The Real Maine

It’s been busy around my parts the past few days, on a personal note elder boy has arrived home for the summer which is always cause for celebration at my house as you can imagine. Seems like just yesterday he was a wee lad like his sister, now he is almost a legal adult with facial hair who drives…where does the time go?

On a professional note, the community that I work in was visited by crime and I have been working to deal with the impact in our community. Which brings me to today’s theme…the real Maine. I love reading blogs, especially fellow bloggers who live in Maine. Maine is the type of place that its easy to romanticize, after all when you think of Maine, images of beaches, lobster and all things nice seem to come to mind. Its very common for people to see Maine as this simple and beautiful place to live filled with good times, good people and even good thrift shops.

Yet maybe its because of my line of work but I see a side of Maine on a regular basis that is not nice. In fact its downright cruel, I often compare my work in the inner city of Chicago as not being much different than the work I currently do. I work in a community where the poverty level exceeds fifty percent, where many families face financial insecurity on a regular basis…yet this same community is only mere minutes away from people with great abundance, yet the two communities might as well be thousands of miles away as the folks in the two communities never mix and probably never will.

Yesterday morning as I started my day reading about amazing thrifting in Maine (by the way while there is amazing thrifting in Maine, most of it occurs at antique marts, our basic thrift stores are not bad but frankly the ones in Chicago were better), than I heard this story. In case you aren’t prone to reading the link, its about a crazy Negro who for years has been terrorizing folks in this town who decided to kill a couple of brothers the night before. Yes, I called him a crazy Negro….I have encountered this man and he is ape-shit crazy, though I had no idea just how dangerous he was, I generally went out of way to not have to make contact with him when I saw him on the street.

For the past day, everyone has come out with a story about this man, even the mayor of this town found this man to be crazy and scary. I must admit part of me wanted to laugh, how the hell does one Black guy in a predominantly white town in the whitest state in America get to terrorize folks for almost two decades and never spend much time in the joint despite the fact everyone thought he was a walking time bomb? Part of me wants to say it was political correctness gone awry…but the truth is I don’t know.

Like others I am saddened that lives were lost, though I wonder what made these two young men decide to egg this man on considering his reputation was well known, I figure it had to be youth. When we are young we don’t see the dangers we see when we get older and can look at things more clearly.

Maine despite being known as a lovely place sadly suffers from the same ills as any other place, in fact some of the ills may be worse because of the rural nature of the state. For those who are financially well off it can be a wonderful place, sadly its a place where many often work two and three jobs to make ends meet. This is a condition that is not limited to folks with no education or those people….in Maine even the educated often find themselves working hard to make ends meet, though class makes people use fancy words to dress it up.

So while Maine is nice, I leave you with a snapshot of what the real Maine looks like…as for that crazy Negro Rory Holland, I suspect he won’t be beating the rap this time which is just as well since while diversity is nice, crazy dangerous folks wandering the streets isn’t good for any of us.

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.

Worshipping the White Way

Lately I have found myself visiting churches as part of my job, we are a faith based organization that gets a fair amount of support from area churches so from time to time I need to go speak at churches. Generally I do my speaking at the beginning of the service but since it would be in poor taste to put the fix in on a congregation and jet out the door, I stay for services. This is where I found myself yesterday, sitting in a service for one of the local Baptist churches.

I have to be honest, I haven’t been to this many new churches since I was hunting for a new church home when I moved to Maine 7 years ago. However all this church visiting reminded me of the differences in how Blacks and Whites worship in this country. Its been said that Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in America and I believe that to be quite true.

See, 7 years ago when we moved up here I immediately went out in search of a church home, a process that I thought would be rather easy but instead it took 6 years before I finally found a church that I wanted to hang my hat and stay a while.

Now let me start out by saying I was not raised in a traditional Black church, my Dad is a preacher but did not go into ministry until I was almost 18 so where my brother was raised going to church, I was not. Nope, when I was coming up, my mother who was raised by her agnostic father really didn’t care much for church since the only church she ever attended was Catholic church courtesy of her grandmother and that was rather sporadic.  So there was no regular church attendance in my early days though we did occasionally go from time to time, more a function of my Dad’s southern Baptist roots, I suppose.

