Washington County, Maine is one of the most economically disadvantaged counties in the United States. When I was a teenager, people used to say it was poorer than parts of Appalachia. I’ve never been to Appalachia so I can’t really compare, but I grew up in Washington County, and I can tell you it’s not an easy place to live.
In Maine, people who aren’t from Maine are known as “people from away.” It’s hard for people from away to understand what it’s like to live in Washington County. At the B&B where I stayed last weekend, a tourist from Alabama remarked at breakfast, “If you stayed here more than a week, there wouldn’t be much left worth seeing.”
On Saturday, Beagan and I explored the shops and galleries on Eastport’s main street, and everyone we spoke to talked about how hard it was to keep a small business going. The lady in the candy store had decided to close up shop for the winter because it wasn’t worth it to stay open year-round. Although she said she’d stay open until the last cruise ship came into port because she thought it would be nice if people had someplace to go when they got off the ship.
We stopped in at Heather Perry’s jewelry shop. Beagan is a fan of the Shieldmaiden Collection. Shieldmaidens are the women-warriors of Scandinavian mythology. Heather’s silver and brass jewelry is fashioned into shapes of shields or blades and textured with lace. Metal and lace. Strength and femininity.
I wanted a pair of earrings. I was acutely aware that, to the untrained eye, I might resemble a middle-aged woman from away about to drop a fair bit of money on a pair of earrings in an effort to get in touch with her inner shieldmaiden. The twenty-year-old Washington County me would have rolled her eyes and added up how many boxes of blueberries she’d have to rake to buy that pair of earrings.
I bought the earrings. The design is called Freya’s longblade. Freya is a goddess associated with love and sexuality. Don’t mess with me, these earrings say. I will cut you, and you will thank me for it.
At the wedding that night, my friend Jeff told me a foundation executive in New York City once told him, “Forget New York. If you can make it in Washington County, you can make it anywhere.”
All night long, my friends and I kept saying, “How is it possible we all look exactly the same as we did twenty years ago?” I thought of all the baby boomers I heard saying things like that when I was young, and how deluded I thought they were. Here’s what I’ve learned since then: We are all creatures of heartbreaking complexity, and our struggles and victories are largely invisible to anyone but ourselves. I’m a forty-year-old middle class urbanite, but that twenty-year old Washington County girl still lives inside me, too. I’m lace and metal. I’m a desolate main street in a town kissed by the sea. I’m a shieldmaiden, damn it. Don’t mess with me.