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There's a one mile stretch of road on the way to our camp that makes me feel nostalgic every time I drive it. I know when to expect the special stretch because there's a steep dip in the road just before it begins, and there are signs advising you to reduce your speed to 30 mph, as you go by about twenty houses on both sides of the road. The dwellings and out buildings along this stretch are all different, but when taken together, they remind me of the old Maine, the place most of us knew from childhood, but the Maine that is fast disappearing before our eyes.
Housing experts would say some of these houses had serious “maintenance issues.” Horse people would say they looked like they'd been ridden hard and put away wet. Others might say a particular structure was in need of a comprehensive and sustained building maintenance program.
But it was where people lived back then.
One of the rougher-looking houses in the group is small and has no hint of a lawn around it because of the dogs, goats, chickens and kids that still run around it most of the time. There is also a rough-looking old car on cinder blocks by the front door, which is often left wide open. There's a tripod over the car's engine compartment, and although I'm no expert, I'm willing to bet that neither the car nor the tripod would receive two thumbs up from the folks at OSHA. But then, OSHA probably wouldn't have approved a lot of things that went on in the old Maine I remember.
I'm sure the car's owner is just waiting for the right part or the right time - or both - so he can get out there in the yard amid the dogs, chickens and kids, finish the job he started a long time ago. When finally finished he can get the car out of the way so the dogs, chickens and kids will have more room to run around and the wife can put in that flower garden she's been planning for some time. Few of us will be around when it gets fixed.
Other houses in the group have neatly covered snowmobiles or ATVs in the yard. From the looks of the houses and the lawns I can only assume that all these vehicles are well maintained and immaculate. But all the houses - the tended and the untended - look like they belong together - like houses did in the old Maine.
On the road I lived on as a kid there were two identical cape-style houses built side by side at the same time by two brothers. One brother was a plumber and very neat. The other brother was a mechanic was very messy. They couldn't have been more different, except they each decided to build the exact same house side-by-side.
When the houses were done you couldn't tell one from the other. But as time passed, differences appeared and eventually became quite striking.
People from away who don't know the details will look at the two places and wonder how two houses so different could exist so comfortably side-by-side.
They existed together because they were in the old Maine. I don't think they'd fare as well in the new.
Shouldn't there be some kind of museum for such places? Otherwise we might forget that they ever existed.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at mainestoryteller@yahoo.com or 899-1868.
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