A Christmas Gift for Freeport

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Christopher Clukey

As we broke through the overcast, I saw the water. It was gray-green, with a foamy chop, and it looked every bit as frigid as you’d expect the Gulf of Maine to be in December.

And the first thought that came to me was, “Home.”

I pointed out the sights to my son: A tanker headed in to Portland, some lighthouses, some boats that seemed too miniscule to be challenging the vast ocean. He was seeing the ocean for the first time, while I was realizing how achingly I had missed it.

You’re probably wondering why I’m telling you about last year’s Christmas vacation in a space normally devoted to current events commentary. Don’t worry; I have a point in here somewhere, and a secret or two to share with you.

The first secret? Whoever said “You can’t go home again” was wrong. I was gone for five years, and when I came home, one of our number was gone (my maternal grandmother died less than 24 hours after I arrived) and another was soon to pass on. Yet in many ways it was just as if I’d never left. We still joked about the same things, my uncle was still horrified that I’m a Packer fan, and so on. Even the streets of Portland had a familiarity that no other town has, the way my wife’s hand on my shoulder logically shouldn’t feel any different than my Mom’s or my cousin’s, but it does anyway. It turns out that you can take the boy out of Down East, but you can’t take the Down East out of the boy.

But here’s the second secret I found: You can take the boy out of Freeport, but you can’t take Freeport out of the boy. No matter how much I love where I came from, I have no thought of leaving where I am.

It’s hard for Freeporters to stay positive. We all validate each other’s negativity to a certain extent. When you read the editorial page and see some angry letter about how bad Freeport is (or how stupid some official is, etc.) you are either depressed because you agree or depressed because you realize that the angry letter speaks for a whole bunch of angry people who think we’re going nowhere fast, folks who in some cases couldn’t be dragged anywhere. And how often is the local economic news good?

Let me tell you what I see. I see a community that is going through some painful changes, but we are going through. A community that has a thousand things going for it and thousands of people willing to work to change what isn’t going for it. A place with enormous potential, and much potential already realized. A place where people care about each other, and care about what’s right. A place where you can stand where Lincoln stood, and still look out into the 21st Century and all the adventurous history to come.

Remember that line in “The Cider House Rules,” where Michael Caine addresses a room full of orphans? “Goodnight, you princes of Maine, you kings of New England.” I’m a Mainer born and bred. Yet here I am, busy raising princes and princesses of the Pecatonica, kings and queens of Tutty Baker’s city of humble greatness. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Here I’ve found love and friendship every bit as warm and strong as the love and friendship on the shores of Casco Bay.

This is my Christmas gift to you, Freeport, this column, this perspective, this love letter. You deserve to be loved, Pretzel City, and you deserve to be optimistic about your future. In this season where new light dawns on those in the valley of the shadow of death, don’t miss a chance to look at yourself in a new light.

We returned to Freeport, and finally, I made it to the top of the stairway with the last load of luggage, wondering who had broken in and added steps to it while we were gone. I stopped to gaze out a rear window. Far off, the Pecatonica was blindingly bright as the sun hit it at just the right angle. But closer, through trees stripped bare by winter, I could trace the river’s course with my eyes as its waters tumbled toward a far-away sea.

And the first thought that came to me was, “Home.”