The View From Away: Characters, and character, make Maine hard to leave
By the time you read this, Carol, Elizabeth, our dogs Ruby and Blackie, and I will be well on the road to our new home in Denver, Colorado.
We are leaving almost six years to the day since we trekked from Los Angeles to Portland, so, sadly, this will be my last regular column. I hope to check in from time to time, with a view from far away, if you will. My sincerest thanks to The Forecaster's editor, Mo Mehlsak, as well as President David Costello and Publisher Karen Wood, for giving me a forum.
For years, Carol and I dreamed about living in Maine. When our son Robert was admitted to Phillips Academy (best for him, if not for his parents’ feelings), we jumped at the chance to come here, where we could be close, but not too close to Andover, Massachusetts. Bobby has moved on to college in Chicago, and now, Denver looms. Carol and I have always been intrigued by the area. More importantly, we believe it has unique resources to help Elizabeth, whose developmental challenges I have occasionally discussed here, to maximize her potential.
It will be my fourth major cross country move, my third with Carol and our second with kids and dogs. The difference is that this time, I am not completely ready to go.
Moving from Detroit and practicing law to New York and entering show business felt like a prison break. New York is a great place to learn comedy, but it also takes a toll on your nerves. I never looked back when we moved to California. And Los Angeles? You either love it or hate it. I did not love it.
Maine, on the other hand, I have loved since 1980, when I spent a couple of months touring the state as the master of ceremonies for a PepsiCo-sponsored skateboarding safety show. The love affair started early, when a local bottler took our skate team to a pub overlooking a small harbor full of brightly colored dinghies and sailboats. It was the first place I had ever seen that looked better than the post cards. I felt the same way later when we were in the woods and saw what the whole continent must have looked like once upon a time, when nature was still in charge.
Maine’s spectacular physical beauty was somewhat offset on that first visit by the robust suspicion I occasionally encountered that Mainers have of people from away. One guy at a gas station told me there was “nothin’ wrong with Maine that dynamitin’ the bridge at Kittery wouldn’t cuah.” This would have been less unsettling if I had asked for his opinion of Maine first. Or spoken to him at all. I guess he thought I needed to know. Maybe it was the New York plates on our car.
My love affair intensified a few years later when Carol and I took a belated honeymoon on Penobscot Bay, and I learned more about the state. By getting lost on the ubiquitous two-lane roads with no identifying signs, I learned that in Maine, if you don’t know how to get someplace, you probably shouldn’t be going there.
I also learned that if you follow a two-lane road long enough, you will probably end up someplace interesting, like a little town that used to be home to a high percentage of the deep-sea captains in the world. Or a small “lobster museum” where the volunteer docent explained the process of lobstering and defended the industry with the knowledge and passion of a lobsterman’s wife. I had never met someone who felt so strongly that she belonged to something. Lobstermen and their families did not simply live; they were part of a unique way of life. Perhaps Carol had the same impression. We never discussed it. We did, however, start talking about living in Maine someday.
When people ask what Maine is like, I usually end up saying “It’s great,” or “A lot of trees” or some such thing because deflecting the question is easier than trying to wrap my arms around Maine’s intangible sense of community. It is a quality that even Portland, with its relatively cosmopolitan atmosphere and high concentration of folks from away, shares with the rest of the state.
The best explanation I have is not as descriptive as I would like, but I think it is true as far as it goes, both for natives and for us poor immigrant souls: to the people we have come to know here, Maine is where the doing of a thing, well and in a way that brings personal satisfaction, is more the goal than getting the most money or the most recognition for whatever you do.
Sure, there are people everywhere like this, and there are people in Maine who are not, but this arrangement of priorities is more a part of the culture here than anywhere else I have lived. It is a character issue. Character is more central to the nature of the place in Maine than in the other places I have lived. So no matter how much we may love our new home, that is going to be hard to give up.
You all are going to be hard to give up.
Thank you for reading.