Maine Innocents Abroad
At the post office yesterday I ran into Will, a carpenter-slash-folk-singer — not the only one in the neighborhood, either, which can probably be laid to that lamentable ditty "If I Had a Hammer" — and we chatted awhile about our globe-trotting children. Will's son Seth is somewhere in Asia en route to Hanoi; my college-age kids spent the holidays in London and were due back in a few hours. It's all a bit bemusing to us small-town dads.
"Well, now's the time to do it," said Will.
I figured he meant, While they're young. But it turned out he was thinking about the imminent collapse of civilization, which, for a folk singer, is a matter of professional concern.
Mainers do travel, of course. I've seen them. It's probably going too far to say that you can pick them out, but I'll say it anyway: You can pick them out. They're the only ones in the airport who look happy. They tend to cluster together, identifying one another by some occult faculty unknown to science, and they're usually carrying something in a paper bag. Someone ought to look into this. The occult faculty, I mean, not the bag.
I remember the first time I was taken for a Mainer myself. It was quite an honor. I'd only been living here a couple of years and didn't quite feel I'd earned my stripes yet. Anyway there I was at the Portland airport ("It's the Jetport, dad," my older son, a Washington sophisticate, used to correct me, "the International Jetport," which for some reason he found terribly amusing) — I was at the airport and there was a longish line in the gift shop. People were jostling; they had planes to catch. When it was my turn I laid down my magazine and gave the harried checkout clerk a smile.
"You're a Mainer, aren't you?" she said.
"Why do you say that?" I asked her.
"I don't know," she said. "You can just tell."
As I said: quite an honor.
Here's a story I heard last summer. There was a big Tea Party rally going on in Washington. People came from all over. Neighbor Will was probably at home writing a song about it, as it ties in with the whole collapse-of-civilization meme. My son the sophisticate went down to the Mall to check it out — he never misses a big rally, one of the perks of living in the Nation's Capital.
"It was all these old people and they looked really mad," he reported. "Except there was this group from Maine. They were all wearing orange t-shirts that said something on them. They were having a really good time. They were all like, laughing and taking pictures. I thought, Look at those Mainers. It was kind of funny."
I'm not lying: you can pick them out. I suppose the orange t-shirts helped.
The funny thing about my kids being abroad for the holidays is that we probably talked more than at any Christmas since they were little. Actually we FaceTimed: I got them each a new iPod touch so that whenever they were online (which is more or less tantamount to saying, when they were breathing) they could give the old dad a jingle. My daughter was especially good about this, and it was nice to see her pretty face poking out of the tiny screen. She liked to call in the morning, when things were quiet. My son, who was quite pleased to find himself in a land with a sensible drinking age, was somehow less vivacious at that hour.
In an ordinary year, they'd have been off with their friends, or asleep, or listening to horrible music. This was much nicer.
So it's good to see them travel, I guess. It's good to know that these young people who have spent their whole lives in a little town in Maine are now big and brave and confident enough to venture out into the world and go club-hopping in a distant city, and bumming their way through southern Asia, and cracking jokes about the Portland International Jetport.
The final proof that I've really become a Mainer, I guess, is that, like every other Maine parent I know, I have this vague anxiety that the kids will wander off somewhere and not find their way home again. It takes quite a bit of zooming in to locate Lincolnville, Maine, on Google Earth.
On the flip side — and this is where hope lies — the more time you've spent elsewhere, the better this place looks.