Tuesday, October 14, 2008

On Location: The Hamlet

According to Bubbles from the Canadian mockumentary "Trailer Park Boys," life in a trailer park can be summed up in "five little words": Liquor, whores, cigarettes, mustard, and balogna.

Now, my adolescence in Westbrook's trailer park, The Hamlet, certainly featured plenty of mustard and balogna. And it even included a cigarette (though if my mother asks, I made up that last detail only to strengthen my street cred). But I can't speak much about the other two words on Bubble's list, at least not when discussing my childhood (zing!).

Instead, I remember The Hamlet as the site of a wonderful childhood and a place that generates nostalgia whenever I consider it for any length of time. So, without further ado, here's a brief retrospective--and undoubtedly romantic--tour of my childhood at The Hamlet:

The Field- In a more bucolic setting, this patch of green space atop Windsor Drive might've been referred to as a quad, instead of simply The Field (which, by the way, should not be confused with the other The Field, which I'll explain in a bit). Nonetheless, it was dubbed The Field and its simple functions matched its simple moniker: Its interior served as the site of rowdy football games, while its exterior marked the running track where everyone battled for second place behind Tommy Murray. Put simply, The Field was every boy's reward for hiking to the park's sole bus stop each morning.

The Mailbox- Closely related to The Field both in geography and function, The Mailbox was the bank of postal boxes at which The Hamlet's aspiring scholars (think you'd ever see those words crammed together in a single sentence?) gathered each weekday morning while waiting for the school bus. Matt Doucette entertained us during the winter by licking the outside of the boxes and peeling his tongue off their metal exterior. And the fact that it also served as the one-stop place for mail in the entire trailer park made the personal mail slot at our house on (sniff) Monroe Avenue a revelation. (What do you mean we don't have to drive to our mailbox?)

The Clubhouse- Though I recall numerous Cub Scout meetings and Pinewood Derbies taking place in the park's clubhouse, my most poignant memory of the gathering place was when my father won the Portland City Championship chess tournament for the first time there in 1990. That and a couple Halloween parties in which one of the attractions was to plunge your hand into a jar containing a slimy conconction that remains a secret to this day.

The Hill- About halfway down the sloping Windsor Drive, you have to take a quick right onto St. James Street in order to appreciate The Hill. Thirteen years after the fact, The Hill seems only a tad bit more intimidating than an ant hill. But in our pre-teen minds, The Hill was the nastiest sledding hill in town, made only more dangerous by our parents' constant warnings against letting our momentum carry us under the tires of a car gliding on St. James.

The Woods- Not to be confused with the other The Woods--again, I'll explain later--The Woods were a stretch of suburban forest at the crest of The Hill. Forts made from sticks and brush were constructed, destructed, and constructed again in The Woods. And if we were especially daring, we'd hop the barbed-wire fence surrounding the block of farm land that was sandwiched between Saco Street and the trailer park. Knowing the $300,000 homes that make up the Victoria Heights subdivision are now located on the same spot where we once threw cow patties at one another never ceases to make me chuckle. That, and the memory of my best friend Walter Burney shooting my index finger with a BB gun while I held up a plastic cup for target practice.

Bond Street- After you drive by The Hill on St. James Street, take a left-turn onto Bond Street, which was named in honor of Bond, James Bond. This, in my modest opinion, was the street on which to live in The Hamlet. My family and I lived at 247, Walter lived across the street, and the Edwards brothers (Ryan and Kevin) lived near the end of the street. When we weren't playing, er, field hockey (we played hockey in the Edwards's side yard, but we used real hockey sticks, tennis balls, and garbage cans as goalposts), we were playing basketball at my trailer. And when we weren't playing basketball at my trailer, we were playing b-ball at the Edwards'. Or maybe we were playing pick-sticks (think: Capture the Flag) around the Burney's trailer. That is, of course, when Walter wasn't jumping off the roof of his trailer onto a comforter (logic wasn't always our strength). Anyway, you get the point: Bond Street was where it was at. Especially if you wanted to get sworn at by a telephone operator responsible for interpreting phone calls for our deaf neighbor's deaf friend (it's a long story, so remind me to tell you about when we're sharing an edible shot at Mill Side.)

