Turn Right at the Refrigerator by Kaitlyn Dunnett

The punchline of a very old joke about asking for directions in Maine is “you can’t get there from here.” Sometimes that’s nothing less than the truth, especially in the summer when there’s road construction in progress.

Another truism is that many rural Maine people, especially the old timers, have a tendency to give directions by way of landmarks. It’s not uncommon for someone in these parts (the Western Maine mountains, nowhere near the coast) to be told to “go a mile past where old man Johnson’s house used to be, the one that burned down mebbe ten years back, and turn right when you get to the refrigerator by the side of the road.”

You wouldn’t think a refrigerator would be a landmark, at least not a long-lasting one, but back thirty-plus years ago when my husband worked for the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department as a dispatcher, corrections officer, and deputy, “turn right at the refrigerator” was exactly how he gave directions on at least one occasion. 

Out of curiosity, we took a little drive around Franklin County a couple of weeks back, to see what we could spot by way of roadside landmarks. As you can see above, we found a refrigerator, although not the same one, but it had been abandoned in a spot where someone could make a right turn. We also spotted two washing machines, one with a “for sale” sign on it, and a pair of what appeared to be household propane tanks.

One of our planned stops was in the town of Weld. There, for decades “the man in the barrel” has been causing tourists to do a double take as they pass by. He’s handy as a sign that the turn to reach a nearby state park is just up the road a piece.  

There are numerous roadside memorials all over the winding, roller-coaster roads of rural Maine, marking places where a fatal car accident occurred. Friends and family members put flowers at the site, and sometimes toys. They tie ribbons around trees. After a time, everything gets pretty bedraggled looking, but it’s rare anyone takes them down.

And then there are the chainsaw-carved animals, especially in the area around Rangeley, where chainsaw artist Rodney Richards (aka The Mad Whittler) lived and sculpted. The bear shown here was carved out of a tree stump in Oquossoc. Its roots still go deep into the ground. There’s a carved woodchuck on a mailbox on U. S. Rt. 4 near Jay, and out on U. S. Rt. 2, just past East Dixfield Village, stands a black bear wearing a cowboy hat and a bandanna. There’s also a cat, in the area around Turner, but that’s not in Franklin County, so we didn’t drive down there to get a picture of it.

The life-size moose below lives outside a chocolate shop in Farmington. Which I guess makes him a chocolate moose. .

Whether you look on them as landmarks or as roadside attractions, there’s no end to the odd things you’ll see if you take a drive through rural Maine.

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6 Responses to Turn Right at the Refrigerator by Kaitlyn Dunnett

  1. Kaitlyn, for years our kids competed to be the first one to spot the “landmarks” indicating the turn for our camp road. The screamed litany went something like this: “Blue boat! Falling down house! Demented trailer!”

    The “demented trailer” — an ancient Airstream — is gone, but the gently sagging cape and faded blue trawler remain, joined by another boat whose nickname (if left in the hands of adolescent boys) would probably be something like “crappy old sailboat.”

    These rural methods of identifying property are alive and well in Maine. Thanks for a fun post.

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  2. Lea Wait says:

    We could do (maybe will?) a whole blog on signs in Maine. One of my favorites for years, but, sadly, no longer there, was at a pawn shop on route one. It proudly advertised, “Chain Saws and Electric Typewriters! Cheap!” I could never drive by without knowing I was in the land of Stephen King …

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  3. Our directions to our house include “go straight at the little white church with the fundraising thermometer out front” and “go left right before you reach the bridge. If you cross the river, you’ve gone to far.” Made necessary because neither the Old Portland Road (by the church) or Joy Valley Road (off the bridge) have road any road signs.

    Years ago I had a friend from Texas visit me, She drove up and by the time she reached York County, it was full dark. She drove around my area for half an hour before finding a phone and calling me. (Pre-cell phone days.) I ran over to the country store where she was sheltering so she could follow me home. “No road signs!” she said. “No street lights! What is wrong with you people?”

    I said, “I guess we figure if you don’t know how to reach us, we don’t really need to see you.”

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  4. This is hilarious! What a great post.

    They did a sketch about this on Saturday Night Live once; Glenn Close was the host–did you ever see it? Mainers must really be famous for their directions, because they found comedy fodder in the same thing.

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  5. Pj Schott says:

    Sounds a lot like the Deep South.

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  6. Carol-Lynn Rössel says:

    I live here in Maine now, but I grew up on Staten Island and people always were saying things like: “Turn right where the store with the wooden horse on the porch used to be.” I think that store went away around 1954, thereabouts. Back then (this was BEFORE the Verrazano was built and the way one lived, there, died abruptly) people were introduced by who their grandfathers were, and this was, yes, a part of NYC, but attitudes were identical, then, to those in many parts of Maine. I have a feeling this has something to do with “roots.” I was safe, there. My family were oystermen there before the American Revolution. Here, not so much. I’ve only lived here since 1972 so I’ll always be “from away” and only one of my children could be called a ‘native’ (born right here in the State Capitol, he was) and he lives, um, in Brooklyn.
    I’m still, by the by, telling people directions using long dead landmarks, but they’re Maine ones now. I must go visit that Moose in Farmington. From the picture it looks as if it’s not so far from the music store.

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