South Meets North

This June will mark our transplant anniversary - we moved to Maine from Tennessee 15 years ago this June. I can remember when we first told friends and family that we were moving. Half the people thought we were crazy and the other half said it sounded like a marvelous adventure for us. So what has it turned out to be?

A little bit of both, I think! The move definitely changed the course of our lives, as both our children married native Mainers and are raising their kids here. Rachel still has somewhat of a southern accent, as she was 18 when we moved, but Matt has lost his southern accent, as he was only 13 and his developing teenage years were spent up north. (He doesn’t sound like a Mainer; he just doesn’t have much of an accent at all.) Rachel’s husband Chris swears that when they fly to Memphis, the minute the pilot makes the “Welcome to Memphis” announcement, her southern drawl gets significantly more pronounced.

I’ve had to field a lot of questions in these last 15 years. What are the differences in Maine and Tennessee, and how much of a culture shock was it? What do I miss about the South and what have I been relieved to abandon?

Well, of course, my family first and foremost was the treasure I left behind, and I miss them every single minute. On top of that, after Mom’s car accident, she moved in with my sister, Joy, and I have had to watch Joy maneuver through that major change in her life without being able to help as I would like. Distance is a quite a barrier. Thank God for the telephone and Internet.

What differences have I encountered? Most men don’t wear suits and most women don’t wear dresses. In Tennessee cities, even small towns where we lived at various times, I would see men in suits every day. Doctors, lawyers, businessmen, salesman, church attendees - I do love a man in a suit. Here, I think I think I’ve seen two suits - one on a drug representative at the hospital where I work, and the other on a lawyer in court when I was on jury duty. Casual is the dress code of the Maine lifestyle. In most offices elsewhere, “casual Friday” is too dressed up for where we live now. Part of this is, of course, due to the lack of big cities, and another part is due to the weather conditions. In winter, the whole idea is to stay warm, and one dresses to accommodate that need, regardless of how unkempt it appears. The roads are a mess all winter with salt and sand, and in the spring, it all turns to mud. I get dirty just getting in and out of the car. Then, you have to realize that air conditioning is not ubiquitous up here. Most homes and some businesses lack it (including our house), and so when it gets hot (and it does for a few weeks every summer), you again dress just to stay cool, not for fashion.

It’s normal to see pickups with plows attached all winter. It’s normal to see seagulls in parking lots. It’s normal to hear the “tides” times given in the weather forecast. It’s normal to read in the local newspaper long, fascinating obituaries for every single deceased person, most of the time accompanied by a photograph. It’s normal to have snow piled up in yards and driveways that won’t be gone entirely until late April or May. It’s normal to read newspaper summaries of annual town meetings for every town, no matter how small, detailing every discussion and every debate and every vote. It’s normal to have schools open with 2 feet of snow in the school yard (that’s because the municipalities clear the highways and roads quickly). It’s normal to read the police log not for murders or armed robberies but for cows loose in the road and neighbor disputes. In Tennessee, it makes you tired to think of traveling the state from west to east, but in Maine, it makes you tired thinking of traveling north to south.

We don’t miss the tornadoes or the endless thunderstorms. We miss the moderate spring temps (it is still freezing here at night) and miss the early spring flowers. We certainly do get used to single digit temperatures in the winter, and, of course, the snow is lovely, but hard work as well. But in the summer, when Memphis has days and days of 100-degree-plus temperatures, we are basking in the 70s and low 80s, so there are advantages! The beauty of both Tennessee and Maine are legendary, and well deserved. We live within a short walk to one of the many Maine bays. It’s hard not to enjoy that! You appreciate spring more after a hard winter, and, of course, the fall foliage is incredible.

A lot of people are very reserved in Maine. Most people like to keep to themselves. You’re not a real Mainer, we’ve been told, until your mother’s mother was born in Maine. They call people who move here “from away,” and no matter how long you’ve been here, you’ll always have that moniker.

And, of course, there’s the language. We say tennis shoes, they say sneakers. We say housecoats, they say robes. We say houseshoes, they say slippers. We say washrags, they say washcloths. They have unusual words like “wicked” (very) and “cunnin’” (cute) and phrases like “right out straight” (stressed to the max). They put R’s in words that don’t have them (“warsh” for “wash”) and take R’s out that are supposed to be there (“lobstah”). Caroline and Charlotte know that my sister in Memphis is “Ant” Joy, and their northern dad’s sisters are “Awnts.” Coke is soda, of course. You have to order “iced” tea or they bring you hot tea. In most restaurants that have sweet tea, it is “sweetened” with some fruit flavor, not sugar. You have to ask for the whole phrase “cole slaw” because we have ordered plain “slaw” and they weren’t sure what we wanted.

You feel out of the loop if you’re not a big fan of the New England Patriots or the Boston Red Sox.

So, yes, it has been an adventure, scary in some parts, but on the whole, quite an exciting transition. We’ve met some wonderful people, I found a wonderful job, the kids found exceptional spouses, we love our little house on the dirt road, and we feel very blessed. We can all laugh together about our eccentricities and differences, and any conversation is likely to end with “See ya!” with a response of “Y’all be careful!” Being a transplant can be fun.

I leave you with a limerick I wrote recently for a limerick contest (but entered a couple of others instead):

We moved here to Maine where we’ll stay.

We've weathered each hardy Maine day.

Alas, it's our fate:

To the rest of the state,

We'll always be folks "from away."