Giving Maine a try

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I MET my wife-to-be in Morocco, proposed to her in Peru, married her in Nigeria, and we honeymooned in the Netherlands and Spain. When we were ready to trade life in the Foreign Service for retirement, we seriously considered retiring in Greece or Japan. We like both Greek and Japanese people and have many friends in both countries. However, because I expressed a fondness for Maine and owned some land there, we decided to give Maine a try first and then make a final decision regarding a permanent retirement location. My wife had never been to Maine and I tried very hard to describe its special characteristics to her, and even harder to give her an understanding of Maine people. I told her they were reserved, that they did not waste any words when talking, and that it was sometimes difficult to carry on a conversation with them. I also told her that they are honest, sincere, hardworking, ingenious, and very independent. She accepted and admired the latter part of the characterization but refused to accept the difficulty-of-conversation part. ``It is only a matter of learning to speak their language,'' she said. I could not argue that point. After all, she spoke five languages fluently and three more functionally. She should know.

With this preparation, and my wife's determination to prove that communication with Maine people would be easy, we set out for Maine. Because the land I owned was on Deer Isle, we had rented a small place in Stonington, a village on the southern tip of the island, as a starter. We arrived at our rented house early in the afternoon and, as soon as we were unpacked, we walked to the nearby lobster dealer's pier to buy lobsters for our first dinner in Maine. My wife was fascinated with everything: the lobster boats, lobster storage cars, the people - everything - and was bubbling with enthusiasm. As soon as we arrived at the lobster pier, a large boat with two men aboard pulled up to the pier for refueling. When they were tied up, my wife ran over and asked them, ``Did you catch lots of lobsters today?''

``Nope,'' was their response.

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``What was wrong? Weren't they biting?'' she asked.

``Didn't go out,'' came the reply. That ended her first conversation.

We liked Maine enough that after a few weeks we purchased a small place directly on the harbor. It was so near the water that at high tide the water was under the pier in front and under a part of the house. A friend arriving from New York at high tide asked if we were moored to land or were afloat.

Stonington Harbor is a very active harbor, with boats coming and going most of the time. Lobstermen and fishermen start their day before daybreak, in the summer no later than 4 a.m., and my wife was intrigued with the activity in the harbor. She was up at the sound of the first boat motor being started and had her coffee on the pier every morning during the entire summer.

We lived several years in Maine trying to be accepted as real Mainers. We finally learned that unless one is born in Maine it is impossible to be a Mainer, but that one can gain some points toward becoming an acceptable outsider if one is determined and patient. My wife soon learned the Maine language and showed remarkable progress in her ability to talk with Maine people. But she didn't change their language habits very much. They changed hers. I credit her with learning a ninth language.

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