State of Maine: The Maine that used to be

Governor Janet Mills was inaugurated on Jan. 2, making her election official. Her “welcome home” theme might speak to Mainers living in exile, but what does “welcome home” convey to those Mainers who haven’t been away?

We’ve all been “away” in one sense. The soundtrack of our public life has been full of discord. The level of public anger, animosity, even profanity with which we’ve been led in the past eight years defied the long-held traditions of civility from our state leaders.

The titans of Maine politics, from Margaret Chase Smith and Ed Muskie to Bill Cohen and George Mitchell, were the bedrock of our political DNA. Dirigo. It means “I direct.” Or “I lead.” Or possibly “I guide.” Whatever. We’re not too fussy about the specifics, but we knew when we could trust our leaders.

So perhaps Governor Mills’ “welcome home” was meant for Mainers who currently populate the place, welcoming us back, if not to the Maine that used to be, at least to the values we once displayed.

Our state success has been based on practicality, not pretension. Just look at our footwear. The goal is for feet to be warm and dry, not stylish, yet here, too, we have led the nation, as LL Bean cannot keep up with the demand for its winter lace-ups. So, too, have city-dwellers adopted red-checkered flannel shirts with their jeans, though they just can’t pull off the look.

Ours is the land of Caribou, not Malibu. Winter wear is a flannel shirt (fleece-lined acceptable) worn over a thermal shirt worn over a T-shirt, with waterproof boots and a wooly cap. Garments should be well-used, not brand new, and approximately clean at the start of the day, but show the results of the day’s labor by dusk.

This is the correct wardrobe for running errands, shoveling the dooryard, pulling a vehicle out of a snowy ditch, a parent-teacher meeting, grabbing a few groceries, checking on your mother’s wood supply or having a beer at the end of the day.

Lobstermen don’t go to Starbucks. They get their coffee from the gas station, like normal people, and they don’t spend an hour sitting at a table yakking over it either. A stool at the counter, pre-dawn, before firing up the diesel on the boat is permissible.

Mainers are territorial. Do not mess with their stuff, their habits nor their opinions, lest you be poked (gently) in the chest with a forefinger of astonishing thickness. You are welcome to build or accumulate whatever you wish in your own yard, but kindly do not weigh in on what your neighbor chooses to do with his.

The corollary to territorialism (not to be mistaken for terrorism) is neighborliness. The first principle of neighborliness is to mind your own business. Next is to notice, covertly, from under the bill of your cap, what’s up at the neighbor’s. Two days’ newspapers on the porch? Tap on the door. If someone answers, hand him the papers and ask to borrow a tool. Do not let on that you were checking up. If no one comes to the door, let their sister know.

Water seeping out from under the side door? They’ve probably gone south. Tell their plumber. You will know who that is because you’ve seen the van there. Likewise who delivers their oil and plows their driveway. If no one is around, you will take care of fallen limbs, banging shutters or UPS packages.

You will wonder why your neighbor goes south in the first place. Because ice-fishing. And snowmobiling. Also, the delicious pleasure of being curled up in bed in the silence of a Maine winter night and hearing a plow blade drop in the street. (A.) You’ll be able to get out of your driveway in the morning and; (B.) he’s working and you’re not.

When Governor Mills says “welcome home,” perhaps she is telling us that it is not her intention to interrupt us with a furious tirade about political injustice, partisan stupidity or wastefulness. There will be injustice, stupidity and wastefulness but the volume will be turned down.

You will be free to chime in on anything that might disturb your personal tranquility and ignore the rest of it. Let those who go down to Augusta worry about the fine points. Whether you follow politics closely or not, and most of us do not, nobody benefits from having the air full of hate and discontent.

You may now raise a mug of Allen’s coffee brandy to winter in Maine, engaging in your favorite pursuits indoors (heh heh) or out, at less risk of being blasted out of your recliner by a livid politician on the TV. The governor sounds determined to restore tranquility and progress. Welcome home.

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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