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Disappearing Childhood
Dayton Arena at Bowdoin College

I recently took a rather traumatic drive through my hometown of Brunswick, Maine. I spent my entire childhood--age 4-18--in that town, but I haven't lived there in 23 years. My parents moved away a couple of months after I graduated high school and on that day, I took a mental snapshot of Brunswick and hoped it would never change.

Last week, I drove by my old high school--which hasn't actually been used as the high school for about 20 years--and it is in the midst of being torn down. A gaping wound at the end of one wing provided a clear view over a pile of bricks and into the gym, backboards and bleachers still intact. Another gash revealed my 10th-grade biology classroom and the hallway outside, still lined with black and orange lockers.

From ages 4-18, I spent more time in Dayton Arena at Bowdoin College than any other building, besides my home. I drove by it last week and there, nestled among the majestic pine trees and brick buildings of campus, where the old barn's maroon cinder-block edifice stood for over 50 years, is a flat, open spot surrounded by chain link fence. A quarter mile away, set alongside the rest of Bowdoin's state-of-the-art athletic facilities, it has been replaced by the brand new, LEEDS certified, Sidney J. Watson Arena, named after Bowdoin's late, great, hall-of-fame, hockey coach and athletic director.

One piece of nostalgia that would have helped improve my mood that day is the original Dayton Arena Zamboni that cleared the ice for many of my youth hockey years--purchased in the fifties and retired in the eighties--that is now proudly displayed on a platform over the door of the new arena. Alas, a quick stop by Sidney J. Watson rewarded me with nothing but locked doors.

Add to all of this the demise of Bill's Pizza, a sandwich shop a couple of towns over, in Yarmouth. Bill's was a constant in my family life from the time I was 5. When I was a tot, it was a tiny, blue, cinder block building snug beside the northbound lane of Route 1. Sometime in the late 70s--coincidentally on the same day a new pizza place was opening just down the street--that little blue building burned to the ground and Bill's soon became a larger, brown building set comfortably back from the road.

I didn't keep the receipts, but I'm pretty sure that, over the course of my life, I have eaten at Bill's more than any other restaurant. Between italian sandwiches, pizzas, whoopie pies, raspberry tarts, chips, taco boats, meatball subs, [and the list goes on], I have gladly spent thousands of dollars in that place...and now it's gone...like the high school...like the arena...like the Howard Johnson's on Pleasant Street in Brunswick where we used to drink milkshakes and play cards at one in the morning...like the Dairy Joy at the end of Church Road that I used to ride my bike three miles to, just to get a banana split and turn around and ride home a little bit heavier.

I have great memories of all these places (and some not-so-great memories of a couple of them, too), but I am sad that I will never actually see them again, never set foot inside them, smell them, hear them, experience them. I am sure that some--if not all--of them will show up in my writing, in one form or another. And I will certainly tell my daughter about them and work hard to make sure that she has places like these in her childhood. Places that are special to her, that she can cherish, around which she can form lasting memories--and even legends.

What important places from your past have gone away? What do you miss most about them? How will you keep the memories of them alive? What are the stories?

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When moving on

When I was a kid we always moved around a lot. Parents getting new jobs or promotions or a better house. The result? We never stayed in one place for too long. Grades 1 and 2 were spent in Durnacol (a coal mining town). Grades 3 through 7 in Malvern in Queensborough. Grades 8 through 12 in Hillary. My first degree was also spent in Hillary. My second degree in Cape Town.

I'm in Taiwan now, and there are many places I miss. My old Primary School is still in Malvern with the same headmaster (Mr. Harris). I haven't been back to my high school or universities. Small shops have died, like Mrs. Pizza (I delivered pizzas there one summer vacation). Our old house has new tenants who don't look after the beautifully large garden with two huge pine trees in the centre. The grass is overgrown and full of weeds. Rusty things lie half-hidden. That saddens me most. The house we lived in the longest, left to disintegrate under the hands of careless strangers. The house of memories and tragedies. My mom died in that house.

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We had a barn, around a

We had a barn, around a couple of corners and down the main road just past the creek a little bit. It was already an anomaly in the mid- to late-sixties, surrounded by new buildings and an apartment complex and offices, but somehow it was still there on that one corner. It was falling down in places and had no two boards warped the same, but inside we could climb on beams and enjoy the feel of the summer sun warming the hay that still littered the interior. The sun in that barn was softer and more sweet-smelling than the sun has ever been since. Our parents would probably have been aghast to find out we were walking to that barn and climbing on and over every rotten piece of wood in it that we could scale, but it was childhood heaven for me. It was gone almost as soon as I'd gotten old enough to leave the block to walk to it. The medical office building that replaced it is now old and worn in its turn, but every time I pass it, I still see the ghost of that wonderful old barn and feel the peculiar softness of that summer sun.

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RE: Susan Brown

That reminds me of another childhood place in Brunswick, and this one has been gone much longer. In the woods, near my friend Tim's house, was an old, unidentifiable building--could have been a small house, could have been a shed, could have been a chicken coop. The roof had collapsed long ago. Grass, bushes, and even trees were growing up through the floor, and it was littered with evidence of what I now, in retrospect, recognize as teenage parties.

I remember one particular day where Tim found two, very cool, old hunting knives under a collapsed section of roof. The nervous excitement of having acquired something that we knew our parents would never let us have otherwise was thrilling, and the subsequent attempts to hide them from said parents is another story.

But even the days we didn't find treasures were special, because we would make up stories about the history of the building, and the people who had lived and worked there. And, as is the nature of pre-teen/teenage boys, they were sensational tales of adventure and intrigue, danger and conquest.

Adding to the building's magic was its status as a not-parent-approved play place. They were always warning us that the remainder of the roof could collapse, or we could step on a rusty nail, or we could fall off the top of the walls we frequently climbed. As it turned out, there fears were pretty well founded.

One day, when I was about 13 or 14, we got a call from Tim's mom. The old building was engulfed in 30-foot-high flames and no one could find Tim. It was a pretty frantic hour-or-so (I'm guessing at the time--it was long enough to seem like an eternity, but not so long that the fire department had put out the fire and searched the debris) before we found Tim safe at another friend's house.

We never went back to the ruins of that old building, and now, even the woods that hid it from the rest of the world are gone. The whole area is home to your standard, sanitary, condo complex, with no sign of the magic that we knew in that old, unidentifiable, dangerous, magical place.

Bummer.

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'Bummer' is right.  The

'Bummer' is right.  The only specific game I remember was playing pirates, this because there was a rope hanging from a beam; that rope became attached to the sail of a sailing ship in our imaginations. 

Thank goodness we didn't decide to play hangman.