The Universal Notebook: Where we belong

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Last week, while cooking hundreds of hot dogs at the Yarmouth Clam Festival, it struck me that I no longer feel part of the Yarmouth community.

Ever since we moved to Brunswick almost four years ago, people have been asking me if I miss Yarmouth, where we lived for 32 years. My standard answer has been, “No, it’s just 15 miles down the road. My doctor, my dentist and my church are still there.”

But now even those connections aren’t enough to generate a sense of belonging.

Of course, I don’t really have a sense of belonging in Brunswick either, since my kids did not attend local schools and, despite lots of friends and fine neighbors, we have not been involved in church and civic groups the way we were in Yarmouth. My buddy Roland, who has lived all his life in Westbrook, where we both grew up, believes the reason I have so little memory of my teenage years is that I left town, moving to Portland and then Yarmouth, serving to break the ties that bind.

When asked where I’m from I generally say either Portland, which is where I was born and where my parents grew up, or simply Maine. I am definitely a Maine partisan, although I owe my allegiance more to southern Maine than to northern. The 2nd Congressional District strikes me as a completely different place than the 1st District.

Twenty years ago, when I was writing a lot for Yankee Magazine, I became aware that fewer and fewer people identify themselves as New Englanders. In fact, the editors had pretty much written off Connecticut, which was New York Yankee territory. I am certainly a citizen of Red Sox Nation, less so of the regional fandoms of the Celtics and Patriots.

I think of myself as a patriotic American, but not a flag-waving “My country right or wrong” patriot. That’s not patriotism, that’s nationalism. I love the ideals that America stands for – liberty and justice for all – but I do not love the country it has become lately: a last bastion of bullies, racists and sexists. The America I love is an imperfect place that strives to live up to its ideals. That’s also the way I look at Earth, a miraculous planet we should be striving to turn into Heaven.

These thoughts on where I feel I belong are occasioned in part by a visit I made recently to my ultraconservative cousin and his family in Kennebunkport, where they had rented a cottage across from the Bush compound on Walker’s Point.

Though his mother and father are from Portland, he and his three brothers grew up in Macon, Georgia, and his view of the world differs from mine politically and theologically, even though we are family, Christians and Americans. Whenever we get together we invariably end up in lively, though civil, political discussions – the Northern liberal versus the Southern conservative, the relativist against the fundamentalist.

When, for example, I expressed my concern that activist judges appointed to the Supreme Court by Donald Trump might overturn Roe v. Wade, my cousin, a Republican and Christian activist, insisted that would not happen. The goal, he told me, was not to outlaw abortion, but to allow the states to decide – such that Maine might well keep the status quo, Georgia might impose some limitations and Alabama might ban the procedure altogether.

I just don’t see any reason why a woman should surrender her reproductive rights simply because she crosses a state line. I guess I have more faith in the federal government than I do in the states. If it were left to individual states, we might still have segregation and an African-American might still be three-fifths of a person.

As Colin Woodard describes the 11 cultural regions of the United States in his invaluable “American Nations,” I am clearly a product and resident of Yankeedom, while my cousin is a product and resident of the Deep South.

“From the outset,” Woodard writes of Yankeedom, which encompasses New England and the Great Lakes, “it was a culture that put great emphasis on education, local political control, and the pursuit of the ‘greater good’ of the community, even if it required individual self-denial. Yankees have the greatest faith in the potential of government to improve people’s lives, tending to see it as an extension of the citizenry, and a vital bulwark against the schemes of grasping aristocrats, corporations, or outside powers.”

Yep, that’s me. I stick to the Blue States. That’s right where I belong.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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