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Freeport Before Bean

FREEPORT, Maine, is as well known across the country as any community, but is otherwise in lamentable straits. This was a topic discussed at the recent reunion of the noble Class of 1926, Freeport High School. But we didn't meet in our home town. Heaven forfend! Now and then we members of that class are asked if we knew L.L. Bean, and we say no - that L.L. Bean knew us. His daughter, Barbara, was in high school with us, but not in our class. The Freeport of our fetchin'up has given way to the enormous L.L. Bean mail-order and retail complex surrounded by the parasite businesses that tempt the hordes who come to trade. Nobody much in Freeport knows us and we don't know many there today, and we wouldn't know where to park. We, the stalwart seven of the Class of 1926, met instead at Naples, on Sebago Lake, where Mertie Libby, now Bowden, lives. Maybe it is interesting that only one of our class ever worked for L.L. Bean and stayed in Freeport.

We were 26, the largest class to be graduated by Freeport High School up to that time. The class before us numbered seven. And here we were 64 years later with seven on hand, and a half dozen others who didn't make it. Of course we chatted about what has happened to our Freeport, where a man just sold his house for a million dollars and saw it torn down to make a parking lot. Even after 1926, Freeport ``corner,'' the business section, still had hitching posts.

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Our high school building burned down several years ago; it hadn't been used in some time. In 1918, when it was spanking new, we had entered it, downstairs, as fifth graders. High school was upstairs. On November 11, that year, we came to school on a bright Indian-summer morning, and Teacher said there's be no school - Germany had surrendered. We stayed around and marched in the impromptu celebration parade, but then Johnny Snow and I went home to arm ourselves and go looking for pa'tridges. We got three, and Mother made us a pa'tridge pie.

Today Freeport has everything else, but in 1926 it still had trolley cars. A cross-country electric railway between Yarmouth and Brunswick had a car each way every hour - they passed in Freeport square, the ``corner.''

Freeport always had a merchants' picnic on the Fourth of July. The storekeepers said thanks to the townspeople for a year's trade, and everybody had clams and lobsters. The horseshoe pitching contest was always won by Ortho Bean, L.L.'s brother, who had a court in his cellar and could pitch all winter.

The storekeepers would put up $100 to bring a professional pitcher from either the Braves or the Red Sox in Boston to make believe he was a Freeporter. There was always a pitcher at that price, plus train fare, on his off day, but Yarmouth, the traditional baseball rival on the Fourth, would bring in a ringer, too. Usually, after the picnic, these pitchers would be too full of lobster to find the strike zone. Yarmouth and Freeport played in the first game at Freeport, and then the other end of the double-header would be in Yarmouth; the two visiting pitchers would be put on the evening train to Boston, having moonlighted as Smith and Jones.

Freeport had two churches, Baptist and Congregational. There was no inhibition then about mixing schools and persuasion, so we'd have our baccalaureate address in one church and our graduation exercises in the other, alternating year by year. Since ours was a big class, we broke that rhythm, because the pulpit stage in the Congo Church was the larger. We all went out the day before and gathered field daisies to adorn the church. Open fields were not too far from the schoolhouse.

We did not wear caps and gowns; the academic robe was for candidates for degrees and high school didn't count. The girls wore white dresses, mostly made at home and some by a girl herself. Most of us boys were sporting our first long-pant suits, blue serge. I was uncomfortable in mine, but by fall and college I'd outgrown it - almost a total waste of $18.00.

In 1926 the amalgamated school system hadn't been invented, and Freeport High School still retains its identity. But I'm told it no longer offers four years of Latin. We had baseball and basketball, and the girls didn't have baseball. One day a week a music teacher came and made us sing, and in our third year the school committee found out she was tone deaf. Every Friday we had to recite a piece if we got called on. Our school library was a windowsill with a dictionary and a set of Stoddard's Lectures. You may very well wonder how any of this fitted us for 64 pleasant years! The school bus was unknown.

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