The Woods- Not to be confused with the other The Woods--I've explained those woods already--The Woods at the end of Bond Street featured a lot of the same activities--building forts, tearing down forts, re-building forts--as the other The Woods, except these The Woods had a stream that provided ample opportunity for one of our favorite pasttimes: Catching frogs. The fact that these woods now have a "Danger: Restricted Property" sign attached to a tree nearby gives me pause.

The Playground- If you take a left at the end of Bond Street and drive beyond the end of Windsor Drive, you'll see a field that features nothing of interest. Once upon a time, though, it featured the best playground in the park. It was also the site of the seventeenth-most embarassing moments of my life: My first girlfriend (I can't bring myself to type her name, the wound is still that fresh) and my friends ganged up on me to give me a ho-down and therefore display my red and blue tighty whities for all The Hamlet to see. It was also there that I heard my first dirty joke involving tuna, maggots, and, well, never mind.

The Field- If The Hamlet had a Mecca to which a pilgrimmage must be made, it would be The Field (not to be confused with the, all together now, other The Field). Located between Bond Street and Windsor Drive, The Field was surrounded by a moat-like gully of rust-colored water (I think it was water, but looking back, am not so sure) that stained hundreds of white socks and ruined dozens of sneakers. Featuring a broad head and a narrowing peninsula-like base that jutted into the gully, The Field was by far the place at which we logged the most hours. Baseball played with tennis balls and wooden bats was our game of choice, but we also enjoyed the occasional game of tackle football, especially during football season (one of our cohorts, Kenny Wendrick, always insisted on being Vincent Brisby in our games, which is funny if you know anything about the New England Patriots). And during the summer, we'd play in The Field from the early morning until early evening, with the only breaks coming when our parents forced us to join the families for meals. We'd even play football in The Field during the winter, despite the crusty shell of the powder scraping our exposed ankles and wrists when we ran or tumbled to the ground.

- John C.L. Morgan
(The Hamlet alumni, '95)

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow,

I moved out of the Hamlet when I was 9 and relocated to an island in Casco Bay. I remember walking to the mailboxes every morning for the bus!

I also remember this girl next door named Sarah who used to tease my dog and one time, the dog got loose and chased her to the top of her dad's car. It was awesome. I also remember a kid named Joey who lived in the opposite direction. He had Nintendo and therefor was cool.

Damn, thanks for writing your blog.

Anonymous said...

Hey,

I lived in The Hamlet from 1987 to 2004 and my parents still live there, so I guess that's still home. You know Matt Doucette, so that means we have some vague contemporaries. Interesting.

It'd be very interesting to know who you are, and when you left, at least.

Makes me miss home.

Matthew and Peggy said...

This is Matt Doucette's wife. You hear a lot of people talk smack about The Hamlet but I would like to add that in the two years I have lived in the hamlet and in the 12 years I have known my husband most of my favorite times and best memories have happened in The Hamlet. I sled down The Hill with our kids. We let a turtle go down in the stream. We go play on what is left of the swing set. Our kids catch the bus at The Field by the mail boxes. Some of my best friends are from the The Hamlet, Marshall Doucette, Nichalos Shaw (who may I add joined the Army), Drew Wendrick, Paul and Jesse Gorman Paige Murray and of course my best friend my husband. He isn't the same Matt Doucette you all probably remember. He has 3 beautiful girls who are 9, 6, and 3. The Hamlet will always be HOME to us both. And to many others. The Hamlet is not a trap and it does not bring you down. Life is what YOU make of it! Thank you for writing this article. It brought a smile to my face and to Matt's face. Hope to see more comments

Mrs Matthew Doucette ( Peggy )

dcwendrick said...

J C Morgan. Haha honestly i never knew your real first name the entire time that i lived in the hamlet an knew you an your brother Sammy. but anyways i do remember very vividly every aspect of that story you just told, especially the "ditch" behind my house that bordered "the field" i remember ruining my fair share of socks an shoes, mostly in the winter time when the ice was deceptivly thin.

I appreciate this story, those were the goood old days from the hamlet and i laughed out loud more then once reading this.

Thanks. -Drew