January 24, 2014 by Jean
My plan to relocate to Maine in retirement sometimes garners raised eyebrows. This is not your typical retirement haven. Maine does not rank high on lists of tax friendly states for retirement. Indeed, in moving from Pennsylvania, a state that does not defer taxes on contributions to 401(k) and traditional IRA retirement savings, to Maine, a state that does defer the taxes until you withdraw the money, I will pay state taxes on my retirement savings twice. Maine is also not known for the kind of warm climate that many retirees favor; this is more a place for people who really like winter. And yet, Maine has a larger than average proportion of senior citizens, and I am not alone in wanting to retire here.
So what attracts retirees to Maine? One obvious draw is the physical beauty of the place. There are places that speak to people, and Maine is one of them; being there fills my soul. But equally important are the people. There is a strong sense of community in Maine, and Mainers look out for one another in a practical, forthright way.
I learned about this characteristic of Maine people when I first moved there in the early 1980s. Shortly after I arrived, my old-fashioned cabinet television, a cast-off from my parents that had gotten me through graduate school, died. After a couple of weeks of trying to do without, I went to a local electronics shop to see what I could afford on my new junior faculty salary. I bought the last 19” portable black and white set that the owner had in stock, and he threw in a stand for free. When it was time to pay for my purchase, I asked if the owner would take a check (this was before credit cards became ubiquitous). When he said he would, I asked what kind of ID he needed. “I don’t need to see identification,” he said. “Asking for identification means that you’ve decided not to trust people, and I don’t want to live that way.” A week or two later, when I discovered that my ten-year-old graduate school car would not pass state inspection unless some of the rust holes were repaired, I contacted a local body shop that I had been told would charge relatively little to do the minimum amount of patching needed and asked if I could bring my car in for an estimate. “I don’t do estimates,” came the gruff reply. “You don’t understand,” I explained; “this is an old car, and I can’t afford to spend much money on it.” “An estimate,” the growly-voiced owner of the body shop responded, “that’s when they give you a ball-park figure and then when you have the work done, it ends of costing a lot more. Right? I don’t give estimates; bring your car in and I’ll tell you exactly how much it will cost to fix it.”
I will admit that this way of looking out for one another can be a bit disconcerting – for example, when a total stranger walks up to you in the supermarket as you are putting toilet paper in your cart to let you know that it’s on sale for quite a bit less at another market! But when the Maine state tourism office adopted the slogan “Maine: The Way Life Should Be,” I felt that this was, at least in part, what they were talking about.
But the world is changing, even in Maine. Do Mainers still look out for one another in this way? Last week, just a few days before I was scheduled to drive back to Gettysburg for my last semester of teaching, my car developed a loud and ominous-sounding rattle. I checked with the dealership where I usually have the car serviced only to find that they had no open appointments before I had to leave. Anxious about having a breakdown in the middle of nowhere during my 600-mile drive back to Pennsylvania, I did some research and came to the conclusion that the rattle might be from a loose heat shield. So I called a local Meinecke Muffler shop (a place that I had never before done business with), explained my problem, and asked if there was any way they could look at my car in the next two days. They told me to bring it right in. When I got there, they weren’t busy, so they put my car up on the lift immediately. From the waiting room, I could see two mechanics checking out the exhaust system and conferring about it. Fifteen minutes later, they took my car down and one of the mechanics came in to give me my keys and explain the situation. I was right; it was a loose heat shield on the exhaust system. Normally, he told me, they would just remove the heat shield until a new one could be installed; but my brake lines run close to the shield and it would not be a good idea to expose those lines to heat. Instead, they had tucked the shield back into place, a temporary fix he assured me would last me more than long enough to get back to Pennsylvania safely. My relief was obvious. “What do I owe you?” I asked. “No charge.”
Strangers who knew I was desperate and would have paid plenty for a repair chose instead to treat me with caring and generosity. This is the way I want my life to be, and it’s one of the biggest reasons why I am choosing to retire in Maine.