I’m going back, going back to my own ones. Back to talk, talk awhile with my own ones. For the world is so cold. Don’t care nothin’ for your soul you share with your own ones. – Van Morrison, “Irish Heartbeat”
On a balmy, heavy, late July night in New York City, my mind makes the trip back to Surry, Maine, where I grew up, and to the Bay Market, our only store and the center of our town.
The Bay Market was established by Allen and Patty Fitch in the spring of 1993, a year after I had left home for college, and it quickly became to all of us – my family and friends who still live in Surry and also to me when I came home for vacations and summers – a place that defined our town. Guided by the dignity and warmth of Allen and Patty, the store provides Surry a forum where people from all walks of life can interact as a community. The market became, almost on the day it was born, a throwback to the old-time general store by enabling dialogue that was like a continuous town meeting.
When Allen told me on the phone last December that he and Patty were selling the store, his voice became low and sad. He told me that it’s his health – a kidney problem and high blood pressure. His doctor has instructed him to slow down.
From inside my apartment in New York City I felt anxiety rise in my chest. After all, it is hard to accept, even when you’ve moved away, that anything you know as “home” might change. I said to Allen: “But you’ve made Surry feel for the first time in a long while like a community. Do you know this?” Somehow, for me, coming home for a month here, a weekend there, the market began to symbolize the small town I’ve lost in moving to the city. A trip home just didn’t feel complete without catching up with Allen and Patty and the folks drinking coffee and eating pizza at the counter.
“A lot of people have been saying that,” Allen’s voice trailed off, and then he began to tell me about how busy their lives have become, how they have no time to themselves. He told me he wants to be able to act again in The GrandPlayers’ productions in Ellsworth. He even mentioned that he’d rather go back to waiting tables to make a living, maintaining regular contact with people without the stress or responsibility.
Allen told me that Patty is working full time on Surry’s bicentennial celebration for 2003, and that their lives need to be refocused in different directions.
Recently, Patty explained in an e-mail:
“Caitlin, we knew you when you were a small child at the Surry School. We watched you and Aran grow to become young adults and it has always been a joy to see you come home for the holidays or on vacation and always stop by the market.
“The people in Surry and the surrounding area are like extended family for us. We have watched the children grow, go on to college or employment, and we stay in touch with them and are very proud of their achievements. We have also known the elderly and have lost some very dear friends who would not have come across our path if it weren’t for the store.
“Our summer colony all call on us to let us know that they will soon arrive in Surry and to make sure their newspapers, pies, wine and groundskeepers are all available. I really don’t know what they do in big cities! The power goes out – the phone rings. A dog or cat is lost – the phone rings. Firetrucks go out – the phone rings.
“We roast a turkey each day for lunch and we have told some visitors that we raise the turkeys out in back of the store. Pizza, turkey, subs, beer, wine, movies, we do it all! We also tag deer, bear and soon the wild turkeys!
“Our employees are extra special and we could not have been as successful without them. Our daughter, Kim, will remain at the store for awhile. She knows all the salespeople and the business inside and out. When we do sell the store, it will be a very emotional time in our lives, but we are not going far. We will remain in Surry with all of our friends and we will be sitting at the counter at the Bay Market and maybe someone will buy us a cup of coffee!”
When I spoke with Patty on the phone, I asked her how much longer she thinks the store will be theirs. “A month, maybe two or three at the most,” she says. Then, as an afterthought, she adds, “maybe longer.” “There’s been a lot of interest so far, but no final commitments.”
In December, I had an essay published in the NEWS about driving north for the holidays with my boyfriend, David. The day it came out, three days before Christmas, David and I stopped at the Bay Market to pick up a pizza. David ran in to buy it. Allen came bustling out to the car, waving my newspaper piece. “We loved your piece, Caitlin. I’ve shown it to everyone who came in today – Margaret Baldwin, Libby, Paula Mrozicki. Christy Mulhern’s mother cried, she was telling me about how you and Christy used to play ball together, back when your dad was the coach.”
I was walking on air. “Home,” I thought. When you walk into the Bay Market – no matter if you’re coming back from a long day in Ellsworth or an endless drive from New York City- you know you’ve come home.
Since the Bay Market opened in 1993, my family has split and reconfigured, and my brother and I both have apartments in Manhattan. In the spring and summer, especially, we both long for our hometown. I told Patty recently that “when my parents separated, home became a different thing, and there you both were with this place that felt safe when I came by to fix my nicotine deficit or my desire to have a beer or some beef jerky or Humpty Dumpty chips or 16 mind-numbing movies.”
When Patty and Allen let go for good of the Bay Market, Surry will change. I hover for a second and think of Bruce Springsteen’s words in his song “My Hometown:” “Son, take a good look around, this is your hometown.” In the dark, through my open window, I listen to the sounds of cars whirring by on the freeway just beyond Riverside Park. As I close my eyes I travel back, back to “my own ones,” open the door to the Bay Market, and, just as I fall asleep, I know I’ve come home.
Caitlin Shetterly grew up in Surry. She lives in New York where she is an actor, writer and waitress.