True Confession

Lea Wait

I’m Lea Wait, and I wear two author hats: I write traditional mysteries starring Maggie Summer, but I also write historical novels set in 19th century Maine aimed at ages 8-14. Wearing that second hat, I often speak in classrooms. When I speak in Maine classrooms I’m usually introduced as a “Maine author.” I clear that up right away, because I know in Maine distinctions are important. I admit that, although I live here now, I was born in Boston. After one school visit a small boy ran after me, tugged on my sleeve, and admitted in a whisper, “Don’t feel bad. I was born in Boston, too.” He knew you can never really make up for not being born a Mainer. You’ll always be “from away.” (If you live on an island you’re even more planted – anyone not from your island is an “off islander.”) Someone who’s moved to Maine recently – say, within the last 25 years – is a “transplant.” It’s not an insult. People introduce themselves that way.

So – I live on the coast of Maine. But I’m not a Mainer. I was born in Boston, and I’m from away. I was a summer person for 50 years or so, and now I’m a transplant from New York City and New Jersey. It’s good to lay the facts out the way they are. No pretenses.

A few summers ago I was walking with my husband down a quiet road near our home. A car pulled up to us and an elderly woman leaned out of the driver’s seat to advise us, “You folks are walkin’ too close to the middle of the road. You’ll be killed.” Well, the way she was driving that was a possibility. I thanked her for the advice. She paused a moment. Then she asked, “You folks from around here?” I said, “I’m Lea Wait, from the white house up on the corner of Eddy and Clifford Roads.”  She looked me up and down for a moment and said, “You used to go to church with your grandmother. I haven’t seen you there recently. You’ve changed some. Your grandmother died, didn’t she?” “Yes, she did,” I replied. “In 1967.” “Well, she was a good woman. It’s nice seeing you again.”  “Good seeing you, too,” I answered. And she drove on.

My husband, new to Maine, just stared, but I knew it was all right. I had passed muster. I belonged. I wasn’t a Mainer, but I was part of the community.

I don’t remember when the smell of saltwater breezes didn’t remind me of home, and I every day I tell myself how lucky I am to live in this wonderful state. But I never fool myself that I am a Mainer. Never was; never will be.  And it’s all right. Boston wasn’t a bad place to have been born.



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9 Responses to True Confession

  1. Pj Schott says:

    I always apologize for having been born in New York City. But I suppose that’s not a bad place to have been born either.

  2. I’m always very careful, when I travel away on book tour, to specify that I LIVE in Maine. People always thinks that means I’ve been here a few months…instead of 24 years.

    You’re right, Lea, that it’s important to lay out your cards and be accurate. Several years back I was at a Maine Writers and Publisher’s Assn. party and one very distinguished, much lauded author, who had moved to Maine so recently he probably still had his Louisiana driver’s license, announced to all and sundry that he was a Mainer. The whole room buzzed with it, and to this day, whenever someone who was at the party mentions his name, you’ll get a scandalized look. Said he was a Mainer. Who does he think he’s fooling?

  3. Okay, Lea, you guilted me into it—I’m not a native Mainer, either. But there is another way to ALMOST make the grade. My husband was born in Bangor and has lived in Maine all his life. I came to Maine to attend college and met him there and I’ve been an official resident of the state ever since, well over 40 years now. Where was I born? Rural New York state, in the foothills of the Catskills (aka The Borsht Belt), which looks remarkably like the Western Maine mountains. Every once in a while, though, you can still hear the New York in my accent. I pronounce most of my r’s and Long Island tends to come out as Lon Giland.

  4. MCWriTers says:

    Oho! I was born in Rockland. Graduated from high school in Union. Was a candidate for Maine Blueberry Queen. Have ancestors who stormed a British ship moored in the Penobscot River and took the commander captive in his nightshirt. But my poor mother was from “away.”

  5. Coco Ihle says:

    Lea, I’m not from Maine by any standards. I was born and grew up in New Jersey, but as a military spouse some years past, I lived in many places. The last assignment turned into a twenty-year stay. Alabama. For most of those years, I was known as a Yankee, but in my job and my work with the Leukemia Society, I became close with the people. I’m proud to say that during the last five years of my residency in Alabama, I was affectionately called a Damn Yankee which translates to “a finally accepted outsider.”

  6. MCWriTers says:

    Coco…that’s a great story. If you care about a place, as we all clearly do about Maine and you about Alabama, it’s so nice to feel accepted.

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