Maine Journal, Part I

Portland Head Light in Maine (Dreamstime)



Editor’s Note: In the current issue of National Review, we have a piece by Jay Nordlinger called “The State of Maine: Not all lobster bibs and brisk swims.” This “Maine Journal” in his Impromptus is a supplement to the piece.

Last fall, I was at a luncheon in Houston. One of the people I met was from Maine. He had lived elsewhere in his adult life, but he had grown up in Maine. We talked about that state a little — I have a little experience with it myself. He said, “The Maine I grew up in was nothing like Maine now. The state has experienced a sad decline. There’s a host of problems: drug addiction and family breakdown and all the rest of it. Today’s Maine is more like Appalachia, I think, than like the Maine of old.”

Really? I thought I should poke my nose around Maine, for a magazine piece. I have come to do that.

When you emerge from the plane at the Portland airport, there’s a bowl of candies waiting for you. Very civilized.

You are greeted, not just by candies, but by a sign that says, “Portland, Maine. Yes. Life’s good here.”

The state at large has a slogan: “Maine: The way life should be.”

There are a few states in our Union where state pride is strong. Texas is the obvious example. But Maine is not far behind. Mainers — or Mainiacs, as they sometimes call themselves, fondly — are very proud of their state. That pride is almost Texan.

At a Portland hotel, the sign does not say, “Have a Great Day.” It says, “Have a Great Maine Day.”

Very Maine-like.

By the way, Maine people are Mainers, Mainiacs — or “Downeasters.” Down East is the cherished magazine of the state.

I was taught by a couple of students of C. Vann Woodward, the historian of the American South who had much of his career at Yale. He was from Arkansas. He would refer to Connecticut as “the Deep North.”

Mainers have a couple of outstanding linguistic habits. They don’t say “Maine” but “the State of Maine.” Example: “That’s just the way we do it here in the State of Maine.”

Also, they won’t say they’re from Bethel or Brunswick. They’ll say they’re from “Bethel, Maine,” or “Brunswick, Maine.” They do this when speaking to one another, mind you — not just when they’re away, talking to non-Mainers.

At the rental-car agency, a man hands me a bottle of Poland Spring — Poland Spring water. It comes from right here in Maine — the State of Maine — and it comes from the town of Poland. There are many such place-names in this state: Poland, Maine; Norway, Maine; Mexico, Maine; Peru, Maine; China, Maine; etc.


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