Shooting the Breeze with Stacy Wentworth at the Kennebunk Farmers’ Market

A popular topic of conversation, he says, is the relentless pace of change in Kennebunk.

Stacy Wentworth (wearing a green sweater) shoots the breeze at the Kennebunk Farmers’ Market
By Sara Anne Donnelly
Photos by Clayton Simoncic
From our May 2024 issue

What Stacy Wentworth called his “conversation booth,” at the Kennebunk Farmers’ Market, was not so much a booth as a circle of lawn chairs and a beach umbrella stuck in a bucket of sand. “Rest Awhile. Swap a Story or Two,” a sign invited passersby. “How it started was I was suffering, desperate for reconnection,” Wentworth said last fall, sitting at his booth, next to a stand selling homemade Italian cookies. In the bowling-alley parking lot that hosts the market on Saturdays, two dozen shoppers wandered about. Wentworth, a reedy 86-year-old retired carpenter and farmer with a snow-white beard and wire-rimmed glasses, described himself as an introvert forced into this unnatural attempt at socializing by necessity.

Stacy Wentworth at the Kennebunk Farmers’ Market
Stacy Wentworth shoots the breeze at the Kennebunk Farmers’ Market, where he sets up chairs and invites people to sit with him. “It was completely out of character for me — I’m an observer,” said Wentworth, who nevertheless felt compelled to find a way to connect with his neighbors on a deeper level.

In 2020, he separated amicably from his wife of 63 years (“We just don’t get along living together. It is what it is.”), left the Arundel farm where he’d resided for half a century, and moved back to his hometown of Kennebunk, where he spent the pandemic bouncing between sublets, a friend’s guesthouse, and his son’s place. By 2023, he was so lonely he’d do anything for a chat. “I asked the woman who runs the market here, what do you think about me setting up a little conversation booth? So I got four chairs and I’m sitting here and, before I know it, these people are sitting down with me.”

Beginning last June, Wentworth manned the booth every weekend until the market closed in November. He’d set up around 8:45 a.m. and stay until the sellers broke down their stands at 12:30 p.m. On a typical day, he’d talk with maybe 15 shoppers, about everything from climate change to what their grandkids were up to. If the conversation lagged, Wentworth would ask his companions to tell him a story. “If we can share a story, then maybe it’ll jog my mind,” he said. On the morning I visited, a man relayed a tale about pulling his Achilles tendon while dancing at Bentley’s Saloon, in Arundel, which got everyone talking about other local spots that had closed, which got Wentworth onto one of his favorite topics: the relentless pace of change in Kennebunk.

“In the past, we went from horses to the horseless carriage,” Wentworth said. “Now, that switch came along at a rate that was manageable . . .”

“Was it manageable by their standards though?” interrupted the Bentley’s Saloon guy. “I bet people probably said, ‘Jesus, this is happening quickly!’”

“But everything is going quicker now, see?” insisted Wentworth. “It’s every aspect of our lives.”

Wentworth’s ancestors arrived in Kennebunk in the days of the horse-drawn carriage. His great-grandfather, Owen Wentworth, founded the town’s landmark Wentworth Hotel, which was operated by the family from 1866 to 1944 and demolished in 1980. Between the bustling hotel, where he lived until age six, and his 12 siblings, “I always came home to a community,” Wentworth said. “I learned you can’t do anything that amounts to anything without other people,” a lesson he feels has been eclipsed by rapid progress that has resulted in skyrocketing real-estate costs, a general disconnectedness wrought by technological advances, and more.

Wentworth’s upbringing oriented his world around collaboration. When he was a carpenter, he encouraged clients to help with their projects “to have some ownership over them.” In 1970, he and his wife worked with other local families to found Arundel’s community-focused School Around Us, which provides hands-on learning opportunities to homeschooled students. (Thirty years later, they opened a sister institution, the New School, in Kennebunk.) Around the same time, Wentworth aided in the establishment of an organic-gardening group in York County that helped lay the groundwork for the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. In the ’80s and ’90s, neighbors wondered if his 70-acre Arundel farm, Neverdone, was a commune on account of the five or so workers living there with their families at any one time. (“We rented to friends and a cooperative community developed out of that,” Wentworth said.) And during stints on the Arundel Planning Board over nearly 20 years, he tried unsuccessfully to convince his colleagues to create a downtown center where residents could gather. “The atmosphere now is all about the rugged individual,” grumbled Wentworth, who’s writing a memoir with the working title My First 85 Years Experiencing Community: The Joys and Sorrows of Living Simply in a Complex World.

Discussions at the farmers’ market often turned to the high cost of housing in Kennebunk, which Wentworth now believes is the biggest threat to the community there. He’s so passionate about the topic, he’s thinking he might retire the conversation booth this summer to launch a collaborative of tradespeople who would renovate buildings into affordable condominiums. He admitted, though, that right now that plan “is all just in my mind.”

Whether or not he brings the booth back, he considers it a success. The story he offers by way of example is this: One sunny morning, he left his perch to grab a bite from a nearby farm stand. When he returned, he found a middle-aged woman relaxing in the umbrella’s shade. He sat down beside her, and she eyed him warily, unsure what he was up to.

“So,” he said, crossing his lanky legs over one another and settling into his seat, “what’s your story?”

The woman laughed. “Oh, I don’t have a story,” she said.

“Of course you do. Everybody’s got a story. What are you here for?”

The woman said she was waiting for her daughter, who was shopping at the market. Wentworth persisted: “Where’s she from?” “Where are you from?” It wasn’t hard to draw her out, he recalled. An hour into their conversation, Wentworth discovered that he shared an ancestor with the woman’s husband. “It was just interesting,” he said. “Everybody’s connected in some way.”

May 2024, Down East Magazine

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