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Home » PEOPLE AND PLACES » MAINE » The Other Maine
A Gossip Gate - Over Which Much News Is Imparted!
The Other Maine

Wagging Tongues

By Alex Seise | April 27, 2012

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A wise, old saying about gossip goes something like, “Who brings a tale takes two away.”

Coffee and friendly chit-chat - a match made in heaven!

Though the swirls of tantalizing rumors and nosy, once-removed speculation churn and groan through the streets of nearly every suburban neighborhood in the world, gossip is never more potent, rapid or authoritative as it is in Northern Maine.

During the early spring, both the paper mills and the rumor mills north of Bangor work overtime. The warm weather brings prime logging conditions, and it also beckons outdoor liaisons with friends and neighbors. Where people meet and greet after agonizingly long indoor hibernation, banter quickly follows. Moments after the sun first rises above the distant hills, porch swings sway under the weight of chatty friends and side streets clog with smiling figures sharing hushed whispers and solemn nods.

Our first taste of the unbreakable gossip chain came just hours after we moved into Madawaska two summers ago.   Even as we met our new neighbors and took our first trips into town for supplies, practically everyone seemed to know about the so-called “Jersey Boys” who moved into town. Some knew our occupations before we even became acquainted; others knew about our house and the neighborhood we now called home. Though we undoubtedly were the subject of shared curiosity, it was pleasant to see such a tight-knit community, something lacking in many larger towns in our native New Jersey.

There’s more to the rumor mill than speculating about new neighbors. Tapping into the chain is always the best way to find out about nearby happenings. Many smaller events, from festivals to benefit dinners, aren’t always widely advertised and rely instead on free word-of-mouth to drum up interest.

A freshly cleaned porch swing, ready for the first neighborly interactions of the spring season

Other times, the best service personnel are referred from one person to another rather than being promoted through hokey flyers or advertisements. This cuts costs and boosts business, though it can backfire if the rumor mill makes a sharp turn for the worse. Still, most businesses take their chances.

Gossip in the Other Maine isn’t always warm and friendly. When it comes to delivering bad news, the informal buzz is tied in delivery speed and truthfulness with the region’s newspapers. Sometimes news arrives through social media, and sometimes it comes over the phone. Once in a while, the juiciest bits are preceded by the sound of shoes pounding the pavement outside and a ringing doorbell.

But unlike the vicious, one-sided chatter overheard elsewhere, the rumors here aren’t typically filled with harsh name calling or reputation smashing (though there are notable exceptions from time to time). They are frequently told quite matter-of-factly, and in our experience, many have been strikingly reliable.

Every few weeks, David and I gather with a group of wonderful friends for an event called Puzzle Night. The ingredients for the evening are simple: friends, food and fast talk over a jigsaw. The evenings generally start innocuous enough with discussions of the month’s personal achievements, family news and upcoming events in town. But as the flat edge pieces of the puzzle click into place and work begins on fitting the harder interior pieces together, the chatter usually heats up as well.

Scenes from a Puzzle Night

Sometimes, the puzzle is deemed too difficult and abandoned in favor of hefty hearsay and haughty guffaws. Even when the titular event is left unfinished with pieces strewn across the table, other local mysteries are often neatly assembled and solved long before the evening is over.

The reason that gossip takes off so noticeably in these parts is actually easy to explain. It’s fostered by a combination of three contributing factors. First, many people in each town are distantly related to one another, fostering a close group with many similar interests and shared connections. It’s prime breeding grounds for the seeds of gossip.

Second, with relatively harsh winters and a very limited summer season, a lot of face-to-face catch-up happens in a short period of time, greatly amplifying its volume. Third, a large percentage of Northern Mainers have tremendous pride in their communities and like to know every detail about what’s going on.

Whether it’s breaking news about a local fire or proposed changes to a residential neighborhood, the people follow developments closely and maintain vigilance to ensure that nothing disrupts the perfectly agreeable pace of life.

Even the negative news dissipates more quickly in these parts; perhaps it’s a lesson that other regions of the country should strive to overhear and whisper about amongst their own comrades.

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