Young Love in Cheap Apartments
The beehive on Brunswick Avenue was notorious in Old Town, Maine. It was also the site of my husband’s and my first apartment upon marrying in 1971. It worked because it was cheap and close to University of Maine at Orono where we were students. The landlords, dear, elderly Mr. and Mrs. Bosse, had the audacity to rent to UMO students mostly. One young family with two little, tow-headed girls, named Lisa and Terri, snuck in the first floor, front apartment on the right side building. The girls’ dad enjoyed living the college life vicariously through drinking beer in the parking lot with the students. Lisa and Terri begged for the purchase of chips when a beer run was announced, and they usually got them. This couple comprised the only tenants perhaps over the age of twenty-two in the complex.
I never counted how many apartments were in this unsightly, huge conglomeration comprised of an old paper baron house and a makeshift ell, but the whole monster was numbered seventy, with its various letters delineating the individual units. The original old house must have been elegant in its day. An odd wall or unusual corner would make one wonder about the original use of spaces now carved into less than elegant apartments.
My husband and I occupied three different apartments at this unique dwelling over the course of two year. Our first one was an almost two room wonder stuck in the back of the house to the right facing from the street—behind Lisa and Terri’s place. The bathroom was so tiny that on a visit my Aunt Lucy’s 300 plus pound being was difficult to cram in the space between the shower stall and the wall to allow herself to sit on the commode. Thankfully, the cheap tin shower stall bent graciously for her. She did not visit again, though. Our rent was $60.00 monthly, which included electricity and a little bit of heat supplied by an open vent in the middle of the floor of the real room. There was no telephone. Mr. Bosse graciously let his student tenants list his home phone number when applying for part-time jobs, etc. He was delighted to knock on our door and inform me about my job at Grants’ Skillet one fall day. I spent many days later in the months of January and February dancing on top of that heat vent. My husband’s best man stayed with us for a couple weeks as fall semester started. It was a tight squeeze until his student housing came through, and his wife and baby joined him from Calais.
We splurged the next summer on the three room, pent house in the attic of the building. There was a poetic feeling to looking out over our section of Old Town from the tiny windows carved in the roof. Our thirteen inch, black and white television had better antennae reception up higher, and we could actually make out the picture of our favorite show MASH. The heat, derived from the kitchen oil stove, was nicer than what we had in our first apartment, albeit a bit smellier. My mother-in-law declared it was a “deathtrap” as our source of oil for the stove was down a set of stairs to a tank set in the inside hallway. Tenants, including us, would fill canisters and drip oil all over the floors and stairs back to our stoves. We never told Mother about the small oil fire we had in the old stove one morning. We kept that secret and enjoyed an old claw-footed, enamel tub that at the time both my husband and I could fit into.
The penthouse proved to be stifling in the warmer weather, so as soon as possible, we moved to a second floor, four room unit on the outside of the building. This apartment had the same, old-fashioned funk of our previous ones, but with an added delight. From a kitchen window, one could crawl out onto the roof of a porch that went with the unit below. We spent many evenings in a cheap beer-induced, relaxed pose on that roof as we mulled over what shape our lives would take once we had graduated and grown-up.
In the fall of 1972, we watched in awe as a POW walked off a plane in New York. He was from Maine. I still remember watching that young pilot with fascination. Years later I would not only learn his name but meet him as the husband of a teaching friend of mine. Life goes around in funny circles. I am now writing about this returning POW’s mother and her journey to get him home.