Raising Kids (and Cain) in Hallowell

A version of this article ran in the Kennebec Journal on June 23, 2012 as part of their series, ” HALLOWELL: The way it was” under the title HALLOWELL 250th: Familys experience a gift from Hallowell

By Betsey Remage-Healey

We didn’t plan to move to Hallowell.  We’re not much good at planning, period.  But there we were in October, living with  2 very young sons in a New Hampshire summer cottage, waiting for our futures to unfold and the water to be turned off.   It was time to take the next job offer, which turned out to be in Augusta.  So over we trudged.

While greatly relieved to have heat and running water in our first rental home in Augusta, we were less sanguine about buying a house in a city that at that point (1982) had no zoning.  Anything could happen to the lot next door.  Hallowell did have zoning and a nice sense of revival, including those cute gas lights on one side of Water St.  Apparently the money had run out before they could be installed on the other side of the street.   Still true today, this unique feature has evidently not diminished Hallowell’s appeal.

We found the house of our dreams, more or less.  A stately Greek Revival cape, it needed “a few updates” but had grace and light and a non-hilly street for kids to bike on.  A thing of beauty would be our joy forever, we figured. How we would have paid the mortgage had I not at that moment become the second wage earner, I have no idea. As noted, planning was never our strong suit.  But it all worked for 10 years, until the lack of a second bathroom for looming teens and the perpetual need for paint on a rambling exterior led to a search for a more manageable dwelling.  But it had to be in Hallowell.

Why Hallowell?  Its charm, its bohemian population mix, its proximity to jobs- all were plusses.  The non-negotiable, however, was how great a place it was for our kids to grow up.  I’ll never forget my joy in watching our older son walk out the door on his way to his second day of kindergarten (I did go with him for his first day, ok?)  Ten minutes of autonomy for a young child.  How many places in the world is that possible?  Alas, I doubt I would do so today, but 25 years ago, it was possible in Hallowell.  Of course it did depend on current Police Chief Nason showing up on time for his teenage crossing guard duty at Winthrop Street – which he did most  of the time.

Freedom.  An overused word these days, but a precious commodity for raising self reliant kids who trust their ability to solve problems as they encounter them.  Freedom to walk to a friend’s house or a nearby babysitter after school.   As they grew up, to be an occasional latchkey child or bike through Vaughan Woods.  In high school, hi jinx were added, some of which we learned about only years later.  The race to sled down Central St. before it was closed to non driving traffic.  The annual Halloween game of hide and seek with Hayford Heights police.  Playing German Spotlight at night in Vaughan Woods well into their college years.  Overnight camping at the Res.

Yes most of the above stepped over the line of sanctioned activity, and our sons knew better than to ask our permission.  But they found ways to have small adventures that did not harm themselves or others.  These in turn helped them navigate more serious hazards and challenges on the path to adulthood.  These experiences were a great gift from Hallowell.

Our sons also benefitted from going to school in Hallowell.   S.A.D 16, now R.S.U.2, had its share of weaknesses.  But our kids had some great teachers, and got a solid enough education to prepare them for (working much harder in) college.   Most essential was the sense of place the school system bestowed on them.  They were known, they had their niche, they graduated with a great foundation from which to launch their adult lives.

They have now followed a too familiar scenario, finding their adult niches out of state, and we have moved to Portland in part to be closer to them.  But we all carry Hallowell in our hearts, and their childhood bonds have continued to flourish.  (Frequent reunions with Hallowell friends have grown exponentially as spouses and toddlers are added to the mix).  And before we moved “south”, our son insisted on taking his 2 year old to brunch at Slate’s to expose her to one of his favorite memories (and she behaved way better than he did at that age!)

The flavor, the freedom, the foundation that Hallowell gave our kids are gifts beyond measure.  We are so grateful to the tiny city with the big arms – to embrace, to protect, to send along  when the time comes.  Hats off and Happy Birthday, Hallowell.   And many happy returns for 250 more.