Douglas McIntire

Douglas McIntire

As many of you know, I have a bit of an affinity for the structures — stores, bridges, things that used to stand where there’s now another bank. Sometimes I feel like I have a shared history with such places — even those who, like me, have undergone many transformations over the decades.

This strange deja vu overcame me the other morning as I was coming down Route 1 into town. It wasn’t a building I’ve ever given much thought as to whether it remained the same, found some other usefulness or even burned to the ground. I first knew the log cabin-like storefront as the Dexter Shoe outlet.

It was a place my mother brought me to for back-to-school shopping knowing full well the snit I would throw over the conspicuous absence of running shoes. I had no use for leather dress shoes, with bits that dug into your heel until you wore them in. In fact, the thought of “wearing-in” a pair of shoes in hopes they miraculously become comfortable was enough of an abomination to make me dig my already cozy heels in and only perform a perfunctory scan of the merchandise before heading to Cook’s Corner.

Okay, I liked the smell of the place but there was no way I was going to admit to even that.

Years passed and I became involved in the Hershey Track and Field competition. The regional meet was a breeze and I was off to the state championships. It was high stakes as the winner got to compete at nationals in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

There I stood, in the Dexter parking lot, ready to board a bus to States. As I climbed the steps of the school bus, kids chattered and Huey Lewis and the News belted out, “Do You Believe in Love,” over the cracky speaker in the front of the bus. It was fate.

Also on the bus, a girl I knew from school. She had big, blue eyes and long blonde hair and her name was Tara. We talked and laughed and every now and then, Tara would inexplicably reach over and press her fingernails into my skinny forearm, impressed with the — well, the impressions she was making. Once there was blood and she got really excited. I didn’t know if I was on my way to first base or if she had plans of eating me and stashing my remains behind the bleachers.

A few more years would pass and I I found myself part of a small team getting off a bus late at night after returning from the National Junior Olympics in Seattle, Washington. We were weary and quite proud of our 12th place finish. It would be my last hurrah competing at that level as the next season would see me blow out my left knee.

I held several jobs in town as a teen. At one point, I thought McDonald’s would be fun. I’m not quite sure why I thought this. Perhaps deep down I knew I needed the ridicule of my classmates and searing burns up both forearms from repeatedly slapping flattop egg molds together.

Anyway, I needed to purchase “real” shoes for the job as they assured me they were way too classy for my Nikes. I sucked it up and allowed myself to buy a pair of boat shoes at Dexter. I’m sure my mother felt a sense of victory deep down as I slid them on over my gym socks.

The job lasted three weeks.

All of my friends were dining on the patio that used to be adjacent to the restaurant when I was given a scrub brush, bucket of water, and told to scrub the seagull excrement from all the tables — in my paper hat. I refused and gave my two weeks one week into the job.

All the discounted Big Macs in the world weren’t worth my dignity.

Several years now would pass as the building became the offices of Coastal Humane Society. My next adventure there would find me laying on a table, staring blankly at the ceiling, squeezing a foam, squishy cylinder. There I was, laying on the spot I reluctantly bought my boat shoes, middle aged and bleeding out my precious O negative blood for the Red Cross. It’s fitting though. I would have rather given blood those many years ago than give up my comfortable athletic wear.

The last time I spent behind that log cabin facade, I was with a group of military veterans in the basement. Mostly young, these otherwise fresh faces told a story of the horrors they faced — stories even as a journalist, I was not going to ask them about.

They were there with the Embrace A Vet organization, pairing up rescued dogs with veterans diagnosed with PTSD or traumatic brain injuries as service animals. Some looked around the room, not really making eye contact. Others locked gazes with their fury companions. I got to see progress from early training and graduation day — progress in both veteran and canine alike.

If this is my last interaction with the old Dexter Shoe building, it will be a fine ending. Somewhere, lingering in the corners of this place, is the residual energy of a petulant child, an aspiring athlete, a gangly teen reluctantly buying shoes, a blood donor and finally a veteran who was honored to be in the presence of those young men and women who sacrificed so much to find hope and healing back home.

Douglas McIntire is a writer and educator in the Midcoast. You’ll never find him shopping for boat shoes but you can reach him at [email protected]

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