Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Life in Small-Town America

If there's only one small town out there, I assure you it's somewhere in Maine! But there's not just one, there's tons! So we have them in just about every state. Very few however, get as much attention as Bar Harbor.

From late-spring to mid-autumn Bar Harbor is packed with people. The peak month is August, typically. All the restaurants and shops are open. The grocery store stays open an hour later than usual. There's very little point to driving a car through town; all the parking spaces are taken by 6:00 am and the town's not big enough to keep you from walking the entire perimeter, if you set your mind to it.

But I'm not going to talk about the side everyone hears about. I'm here to talk about the "off-season". From late-fall to early-spring (and that whole long winter in between) it's practically a ghost town. As one of my co-workers likes to describe it,

"You can drive down Main Street at 60 mph, you won't hit so much as a cat."

He's got it right on the ball. Believe it or not, there are people tough enough to weather the long, cold, damp, North-Atlantic winters. My roommate, Melissa, is currently trying to become one. She has more winter coats than my little brother, Ezra, has armymen. Very few people however, actually choose this particular life-style. But in all fairness, there's not much that can compare in quaintness and peace than a winter in Bar Harbor... it's the treat we get after working the hectic summer.

Every hour, on the hour the St. Saviour's bells chime. You can really only hear them when the season starts slowing down. I remember one time this summer I was sitting in the Village Green on a bench reading a book. There were some skateboarders in the park, and one of them walked over to me.

"Hi. I was wondering if you could tell me what time it is?" He asked this just as the bells finished tolling an inmistakable 4:00.

"Well, let's see, the bells just chimed 4," I said looking up from my book.

"Oh, right." The poor boy; it was a sad opener since the time had just declared itself openly, but it was an opener none the less, and we talked for a few minutes while he waited for his bus.

At noon every day, they play a few hymns on the bells, like Amazing Grace, Abide With Me, and Be Still My Soul. The church isn't the only bell though, there's a bell at the First National Bank too. That one is automated; I can't tell if the ones at St. Saviour's are or not.

There are tons of shops in Bar Harbor. My personal favorite is a year-round shop simply called "Clockmaker". Yes, an actual clockmaker. Walking into his one-man shop is like walking into Gipetto's. He's got clocks from all over the world, and he knows everything about them. Who made them, how old they are, where they came from, the names of the different styles; everything. I mean, I guess it is kind of his job. (One tip though, if you don't like cuckoo clocks, don't walk in on the hour.)

My favorite restaurant is Rupinuni's. I honestly can't promise that I've spelled that right. It's in a beautiful location right near the Village Green. Whenever I go I ask to be seated on the balcony upstairs. I love to watch people in the park and on the street below. I have often eaten there by myself simply because that way I don't get interupted in my observations. If I go with someone I have to keep up a conversation. That's okay too, but I can do that anywhere.

In small towns, everyone knows everyone else. It's no different with Bar Harbor. There are the local handy-men who can fix any problem whether it's the stairs at the library or the lights in your house. They'll stop their work right in the middle of it to talk to a good friend that passes by. But they're good at what they do. There are the fishermen who spend all their time out on their boats or down on the docks. Winter is a hard time for them, but they still go out if the weather's not too bad and the sea's are managable. You ask any of the lobstermen if they know so-and-so, they'll list of entire families and where you can find them.

"Oh yeah, shoa, I know who the Alley's aahr. There's one fam'ly of 'em ovah in Seal Hahbah, and anothah ovah on Swan's Island." They'll also tell you the names of all their boats and the color patterns to their bouies. Like I said, everyone knows everyone, and everything about everyone too. No secrets.

Life in small town America is certainly sheltered and secluded, but it's a sweet way to live. It's friendly and relaxed. I'm sure the cities are exciting, and that small towns can get frustrating with lack of anything to do, but if I had to choose between the two, I'd go for the small town any day.

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