This is why Maine beats Florida …

Posted Oct. 18, 2009, at 11:39 p.m.

Before I begin today’s topic, let me take a moment to discuss the two types of feedback I receive from readers.

The first inevitably begins with, “I’ve been meaning to write and tell you …” These letters are always positive. In general, people are not in a rush to tell you good news. I like to imagine these readers walking around the streets of Bangor and Brunswick, randomly thinking to themselves, “Gosh, I should remember to write to Sarah Smiley and tell her that I enjoy her column.” In that case, my e-mail address is sarahRsmiley@gmail.com.

Then there are the other readers. They slam down their newspaper and coffee mug, arcs of hot liquid splattering their hands and breakfast, and run from the kitchen table to their computer just to tell me how much they hate me. These readers haven’t given much thought to their feedback. They use profanity and faulty arguments. Often it is obvious that they didn’t finish the column. For these readers, my e-mail address is sarahISsmelly@read.it.first.com.

In any case, today’s column will make the second type of reader ready to pounce. Exhibit A will be the online message boards where you might read their posts and wonder whether they have read the same column that you did. (Answer: maybe not. They could read the phone book and still believe it proves that I don’t like my children.) Exhibit B will be when these readers tell me to move back to Florida. That’s when you’ll know that they didn’t read the whole thing. Feel free to tell them that.

So anyway, last week I explained how unprepared my family was for our first winter in Maine. We didn’t even put away our patio furniture or place wooden teepees over our bushes. I remember watching a neighbor rake his roof one cold morning while Dustin and I were still in our pajamas. Dustin stood at the window with his coffee. “Our neighbor must really like a clean roof,” Dustin said. We both laughed. Then we went back to the family room to watch television.

A few weeks later, we learned (the hard way) about ice dams.

Resting is not an option in Maine. You have to work (i.e., shovel the sidewalk and plow the driveway) before you can even get out the door to go to work. I’m sure it qualifies as aerobic activity to put three children in mittens, hats and snow boots, AND get them to school on time. Even throwing out your trash isn’t as simple as hurling the bag over your shoulder and stuffing it into the garbage can. If the lid is frozen, you have to chip away at the ice first. I couldn’t get into my car last year without blowing hot air on the keyhole (followed by stomping my feet and kicking the tires when the door was still frozen shut and the kids were 10 minutes late for school).

Mainers are accustomed to this kind of life. Being “from away,” I once felt sorry about the gravestones at Mount Hope Cemetery that have been clobbered with snow. People spend their whole lives shoveling the snow, wiping it from their windshield, and raking it off their roof. Then, at the end, they are buried in it. One Maine winter later, however, I know that graves covered with snow — the last round with Old Man Winter — might be considered a badge of honor for Mainers, who even in death don’t expect the easy way out.

This is 180 degrees from the attitude of Floridians, where, aside from the occasional hurricane and rogue snake, life is pretty darn easy. In Florida, not only do most people have a pool, they also have large screen enclosures (the first thing to blow away in a hurricane, by the way) built around them to keep the bugs and most of the heat and sun out. Entire neighborhoods are developed around golf courses. (When we lived on the 17th hole of one such course, I saw golfers who were too hot to push their own carts, so they used remote controls.)

And the beach is at the center of everyone’s life. You don’t winterize your house or lawn in Florida, and the only time you go onto your roof is to jump from it into the pool (not recommended).

I see now that Florida — and in particular, beach towns — can effortlessly (pun intended) breed laziness. There is no rush. No deadline. No sense of battling the elements on a regular basis. (Granted, some Florida roaches can be killed only with the most aggressive Ultimate Fighting techniques, and maybe a shotgun, but still.)

At first I was shocked by the amount of work required to live in Maine. Now I couldn’t imagine raising my boys in any other environment. I mean, how can people know true relaxation if they’ve never had to shovel snow for two hours before going to work? How can you enjoy the warmth if you’ve never felt the chill? I don’t think it’s possible, and that’s why, if given the choice between Florida and Maine, I will always choose the latter.

Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. Her book “I’m Just Saying …” is available wherever books are sold. She may be reached at sarahRsmiley@gmail.com.

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