de facto Social Divisions   Leave a comment

I suppose it was inevitable that I would someday confront this topic in this manner.  After all, the first half of the autobiographical Mowry Beach dealt with how I learned I was ‘from away,’ and then it is also the underlying theme of Neap Tide (not yet available).  I do not intend to retell either of those stories here, but will instead talk about what it means to be a member of a sub-class, and how it affects us all.

It was only after we moved to Lubec, a Very Small Town in Down East Maine, when we first heard the phrase ‘Person From Away,’ (“PFA”).  This term is, unfortunately, sometimes used as a perjorative, which explains why its counterpart, ‘Person From Here’ (or ‘PFH’) is seldom openly uttered, although its implied usage is quite common.

Since I took on the role of free-lance reporter for a widely read local paper, I have been priveliged to speak with many people, including numerous PFHs who would normally prefer to not talk to, or even acknowledge the existence of, a PFA like me.  Sorry lady, you want your story in the paper (which they always do) then you have no choice, you must speak to the reporter.  The paper ended up with a PFA as local correspondent, because they couldn’t find a PFH willing to work for $0.35 per hour.   More on that part, later.

Quit sniveling, you say.  Maybe I am, but hold on – it gets better.  There are many here who welcome us with open arms, and who are quite willing to speak their mind.  Their attitude may have something to do with our insistence on paying our bills pronto, including particularly those locals we hire to do things around the farm. In contrast, I offer up an example.  My wife has conducted a twice-weekly Yoga class at the local medical center for nearly two years, developing a good following of regulars.  Not one of them is a PFH, in fact she has never unrolled a mat for a single one of them.

In a recent incident, a PFH, frustrated to find themselves (I know – bad grammar.  I’m dodging the gender question.) surrounded in a newly formed committee by PFA, vented in a letter to the editor, attributing all manner of motive.  While I’ll not accuse this person of having thought things through, I will suggest that the outcome was both predictable, and not what was hoped for.  PFA were – justifiably – outraged, while PFH stayed silent, remaining less than eager to become participatory.

It would be disingenuous not to suggest that some of this may be driven by PFH resentment that the better-heeled PFA now own the choicest properties in town, the PFH having sold to the highest bidder over the last few decades.  Prior to sometime around 1970, there were probably too few PFA in town to warrant the sobriquet, so it was not even a matter of discussion, although the process had already started.  This, of course, is one facet of much larger social change that has not bypassed this peninsula.  Nonetheless, when it involves the very soil on which you played, as a barefoot three-year-old, there will be some who resent both the inevitability of the change, and their inability to resist it.

Okay, you say.  Define your terms.  I can do that; I’ll use the definition I see in practice.  To be a PFH you must (1) have been born here, which obviously means your parents – or at least your mother – lived here too.  You also (2) must be a product of the local school system, and (3) live here now.  This gives a pass to the few who ran off to join the circus, found their fortune elsewhere, and have since returned.  As long as they pass rules 1-3, they are PFH.  Otherwise, you’re PFA.  Cut and dried.

This distinction is not always openly expressed, coming instead in the niceties of interpersonal activity.  In some environments it is quite rare, like – in the case here – the library, where the staff and many of the volunteers, as well as much of the board, is PFA and the PFH are, if nothing else, outnumbered and/or outranked.  In other places it is more overt, and when expressed sounds something like the muted comment, “Oh yes, she’s one of us.”  This is often followed by a subtle transfer of privelige or responsibility that may have only been grudgingly granted to a PFA.

So what does this mean?  It doesn’t really mean anything; there are PFA who are aloof and refuse to be part of the town, and there are PFH who are quite willing to consort with outsiders.  I’ll not pass judgment on either, and will only say that I know some of each, and affirm that the latter outnumber the former.

I think it was Cormac McCarthy who pointed out that anybody who survived childhood has ample material to support a lifetime writing habit.  If what that means is that, as writers, we draw from our environment, I’ll agree.

In fact, I’ll go one further.  (Damned presumptuous of me, isn’t it?  Cormac’s an undisputed master, Hemingway caliber.)  The writerly dissection of familiar social distinctions goes back to The Bible.  It may go back further than that, but I have less familiarity with older literature.  When Daniel was tossed into the lion’s den, was it not because he was PFA?  Joseph Conrad wrote of social differences, in the context of nineteen century seamen (a world he knew well), and Charles Dickens did the same, in (mostly) Victorian London. Even Stephanie Myer, in Twilight and its parade of sequels, wrote of the divide between vampires and non-vampires, although I’m not sure how much hands-on (or tooth-on) experience Ms. Myers had with her subject matter. (I will not deny envying the wealth her imagination brought her.)  In fact, except for a lot of what is euphemistically termed ‘commercial literature,’ every literary work explores some kind of inter-personal difference.  How often does the good girl come from the wrong side of the tracks?

Get on with it, you say.  Stop rambling.  Okay, okay.  Here it is.  Some folks know they are discriminating against others for some reason real or perceived, and others just do it.  Doesn’t matter.  It is still fair game.  As writers, it is our job to pick at that scab until it bleeds.

Gentle reader…  Lock and load.


Lubec, Maine November 2012








Posted November 1, 2012 by JD Rule

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