Do You Miss It?

That question is posed to me on a fairly regular basis by folks asking how it is that a Black woman from Chicago came to live in a place like Maine. To be honest, I get tired of answering the question and decided to blog about my feelings on the matter. For starters, of course I miss it…hello! I was born and raised there, in many ways I will always be connected to it but at the same time it represents my past.

My original decision to come to Maine was made for me, the fact that joint custody of a child does not work well when your child is racking up as many frequent flier miles as a salesman was the deciding factor. My ex at that time was unwilling to move back to the midwest and it put me the position of needing to move closer to him. Originally we were planning on moving to Boston but I realized that even Boston was too far plus it was too damn expensive. So we figured after having spent a few days in Maine’s largest city that we would live in Portland, little did I know when we actually moved here that I would get a job in a town south of Portland that included a discounted apartment. That in a nutshell is how I can to not only live in Maine but in a small town though technically my town is a city but with a population of barely 16,000 I still call it a town.

Now when the plans were made to move here, we figured we would be here until the boy turned 18 and then we would blow this popstand. Well the boy turns 18 in a few weeks and at this point I have no plans of moving anywhere this year unless the job offer of the century turns up.

I admit the first few years here were rough, I used to joke I was like a mobster who had been put in the witness protection program and relocated to someplace far away where no one would find them. It really did feel that way at times. The first year I was so lonely, I scared myself at times. Packing up your life and relocating 1100 miles away to a place where the only folks you know are your husband, ex-husband and in-laws and son is a hard thing. I walked away from a lot to make this move happen. Professionally I gave up a lot, at the same time I announced I was leaving Chicago, my boss at my previous job in Chicago announced she was moving on and I was approached by the board of directors about applying for her position. That shelter now just completed a multi-million dollar renovation and is one of the leading agencies on homelessness in Chicago. Their current director was my former co-worker who was just under me, it’s a position that had I landed it would have been a true feather in my professional cap. As it is they are still using policies and programs that I laid the foundation for before leaving and had I stayed I can assure you I would be earning a lovely salary.

I won’t lie, in the tough moments here, I think about that. I think about how since moving here my career has taken some twists and turns and not always good ones. Instead though I focus on what I have gained, the personal growth that has happened within me would have been harder to come by if I still lived in Chicago.

I miss the hustle and bustle, I miss living in a place that never sleeps. I do miss knowing fabulous waffles and burritos are available at 3 am if I so desire. I miss my close friends and even what is left of my family that still lives in Chicago. Yet I have come to enjoy the solitude of living in a true 4 season place, I love following the natural rhythms that occur here…that ole man Winter requires that we slow down and take stock of our lives. I love that if I run outside to grab a coffee and am wearing sweats,I won’t feel bad…hell, no one will notice.

I love the sense of community that happens when you live in a small town. I love that I see the librarian and her family at the art walk. I love knowing that if on a rare bus ride to the city if I should happen to not have my bus fare that the bus driver knows me and will still let me ride…good luck trying that one on CTA!

Racially, yes its lonely at times more so since my best sista friend decided to leave the area but this is where I rely on the internet and phone to keep me connected to my sistern. I admit it would be great to have a Black hair shop nearby without having to travel so far but hey we do at least have one decent shop in Southern Maine now. Progress is happening.

I don’t miss the political correctness that permeated life in Chicago where on the surface there was far more diversity but truthfully things were pretty damn segregated. Folks come together for work but by and large folks live in areas where everyone looks like them. Granted that was not the case for the Spousal Unit and I and I do miss our old neighborhood. A place where a walk down the street, meant passing Mexican, Swedish and Lebanese eateries as well as a host of other diverse places. Where culture and entertainment did not involve seeking it out as we do in Maine but literally just stumbling into it. I miss being able to hop the bus or el to downtown Chicago and wandering the museums on free day. I miss eating Mexican seafood stew at 24 hour taquerias. Don’t even get me started on the thrifting…so much choice.

Yet I am in a different place where there are good things as well and while I have no idea how long we will be here since every time I run the numbers taking into consideration increased salaries, we would lose a certain peaceful  quality we now have were we to move back to Chicago or any large city. So for now I call Maine home and while its natural to miss what we are used to, no longer does that longing feel my every moment.

So when are you leaving?

This is a question that I get a lot these days as my son gets closer to 18. See, when we moved to Maine seven years ago, I figured I would do my time in Maine and when he turned 18, I would head back to Chicago my beloved hometown. Only problem is that life got in the way, it started off with the untimely and unexpected death of my mother and grandmother, the birth of my daughter as well as the purchase of our first home. When we bought the house it was during the real estate boom and we figured we would stay here 5 years or so…well this week marks 5 years that we have been in this house.

The truth is that I don’t know if and when I will leave Maine. Yeah, Maine can be a hard place to live as a Black person from one of the larger urban areas that many folks of color live (NYC, Philly, LA, Chicago, etc)…I mean Chicago the city has 3 million people in the city alone compared to the 1.5 million folks that live in the whole damn state of Maine.

So in the early days here I was in constant culture shock…then there is the practical stuff, like getting your hair done. Southern Maine has a whopping 2 hair salons that do Black hair and one of em is so bad that most Black folks her either travel to Boston, go natural or do their own hair. Which brings up another tidbit about living in the whitest state in the nation, even finding hair products to do your own hair can be hard especially if you want products geared towards Black hair. We have Sally’s Beauty Supply here but poor Sally’s Black section is real small…its a good thing I use natural products and have a fondness for Aveda products or else I would be shit out of luck.

