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Depending on when you're reading this we could be having another one of those glorious late-summer, early-fall days here in Maine; the kind of day we try to recreate from memory in mid-winter when the snow is half-way up to the window sill.
Despite the weather I've got a column to write so here I sit at Storyteller Central pounding out my last column of the summer season.
Before we move on to another season I wanted to go through the stack of letters and printed-out emails here at the center and respond to as many as I dare to.
Lawrence from Cranston, R.I. writes: "John, Is it true that the holiday Labor Day was actually invented there in Maine?"
Thanks for the letter, Lawrence. There is absolutely no proof that Labor Day was invented in Maine - but such minor details have never stopped us from making up stories before.
You have to understand that for almost 100 years now Maine has been a tourist Mecca - so to speak. During that time we've looked for creative ways to manage our summer visitor population. According to our admittedly shaky historical sources - Labor Day was first observed in Maine as a friendly reminder to tardy tourists that summer was over and it was time to haul up the boat, lock up the cottage and go back home.
Karen from Falmouth, Mass. writes: "John, You can't go too far in Maine before hearing the word 'ayuh.' I'm just curious. Does anyone know where the word 'ayuh' come from?"
Thanks for the letter, Karen. Questions like yours about Maine's unique word for expressing an affirmative have been asked many times, many ways. But as the maple syrup people say, "it all boils down to one thing" - but at the moment I can't rightly remember what that one thing is in this case.
All seriousness aside, Karen, most experts agree that Maine's 'ayuh' probably came to us from our early Scottish settlers.
The late John Gould said 'ayuh' is the one word that only true Mainers can say and use properly. So why does every flat-lander who crosses the Piscataqua River feel the need to say it a few dozen time a day during his or her visit? Who knows?
As for its origin Gould said that years ago a Scot - wanting to respond in the affirmative - might reply 'aye,' and then out of deference to his non-Scottish audience add 'yes.' Gould speculates that over the years aye-yes became Maine's signature word - ayuh.
Henry from New London, Conn. writes: "John, Maine used to have a sign at its gateway in Kittery that read: "Maine: The way life should be." If that is so, what's wrong with Connecticut?"
We are limited by space constraints, Henry, so I couldn't begin to say what's wrong with Connecticut. (Just kidding)
That saying: Maine: The way life should be, does not imply, Henry, that there's anything wrong with the other 49 states and a life lived in those states is not what it should be. O.K., so maybe it does imply that. So take it up with our governor, Henry. He should be able to provide you with a snappy answer.
Several confused summer visitors wrote to ask about the new numbers on our turnpike exits. George from Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y. writes: "John, for over thirty years my family has been coming to Maine and taking the turnpike's Exit 9 to head Down East to our camp. This year - for some unknown reason - the exit was numbered '44' with a bright yellow sign below that said something like: "The exit formerly known as 9."
After all those years I became fond of Exit 9 and saw no need to get rid of it it. Why the change? Was it felt by those in charge that '9' wasn't getting the job done and a higher number was needed?"
I believe that's it, George. Those in charge finally concluded that '9' wasn't getting it done. So, after months of research and exhaustive analysis it was decided to bring in a better number.
How is '44' doing? The jury is still out.
Contact John McDonald at: storytellers@maine.com.
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