On the face of it one might think and instantly proclaim that a “real Mainer” is a person born and raised in Maine – whether on one of the largest estates on the East Coast or in a humble weather-worn cabin in the woods. In fact, it is well-known here in central Maine that being born in the state of Maine is the only credential the good people of this area recognize.

My husband Alan tells a joke about three friends, Merle, Johnny and Travis. Travis died. At his funeral Merle and Johnny reminisced about all the fun times the three men had over the years hunting and fishing together. “He moved to Maine when he was 2 years old,” Merle said.  “Yeah, too bad he wasn’t one of us,” said Johnny.

A real Mainer is born here, it seems; everyone else is “from away,” an “outta stata” or a “flatlander.”

But wait! Not so fast, I say.  I propose for your consideration an alternative view in the matter of whom the real Mainer truly is.

Imagine for a moment the impressionable 5-year-old boy of my husband’s childhood – the child who summered with his family in the Maine woods. He soundly slept in the rickety and aged berthing room, the tiniest room of the old farmhouse tucked into the corner of the old kitchen – a house built stick by stick in the 1800s. Alan’s parents purchased their summer house for $2,500 back in the 1967; a time in the history of Concord, Maine, when nothing more existed of a town other than a few small camps scattered about on many miles of narrow dirt road.

Alan and his family lived in the farmhouse for three months every summer for many years. As a young boy, adolescent and eventually a young man, he met many milestones during those Maine summers of his childhood. He learned the lay of the 42 acres that surrounded their house. He played in the woods and watched his father tinker with hoses to get water from the frog pond up to the house for bathing, water that had to be boiled for drinking. He learned to shoot his first Daisy BB gun and hunted deer with his father on “The Point” of their property every Thanksgiving weekend. Before heading home, the family would cut down that year’s Christmas tree from their own land, tie it to the top of their vehicle, and drive back to Massachusetts.

On any given summer day the 10-year-old boy would walk bravely into the woods across the road from his house with Blitz, his German short-haired pointer, his best and only friend in the sparsely populated valley. He would walk into the deep, dark woods filled with round and tall white pines, ancient maples, and timeless white and silver birch and poplar with their flittering yellow leaves that sprinkled through the forest like nuggets of gold. The boy and his dog would saunter lackadaisically over the narrow path of the Old Canada Road, over the Martin Stream Bridge, until they reached the bottom of the aptly named Savage Hill. A strenuous climb at any age, the boy and his dog did not turn away from the challenge of the 1,017-foot elevation. Instead, the two friends pressed on.

Together they climbed up the Savage Hill Road, until they reached a big old field where they stopped to rest.  The boy set down his WWII back pack and his 22- rifle on the side of the road. He picked a plum from the thriving tree and lay down on the grass, and pillowed his small hands behind his head. He ignored the black flies, mosquitoes, and the distant sounds of woodland creatures, as his dog, Blitz wandered over to the remaining bricks of the old cellar hole nearby. The boy looked up at the wide Maine sky. He heard only the crunch of his delicious purple treat.

Later, that same Massachusetts boy—as a teenager—dreamed he would someday retire early and return—forever—to his beloved Maine.  He had always admired the way his father’s good friend, Mr. Sterling had retired early; how he drove in from Bingham to stay at his camp in Concord Township, whenever he felt like it. Mr. Sterling had worked at the Wyman Dam. He had a good retirement and could afford to retire early.  The boy, determined and faithful to his dream knew early on that he would have to work in order to save enough money to pay for his early retirement.

Once he was an eighteen year-old adult he decided to permanently move to the family farmhouse in Maine. Jobs were scarce though. By summer’s end he knew he would have to move back down to the parsonage in Massachusetts pledging—with all his might—to return to his beloved Concord Township once he had worked hard enough, saved enough, and aged enough to retire.

Many years later, I met Alan when he was thirty-six years old and single.  He had not yet met the woman who loved being with him at the farmhouse; the woman who would love the Maine woods enough to choose to retire with him in Concord Township—someday.  And still his dream of early retirement and living there persisted.

