In his 1977 hit song “Just The Way You Are,” Billy Joel wrote, “Don’t go changing, to try and please me/ you never let me down before/ Don’t imagine you’re too familiar/ and I don’t see you anymore.”

As I watch the 21st Century with its clever manipulations wash over the little town I adopted so many years ago, many changes have taken place and so quickly.

I have always habitually resisted change, and from moment one, I liked her just the way she was. But change comes like snow, and often, unexpectedly.

This week, change came motoring up the street in weathered trucks powered by men in white helmets, who got out and set about changing the bulbs in the lamp at the bottom of my driveway.

Up and down the street and across town right up to your driveway they went. Did they knock and tell us what changes they were making, or ask what color we would like? How do you feel about that? I, for one, am saddened.

On my way down to take out the garbage, I asked the man on the ladder. He said that he was replacing my “high pressure sodium bulbs” with “LED bulbs.” Say what?

“Light Emitting Diode” bulbs, he said. He looked familiar. I think She, who used to teach, had him in her room in the sixth grade. I don’t think she taught him about the difference between “high pressure sodium bulbs” and “LED bulbs.”

All I know is that what was there before gave a romantic, even sensual, amber glow, and now it’s gone.

I remember an evening back in late September when everything about me was amber. I glanced out the window and saw two young people standing beneath my post, bathed in a shade of lovely amber, and sharing a kiss. It was a long kiss, a Parisian kiss, a Gustav Klimt, Rodin kiss. I could not look away.

I think they felt warmed by that color, and I like to think he loved the way it tinted her hair. Did he care?

And Billy Joel continued, “Don’t go trying some new fashion/ don’t change the color of your hair.”

But it did change the color of her hair, just as one December night in Manhattan when I first met She, who had the color of her amber hair, changed to green, and then red, by a traffic light. Magical.

And suddenly, just like September, the lovers were gone.

Now the bulbs have been changed to “Light Emitting Diode,” which emits a ghastly white, not the white of new snow or a summer wedding dress, but a soulless white, like a shroud or business envelope.

My lovers have not returned. I’ve waited for them, hoping to write something about them. And now I have.

Change. I remember walking the tree-lined streets of Waterville on a hot summer night when I first arrived, and pausing on the old bridge on Gilman Street, to see an older man in a straw boater hat float by in a canoe. He waved. I waived back. John Cougar Mellencamp once wrote, “I can be myself here in this small town,” and so I have.

Yes, change is repainting the colors of my adopted New England village, and happily, much of it is sweet.

The prominent and imaginative businessman Bill Mitchell has opened an “entertainment center” to light Waterville’s winter nights with “concerts, performance-based events and parties.” Good.

The Bill and Joan Alfond Main Street Commons skyscraper is here, and it’s a wondrous sight to behold. It’s not white frame with green shutters. No, it’s the future.

I find it amazing to pass by the space where the brothers Levine once peddled shirts and ties, and where now the inchoate Lockwood Hotel has arisen with its formidable width and imposing wide-eyed windows dwarfing the tiny eateries on the humbler restaurant row of “old Waterville.”

I’ve heard some grumble that it’s impressive, but out of place. I recall reading that the great French writer Emilie Zola headed a group of artists that tried to stop the erection of the Eiffel Tower.

Zola hated it so much that he ate his lunch at a cafe right beneath it each day, so that he would not have to look at it.

I imagine our grumblers will also relent one day and have lunch in the Lockwood dining room. For a change.

 

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 


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