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This is our annual end-of-summer reminder for our many summer visitors who’ve been playing hard and living easy in Maine this summer. Be advised that your allotted time is almost up. You should know that by Labor Day – according to an old Maine custom (more honored in the breach than in the observance) all you New York Times-Boston Globe-toting tourists must have your bags packed, your boats, canoes, ski-dos and kayaks out of our lakes, rivers, coves, ponds and bays, and all your imported bicycles strapped on your fully-fueled SUVs and hybrids.
BUT – before you head south down the turnpike, you’re also required to stop and max-out your credit cards buying "Maine" souvenirs to remind you of your special time in Maine.
“Souvenirs” are tricky things. What should you buy to remind you of your time in Maine? Some people dig up privately-owned pine trees as mementos of their stay in the Pine Tree State.
A Maine police officer once said that when he catches tourists digging up seedlings he gives them a talking-to and asks: "What if all three-million tourists who visited Maine each year felt the need to dig up a baby pine tree to take home with them? How long would it be before Maine became a wind-swept desert?"
Good question.
My Uncle Earle was a great collector of “souvenirs.” His extensive collection included a railroad spike from the building of first Transcontinental Railroad. I can’t remember what connection Uncle Earle had with the Transcontinental Railroad, if any, but he did have a good story to go with the spike, which, of course, is the important thing.
Uncle Earle claimed he had souvenirs from the Titanic. He said that if all the “souvenirs” said to have come from the Titanic were actually on the Titanic before it sailed, it would have sunk to the bottom before it left the dock in South Hampton.
One question I have about today’s souvenirs in Maine is: If the word ‘souvenir’ comes from the French verb ‘to remember,’ why do almost all of our souvenirs come China? Shouldn’t we use the Chinese verb “to remember?” I’d used to know the Chinese word for "remember" but I can’t remember it at the moment.
The Chinese probably don’t have a word for ‘souvenir,’ they’re too busy making our souvenirs.
I don’t know how they do it but from their location on the other side of the planet they’ve learned how to make small ship models of our ships and sailing vessels and soft stuffed toys that look exactly like our lobsters, moose, loons, gulls, harbor seals and puffins. How do they do that?
Knowing you can never have too many lobster-related stuff, our fully-stocked shops have Chinese-made “lobster accessories” which include soaps, pot holders, lollipops, refrigerator magnets, hats, pillows, plates, mugs, spoons – and MORE! Our souvenir shops even have authentic Maine post cards printed in China.
Anyway, I don’t know if you’ve noticed but hundreds of our Maine gift shops – spread thick from Kittery to Calais and from Rockport to Rangeley – are loaded to the gunwales (gunn’lls) with all kinds of cleverly made Chinese souvenirs that you can buy to remind you of your vacation – not to the Far East but to Down East.
We don’t want to get to the point of doing car inspections to make sure all tourists heading south have a satisfactory amount of Chinese-made souvenirs aboard, we just hope you’ll all do your part in helping us get rid of all this junk we bought last spring. Once you’ve all gone home we’ll have no use for it.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at or 899-1868.
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