As he spoke to me of his dream of a day when he would return; when he would winterize and renovate the farmhouse so he could live there year-round, I too, fell under the spell; I found myself falling in love with not only the man but also the deepest part of him; his love for the only place he ever called home. And, I loved the quaintness of the antique farmhouse; I could see the potential; mostly though I loved the beautiful land surrounding us.  I loved the moonlight over the frog pond on a crisp New Year’s Eve.  I loved cutting trails through the woods, and chasing rainbows whenever the sun glistened through the summer rains. I too, began to imagine a retirement life in such paradise.

I learned that because his parents were ministers, they had moved their family from one parsonage to another; I learned that since Alan was five years old, they summered at the only place Alan ever called home. I grew up in my childhood home even as our family outgrew it. I understood…Alan’s roots were so deeply sown into the walls, floor boards, the sun-bleach boards of the antique barn, woodshed, and well-house. He had learned to drive on the Austin Mini Moke he drove around a figure eight stand of trees that had grown up in the back field of the woods. I could imagine this six-foot tall man once a young boy walking down the narrow road to the Martin Stream carrying his fishing rod, trying to keep up with his father’s long, confident strides.

I discovered that I loved the wide, starry, skies and the round yellow moon that pulled him back home; all he had been living for I began to live for too. He dreamed of the time in his life when he could once again roam about in the woodsy pucker brush or walk to the Lily Pond two miles down the road.  In this dream, the man’s black lab, Baxter walked happily along with him.  As he bided his time though, he returned to the farmhouse in Concord every chance he got.

During his mid-twenties, he had two jobs: one full-time job as a meter reader for the local power company and a part-time job as a Security Officer at the local private school campus.  At this time, the determined young man began in earnest to save for his early retirement.  He paid off debts.  He rolled each pay raise back into his retirement plans. He worked as much overtime as he was allowed. Still, whenever he had free time, he drove three hours up the interstate to that place called home; the place where he painted porches, repaired electrical wiring, and mowed the lawn.

In July of 2002 when he proposed to me, he needed the certainty of knowing I loved him—but also Maine, enough to retire with him there. Five years later I fully understood his love for Maine; love that had rooted deeply from the man’s heart into the vast landscape up the huge hills and down low beneath the granite boulders of the land he had roamed alone for so many years. Six years after we got engaged, we shared our vows on a rainy September morning during our farmhouse wedding.

Many years of work and toil passed. And still, the Real Mainer’s dream to return—yes, to his roots—never perished. The final fifteen years until retirement Alan was promoted to lineman. He worked thousands of hours; he earned overtime wages that continually boosted his retirement fund. Through the wild wind storms, piercing hail storms, or the dangers of repairing wires, transformers, and K-mates in the worst ice storm ever known in the northeast, my Real Mainer never lost sight of that one constant vision that spurred him on.

August 2017 my husband Alan finally retired from his thirty-year career at Unitil in New Hampshire. At fifty-five years old he returned—at long last—to Concord Township, Maine where he will live forever, though it turned out he would not live in his beloved family farmhouse. Instead, he will live a few seconds down the road in a home we built together; a cozy home built to accommodate us in our old age, including our family cemetery.

We have built our own version of paradise. Our home sits high upon a ridge.  The Martin Stream where Alan used to fish with his father, runs entirely through our 45 acres of land Alan purchased in the 80’s. My husband returned to Concord at a time in his life when he was finally in a position to not only live there; he was also able to provide jobs to the local trades; the builders, electricians, the plumbers, and the land-developers.

With newly acquired wisdom he has since realized that dreaming was the easy part; dreams are simply machinations, until we mobilize them into action, form them, and finally build them into our version of reality. We sometimes look around our three-acre clearing and wonder if we miraculously willed our dream into fruition.

I do know this: The Real Mainer will always find his way back to that place where his soul has rooted like the ivy that clings to the vine; that place where he knows he truly belongs no matter how long it takes or how long and wearing the road can be to get back there.

 

 

 

 

 

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