The media is hyperventilating about a not very interesting massacre in Colorado. Here’s a more interesting story about a ball-hitch in Maine.
Of course the massacre is horrifying. It’s terrible for everyone involved. I wish there would never be another one. But it’s not very interesting because massacres do occur every so often. Perhaps they would happen less often if our weapons laws and enforcement were changed. But whether or no, they are rare events that happen not only in the USA and that reveal little or nothing about our culture. My experience with the ball-hitch, however, is symptomatic of a profound cultural difference between Maine where I live now and southwest Connecticut where I came from.
Here’s the story: I went to a huge hardware store to rent a log-splitter. We did the paperwork, then the man asked if I had a 2-inch ball on my van. I didn’t remember its size so we went to look. “One and seven-eighths,” he said. As I started thinking if I had a wrench in the van or would I need to buy one as well as a 2-inch ball, the man went into the warehouse saying, “I think I’ve got one here somewhere.” He didn’t see one immediately. “I’ve got one on my truck,” he said, walked off, replaced mine with his and gave me mine. He’d already gone home when I brought the splitter back the next day. He hadn’t told the guy who took over from him to get his ball-hitch. He assumed I would give it back because that’s what folks do here. I won’t say something like this would never happen where I lived before but it would be a big surprise. It would have been more likely when I moved there in 1970 but still surprising.
It would not be very interesting if this was an unusual event but in fact, it’s so commonplace that only a newcomer would notice. There’s a letter from another recent immigrant to Maine in today’s newspaper. She misjudged the turn into a fish shop shortly before it closed, hit the curb and blew out her tire. Shaken by the blast of adrenaline, she went into the shop to get her fish before calling a tow-truck. “I’ll have to stop and serve any customers who come in,” said the young man behind the counter who had heard the tire burst, “but I could change your wheel if you’d like.” The shop owner came while he was doing that and told the fellow to go back in the shop. The woman knew she was now on her own but no, the owner took off his jacket and finished the job. Neither of them would take any money.
It’s fascinating to consider what may contribute to this distinctive aspect of Maine’s culture. It would make a big difference if we could establish it everywhere.