By Tom Lamia
In 2004, after moving into the house on Charles Street that would be my home after twenty years in Washington D.C., I was visited by a neighbor who showed a greater-than-normal interest in the architecture of the entrance portal. “Greek,” he said, and began describing its historical importance. This visit was my introduction to George Capsis, the founding Publisher and Executive Editor of WestView News. George is an activist. He gets things done.
During the ten years that I lived in that wonderful Charles Street house, George was a persistent force for neighborhood causes. It is difficult to say no to George, difficult to avoid George, sometimes difficult to agree with George, and even difficult to offend George. Now, two and a half years after my departure from Charles Street and the West Village for a simpler life in Maine, George has appealed to my vanity and lack of any known, to him, productive activity. He has suggested that I write a monthly column for the paper. The sly fox said he was looking for something that would convey “mature wisdom.”
My qualifications for this responsibility are modest, but we all have done things that make us different from the next person and provoke curiosity, at least, about what we might have learned along the way.
In my case, the essence is that I am a Californian who, through career and family influences, found my way to the West Village in 2004 at the tail end of a career as a lawyer, then stayed for ten happy years in that house on Charles Street with my wife, Susan, and some of our six children (those still needing or willing to live with us). Then we sold the house and bought a studio apartment on Horatio Street. The plan was for Susan to live in the apartment while winding down her work as a real estate broker and for me to visit, as needed, so as to not lose touch with her or the neighborhood.
Long before any of this, we bought a farm in South Bristol, Maine, as a retreat for summers and holidays. Our family has spent much of every year since 1980 at this Maine farm, which has a pond and shore frontage on the Damariscotta River. Through the years, even while my law practice often took me abroad for extended periods and caused my office locations to change, the farm was a constant for all of us.
Now, I am a permanent resident in that farmhouse. Susan comes up to visit, bringing news of exciting developments from the City. I go to the apartment on Horatio Street when old friends visit New York and when I need medical attention. Otherwise, she’s with you and I am home alone up here with the deer, turkeys, woodchucks, and coyotes.
I am not by nature or training a rural person. I am a Southern Californian by birth, education, family, and career. This life as a recluse in Maine, far from the cities and corporate transactions law practice that once identified me, is anomalous, but not without its rewards. I plan to tell you about some of them.
Being distant from the West Village provides a perspective on things that used to usurp my time and thoughts when I was fighting the good fights, along with the rest of you, over neighborhood preservation, garbage collection, street vandalism, street parking, and the like. Some of that appears different when compared with similar needs or threats in Maine, where the decision makers and the affected parties are members of extended families who have been dealing with these issues since the mid-19th century. My farmhouse dates from 1840, and so do many of these families. The area has been continuously inhabited since the 16th century (nearby Damariscove and Monhegan Islands were used as fishing bases by Europeans before Jamestown or the Mayflower).
The West Village, too, is time honored; it pulses with physical and intellectual energy today as it has from the time of Hamilton and Washington and before. Its past and present are known everywhere for creative leadership and originality. It is a delightful place to live, shop, eat, raise families, and be in the middle of what is now, what was then, and what is coming. There is not so much of that in South Bristol, Maine, but there is challenge and charm that you might not expect. You’ll see.