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Depending on when you're reading this we could be having another one of those glorious late-summer days here in Maine, or we could be waiting for another downgraded hurricane.
Despite the weather, I've got a column to write so here I sit at Storyteller Central pounding out one of my last columns of the summer season.
Before we move on to another season I want to go through the letters and printed-out emails here at the center and respond to as many as I dare to.
Lawrence from Cranston, R.I. writes: "John, Is it true that the holiday Labor Day was actually invented there in Maine?"
Thanks for the letter, Lawrence. There is absolutely no proof that Labor Day was invented in Maine - but such minor details have never stopped us from making up a good story.
You have to understand that for almost 100 years now Maine has been a tourist Mecca - so to speak. During that time we've looked for creative ways to manage our summer visitor population.
It’s said that black flies were introduced into Maine as part of a tourist-control program. And according to our admittedly shaky historical sources - Labor Day was originally designed by Mainers as a friendly reminder to tardy tourists that summer was over and it was time to haul up the boat, lock up the cottage and go home. Most tourists take the hint, but some still have to be prodded.
Karen from Falmouth, Mass. writes: "John, You can't go too far in Maine before hearing the word 'ayuh.' I'm just curious. Does anyone know where the word 'ayuh' come from?"
Thanks for the letter, Karen. Questions like yours about Maine's unique word for expressing an affirmative have been asked many times, many ways. But as the maple syrup people say, "it all boils down to one thing" - but at the moment I can't rightly remember what that one thing is, or how it might apply here.
All seriousness aside, Karen, most experts agree that Maine's 'ayuh' probably came to us from our early Scottish settlers.
The late John Gould said 'ayuh' is the one word that only true Mainers can say and use properly. So why does every flat-lander who crosses the Piscataqua River feel the need to make a fool of himself by using “ayuh” a few dozen times a day during his visit? Who knows?
As for its origin, Gould said that years ago a Scot - wanting to respond in the affirmative - might reply 'aye,' and then out of deference to his non-Scottish listeners add 'yes.' Gould speculates that over the years aye-yes became Maine's signature word - ayuh. Sounds good to me. If you have a better explaination I'd like to hear it.
Henry from New London, Conn. writes: "John, Maine used to have a sign at its gateway in Kittery that read: "Maine: The way life should be." If that is so, what's wrong with Connecticut?"
Thanks for the email, Henry. We are limited by space constraints, Henry, so I couldn't begin to say what's wrong with Connecticut. (Just kidding)
That saying: Maine: The way life should be, does not imply, Henry, that there's anything wrong with the other 49 states and a life lived in those states is not what it should be. O.K., so maybe it does imply that. So take it up with our governor, Henry. He should be able to provide you with a snappy answer.
Several confused summer visitors wrote to ask about the new numbers on our turnpike exits. George from Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y. writes: "John, for over forty years my family has been coming to Maine and taking the Maine Turnpike's Exit 9 to head Down East to our camp. Years ago - for some unknown reason - the exit was changed to '44' with a bright yellow sign below that said something like: "The exit formerly known as “9." I know it shouldn’t, but the renumbering still bothers me.
After all those years I became fond of Exit 9 and saw no need to get rid of it. Why the change? I’ve never heard of a reason for the change. Was it felt by those in charge that '9' wasn't getting the job done and a higher number was needed?"
Thanks for writing, George. I believe that's it, George. Those in charge finally concluded that Ted Williams' number '9' wasn't working as an exit number. So, after months of research and exhaustive analysis, a team of consultants and facilitators decided to bring in a bigger, better number.
How is '44' doing? The jury is still out.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at or 899-1868.
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