I heard that phrase again this week—a hard-working community member deeply invested in educating the region’s children used the term (half-apologetically) to describe herself.
I first heard it last summer when an older man dropped it casually in conversation, cautioning me in my eagerness to become part of my new community: “They’ll never accept us PFAs.”
After more than 50 years, he still feels unaccepted by some.
To hear this kind person who had reached out to welcome me tell me so plainly that some of my new neighbors would never consider me “from here” was jarring (and that there’s a commonly used acronym for “people from away” was even more so).
I arrived on the peninsula a year ago after essentially throwing a dart. I had spent five decades of summers in the Lakes Region, and though I had no previous connection to this area, Maine is Maine, and here is where I now make my home.
My new friend’s comment was especially vexing as it runs completely counter to my life experience. I have lived all but a dozen of my 56 years in residential school communities where people come and go every year. They are from all over the world—their skills and interests vary wildly, and their experiences and stories are endlessly fascinating. I grew up constantly folding new folks into my life, giving what I could and gaining immeasurably, and I am far, far better for it.
I am, therefore, a firm believer in the fundamental importance of embracing the whole human family—and it’s clearer than ever right now what we lose when we intentionally exclude others. I know we are stronger together, as a nation and on our little peninsula.
So here in my Southport home, I will continue doing all of the things that make communities true and healthy and strong. I will say hello to you on the road. I’ll stop and chat if you’re working in your garden (and offer to help—unless you’re weeding). I’ll bring you soup, and gladly accept your fresh bread in return. I’ll offer (or ask for) directions or recommendations. I’ll cheer the new graduates, and mourn those we lose. I’ll look around to see who doesn’t seem included in the daily life of this wonderful place, and I’ll think on why.
And I won’t use the term “from away” to describe myself or anyone else.
Leigh Perkins is a writer and teacher at Brooks School in North Andover, Massachusetts, who spends as much time as she can at her Southport Island home.