Remembering Bethel, Maine, the Metropolis

Growing up, I thought Bethel was “our” city. When we climbed in my Dad’s car to go to Bethel, we were going big time! Some of my earliest memories are climbing the steps to Brown’s Variety. It was Magic Land.  All sorts of things laid out in neat little rows, other things in small piles but oh, so neat. There was always someone behind the counter as I entered, to greet me with a smile and “how are you” to make me feel really welcomed. While Ma looked for her usual sewing supplies, threads, needle for her treadle Singer machine, Curt and I wandered into the “other room” to look at all the treasures. There were coloring books and story books and oh, the wonders of it all. Usually, Ma bought the essentials she intended to buy and that was all, but it was a fun time to just browse without anyone pestering us to buy or asking us what we wanted or anyone grimacing for fear the “kids” might put something out of place. Even after marriage, I went to Brown’s Variety and the thrill was still there.

Who can forget the grand Bethel Theater with its red velvet plush seats?  It was another Wonderland to enter the lobby and inhale the perfume of the popcorn machine! Freddie Grover always had a huge smile to greet the movie goers. I loved sitting way up back because it seemed if I had to sit down front, I always left with a stiff neck. No matter where my seat was, I got excited as soon as the news was on, the previews of coming attractions and the short subjects!  How exciting when the Three Stooges were the short subject of the night!!!

I loved riding up Main Street, making the big circle at the end and coming back down again. In my young mind, this WAS the city. I always glanced down the street where Gould Academy is and wondered how anyone could go to such a big school!

The drugstore was at the head of the street and occasionally Ma had to go in there for a minute. I don’t remember going in often, but I think I remember the gentleman who owned it, standing on the steps wearing knickers.Hmm, was his name Carroll or Mr. Carroll… now maybe I am wrong, but that is the picture in my mind.  Usually if we stopped , Ma would be buying a box of chocolates for Grammy’s birthday or some other occasion.

In my earliest years, and this is a faint memory, Ma took me to have a tooth extracted at Dr. Brown’s. That was the era of being given gas to put you in another world while the deed was done. I remember my mother standing next to me and shaking me and telling me to wake up…and she sputtered to my father that night.

Years later, I climbed the steps to Dr. John Trinward for any “mouth work”.  A finer dentist I’ve not had before or since!!

When I was in high school, Dad always bought a car from a dealer in Bethel…I think it was a Chevvy dealer, but on the other hand, one time he bought a Dodge that had push buttons for gears. He didn’t like that at all but held on to it for a couple years. After years of having a ’36 Ford, ’33 Chevvy, ’38 Chevvy and of all things, a ’49 Kaiser-Fraiser ( as he called it), he loved to have a new vehicle and each time he went back to Bethel. Perhaps it was Bennett’s Garage. In my mind, he went to the city, no matter the name!!

Bethel was my go-to place even after I had my four children. Remember the A & P store?? Every week, the three older kids holding hands and the youngest in the wagon and I doing the pushing , got all our food there. I promised them animal crackers at the checkout if they were good and it always worked. Drew Webster worked there at the time and always had a smile for us.

In the early ’50’s my brother and I drove to Bethel and parked near Dr. Hudson, the vet’s place, to see the flood at the bottom of the hill. The mighty Androscoggin had overflowed its banks again. I remember when they planted the evergreens in the field to abort any floods in the future. 

It was a grand place to visit as a child and through my young years. I’ve been away a long time now, but keep track of all the “goings-on” through the Bethel Citizen each week. Ah, come to think of it, that was another Magic Place. I worked one summer as a secretary to Miss Hobbs, using a typewriter she rented from that office.

Such memories! My first date was at the Bethel Theater; my first fairy tale book came from Brown’s Variety!.The date went out of my life  but the book is still on my closet shelf.

Thanks, Bethel for the memories!


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