Urp. We did it. Thanksgiving is over. It is a great holiday to go local. The bird, the pie pumpkin, the squash, the Brussels sprouts and the potatoes all grow in abundance in Maine. If you went the supermarket route and used food from away, then poor you. If you bought it locally or raised it yourself, you had a feast that can’t be beat.
The Christmas holidays give you another chance to celebrate the glories of “Made in Maine.” In Hancock County, either your own town or the one next door is laden with gift possibilities in a range of prices that will suit almost any pocketbook. Don’t go online, don’t go to Bangor. Shop locally and keep your dollars circulating close to home.
If you have enough cash to plunk down at a store, lucky you. Keep it local. If you don’t have any cash to spare, you still have something to give. Spend a day working at a local food pantry and ask them to send a note to a friend or family member saying “Thank you. Your brother/neighbor/co-worker spent a day helping out in your honor.”
Give someone a ride to the doctor, or rake the leaves away from their front steps, or ask a homebound neighbor if you can stop in. Bring a thermos of coffee and two muffins. Be good to yourself, too. Get some fresh air every day, even if it’s just to walk up your street and back. If you are in the white-haired demographic, tell all the neighbors you’ll be taking a stroll at 10 a.m., and get others to come out and join you.
Tell the baggers at the grocery store that you love the way they never crush your tomatoes. Wave at the cops. Smile at the bank teller. Tell your local librarian you don’t know what you’d do without the library. Ask if there is anything you can do to help. There are opportunities for one-time or regular volunteers, for jobs that require lifting or climbing stairs and jobs that can be done sitting at a table.
The season of giving is not just about money and fancy, wrapped gifts. Everyone has something to give, even those who have a lot that they need. It’s a two-way street. Give and get, get and give. Those of us who have enough to give often forget that giving is its own sort of gift, and that even those with limited means have time or talent to give, and take pleasure in the giving.
Mainers are natural givers. They know how to make things and fix things. They know what people in crisis will need, and they do not hesitate to supply it. Food, or cleaning out the refrigerator, or getting the car battery charged or the wood stacked or the floor washed, are all tasks that Mainers know how to do, and they understand that all that adds up to peace of mind for someone in distress.
People from away are inclined to think that human contact amounts to “bothering” someone in a time of need. They wait for people to ask for help and to say what they need. The trouble is, people in crisis don’t know what they need. They only know that they are hurting. To walk in with a casserole is much more useful than saying “Let me know if I can help.”
The many acts of kindness that happen around here every day add up to feeling the way we do about Maine. When people wax eloquent about their love for our state, they may talk about the woods, waters and wild lands, but at the root of it are the people. It is the mundane encounters that leave us feeling that this is where we want to be.
There’s the fellow in the Portland bus terminal who says he’s just going to leave his soft drink and his phone on the seat next to you and step outside for a smoke. Very much against the rules. But he looks you right in the eye, and he’s wearing a sweatshirt that suggests he’s a fisherman, and when he comes back you discover he’s the sternman on your neighbor’s son’s boat. He offers to carry your bag outside to the car. He gives you a grin and a wave as he boards his bus.
There’s the nurse you bump into at the big-box store who asks how your mother is doing and whether she got her apples in to make pie. You didn’t know she knew your mother. You didn’t know your mother was thinking of making pie. Not only does the nurse know her, but she knows a side of your mother you might not have noticed.
How lucky we are that the horrors that plague much of the world have not touched Maine. Yet. For those that have, we can help. Lend a hand when you can, get a hand when you need it. It’s the Maine way.