the Union sponsored Christmas parties as well. There were benefit dances to help those in need or to ease the grief of someone taken much too early in life.
Fast forward to the early 1980’s and my son Alan and I returned to that magical stage to sing in a benefit for the town’s recreation fund. As I stood there, looking out over the audience, all the memories came flooding back.
To those of us who had little, the Town Hall was the magic place. It still stands tall and proud. I have heard that it is getting old and its condition might not be the best. I will always remember going in the front door, taking a right up the stairs, hitting the “landing”, taking a left and up the rest of the stairs to the “magic place.”
You can’t beat that for great childhood memories. I hope somewhere, in some other small Maine village , there is still a magic gathering place that will hold memories for some little girl sixty years from today.