What Makes a Mainer? By Julia Spencer-Fleming

I’m writing this from Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention, an annual event that moves from the west coast, to the middle of the country, to the east in a three-year cycle. This year, it’s taking place in Albany, NY, a scant 165 miles south of where I was born (Plattsburgh) and only 45 miles away from the Washington County town my ancestors settled in 1720. Being back in what is arguably my home turf got me thinking about what makes a New Yorker – and, by extension, what makes a person a Mainer.

How do you know when to call yourself a Mainer? Can you lose your Mainer status? Let’s find out by taking some questions from totally imaginary people.

1. I moved to Maine four years ago. I volunteer at the local clam festival and I know the location of the secret Sheepscot bypass, which gets you past the Route one bottleneck in Wiscasset. Am I a Mainer?

No. And don’t blab about the bypass, you’ll alert the tourists and ruin it for the rest of us.

2. I married a Mainer, and have lived here for twenty-six years. I can spell ‘Damariscotta’ without looking it up and am a selectman on my town board. I’m a Mainer, right? You got elected as a selectman?

After only twenty-six years? That’s impressive. But no, you’re not a Mainer.

3. My parents aren’t Mainers, but I was born and raised in Portland. I’m a Mainer, right?

Only in coastal southern Maine between Camden and Kittery. North of Augusta and east of Bucksport it’s best to simply say, “I’m from Portland.” However, when out-of-state, you can claim your Mainehood all you want, especially if you’re wearing a flannel shirt and scuffed-up Bean boots.

4. I love Maine! I’ve come here every summer since I was a kid. A few years back, I made a killing on Wall Street and bought an ocean-view house to enjoy with my own kids. I like to hang out at the local lunch counter and swap stories with my fellow Mainers.

We’re pretty polite here, so no one’s going to contradict you when you refer to yourself as a Mainer (especially if you own a place that’s pumping major bucks into the town’s property tax fund.) But honestly, we sometimes laugh about it when you’re not around.

5. I’m from Massachusetts and–


6. I was born and bred in Rumford, and my family goes back over a hundred years. I’m moving out-of-state, however. Will I still be a Mainer?

Living away from Maine does erode your Mainehood. The pace of de-Mainification depends on where you’re relocating. In rural New Hampshire, for instance, you can remain a Mainer in good standing for years. On the other hand, you can lose it within a week if you’re living in Las Vegas or Los Angeles. (However, if you become famous, we’ll gladly claim you as one of our own again.)

7. I come from Machias, and my last name is Beale/Eaton/Skillin. I went to high school with thirteen of my cousins and I lost my virginity out by the old quarry.

Yep, you’re a Mainer. Pour yourself a glass of Allen’s Coffee Brandy, kick back in the La-Z-Boy and tune into the Red Sox game to celebrate.

And remember, folks – we can’t all be Mainers, but we can all enjoy The Way Life Should Be.

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13 Responses to What Makes a Mainer? By Julia Spencer-Fleming

  1. Gram says:

    Too funny, loved it! Dee

  2. Jeanne Benedict says:

    Loved it! My parents are both Mainers but I didn’t move here til the 8th grade (I’m now 55) – would I qualify as a Mainer??

  3. Joan Emerson says:

    Too funny . . . thanks for the morning chuckle! Hope you’re having a great time at the convention . . . .

  4. Fortunatey the qualifications for being a Maine Writer aren’t as strict!

  5. Drucinda Woodman says:

    Say Hello to Albany for me.I was born & raised there. No I’m not a Mainer.BUT I married a Mainer & had my 3 children here, I’ve only lived here since 1974.Some folks call me n honorary Mainer! Love your work!!!!

  6. Casey Levitt says:

    Which Washington County town is it that your ancestors settled? I’m a Saratogian. I’ll never be a Mainer. But I sure appreciate North Country books and anytime you want to start writing with Maine as your back drop is fine with me even though I’m now happy in the North Georgia Mountains.

  7. Dotty Ryan says:

    Rats! I guess that my knowledge of the secret Sheepscot bypass just isn’t enough.

  8. Suzanne McGuffey says:

    Well, I’m from southern Maine, summered on the family farm, wintering in Portland until we winterized it and moved permanently. I even was appointed to a town board by the selectmen. One selectman was my third cousin who gleefully teased me about being “from away” because poor parental timing had me born out of state, not arriving home till I was 3 months old! Being a Mainer is an state of grace more than anything else, but we’re pleased to welcome aspirants.

  9. I totally, thoroughly enjoyed this! Seriously LOLed. I guess I’m an aspiring Mainer. Hubby and I are making our 5th visit to your lovely state in October. I have your weather on my Iphone, and my friends here in the “great state of Texas” are sick to death of hearing me go on about what a wonderful place Maine is.
    I was surprised not to see one of the requirements for being a Mainer to have survived a Maine winter–which I haven’t done and probably will never get the chance to attempt. Summer and fall trips as often as I can manage and the goal is to have a small place to come and stay and write. I’d have to sell a heck of a bunch of books to pull that off. So next best things is yearly visits and to set my next book on the rocky coast of Maine.
    Hope the conference is going well for everyone.

  10. John Clark says:

    Alas, I’ve only lived here since 1949, so I still don’t qualify.

  11. nelizadrew says:

    My husband’s parents were both Mainers, but they moved away so their kids are “from away” and I know way more about the Downeast in North Carolina than the Downeast of Maine. I’m from “yonder.”

  12. Nancy Mawhinney says:

    Hi Julia, You might want to reconsider question three’s qualifications. I think a first generation Mainer might only be considered so in Cumberland and York counties. Freeport, Burnswick ,Camden, et al, would be much more discerning than that!
    I could add an eighth situation, which I’m not sure about…. Are the offspring of certified Mainers, but born elsewhere while their parents are attending college or are stationed “away”, automatically considered Mainers? Your being an Army brat (was it Army or Air Force?… can’t remember.) might know?!
    These are all, of course, very serious issues! ;oD ~ Nancy

  13. Nancy Mawhinney says:

    PS Oops, just realized that Freeport is in Cumberland County. That could be a gray area and any questionable Mainers would have to be considered on a case by case basis, ayuh.

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