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If you're one of our many summer visitors who've been playing hard and spending even harder this summer in Maine you're probably aware of the sad fact that your summer is almost over. You also should know that by Labor Day - according to long-standing Maine customs and practices - all you New-York-Times- and Boston Globe-toting people of the tourist persuasion must have your bags packed, your boats, canoes, Jet-Skis and kayaks out of our lakes, rivers and bays, and your trendy imported bicycles strapped back on to your trendier SUVs.
BUT, before you head south down the turnpike, you are also required to load-up on bushel baskets full of Maine souvenirs.
What do you buy to remind you of your trip to Maine? Some people illegally dig up pine trees to remind them of their vacation in the Pine Tree State. I once interviewed a police officer about that problem. When he caught someone doing it, he'd give them a talking-to and ask: "What if all 3 million tourists who visited Maine each year felt the need to dig up a pine tree to take home with them? How long would it be before Maine became a desert?"
Good question.
My Uncle Earle was a world traveler and souvenir collector, and he claimed that among his extensive collection was a railroad spike from the building of first Transcontinental Railroad. I can't remember what connection Uncle Earle had with the Transcontinental Railroad but I recall he had a good story to go with the spike, which is the important thing.
Speaking of other collectibles, according to Uncle Earle, if all the items said to have come from the Titanic before it sank were actually on the Titanic the ship would have sunk to the bottom before it left the dock.
One question I have about souvenirs is: How come, if the word "souvenir" comes from the French verb "to remember," most all the souvenirs to be purchased in Maine come from the Chinese? Shouldn't we go right to the source and use the Chinese word for "remember?" I'd use the word myself except that I don't know that particular Chinese word.
The Chinese probably don't even have a word for "souvenir;" they're much too busy making and selling our souvenirs. I don't know how they do it, but from their location on the other side of the planet they've learned how to make small ship models of our ships and sailing vessels and soft stuffed toys that look exactly like our lobsters, moose, loons, gulls and harbor seals. How do they do that?
Knowing you can never have too many lobster-related items our fully stocked shops have what they call "lobster accessories" that include soaps, potholders, lollipops, refrigerator magnets, hats, pillows, plates, mugs, spoons - and MORE!
Our souvenir shops even have post cards printed in China.
Anyway, I don't know if you've noticed but hundreds of our Maine gift shops - spread thick from Kittery to Calais and from Rockport to Rangeley - are loaded to the gunn'lls with all kinds of cleverly made Chinese souvenirs that you can buy to remind you of your vacation in Maine.
Now, we don't want to get to the point of doing car inspections to make sure all tourists heading south have a suitable amount of souvenirs, we just hope you'll all do your part in helping us get of all that stuff. Once you're all gone we'll have no use for it.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is
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