Camden Falls, Massachusetts, is more than 350 years old, but some of the people who live in the small town think that only now is it starting to show its age. For three and a half centuries it has survived wars and fires and storms and floods, watched its residents weather heartache and sorrow, and rejoiced with them over births and graduations and marriages. During all those years, the town has stood sturdy and firm, even shone a little. But suddenly, now, cracks are showing in its foundation.
“It looks run-down,” murmurs Min Read with astonishment as she rounds the corner of Dodds Lane one morning and turns onto Main Street.
“What?” asks Ruby, her granddaughter, who’s walking into town with her. Min glances meaningfully at Ruby. “I mean, pardon?” Ruby corrects herself.
“Main Street looks a little run-down,” says Min again.
"What does ‘run-down’ mean?”
Ruby eyes the street. Camden Falls has been her home for only two years, but already she’s proud of it. “It doesn’t look shabby,” she says, but even as the words are leaving her lips, she knows her grandmother is right.
In fact, much of Camden Falls is tinged with shabbiness these days. Times have been hard. As Min pauses on the corner of Main and Dodds, one hand resting on a lamppost, she notices things she’s sure have been in front of her nose for some time but that haven’t registered.
“Funny what you don’t want to see,” she says to Ruby as they continue on their way to Needle and Thread.
Ruby is silent for a few moments, not wanting to agree with her grandmother just yet. Finally, she says, “There are an awful lot of potholes in the street.”
“Not enough money in the town budget to repair them.”
“The paint on the lampposts is peeling.”
Min nods. Quite a bit of Camden Falls could use a coat of paint. She sees that bricks have fallen off the fronts of several buildings, notes a broken pane of glass in the window of Time and Again, and sees a sign hanging lopsided from one hinge. Worse, two more businesses have closed since the holidays. And the Nelsons’ diner, she knows, is in serious trouble.
“If we can hang on until summer,” people are fond of saying.
No one bothers to finish that sentence, because if you live here, you don’t need to hear the end. If the people of Camden Falls can last until the summer, then maybe the tourist season will pull them through. All they need is a slight shift in the economy—a slight positive shift, of course—and the tourists will flock to Camden Falls as they usually do. Then, perhaps, potholes will be filled and lampposts will be repainted and stores that are struggling will be able to come up for air.
Min Read is one of Camden Falls’s old-timers. She has lived here all of her life, more than seventy years. Her store, Needle and Thread, which she runs with her friend Gigi, is holding its own so far, and Min knows they’re lucky. The little deli on Boiceville Road closed after New Year’s, and so far nothing has replaced it. The for sale sign is still in the window, and the bay of the window is filled with mouse droppings. Around the corner from the deli, a gift shop has closed.
But come take a tour of Camden Falls and you’ll see that despite its new air of shabbiness, the economy isn’t the only thing on people’s minds. Walk back to Main Street, turn onto Dodds, and retrace Min’s and Ruby’s steps to Aiken Avenue and the Row Houses, where Min and her granddaughters live in the fourth house from the left. Here are eight identical homes standing in a solid stone row. And in these homes live eight families—twenty-eight people—with very different things on their minds.