Dirty Laundry, Part 1: Smells and Bells by Peter Donatelli

In this series, Munjoy Hill laundry tycoon Peter Donatelli recalls the visceral and wistful memories of growing up on the Hill.

Part 1: Smells and Bells

The smell of Nissen's Bakery permeated the Hill. As a child in the 70's, there was a certain comfort growing up in a neighborhood that was a community of friends in a setting that was, for me, both sensationally sensory and mystically spiritual. The best of all worlds for a family that immigrated to Maine (of all places) from Italy, a country filled with a plethora of traditions and superstitions that many townships and communities would reject and ostracize but NOT Portland, Maine and more specifically the culturally diverse yet amazingly inclusive Munjoy Hill. In the 70's we had the benefit of being accepted for our financial struggles in an area where most of our neighbors had no pretense nor condescension.

Getting back to that smell; imagine a small area in Portland with several local factories making bread in the morning and beans at night. The noises that represented a comfort level that kept me sleeping at night, reminded me of lunch at noon, and church bells wishing us a Godly night or a Blessed holiday. The Iron Works clanging all night, for me, was better than a whispering stream or the sound of silence. I slept like a baby. The "air raid" horn kept us safe and was extremely cool as a child.

There was a white Methodist church on the corner of St. Lawrence and the St. Lawrence congregational church down on Munjoy Street that would compete and/or tag-team as hymns jingled through their bell towers. Mother Church nurtured Her children with a sense of Heavenly embrace as the Hill catered to the spiritual needs of all with nine Christian institutions and two synagogues working together in communal support.

Smells and Bells are as important to me in the secular world as in the ecclesiastical. They make my life sacred in a world filled with the profane. But these are only two senses the Hill provided. In Part 2, I will try to take us through the tastes, the sights, and the feelings that made my upbringing exciting, eventful, and exuberant.