Biddeford, Maine, Facebook Page Takes Residents Down Memory Lane

What started with a simple statement has evolved into a walk down memory lane for folks who either still live there or who have moved away but still think of it as home. The Facebook page entitled “You Know You’re From Biddeford If….” has attracted the attention of people from across the country and beyond as they share their reminiscences, some recent, and others from a time much farther back, of their years spent in the small southern Maine city known as Biddeford.

From popular restaurants to small neighborhood corner stores, from grammar schools to now defunct movie theaters, ice skating rinks and dance halls, Biddeford’s residents both past and present all come from the same place, from a town once dominated by the giant looming textile mills that legitimized its place on maps, in history books, and in the hearts and souls of its residents. They walked its streets through all kinds of weather, played in alleys, worked in its various stores and factories, sat in classrooms facing teachers they either feared or admired, and ate the simple food their hard-working parents placed in front of them, realizing even then the sacrifice and sweat equity that had gone into its procurement.

It was Smalltown, USA at its finest, with Sunday afternoons spent at the movies, Saturday nights over plates of baked beans, Monday mornings at work or in school, and Friday nights cruising the downtown in search of adventure. Wash-day conversations and funerals, girls and boys dressed in their prom finery, fires that destroyed familiar landmarks and sledding down dangerous icy streets are all familiar scenes to those who have, at some point in their lives, called Biddeford home.

The Facebook page has attracted the attention of many who began their lives on Biddeford’s streets and who are now seeing the world from perspectives as far away as Germany. It has spawned other pages dealing with the ethnic foods that many still remember and miss or which are still enjoyed today, as well as sites dealing with individual schools that served as the cultural and educational foundations for so many. A fire barn decorated for Christmas and a Main Street filled with the sights and sounds of Memorial Day parades are images burned into the memories of the many for whom these were events to look forward to in a place that didn’t look far beyond its boundaries for its pleasures.

If any have believed their lives to be solitary and lonely and their experiences unique, this journey and its accompanying conversation have dispelled that myth for all time. No matter what ethnic group the participants are from, be it French, English, Greek, or Irish, time has dulled the lines that once may have existed between them on playgrounds and in backyards. For the years have erased the differences and now deign to focus on and to celebrate the similarities and shared experiences, bringing them all together in one place for all to enjoy and be comforted by.

Starting out simply by adding to the scrapbook made up of the memories of many local residents, the site’s Franco population has used the opportunity to take a substantial side trip through its own past, producing images and memories that form a virtual tapestry whose colorful threads intertwine to create something very special. Those whose ancestors were once banned from Biddeford’s sister city, Saco, and who were in great part the driving force behind the success of the great textile mills, have themselves come full circle. Many have gone on to lead successful and productive lives, never once forgetting in the process what it took to get them there and how great was their parents’ struggle to spare them the hardships they themselves had endured along the way.

A strong presence in Biddeford for many years, it’s no small wonder that they ‘hijacked’ the website, as one participant put it, because maybe ‘we remember more things than anyone else does.’ For more than 30 years, Biddeford’s Franco population has celebrated its heritage annually through the La Kermesse festival, an event that has historically attracted many from other nationalities as well to its parade, block party and tent-strewn main event. This Facebook page is tangible proof of the ancient energy and spirit of ethnic pride that gave rise to the festival and to all that it stands for.

“You Know You’re From Biddeford If…..” is a cornucopia of different cultural views and impressions but that all originated in the same place-a town of bricks and beams, steeples and bells calling men and women to work and to worship, whose aerial view still shows a brick behemoth surrounded by humbler edifices housing the loyal, the proud and the resilient. One recent conversation thread asking how the town could be made better garnered some interesting comments, but one thing is certain: all improvements aside, real, imagined or hoped for, the spirit of that small city lives on, not only on the web page but in the hearts and minds of those who lived and dreamed it, and who, despite the distances that time and circumstance have created, still do.

Biddeford In Old Photographs: Loretta M. Turner; Allan Sutton Publishing, Inc., 1993

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