Want to buy a lipstick and you aren’t white? Up until a few years ago, a trip to the makeup counter at Macy’s didn’t net a Black woman too much but we do now have a MAC counter so that helps a lot. A sista got tired of ordering online or heading to Boston for a damn tube of lipstick.

Making a nice soul food meal with collard greens? You can find collards here but they aren’t cheap, even at the farmers market in season I pay over $2 a pound for greens and you know you need a fair amount to make a pot. So I do string beans instead of greens most of the time and forget finding smoked turkey parts out here, its a good thing I still eat pork or else I would be really shit out of luck for indulging in my occasional nostalgia for southern food.

Yeah, people do still look at me like why the hell am I here especially when I am in an area that I don’t live in…or like this past weekend when I decided to eat at an establishment that looked like they had never seen a person of color step foot.

So you might wonder, why the hell aren’t you leaving anytime soon? In a nutshell, Maine has become home, Chicago will always be my hometown but Maine is my home. I have met some incredible folks here, the week after I came home from burying my mother, the Spousal Unit and I were out eating at a local eatery. The owner asked where I had been and I explained, well when I asked for the check he told me it was on the house, it was his way of offering condolences.

I could go on with random acts of kindness that I have only encountered in Maine, acts that are so powerful that it makes the occasional idiots less of an idiot. The physical beauty in Maine is amazing, its been 7 years and the ocean still mesmerizes me and the fact that its only a 10-15 min drive to the ocean is great.

The fact that small businesses here still use the honor system is also sweet, this weekend we picked strawberries at a local farm and the farmers were at lunch but rather than close the farm down they had a box sitting on a table so when you were ready to pay, you weighed your goods and put the cash in the box. Now being a big city girl, that tickles me pink…lets be honest, that would not fly back in Chi-town. Hell folks would either steal the cash or at the very least drive off without paying for the goodies. Or as my son likes to joke, the homeless folks would be in the  fields eating up the food.

Its things though like this that really make me like Maine, in many ways its a simpler place and at this stage in life I enjoy a simpler life though I do wish I had more folks of color here especially since my best Black girlfriend here in Maine decided it was a wrap after 10 years and relocated to CT.

Plus there is the practical issue that should I leave Maine, where do I go? Going back home doesn’t make much sense since I don’t have a job or home to go back to. Hell, both my brother and father live in bachelor style apartments so they couldn’t even put us up while we get settled. Then there is that pesky issue that while the Spousal Unit is self-employed it costs more to live in Chicago and I can’t take my job with me, of course the fact that I now have a house for life provided I pay the taxes and insurance are all good reasons to stay a while.

No, I am in no rush to head back but I would like to see my financial situation get to the point that we can visit more often. So guess I won’t be leaving anytime soon.

Living in Maine as a Black person

Next month will mark 7 years that I have been in Maine, some days I feel like I should get some sort of badge for surviving that long but generally when I feel that way its just an off day. The truth is that once you get over the initial culture shock, Maine is not a bad place to live.

I can honestly say that I know my neighbors here far better than I ever knew any of them in Chicago, Mainers are an odd bunch, in many cases they don’t say much and have a tendency to keep to themselves. Yet in a pinch when you need a neighbor they are there for you. Case in point, as I have written before, my neighbor across the street 9 out of 10 times in a large snow storm will plow us out. I have never asked but its always a welcomed surprise to wake up and see that I don’t have to manually shovel a foot of snow. In the summer they often bring over a treat for my daughter when they see us out in the yard, we did reciprocate this fall by sharing our apple picking bounty over to them.

If you saw my neighbors, you would think they probably don’t speak to folks like me and while I doubt I will ever engage them on their political views, they are decent folks from what I can see.  Last summer a local Dominican family tragically lost their teenage son in a river drowning and folks came out to help the family, its that type of shit that makes me remember why I don’t mind living here.

Even my Black friends who live in smaller towns here where they are the only Black person, generally don’t encounter any hassles once folks know you live in town and see you around. I will be honest though and say I couldn’t live in a town smaller than where I live since 16,000 folks is pretty small to my Chicago brain.

All this to say, I still don’t understand Negroes who come to Maine intent on wrong doing, this storybroke last night, now in last night’s story they showed a picture of the alleged suspect and sorry to say he was Black. Look going to a lilly white town and breaking into someone’s house is a sure enough way to get your ass caught. For real, Maine is a small state, only 1.5 million folks in the whole damn state and folks of color and that is combining all of us make up less than 10% of the population so you ought to know if you fuck up and do something shady, your ass is going to get caught.

In my time here, I have noticed an increase in folks trying to come up here and doing shady shit, obviously it pisses me off. When we first moved here the big crime story would be some white boy robbing an convenience store with a knife, I admit that sort of shit used to make me laugh especially in my first year here. Robbing someone with a knife? That shit would not work back in Chicago at all. Yet as the years past, I have noticed the crimes getting more dangerous and scary and sadly at times more folks of color as the alleged suspects.

Now as a sista living in Maine raising my family, that shit distresses me to no end but also reminds me that such stupidity can make it harder for the rest of us trying to just live our lives in peace and quiet. As for Mr Bennett, the alleged suspect I suspect he better watch his ass while he is in the joint.

As for me, well I just plan on doing what I do which is to live my life.