There was a time in the ‘60s and ‘70s when Munjoy Hill wasn’t a trendy, comfortable neighborhood in Portland, Maine. As a kid, Edward Crockett grew up there, “on the wrong side of the Franklin Arterial.” It was home to many poor families and seedy bars and characters. These days, Ed still lives in Portland and serves as a representative in the state house. In is new memoir, The Ghosts of Walter Crockett, he discusses the joys and challenges of his childhood, his young adulthood, and his tumultuous relationship with his father. Read below to learn more about Ed Crockett as well as the metamorphosis of a beloved city and a universal tale of redemption and overcoming adversity.
Munjoy Hill is so different than it was in the 70s. Are there any businesses you would bring back from that era?
Yes, local businesses like Breggy’s Pizza, George’s Tavern, Sam’s Barber Shop, Dipietro’s, Levinsky’s, and Tommy’s Hardware. Great to see small businesses like Micucci’s, Amato’s, and Donatelli’s still going strong.
When I was a young kid, Tommy’s Hardware and Levinsky’s were across the street from each other. I walked by them every single day to go to school; Levinsky’s is, of course, in the book. They epitomized the neighborhood—local, small businesses that were everywhere back in the sixties and seventies.
Breggy’s Pizza was the only pizza place on The Hill. Of course, they also made Italian sandwiches. Like many families, we didn’t have a car, and if a family did have a car they only had one car. You had to walk to get whatever you needed—so all of these small businesses really were the fabric of the neighborhood.
What do you think are the biggest changes growing up in 1970s Portland compared to growing up in Portland today?
Computers, cell phones, social media, instant gratification. For Munjoy Hill—where did all the kids go? Seems like we were replaced by parked cars. The street was our playground as kids—not anymore. The diversity is wonderful. How many languages are spoken at Portland High School today? North of fifty from what I understand.
What were some of the challenges you faced as a first generation college student from a poor background?
Same as today’s youth—positive role models, standardized testing, and college affordability. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I struggled with standardized tests. Many would argue today that that was because of my socioeconomic background. It certainly wasn’t reflective of what I ended up accomplishing, academically, but there are real correlations between socioeconomic status and its impact on standardized testing. That being said, I didn’t really feel like a first generation college student because I had three older siblings who also went to college.
You grew up with an absentee father. Was there anyone that you looked up to as a father figure?
My grandfather lived upstairs and I had four older brothers. Certainly men like Dale Rand. Dale, who is in the book, was a neighborhood kid, Mike's brother-in-law, about ten years older than him. He would play with the kids in Wiffle ball and other street games. He didn’t play because we needed someone to organize us, though, he did it because he cared. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but when I think back—from everything I could see, he was a great father and a wonderful husband, and he still gave some of his time to us snotty neighborhood kids. The beauty of it was that his kids were too small to play. These days, most of the parents who are there for little leagues and kids sports are only there to support their own children. Dale Rand was there for every kid.
You’re a first-time author writing a very personal book. Did you worry about what your family might think of it?
Oh, yes. I had my two siblings who share the same dad, read the entire project before I considered publishing it. If they hadn’t been supportive, I doubt we’d be here. My brother, Walt’s, first reaction was “Oh, I should have done this.” When I started the project, as I got into it, the first thing I did was reach out to Walter and Carolyn, especially to confirm that I’m not losing my mind and got the facts right, and they were very supportive. Which is interesting because Carolyn is very private, like my wife. Other people wonder why I’m sharing personal things, but that wasn’t the case with the family. If they hadn’t been supportive of the project I wouldn’t have continued. My brother Jimmy actually edited it for me.