If you’re one of our many summer visitors who’ve been playing hard and spending even harder this summer in Maine, you should be aware of the sad fact that your summer is almost over.

You should also know that by Labor Day – according to a long-standing Maine custom – all you New York Times- and Boston Globe-toting tourists must have your bags packed; your boats, canoes and kayaks out of our lakes, rivers, ponds, coves and bays; and all your trendy imported bicycles strapped on your trendier, fully fueled SUVs. But, before you head south down the turnpike, you are also required to stop and load up on bushel baskets full of Maine souvenirs.

Souvenirs are funny things. What do you buy to remind you of your time in Maine? Some people illegally dig up privately owned pine trees to remind them of their vacation in the Pine Tree State. I once interviewed a police officer about the problem of tourists digging up our pine trees. When he caught people doing it he would give them a talking-to and ask: “What if all 3 million tourists who visited Maine each year felt the need to dig up a pine tree seedling to take home with them? How long would it be before Maine became the desert state?”

Good question.

My Uncle Earle was a world traveler and souvenir collector. He claimed that among his extensive collection was a railroad spike from the building of first Transcontinental Railroad. I can’t remember what connection Uncle Earle had with the Transcontinental Railroad, if any, but he did have a good story to go with the spike, which is the important thing.

Uncle Earle also said that if all the items said to have come from the Titanic before it sank were actually on the Titanic before it sailed, the ship would have sunk to the bottom before it left the dock in South Hampton.

One question I have about today’s souvenirs in Maine is this: How come, if the word “souvenir” comes from the French verb “to remember,” most of our souvenirs come from China? Shouldn’t we go right to the source and use the Chinese verb for “to remember?” I’d used to know the Chinese word for “remember,” but I can’t remember it.

The Chinese probably don’t have a word for souvenir because they’re too busy making and selling our souvenirs.

I don’t know how they do it, but from their location on the other side of the planet they’ve learned how to make small models of our ships and sailing vessels and soft stuffed toys that look exactly like our lobsters, moose, loons, gulls and harbor seals. How do they do that?

Knowing you can never have too many lobster-related items, our fully stocked shops have what they call “lobster accessories,” which include soaps, pot holders, lollipops, refrigerator magnets, hats, pillows, plates, mugs, spoons – and more. Our souvenir shops even have post cards printed in China.

Anyway, hundreds of our Maine gift shops – spread thick from Kittery to Calais and from Rockport to Rangeley – are loaded to the gunwales (gunn’lls) with all kinds of cleverly made Chinese souvenirs that you can buy to remind you of your vacation in Maine.

Now, we don’t want to get to the point of doing car inspections to make sure all tourists heading south have a suitable amount of souvenirs aboard. We just hope you’ll all do your part in helping us get rid of the stuff we bought last spring. Once you’re all gone, we’ll have no use for it.

John McDonald is the author of “A Moose and a Lobster Walk into a Bar,” “Down the road a piece” and “The Maine Dictionary.” Contact him at [email protected]


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