From Away

Hi.  Barb here.

I went to hear Patty Larkin last Wednesday night.  I’ve always loved her character-based song, “Helen,” even though Helen has some not so flattering things to say about people “from away.”

Patty Larkin

Several of us on the blog have written about being from away and I’ve spent some time thinking about how I feel about it. Here’s what I think.  It suits me.

We’re 40 miles from the border up here
So I’ve learned to take care of myself
Never been on food stamps
Never been on welfare
So you can just go to hell

Maybe it’s because, as a result of moving twice, being redistricted twice, normal progressions, changing from public to private school and finally spending my senior year as an exchange student in Colombia, I went to nine schools in the nine years from fourth grade through twelfth.  So being the outsider feels normal and comfortable to me.

It’s a writerly place to be, I find.  Being the observer.  Gauging the nuance in the interactions you see, knowing you’ll never know the full history or context, but speculating like mad.

There was that one bad winter we ate nothing but clams
Lord, it did get a little bit tiresome
Wonder if one of them could do something like that
Maybe then I’d think there was more to ’em

And, there’s a wonderful freedom in floating a little above the fray in any small town.

“How’s that new restaurant?” we’ll ask my sister-in-law who’s lived in Boothbay full-time for thirteen years.

“Oh, don’t go there,” she’ll say.  “The owner is terrible to his mother.”

“But how’s the food?” we’ll ask, grateful we don’t have to pick a side in that fight.

When I was a girl we’d walk to the bay
Who’d think to put a house on a point?
They’re selling off land that’s nothing
But rocks and spray
And I say it serves ’em all right

Of course, it’s a good thing I don’t mind being from away, since there’s no way to turn back the clock and be born in Maine.  I was born at the Chelsea Naval Hospital in Massachusetts where my father was defending the port city of Boston from the North Koreans.  “See what I good job I did,” he’d always say.

I left with my parents at the age of six months and it took me twenty-two years to move back to New England.  But I have to say, from the moment I did, I felt like I was home.

I love this coast Like I love my sons
Love the wind like my daughter
Used to be I knew everyone
‘Cause everybody was born here

About Barbara Ross

Barbara Ross is the author of the Maine Clambake Mysteries. Her books have been nominated for multiple Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and have won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. She lives in Portland, Maine. Readers can visit her website at
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6 Responses to From Away

  1. Ramona says:

    Laughing, Barb, because some things aren’t regional, they are universal. My mom, who lives in the South, told me this weekend she was NOT bringing her car to this particular mechanic anymore, because he runs around on his wife.

  2. Barb Ross says:

    I think you’re right. Ramona. It’s not a regional thing, it’s a small town thing. Back in the city I know nothing about my mechanic’s sex life, and that’s the way I want to keep it!

  3. I feel that “home” feeling whenever I cross the Piscataquis bridge, back into Maine. It’s as strong now as it was 25 years ago when we first arrived.

  4. “A writerly place to be”. That is great.

    I hope to be from away some day myself.

  5. Pj Schott says:

    I stay away. Because I know I would never want to leave.

  6. Barb Ross says:

    Jenny–Maybe that’s another plus of being “from away.” There are a millions opportunities to be from away, but only one to be “from here.”

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