“Every summer my husband and I pack our suitcases, load our kids into the car, and drive from tense, crowded New York City to my family’s cottage in Maine. It’s on an island, with stretches of sea and sandy beaches, rocky coasts, and pine trees. We barbecue, swim, lie around, and try to do nothing.”
— Hope Davis, actress
For some, houseguests are a touch of heaven. For others, they are like the black flies that start in early June.
The worst is when they call from somewhere on Interstate 95 and say, “We’re on our way, and unfortunately we can only stay a week.” Some of them add, “And I’m sure you’ll understand that we have to bring the dogs.” These can be casual acquaintances to whom you said thoughtlessly last winter that it would be nice to see them in Maine sometime.
George Washington had the same problem. When he retired as commander of the Continental Army, crowds of admirers swarmed to Mount Vernon, expecting to be fed and entertained and expecting their horses to be fed. Washington turned no one away, but food and fodder were a burden on his worsening finances. He often hid in his study from the chattering visitors. Sometimes he put up misleading signs to keep some of them from finding his home.
Now that Maine is mostly balmy, while Boston, New York and Philadelphia have already felt stifling heat, heading Down East sounds attractive. Free rent is not the only factor, but it helps.
Family visitors, of course, are usually a pleasant exception, but intrusion by virtual strangers can be a curse. Many don’t seem to realize that, while they are on vacation, their Maine hosts have their own lives to lead, including earning a living. So do a few things on your own to give them time off.
For those who come visiting, a few bits of advice: Remember the classic three-day rule, which usually means two nights and three days. That is plenty of time to catch up without the stay getting tired and repetitive. Two days is usually adequate.
If you bring a gift, make it something to eat or drink. Don’t bring wind chimes or trivets. Mainers probably have them already or hate them.
Finally, beware of telling Mainers how to live their lives. Be cautious with advice on how to sharpen knives or work a grill or build a fire. They probably know already and like the way they do it.
The late editor of the Ellsworth American, James Russell Wiggins, used to say that everyone thinks they know how to do three things: build a fire, hold a baby and put out a newspaper.
Visitors, you have been warned. Hosts, you have been defended.