One night in the late 1970s, my brother Billy was taking a shower in our second-floor bathroom on Green Street in Augusta when he heard a noise that didn’t sound right.
When he pulled back the curtain and looked, he saw a hand pressed against the window. Someone was on the back porch roof outside, trying to get in.
By the time he got outside, the only sign someone had been there was a ladder against the porch.
Recent stories in this newspaper, including last week’s citing the fact Augusta has more registered sex offenders per capita than any other municipality in the state, have spurred comments from readers that Augusta isn’t the nice place it used to be.
My brother’s bathroom visitor is just one of the stories that come to mind when I hear that. Here’s what life was like in Augusta in the good old days:
In 1973, I had a paper route that wound through the rabbit warren of alleys and lanes surrounded by State, Winthrop and Laurel streets.
One cold Sunday afternoon while I was collecting, a customer on Crosby Place asked me to come inside while he got his money. He was creepy, but I was cold and 12 years old. So I stepped inside.
Forty years later I still vividly remember it was too hot, dark, smelled of cigarettes and rotting garbage. He disappeared down a hallway.
After a couple minutes, I realized he was standing at the end of the hall — it was very dark — doing something with his hand where his pants should be. I wasn’t sure what it was and I didn’t stick around to find out.
I still delivered his paper, just didn’t collect his money anymore.
I didn’t tell a parent or anyone in authority. Not because I was scared or embarrassed, but because it was 1973. Creepy things happened and we were disgusted, scared, laughed about it with our friends, but we accepted that’s the way things were.
Two years later, I had a new paper route in the Capitol Street, Western Avenue area. Many mornings a guy would follow me. Not right behind me, but every time I looked, he was there, leaning against a telephone pole or sitting on a curb, smoking a cigarette and watching me.
The solution? I carried a dime — in case he bothered me I’d go to the nearest phone booth and call home.
A few years later, my sister, Nicki, 12 at the time, and her friend had a paper route. One morning while they were picking up their papers at a gas station near the Hartford fire station, a man in a window at a boarding house across the street waved. They waved back. He motioned for them to come up and they giggled.
“Then he showed himself in the window and he was naked, holding himself,” she recalled this week. “We ran away.”
When it happened again the next day, they went to the fire station and reported it. A cop interviewed them the following day. My sister went to court to testify, “but I guess the guy didn’t show or pleaded out,” she said. No one ever told her or my parents what the outcome was.
A few years earlier, she and another sister, Becky, both preteens, were sleeping on cots on our enclosed Green Street front porch on a hot summer night. Becky awoke to find what she thought was “a midget” grabbing her arms. Her screams woke my parents, who made them come in and sleep upstairs.
The story didn’t make sense — no one had heard the balky porch door slam and it was tightly shut.
But the next morning, it was clear the sliding screen had been removed from the porch window nearest where my sister had been sleeping and there was rock underneath the window big enough to stand on.
That was a few years before my brother’s shower intruder. The results were basically the same. “I think the cops were called, but nothing came of it,” Billy said this week of the shower intruder.
Other odd things happened — not as scary or dangerous — but odd.
Once my brother Jimmy was home sick in bed from school and a stranger walked into his bedroom. He told my brother he thought our house was an apartment house.
Our family even had a joke for when something strange happened. We’d been visited by “the bushy-haired intruder,” a name stolen from a made-for-TV movie about the Sam Shepherd murder case.
Any young woman of that era could expect to be approached by someone in a car — almost always middle-aged men — while walking. We had the reaction down straight — say no firmly, stare straight ahead, walk briskly and hope he went away. I can remember at least once a car doing a slow crawl behind me for at least a block or two as I walked home from Cony. And this was in the bright, busy light of midafternoon in a busy part of the city.
There were so many strange, troublesome and dangerous people wandering the streets of Augusta back then we had nicknames for many of them, names that are either too politically incorrect or too mean to repeat here.
So, no, Augusta was no Norman Rockwell painting.
A lot has changed since the 1970s. Violent crime has plummeted. Kids are more aware of wrong or dangerous behavior and what to do when they see it. People talk about abuse, violence and assault and those things are taken a lot more seriously by authorities than they were 40 years ago. People report things instead of shrugging them off as “normal.” Police take those reports more seriously.
In 2013 we have sex offender registries. They serve their purpose — we know exactly where these guys are.
The registered sex offenders aren’t the ones we have to worry about.
Because the one thing that hasn’t changed since the 1970s is that there are dangerous people everywhere and many of them aren’t on a registry.
My sister recalls “there were a lot of scary people” around back then.
There still are. They’re living on your street or around the corner, even if your house isn’t on Green Street.
Maureen Milliken is news editor of the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Email her at [email protected] Kennebec Tales is published the first and third Thursday of the month.