Growing up in a state that was not Maine, my perception of Maine was that it was a place people only went to for two things: summer camps and weddings. Then I moved to Maine in the summer of 2005 with my then-husband — and we moved right back to New York City by the fall. The boomerang effect led everyone to assume I had gone to some weird summer camp for adults. Considering I never before really hiked or sat beside a fire, it was like I had.
New Yorkers would nod with enthusiasm, “I went to camp in Maine for years.”
“That’s great, but I didn’t actually go to summer camp. I had just gotten married, and —”
“We got married in Maine, too!” They would interrupt joyously.
I lacked the fortitude to explain I hadn’t married in Maine but decided to move there when my marriage to a man from Maine dovetailed with a job offer from a law firm in Maine. We came crawling back to NYC when the job didn’t turn out to be what it had promised, tails between our legs, which was done mostly to cover our muck boots. Over the stack of years to follow, we did little to debunk the myth that Maine is only for camp and weddings because we returned for every wedding of every Mainer we knew. I imagined that every time I took off from work, my co-workers would say, “Erin is in Maine. She must be getting married again.”
I have been to enough Maine weddings to know they’re always held outside, no matter the season and without regard for the category of hurricane making its way up the Eastern Seaboard. You can trust that seafood plays a starring role in the reception and that the floral arrangements will include something you’ve never before seen in a vase, like milkweed or felt. You will come to learn that a Labrador retriever will assume any number of essential ceremonial roles — count yourself lucky if you’re at the wedding in which one is the officiant (short) and not the caterer (too-rare meat). Considering the majority of the peers I grew up with married their first cousins in a Knights of Columbus hall, I’m not complaining.
I was strolling Rockland’s breakwater with my children one warm Saturday last month when we noticed a collection of people dressed in their finery beginning to gather on the grounds of a nearby resort.
“Look, it’s a wedding!” I whispered to the kids.
“How do you know it’s not a funeral?” my eldest shot back.
“Because they don’t usually play Hootie and the Blowfish at a funeral.”
We stood awkwardly off to the side as the sizable procession got into position. I kept waiting for one of the kids to cry of boredom or pee their pants in a show of protest, but much to my surprise they stared unblinking at the festivities until one hatched a plan to get even closer. They crawled through the brittle grass and came to rest at the wrought-iron gate with their faces pushed against the metal, the only thing separating them from the nearby grandeur. The heels, the jewels, the sunglasses — all of which smacked of “from away” — paraded by. When the photographer turned his camera on the children clinging to the bars, as though they were feral little beings glimpsing civilization for the first time, I knew we were beholding the kind of Maine wedding I had always been told of but never attended. The kind of wedding at which everyone feasts on lobster and has Roman numerals accompanying their names. The sort of wedding at which the bride and groom exchange vows that read like the operator’s manual to a skiff. The sort of wedding at which everyone rhapsodizes about their much cherished summers in Maine — at camp.
I finally was allowed on the right side — the wedding side — of the gates this past weekend for a friend’s nuptials here in Maine. They wed at a beautiful inn overlooking — you’ll never guess — the ocean. There were delicate hors d’oeuvres passed by servers in tuxes. The main course included scallops, which I even attempted to say in the proper New England way and is probably why they gave me pasta. They had the Jason Spooner band play instead of some guys who liked to jam back in high school. They had two banquet tables laden with a towering cake and other desserts that I would have — at a lesser wedding — rolled into napkins and put into my purse for the road.
As I left the wedding, I smiled at the thought of my kids crouched in the high grass outside a wedding much like this one. It dawned on me I needed to actually move to Maine to get invited to the Maine wedding I’d always heard about. That’s the thing about Maine: If you don’t live here, you’re always on the other side of the fence. And unless you came here for camp, they need to keep you on the right side of the fence or your parents will sue.