However my earliest memories of church were that we would attend a few times a year, we would always go to a Black Baptist or Penetecostal style church, I recall the music being amazing but services being long….very long. Long enough that even my father, a man who spent his 20’s and 30’s searching for God would often mutter when is this going to end. It was no coincidence that after my dad went to seminary and eventually got his own church on the southside of Chicago that he ran the service so that it was exactly one hour. He used to joke, that he needed to get home to catch the Sunday football games or whatever sport was playing. I guess those long services grated on his nerves too. Though lets be honest, a 3 hour church service is just too long. I mean when you start hearing the collective rumblings of folks bellies that’s a sign that church is too long and I won’t even get started on the multiple offerings I witnessed in many Black churches. I’m not trying to be bad but I have never met a Black church that didn’t have a building fund. Even my Granny’s church, after they finally built the new church, they were still taking a collection for the building fund.

Now when I found God or rather came to Christ in my early 20’s. I initially attended a non-demominational mixed race church in Chicago where services were not super long but the word was on point. I eventually joined my father’s church where I stayed a member till I moved to Maine.  Having only been a member of two churches prior to my move to Maine and neither of them predominantly white churches, I quickly learned that white folks and black folks worship in very different ways. Look, this is not a slam…at the end of the day the fact that we all love the Lord is what matters but I gotta say worshipping with my white bothers and sisters in Christ has been a very eye opening experience.

First stop on the looking for a church tour involved a Nazarene church, lovely place but they were hardcore against drinking, gambling, basically any type of sin. Um….Jesus drank wine, don’t care what you say but I read that Jesus turned water to wine if he didn’t want folks drinking why was he turning water to wine? So we crossed that church off the list, besides they weren’t all that warm and fuzzy towards me. Guess its one thing to help those poor unfortunate folks of color in far away lands but having one in your midst is something else.

We went to a few other churches, before we almost joined a local Baptist church. Now we attended that church throughout my pregnancy with girl child, even took the membership class but after a year and a half of attending (I was the only chocolate drop in the joint) we decided against it when we realized again folks lacked warmth and were only grudgingly pleasant towards us.

After the Baptist church, we went to a non-denominational start up that had awesome music but after the pastor started telling folks if they were sick, poor and didn’t speak in tongues, they were not real Christians, we had to let them go. I admit it was hard to let that church go, see they had real music, music that touched your soul. However we didn’t see eye to eye with them and I have a problem with  anyone who blames suffering on a lack of faith, sorry but some of the most spirit filled faithful folks have the hardest lives, look at Job?

In my search for a church home, I noticed that every church we went to the music was lacking and there was that annoying tendency to have the congregation get up and sing along with the choir…..Look, I am used to churches that if they have a choir, the choir sings. In fact the whole sing-along with the choir just annoys me aside from the fact that much of the music leaves me going UGH….I know we aren’t there for the music solely but I love to worship with music that touches my soul. Off key sing-alongs just don’t touch me, sorry….

So we went to a few more churches before we finally found the one that became our church home. Now I admit I am not crazy about the music at my church, at times its lacks a certain amount of soul but I live in Maine and finding a church where my presence was not merely tolerated was important. I am not the only person of color at my church, the pastor and associate pastor at times have gone out of their way to make me feel welcomed and most members seem cool with me. So I have an uneasy truth with the fact that I feel most of the services are Christianity lite IMO but the church has a great children’s program and at least for the moment it meets our needs.

I should mention that we do have a Black church in Portland, in fact its one of the oldest Black churches in America, but due to some issues I have had with folks professionally that attend that church, I refuse to go there on just general principal. Maine is a small place so that’s all I can say.

Which brings me to the point of today’s babble, in 7 years of visiting churches I can honestly say there is a real difference in how Blacks and Whites worship, its neither good nor bad just different. The Spousal Unit had attended Black churches with me and always felt welcomed, heck he became a member of my Pop’s church but I cannot say honestly that my experiences in white churches have been as good as his have been with Black churches.

Funny thing is as Christians, we should hold to Paul’s words from the book of Galatians “ There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for all are one in Christ Jesus. I suspect if we did there might not be so many good god-fearing Christians that use Christianity as a tool to excuse their bigotry. One need only look at the recent presidential election to see folks using religion as a way to excuse the fact they didn’t want a Black guy in charge.

As for me, I will keep worshipping in a way that makes sense to me, and that means treating all folks the right way.