Before I explain that my husband, Dustin, and I have fallen in love with Maine, and specifically Bangor (everyone said it would happen — “You will go up there, and you will never want to come back,” they said), that I’d like to find a way to raise our kids here, and that Dustin’s dad actually grew up on Buck Street in Bangor, I first should explain how we got here for those readers who may have missed my initial Florida-to-Maine column in August.
We were stationed with the Navy in Florida for nearly a decade, but our families are in Virginia, so we wanted to get back up north (such a relative word; yes, we considered Virginia “north”). When it came time for Dustin’s next assignment, the Navy gave him a list of eight possible duty stations, from Everett, Wash., to Harlingen, Texas (Bangor was not on the list), and asked us to rank six of them in order of our preference. The Navy usually gives service members and their families a “choice” like this. In the end, however, God and Uncle Sam (and not necessarily in that order) decide where the Navy will send you.
Dustin handed me a map of the United States with all of the possible duty stations circled in red. “Where would you like to live, Sarah?” he asked.
I took the pen and marked a giant X over two-thirds of the country, blacking out everything from the Pacific to Kentucky, Missouri to Texas.
“I want to go home to Virginia,” I said.
But Virginia was not an option.
For several days, Dustin and I made tentative lists, revised, argued and revised again. Eventually, Dustin talked me into being excited about Everett (our first choice), Pennsylvania (No. 2) and Cincinnati (No. 3). I researched houses in each of those locations — just in case. I looked up schools. We wouldn’t be in Virginia, and I had accepted that, but the idea of Pennsylvania, in particular, was growing on me.
“We’ll go over our choices again before you submit them, right?” I said.
Then, in late February of last year, while the boys and I were washing my car and the Florida sun was hot enough to make the sudsy water sizzle as it hit the pavement, Dustin came home from work and said, almost as an aside, “Oh, by the way, the Navy added Bangor, Maine, to the list of options.”
I didn’t even acknowledge this new information. My head was already wrapped around Pennsylvania.
“You know, I’ve been thinking that we should switch and make Pennsylvania our first choice,” I said without looking up from the hubcap I was scrubbing.
“Uh, well …” Dustin looked down at his shoes. “Um …”
I got up from my knees to stand in front of him. The sponge dripped water on my bare feet.
“I sort of already turned in the list,” he said.
“But we agreed to go over it again.”
“And, well, I kind of put Bangor, Maine, on there.”
I dropped the soapy sponge on the ground. “You did what?”
Dustin mistook my anger at his executive decision for specific anger about Maine.
“There’s no way the Navy will send me there,” Dustin said. “I listed it 7 of 7. But I thought it would be kind of cool since my dad is from there and everything.”
It was an ugly night. All my emotions about the coming move spilled over. I was preparing a house to sell, yet I didn’t even know what part of the country we’d live in next. I clung to the idea of Pennsylvania to create some stability in my mind.
“Don’t worry,” Dustin said many times, because he still didn’t get it. “Bangor is such a long shot.”
A few weeks later, on April Fool’s Day, Dustin came home from work, met me in the bathroom where I was blow drying my hair, and said, “I think you need to sit down.” He pulled up a chair and I sat on it.
“Do you have a warm coat?” he said. “Because we’re moving to Bangor, Maine.”
Dustin related the situation, as best he could, to my initial aversion to What-a-Burger, a fast-food restaurant in the South.
“Remember how I wanted you to try What-a-Burger and you always said, ‘I don’t think I’ll like it,’ but then, once you finally went, you realized that you love it, and now it’s the only fast-food place you’ll agree to go to? I bet Maine is going to be the same way.”
Four months later, on the drive from Florida to Maine, I passed exits for cities in Pennsylvania with a tear in my eye. I had no idea what to expect this far north. I had never ventured past New York City.
Dustin stayed in Maine long enough (two weeks) to move us into our new house. Then he returned to Florida to complete his tour there. The kids and I were alone from August to November. And that is when the love affair began.
Next week: Sarah falls in love … with Maine.
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 new book, “I’m Just Saying …” is available wherever books are sold. You may reach Sarah at firstname.lastname@example.org.