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The Lincolnville Blog

We’re a Family

Diane O'Brien - Monday, February 23, 2015

by Diane O’Brien


One night last summer, a local woman awoke to the unmistakable sound of her mailbox going down. The speeding car, the crunch and crash – both wooden and metallic – all melded together in her sleepy brain. Damn! she thought, or some version of that. In the morning, sure enough, the mailbox and its post, now separated from each other, lay in the weeds far off the road. She picked up the box and set it on the shoulder in its original spot in the hope that somehow her mail would get delivered that day. Then she left for work. That afternoon she returned to find mailbox and post, standing straight and tall at the side of the road, better than ever in fact.

A quirky little story that has us imagining a driver with a few beers under his belt, weaving home along that country road. Or maybe it was a sober and alert driver, momentarily distracted by an animal, long enough to drift into the mailbox. It doesn’t matter. What does, is that with daylight, he (or she) felt sorry about the damage, went back, found the post out in the puckerbrush and set the whole thing up again. Anonymously.

We’re hardly ever anonymous in our own family. And in this small town of Lincolnville, indeed in the wider community of Camden, perhaps Belfast – all our surrounding towns – we often act like a family. All right, a big, dysfunctional family, but family nonetheless.  A family that always knows what we’re up to and worries about us when trouble comes our way.
When one of our own grieves, a widening circle of friends, colleagues, neighbors, casual acquaintances take notice. In that house there, we think, driving past on the way to work, sits a man who must feel as though it’s all over. How will he pick up the pieces after losing the love of his life? And then, in another house, we’ve heard, a couple struggles with an adult child’s mental illness, every single day they struggle with it. How do they keep on, we wonder.

Where else, but here in small-town Maine, do people follow every traffic stop, misdemeanor, and minor theft perpetrated by our townsmen, or their children, who are struggling to grow up? We read in the paper that somebody we know, or know of, or stand next to at the counter at Drake’s, has been arrested for some infraction, big or small. We know who’s just been divorced, the duration of the marriage, and who gets custody. We even know the ultimate shame, the bankruptcies and foreclosures that are regularly listed in the pages of our state papers.

The grapevine carries other news about us. An affair, an inopportune pregnancy, a lost job, a family blow-up of some kind – the sort of thing not likely to attract the law – tends to reach us by word of mouth. And just like in families, mixed emotions often greet the report – “I’m not surprised” or “it’s about time!”  What we do with the gossip, keep it to ourselves or greedily pass it on, says a lot about us. Facebook users, of course, manage to bypass the grapevine completely, by voluntarily revealing the details of their own lives.

We squabble among ourselves like siblings; isn’t that especially evident during the political season? The signs pop up like weeds in a newly-cultivated garden. Even the most innocuous, mass-produced “Elect Me” sign becomes freighted with meaning depending on whose yard it’s erected in. Then there are the hand-written, personal signs, the “Vote ‘Em All Out” messages angrily tacked up on trees and houses, letting everybody know this particular citizen is fed up. Just as parents and children do, we struggle to understand each other’s point of view. After all, we know each other pretty well, or think we do.

The web of interconnectivity that runs through this town isn’t always evident. Of course, there are the actual family ties. Who hasn’t made a comment about someone to another only to discover you’ve just maligned the guy’s cousin. Now that half of us in town were born somewhere else (I just made that up, but you get the idea) and half of the newcomers have relatives here as well, you can never assume you’re not talking about somebody’s near and dear.

And then there are the ties of neighborhood, which in such a rural place can include folks living within a mile or more of each other. I almost certainly know more about my immediate neighbors’ lives and they of mine, than people on High Street or Youngtown or the Center do. We check to see that smoke’s coming out of an elderly person’s chimney on a cold morning, notice when someone leaves their headlights on in the driveway, return a wandering dog or a lost cell phone found in the road.

We’re connected to one another by the past too. If years ago my kid went to school with your kid or played on the same team; if you and I sat on the school board the same year, were Den mothers together, or helped put on a public supper, well then we have a connection. And my connection to you extends to your family as well.
If something bad or sad or scary happens to you or yours we want to help, if only to say “I’m sorry you’re having a rough time” or “I’m thinking of you.”

We don’t all know each other for sure, and this kind of family loyalty takes time to develop. Newcomers take a while to get the feel of it. But here in Lincolnville’s big, dysfunctional family no one’s truly anonymous. And I think that’s a good thing.

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