Maine. It's not Southern. In fact, if you look on the map, it's about as far north as you are allowed to go without a passport.
But wait. There's a story to tell.
I keep this crazy blog going on a few themes. Agrarianism, tradition, history, culture, family. You know, you've read it. It's true conservative, not Republican Party conservative.
So Maine has squeezed its way into my Southern perspective on a little bit of everything.Because by "everything" I mean Maine too.
So I'm sitting on Row 6 of the world's smallest commercial airliner, grimacing as I look out the window trying to tell if we are coming in for a nice soft landing with a safe, gentle coast to a reasonable taxi speed to the arrival gate or if we're going to smash into the rocky Atlantic shore and explode in an seemingly oxymoronic eruption of burning jet fuel and frigid salt water, killed...or worse.
Luckily it was somewhere in between. I hear the wheels go down...we're getting closer...I hear the wheels go up again. We gain altitude and the pilot starts complaining about some cross-wind mumbo jumbo like the other grown man wedged into row six and I didn't notice that strobe effect of the opening scene of Newhart and the sky flickering in the window while our stomachs cried out for any possible relief. "We're going to loop around and try that again." He tells us. Good. You try that again. I'm going to pray.
We found the ground safely and I found my ride. And they helped me find my first meal of the day, shortly after 3 pm. Which was not that bad, considering that landing thing and all. And long story short, there was peanuts and Coke. Maine and I were off to a good start.
The road to my destination weaved through small towns, communities founded in the late 1700's and the fall colors were gorgeous.
As I've mentioned before, I was going to see my Grandpa. And that is where this whole odyssey took a turn that wound it up on this blog. Grandpa built things. Houses, parts of houses, furniture, cabinets, things of wood, things of brick. He built stuff for rich folks. He built stuff for not-so-rich folks. Big stuff, small stuff. He built all kinds of stuff. If he had a clear spot and the right parts he could build a house from chert to chimney.
He built his house from the ground up with his own hands. He had finished everything but the floors in three rooms when he got sick and couldn't finish. So my uncle stepped in, assured him that he would complete the task and then went out back and felled three white pines, right behind Grandpa's house. They brought the portable sawmill in and started making lumber.
This is where I came in.
My cousin and I finished making the lumber needed to finish Grandpa's floors, right in the back yard. Another cousin and I hauled that last load of lumber to be kilned and milled into flooring.
And Grandpa passed away.
So my uncle, some of my cousins and I took some of his lumber for his floor (because we had plenty) and we built Grandpa a traditional pine coffin, just like he wanted. And his devoted wife made a beautiful fleece lining for the inside of it. And he'll be buried in it in a family cemetery near people he loved.
And somewhere in that it hit me. My Maine experience was a lot more congruent with my theme here than some of my "Southern" experiences. (I'm looking at you, Hartsfield-Jackson Int'l Airport). I thought about Henry Grady bemoaning the post-reconstruction south and the funeral where the South only provided the deceased and the hole. Here Grandpa had provided everything, except the labor for the coffin - and he had helped produce the laborers (his grandchildren). He died in a house he built with his own hands. His widow will walk on solid floors made from wood on their own property. He will be buried in the coffin, made by his family from that same wood, on a beautiful hillside in rural Maine, And part of me wept because such a thing is the exception instead of the rule.
If that wasn't enough, We walked in the woods on his property, scouting beaver and identifying trees and fungi as we talked and laughed and told old stories. We dined on moose and "whoopie pies" and drank Moxie - all of which are local treats (sound familiar?). And the foliage, the population density, the complete absence of almost any hint of urban sprawl...and the lobster roll from Rick's, the local joint down on the corner. Ok, the lobster roll isn't very Southern but if you can't enjoy it, you might not have a soul.
My experience was very agrarian, traditional, local, and family-oriented. It was everything I try to celebrate and support here. If I'm honest, when my new found friends dropped me off at the airport, I went inside and felt a grieving in my gut. Obviously Grandpa being gone played a large role in this feeling. But part of it was sadness that this time was coming to an end. I was anxious to see my family and my Georgia but I also felt like I was leaving something behind. I sat with a few mementos and I wept. A surge of emotion washed over me and I did, I wept.
Finally, the man at the check-in counter at the Portland airport saw my name on my ticket, "Burnham is an old Maine name." "Yes sir" I replied, "I'm an old Maine Burnham from Georgia." He laughed and told me the story of Burnham Hill, "It's the reason Maine doesn't have a death penalty. They hung a man named Burnham and then found out he was innocent. His case overturned the death penalty in the state. They have a monument for him up there.
I decided, if they hang innocent Burnhams up there, that it was high time that I got going.
And so I will...until next time.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire