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My Home Town, Portland

Portland, Maine has begun to make “tops” lists across the country:

#1 The Top 10 Coziest Cities in America

#1 Most Coffee-Obsessed Cities

#5 America’s Coolest Small Towns

#3 The 10 Best Places to Live Now

#14 America’s Top 20 Cities for Beer Lovers

#2 10 Classiest Party Cities in America (really?)

I love the up-scaling of the Victorians on the Eastern Promenade, the Eastern Trail and “Polar Express” coal train running alongside it, the sailboats in Casco Bay, Fort Gorges, and Bug Light. Fore Street and Scales have served us some of our favorite meals of all our travels. We’re close to beaches, bakeries, Flat Bread pizza. Taking the Casco Bay Ferries to the islands and hanging out on boats docked at DiMillo’s Marina is what we’ve done for a lifetime.

Portland is my hometown where I’ve lived since I was six years old….and still. I am stable to a fault and happen to love living oceanside in our town.

In fact, after 25 years living in the Portland neighborhood where we raised our sons, we’ve now moved to our next-leg-of-journey home….1.5 miles away, still in Portland.

As we pondered where we might want to live in retirement, exploring Asheville and Hilton Head, North Carolina; Savannah and Jekyll Island, Georgia; the White Mountains of North Conway, New Hampshire; Rangeley and Bar Harbor, Maine; and all parts of Florida where our parents lived for two decades, our search led us to the decision to stay put, the place we love best of everywhere we’ve traveled.

There’s no place like home.

Portland is the place that feels right, where we can breathe and live out our days in a way that suits us.

If you’ll indulge me, let me take you the long way around.

My husband and I hail from Portland High School. Founded in 1821, it’s the second oldest operating public high school in the U.S. In addition to graduating some good folks who remain our life-long friends, it also educated many of whom we are proud:

--John Ford, American Film Director

--Percival Proctor Baxter, Governor

--James Phinney Baxter, III, Pulitzer Prize Winner

--Robert Edward Peary, Explorer of the Arctic

--Don Williams, Country Singer and Songwriter

Its current student body of 1,000 come from 41 countries and speak 26 languages. It is the most diverse in the state of Maine, located in the heart of downtown, not far from the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s home. When I pass the concrete front stairs of Portland High on Cumberland Avenue, I remember the photo of our Latin Club taken by the local newspaper as we headed to Italy in 1979. Another vivid memory is my friend, Andrew, in the Drama Club, while we were waiting for a ride home from practice, writing Kim & Frank on the concrete wall in Menon deodorant that we were selling for the club to raise money. That graffiti, to my horror, withstood snow and rain for years before it finally faded or someone was able to rub it off.

My work-life started in the Time + Temperature Building, moved to one of the new Portland Square office buildings, and now, for the past twenty-six years, is in the historic H. H. Hay Building, Portland’s own “flat iron” building which comes to a point in Monument Square where Free Street meets the One City Center plaza. Our building was built in 1826 and inside, it’s character, brick walls, and many stairs connecting building to building give our clients a conversation-starter when they visit.

My own office looks out onto Free Street – a.k.a Main Street, U.S.A.

I’ve developed a silent and imaginary friendship with my neighbors on Free:

  • Cliff’s Barber Shop - red + white striped barber pole, big screen TV, bright lights, and my young colleague and his wife taking their son for his first haircut on a weekday afternoon

  • The law firm upstairs- Feel-like-colleagues to me, working partners, typing in front of multiple screens, feet occasionally leaning up against the desk as they read or think, lights out at day’s end

  • Find - Second-hand shopping, a place where Black Lives Matter and Safe Place Portland signs grace their storefront

  • Joe Wigon Office Supplies - Sweet, sweet – the owner is elderly, I’ve heard 90’s and still working. Her employee takes her arm and walks her to her ride parked outside their store every mid-afternoon. His tenderness toward her, his boss, is just plain sweet.

Arabica coffee, Pinecone + Chickadee antiques, House of J. Henry hair salon, Jibe Cycling Studio spinning, El Rayo Mexican taqueria complete my view of our neighborhood block.

I feel attached to these neighbors. That’s the spirit of small towns. There is a sense of community and common bonds. Often, there is a nod and a smile as we pass each other on the ancient brick sidewalks.

The Old Port and Exchange Street are blooming with the likes of Fat Face, Urban Outfitters, Starbucks, West Elm, Lululemon, Athleta now coming to town, taking our city up a notch toward the big leagues. The attraction is that these national chains shimmer with light beside our locals: Folly 101, Lisa’s Maine Made, Sherman’s Books, Ramblers Way, D. Cole Jewelers.

What I love most about downtown Portland is its architecture. We’re not made up of square, nondescript, concrete high rises. We’re full of brick, lots of brick, with green window frames, and the most amazing architectural elements on roof tops and pop out windows.

Our town has wrought iron gates, brownstones, mansions on the West End, a bandstand on the East End.

There is grass and trees, and everywhere, there is a view of the ocean.

Traveling is marvelous and inspiring, but there is nothing better, for me, than returning to Portland, home sweet home.

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