The American Caste System: Life Down East

The two-hour Trailways bus trip from Portland to Bangor, Maine, would have been pleasant if not for the barrage of emails from my estranged adopted daughter wanting money so that she could move from my house to a rental house (too long a story for here). The benefit was that the two hours passed quickly, the problem was resolved, and I could get on with my trip to Down East Maine. 

I had two reasons for visiting Maine. It had been exactly a year since my sister fell down a wooded hillside and drove a pine branch through her frontal lobe. I had not yet visited her in person because her earlier condition made visits useless. Inhospitable Maine weather stopped later travel north; then life and other obligations conspired to keep me away. (She is doing well.)

The second reason was to spend my friend Kathleen’s birthday with her while she was at her ancestral home in Roque Bluffs visiting her 97-year-old mother. Kathleen, Beatrice, and I, all Libras, have been celebrating our birthdays together whenever we could for the past thirty years.

So, to the point. I arrived at the small settlement of Roque Bluffs for five days of foliage peeping, whale watching, apple picking, New Hampshire Cog-rail and an unsettling experience in the dichotomy between the Maine summer people and the locals. Roque Bluffs is a bit different from other nearby coastal towns and islands in that the summer people there are actually descendants of original settlers and tend to have money. (I stayed with the matriarch of the Longfellows. At 97, she still divided her time between Maine and a small chalet on the Spanish Mediterranean.) In towns like Bar Harbor or Machias Port as well as islands like North Haven, there are few family connections between locals and summer people. Instead, there is a loose transactional relationship, much more like a caste system, which divided the population into the haves and have-nots—lords and serfs. The summer people are from the New England Brahmin class, and they ironically are totally dependent upon the locals for their survival.

I met several people who confided that when a summer person discovered a local, they often simply walked away as if the local person was invisible.

It is not that we don’t have a class/caste system in the rest of the country. Like 

Down East Maine, it is based not on religious orthodoxy, as in Hinduism, but on affluence and family status—much of which is inherited rather than earned.

I dream of equality. I dream of a country that partners together to build a great society for all. That only happens when we lose the win-lose mindset—so let’s do that.

Bonus: While there, my friends made fried zucchini flowers from the very last of the fall harvest. Here is the recipe! Phenomenal.

1.Mix ¾ cup flour; ¼ cup corn starch; salt and pepper to taste

2. After mixing add in a bit of very cold sparkling seltzer till mix is of crepe consistency

3. Stuff zucchini flower with one anchovy fillet and a couple of squares of mozzarella cheese

4. Dip flower into mix, twist end and deep fry in vegetable oil

Voila! Enjoy!

Published by Carole J. Garrison

I’m a conversationalist, an observer, a passionate participant in life. And now, in my later years, I’m a recorder of the lessons of my life through essays, stories, and novels. I live in the fourth moment of life, just outside the normal distribution of most people and it is from this place that I write.

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