Why would one worry about being a true Mainer?
Recently, a dear writing friend wrote a blog about being a “true Mainer.” The piece was witty and well written as her work always is, and I chuckled reading it. But it left me puzzled. Now if you met this person, you would think she is about as “Maine” as they come. She passes seamlessly in the small Maine town she lives in. Heavens, she’s married to a born and bred Mainer. As a person who meets the criteria of being born in Maine and having ancestry on both sides who were born here, too, I never have to worry about being a “true” one. I wonder if some of these wonderful people who aren’t realize the negative baggage that accompanies that honor, though.
Now, first of all, let’s get specific. There is no one “true Mainer” in the sixteen noble counties. There are the people from York and Cumberland County, and then there are those from the rest of Maine. Of course, there are the people from “the county”―Aroostook. Those potato farmers think they’re special, but the rest of us just ignore them. I was sixty-seven years old before I ever stepped foot in that place. By the way, it’s beautiful up there. Getting back to the original division, the first group is close enough to Massachusetts to absorb many of their traits. Heaven forbid! The former group possess the largest city in Maine―Portland, with its huge population of almost sixty-seven thousand people, hotels, and restaurants galore, especially in the highly touted “Old Port” section by the Casco Bay. Greater Portland people feel there is no need to hold any event anywhere else. The year that a state wide writers’ organization held an award ceremony way up in Bangor, they actually had to hire a charter bus to transport people from down there up to that remote Central Maine locale because there was such a backlash of complaints. Don’t get me wrong. Although born in Central Maine (or technically, Southern Central Maine,) I now live in what is affectionately called the Portland suburb of Falmouth. Both of my daughters were born and raised here, so they are perhaps what one could call “urban, true Mainers.” Unfortunately, they carry some of the same Maine baggage that their father and I do when going out of the state.
The first time I left the state and stayed in a motel, I was twelve, and my mother told my father it was time us children to absorb some culture. We drove down and stayed overnight in Peabody, Massachusetts to hike the Freedom Trail in Boston. All five of us stayed in one room and took turns using the shower which was a treat for a family who lived on a farm with a dry, dug well when weather got warm. I felt like an alien walking those streets. Plus, my mother scared me with constant warnings of don’t speak to those strange people from there. The whole experience left such an impression on me that I still look for that motel every time I drive into Boston on Route 1. Of course as an older establishment, it now boasts hot tubs and hourly rates on its signage. I was too occupied on my first trip out of state to notice that people were probably laughing at the little family dressed in their Sunday best and standing in front of the Paul Revere monument. I wasn’t so naïve five years later when I experienced the Big Apple.
I arrived in New York City with my then boyfriend who is now my husband, his best friend, and his best friend’s girlfriend who lived in Forest Hills. She was attending University of Maine at Orono like the boys. I was the lowly high school senior. This New Yorker was of the rare out-of-state students at UMO. Armed with my legal-aged cousin’s driver’s license as I was only seventeen, I was thrilled to be where the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was going to be that year, perhaps having sneaked a beer on the way over. The first day we walked the streets of the city, my boyfriend’s best friend wore a huge UMO bench jacket. We were staring up at the skyscrapers when he literally ran into and bounced off the abdomen of a huge NYPD officer who grasped him by the scruff of that jacket and about picked him right off the sidewalk. We were all behind them, also starring up until that happened. I was horrified to see the angrily irritated look on the officer’s face. Then he twirled him around and saw the logo on the back of the jacket. Anger turned to amusement. “Watch where you’re going, farmer!” With that warning, the officer left us shaking his head and laughing. It was then I realized Mainers are treated a little different upon leaving their home state.
My oldest daughter had the audacity to attend Cornell University way off in upstate New York instead of her legacy school. She was a constant source of entertainment to the big city students there. She was teased about her Down East accent even though I don’t think she has one. Certainly not like her dad and I do. She was asked if her family had indoor plumbing or cable television. They were surprised that a Mainer could be as smart as she was. Now she was from what is considered an affluent area of Maine, but the wealth she ran into at Cornell astounded her, and she regaled us with stories about it whenever she came home. Being from Cumberland County in Maine, she wasn’t as intimidated by all this as I was at her age. A few brave college friends of hers actually visited us during breaks and were charmed to find our home quite comfortable. Parents of her friends grinned at my husband and I while attending events during such things as Family Weekend at Cornell. I noticed this which gets me to my real point of this whole thing. Real Mainers born in the other fourteen counties of the state have inferiority complexes about it.
In my now neighborhood, we Mainers count heads occasionally. We are in the minority. Most have moved from other states, most surprisingly from New York. We are corrected constantly by them. We are told one needs to go to at least Boston for decent health care. One neighbor had bagels shipped up from New York for her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. We don’t run the schools right. Our government needs to be updated. We smile and allow them to do this. Many are now elected officials of important things. Don’t you get it? Bragging about being a “true Mainer” because we were actually born here is all we have, and we’re hanging onto it!