The daily whistle blew at noon, 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Noon – lunchtime. 5 – drop everything and head home for suppah. 9 – time to call it a day.

The Porteous Mitchell & Braun department store in 1938. Now Maine College of Art, Porteous was one of the mainstays of Congress Street when Shirley Penrod was growing up in Portland. Courtesy of Portland Public Library Special Collections & Archives

Grocery stores were on almost every corner in my neighborhood. There was Jimmy’s, Charles’, Oscar’s, Mike’s and so it went. My church was a three-minute walk from home; school, the same. Most buildings housed two tor three apartments with large families. We never had a lack of friends to play with. We all knew each other, played the same games, did our trick or treating together, played baseball, built and rode our homemade carts down the hill and used two tin cans for headlights.

And so that was my neighborhood in my hometown.

My hometown is a beautiful city. My early years were spent living right in the city and that was during the “war years” (World War II) and it was bustling. I remember a sea of uniforms everywhere, on a daily basis. Ships were anchored in the bay; soldiers were living in the Forts (Fort Preble – now Southern Maine Community College). Army, Navy, Coast Guard: They were all there. I recall my dad bringing them for a home-cooked meal. I was fascinated with their uniforms and loved to eavesdrop on their conversations. In those days, we collected tin cans for the government. We ate colored lard, if you can imagine, due to the shortage of butter. Everything was rationed. It was a different time in a beautiful city.

My neighborhood was not on Munjoy Hill, but rather what I call “the bottom of the Hill”: Pearl, Myrtle, Oxford, Lancaster streets come to mind. We were close to Bayside, which, in those days, was nothing like today. There were railroad tracks and boxcars, weeds, not much else. Now there are breweries, shops, medical buildings, Whole Foods – all these sites were barren in the past. I recall one day, when a railroad car was parked on a track in Bayside, with the doors wide open. Hmmm. I investigated and found that inside there were watermelons – lots of melons. So, I gathered up my homemade buggy and loaded all it could carry. I took them home. My mother immediately questioned where they came from. Well, Mom, there was this nice man on the railroad car who gave them to us. Whew! My mother really enjoyed her watermelon, as did I mine.

Our borders were Back Bay, Commercial Street, Eastern Promenade and Western Promenade. In the center of these borders is where life was happening in my hometown.

Up the hill was the Eastern Promenade (Munjoy Hill) where we could go to the beach, swim and play with friends. On another side of town we had Deering Oaks, the most wonderful place for kids; ice skating in winter, wading pool in summer, ballgames, the warming hut where we changed our boots for skates. A wonderful part of my hometown.

And, of course we had Commercial Street and our fishing industry. Lobstermen, fishermen, boaters, ferries to the islands. Forest Avenue at that time was one after the other of car dealerships  We didn’t have the mall area then so everything was along the main roads in the city, especially Forest Avenue.  “Uptown” we had all the movie theaters, department stores Grants, Porteous, Woolworth’s, Kresge’s. Day’s Jewelry. Restaurants, The Puritan, Blaine State Drug Store, Asian restaurants, bowling alleys, bell ringers at Christmas, Congress Street in all its splendor. And at Congress and St. John streets, we had the beautiful Union Station, which was destroyed.

Some changes have occurred over the years, some for good, others not so good.

But this is my hometown as I remember it – an interesting and wonderful place in which to grow up.

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