Marlene Pray Keene, second from left, front row, and her husband, Eugene Keene, center, back row, were invited to speak a a meeting of classmates and friends of the 1949 Elm Street School. Front row, from left, Barbara Trundy Durgin, Marlene Pray Keene and Ruth Pulkinen Gammon. In back, Roger Kirk, Dorothy Marquis Bouchles, Eugene Keene, Nancy V. Conant and Bruce Conant.

MECHANIC FALLS — Marlene Pray Keene and her husband, Eugene, painted a picture of life in Mechanic Falls in 1949 when there were 27 stores downtown, a bag of chips and a Coke cost a dime, and anyone 16 and younger had to be off the streets by 9 p.m.

It’s not the same 70 years later.

“I miss it,” Eugene said. “I remember I was fortunate enough to live at that time … as one man said, ‘They were the best years.’

In a detailed and colorful talk at the Mechanic Falls Historical Society meeting in August, the couple, who have been married 64 years, told about their school days, police foot patrols after dark and Minot and Poland residents coming to town to shop.

Marlene said students at Elm Street School had computers, too.

“Everybody came to school with their computer, and it’s right up here,” she said, pointing at her head. “It has many megabytes.

“So you had to use this computer to memorize your math, your spelling, reading, your social studies,” she said. “It hasn’t left me. You learned by memory that seven sevens are 49, eight fives are 40, 12 times 12 equals 144.

“You had your spelling words,” she said. “Every Monday they gave you 10 that you had to learn to spell and define by Friday. Then you had your test. If you missed a couple, then they added them over to the next week.”

As sixth-graders, she and her classmates attended Elm Street School when it was across the street from the current school. Lower grades attended Water Street School.

“Kickball was a big thing back then,” Eugene said, … “and the thing that was good about recess was if you were a good boy, good girl, good student, you got to ring the bell.”

He said he rang the bell only once, admitting he wasn’t a bad kid, but “I tried to get away with a few things.”

Mechanic Falls students usually went home for lunch, while Minot students brought theirs to school.

“Sometimes you went downtown to eat a half an Italian at the Grotto, a little ice cream and sandwich shop with a few tables,” Marlene said. “You could get a bag of chips and Coke for a dime.”

Eugene said he enjoyed playing sports at recess and after school. He also played the snare drum in the band.

“I always thought my world was Mechanic Falls,” he said. “Mechanic Falls was the center of this area. You had the city Lewiston. I didn’t realize there was an Auburn until I got into high school. Minot and Poland, they were farming communities basically, although Poland was a recreational tourist community with all the lakes. They all came to Mechanic Falls to shop.

“There were 27 stores downtown all open,” he said, including two shoe stores, three barrooms, four grocery stores, two clothing stores, a movie theater, a jeweler, and Dennings drug store.

“There was Royal’s Bakery,” he said. “For a dollar and a half you got a quart of beans and loaf of bread on Saturday night.”

He also talked about the curfew for children and teens, police beats and the jail at the fire station.

“If you were 16 or under you had to be off the streets by 9 p.m. when the fire station sounded the siren,” Eugene said. “A policeman walked the beat, checking the doors to businesses after dark. The Fire Station was located on South Main Street then and the jail was in the basement.”

He laments the changes since he was a child.

“It’s too bad that every kid couldn’t grow up in a place like Mechanic Falls,” he said. “I mean it’s a small town. People took care of the town, they took care of the schools. They took care of the kids. It was a safe town.”

The Keenes have four children, 12 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

“I worry about the world that they have to go into today,” Eugene said.

“We need the youth, we need to try and come forward for them to get active in the community,” he said. ” We just got to encourage them the best that we can.”

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