Quiet gallantry and foulweather friends: it’s the Maine way



Who doesn’t love a parade? Mainers and PFA’s (People from Away) turned out in force on the 4th, waving little flags and, for those under 10, jumping into the parade route to harvest candy flung by the marchers.

There were flags and fire trucks, vintage cars and bicycles, war veterans and waving girls, lumberjacks and politicians. And it was hot — hot like we rarely see in Maine. When the final parade unit passed by, the general retreat sounded and one and all repaired to the porch and the beverage cooler, the pond, the beach or the sprinkler on the lawn.

It was a night like no other for fireworks: balmy with a few wisps of breeze. From the right vantage point, one could see multiple displays around the bays of Hancock County. Then it was a last spurt of sparklers in the driveway and a quick hosing down of sticky little ones before towing them off to bed, exhausted and joyful.

It was the kind of day where every once in a while an inkling of what this country is about would hit you over the head. The diversity index skyrockets during a Maine summer, and it was fully evident in the parade crowds. In towns across Maine, a global spectrum of race, religion, skin color and nationality stood as one to cheer the marchers on. And there we all were at the close of day, rafting up on blankets in the dark, oohing and ahhing as fireworks burst over our heads.

How to bottle that feeling of universality? The sense of family is strong in Maine, and those multi-generational families are almost always ready to open their arms when needed, to steady a wobbly toddler, offer a Kleenex or a band-aid, or boost a wheelchair up a curb.

Where does that good will go when the 4th of July is over? How quickly we shift from the living embodiment of our nation’s founding ideals to a nation divided into ideological camps, painted into our own corners.

Of course, we’re lucky in Maine. We have our share of misfortune for sure, but we are a small enough state that we can know each other if we try, and can help each other if we choose. It is not a Mainer’s inclination to be intolerant. Get stuck on a Maine road with a flat tire and Maine men will be on you like black flies in June. House fire? Stand back. Pizza is on the way for the firefighters, and casseroles and biscuits enough to feed your family for as long as it takes you to get your feet back under you. Mainers have your back.

Tourists will ask: “But what about the winter?” Winter is not about what Mainers do, it’s about who they are. Oh, there’s snowmobiling and ice fishing, potlucks and pick-up basketball. But what really ties a community together is the neighbor who tosses your mail and newspaper into your front hall so you don’t have to navigate the icy route to the mailbox. It’s the guy with the plow blade on his pick-up who punches a passageway in the accumulation of snow at the end of your driveway. It’s the woman at the market with three lists, hers, yours and theirs.

Mainers do not look kindly on those who cause their own trouble. You are meant to do what you can for yourself, but when you have reached your limit, they are there for you. Even if you are numb as a hake, if you are in trouble on the water any Mainer with a boat will head to the rescue, no matter that they risk their own boat — or their life. It’s what they do.

Contrast this with the story of Alan Dershowitz, Harvard law professor and television talking head. Mr. D. is being “shunned” on Martha’s Vineyard. According to news reports, friends and neighbors on the Vineyard have “stopped inviting him to dinners” because his view of politics does not currently jibe with theirs.

Alan Dershowitz, Martha’s Vineyard, dinner invitations — it is so not Maine. A Mainer can get along with anyone who is wise enough to keep his mouth shut. That’s most likely another Mainer. Not that there is no social messaging in Maine, and we do not mean Facebook. Infringe on someone’s lobster ground and you may have your buoy tied under. Message sent, message received.

Mr. Dershowitz says he can now catalog his friends as “real friends” and “fairweather friends.” In Maine it might be said we are “foulweather friends.” Need a hand and we don’t care who you are, anyone at all might turn into a friend, but if you’re good to go, the hell with you. And that’s the way we like it. Mr. Dershowitz, hot dogs will be on the grill by 5:30.

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Retired nurse and former independent Maine State Senator.