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Chapter 008 Turns out we were from away

Being in Maine at our camp was different from being in Maine at the family camps we used to go to. At those camps, we were somewhat insulated, surrounded by people much like us – middle class families from the city, off in the Maine woods for vacation and some natural living. Since our meals were provided in the central family style dining halls, there was no need to leave the place to shop for food. Ditto for our entertainment in the sense that we visited with our camp neighbors in the evenings – outdoors when it was pleasant or in the rec hall when it was cool or rainy. I’m not saying we never left; it’s just that the need to leave wasn’t really there and so we mostly didn’t, except for the occasional rainy day excursion to the movies or L.L. Bean’s.

So basically, those times were not spent in touch with the local Maine folks, with the exception of Andy, the handyman at Wildmere. But he was so extreme in his Maine-ness – succinct in speech using an almost unintelligible Down-East dialect; able to fix anything, anytime, anywhere, using anything; indifferent to his appearance while wearing suspenders and white old-fashioned sleeveless undershirts which were always saturated with motor oil and reeked of gasoline and fish; that we regarded him as a one of a kind. He was an “Andy.”

After we bought our camp, we interacted with many locals. We now did have to shop for food, go to the laundromat, hire plumbers and electricians, and other local folks to pick up our trash, dig our septic tank, and haul off our old decrepit outhouse. We learned early on there was a common bias and mistrust among locals toward people from away, which was anyone who was born more than about 25 miles from HEE-ah. It was an insular, provincial outlook that was hard to penetrate, and it made me self-conscious and uncomfortable among local Mainers for many years. For me, the quintessential story that illustrates the old attitudes was when our carpenter, Ken, died suddenly of a stroke. He’d been born elsewhere in Maine, but had lived in North Belgrade for 25 years before his passing. At his funeral, my Uncle Charlie overhead a local say wistfully, “He was almost like one of us.”

What I ultimately learned was that it was mostly about rich, inconsiderate, snobby people coming to Maine and acting superior and big-city rude. Once people found that you treated them with respect and you were just a working stiff like them, tensions eased a bit, and given enough time, relations could become downright normal.

Over the last decade-and-a-half, instantaneous global communications and the Internet have taught people we’re all more alike than we are different, and I believe that’s made big changes in Mainers’ attitudes about people from away. So do I feel at home in Maine now? Oh yeah, I do, but I think that’s also due to the many months I spent at camp each of the last two years after I quit my day job to write full time. Besides spending more time interacting with my local neighbors, I grew a huge white beard. Mainers trust people with huge beards, even if they do look like Santa Claus, like I did. Hell, you might have a chain saw hidden in there, fer Chrissakes.

Of course, if you’re snotty and superior with the locals and throw your money around, even if you’re not from Massachusetts, but you are from away, good chance you’ll be referred to as a MASShole. That’s just The Maine Way and I’m more than OK with that.

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