Wish We Were There
Homesickness, like the flu, is an illness with discrete stages.
I was in Brittany recently, which was just like Maine, only in French. There were fishing villages and fishing boats, the pungent, briny smell of the Atlantic, and every so often a fleeting image - a curve in the road, a field, an inlet - that would look so exactly like a picture of some idyllic spot in Maine it might have jumped off the pages of this very magazine. Of course, there were differences - houses made of stone, not wood; trees more likely to be palms than pines; ashtrays on every caf` table - but my husband and I still kept assuring each other that Brittany was just like Maine. By that time we had been away four months and were homesick. [ For the rest of this story, see the April 2008 issue of Down East.]I had taken to drinking Muscadet, which says Maine right on the label; I kept catching my husband in art museums gazing longingly at paintings of snow.
We had been getting weather reports from home, cryptic e-mails from friends saying things like "We're in the Deep Freeze" or "Another two feet overnight." One, in April, was particularly mysterious: "Drove past your house, your big spruce is still standing." Why shouldn't it be? The e-mail had a link to a WGME news report. I clicked and watched the nor'easter knock boats around while the Atlantic spilled over onto Commercial Street. All that dramatic weather, and I was missing it!
The problem with Maine's never-ending winter is that I couldn't complain about our own little miseries since they were set in exotic places like Majorca and Marrakesh, which sound like enviable places to be. I would send my friends long e-mails bemoaning how cold we were. There's no heat in the house; it's forty degrees inside; we can't even drink the water! Did I get any sympathy? No. I got more weather reports.
Homesickness, like the flu, is an illness with discrete stages. First you miss your friends and central heating, but can console yourself that friends and central heating are still there, back home, waiting for you, and that you should pay more attention to where you are, this alternate universe where people speak some form of medieval Latin and you can't make any of the machines work. The challenges involved in doing a load of laundry engage your full intelligence - not to mention the trauma of trying to type on a Catalan keyboard. But soon even these distractions can't fend off the crisis, a delirium during which you comprehend what you miss the most and can define it in one word: water. Oh, for a glass of sweet, pure Lake Sebago water! To think that once upon a time we could just turn on the tap and drink the water - and not drop dead on the spot! How lucky we were, and we didn't even know it!
Every day, lugging huge plastic bottles of disgusting plastic-tasting water back from the pathetic market where the vegetables looked like they had come from a dumpster and the milk cartons were on unrefrigerated shelves boasting a three-month shelf life, I found myself singing little odes to Lake Sebago water and composing mental thank-you notes to the Portland Water District. A little jaunt over to North Africa confirmed it. Okay, I thought, maybe the price for Lake Sebago water is six months of winter, but isn't it worth it?
No!! came the instant reply from my friends languishing in the Deep Freeze. Obviously, they needed a week in Marrakesh to understand how lucky they were to be entirely surrounded by water, even if it was frozen.
We came home at last and it was spring. Everything was beautiful, wonderful. I spoke to people in complete sentences and they understood what I was saying. I put my clothes in the washing machine and they were clean in less than six hours. The water from the tap was delicious. The milk was fresh Maine milk and in the refrigerator where it belonged. Even the M and the A were back in their usual spots on the keyboard.
Life is good. Life is the way it should be.
My friends are being patient with me. They know it won't be long before the weather changes - this is Maine, after all. The day will come, after a summer cold snap or a solid week of rain, when I'll ask, "Why on earth do we live in a place like this?" and they'll be happy for me. I will have passed through the last stage of homesickness. I'll finally be home again.
- By: Agnes Bushell