My husband and I went downeast today. In the broadest sense, downeast covers the coastal area from Maine’s Penobscot Bay to the Canadian border, but to me, downeast means Washington county only. Each of us has a history there. There is no refuge downeast now that our parents are dead. Really, it wasn’t a refuge while they lived, after we’d moved on. The towns we grew up in are miles and miles apart. We met away from there, not having known one another before.
Washington county contains the last vestiges of undeveloped coastline on the eastern seaboard. Driving past rattletrap trailers and houses beyond repair, we expressed worry that the inhabitants could be cold and hungry. Poverty in downeast Maine is achingly obvious, as high as 20% in some areas. The remaining original families are becoming impoverished as traditional industry vanishes. It’s impossible to escape poverty without money.
People from away (PFA not born in Maine or, in the downeast definition, in a particular town) have been buying property as families move out or die off. My family moved there in 1970, when my parents divorced. All of us kids moved away. When Mum died we sold her Cobscook Bay home, to someone else from away, as a vacation home.
My husband commented that the people in Jonesport are doing the same things in the same places as they were when he fished there, in 1987. It makes sense that they would be. There is nothing to induce change. The people are resiliently familiar. We stopped at a roadside store. I got a cup of coffee and talked with the young man beside me. He told me he’d lived in Massachusetts for 10 years but recently returned downeast and he was glad to be back. Our conversation was companionable in its brevity. I chose two home made doughnuts. The woman at the counter told me they make them fresh every day. We had a short conversation. As I said goodbye, I felt like she’d always been a part of my morning routine.