Tag Archives: Maine Vanities

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DONKIES Claire Wallace

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Haffas Farm. Family name? Think again. “Half-assed, of course,” chuckles Claire Wallace. “My husband and I both had full-time jobs and no spare time, and then we bought a couple of asses without really knowing what we were doing. Pretty half-assed, don’tcha think?”

Claire is small and lively, hurling loaves of bread through the air to feed her herd. She used to have horses—wild mustangs—until she visited her daughter in Virginia. There, at a farm show, she saw donkeys and walked out saying, “I’ve got to have me a mule.” And so she acquired Jack. She bought him thinking he was eight or nine, and she laughs as she recalls dealers saying, “You bought old Jack?” He was probably closer to thirty, she admits, but “he gave me lots of babies.”

“I didn’t want to go home to Maine without a donkey, and that’s how I got Jack. But I didn’t know how much donkeys holler, either. I opened the door once after we were on the road, and he hollered so bad I slammed it shut and wouldn’t open it again till I got home. I told my husband, ‘Come out here and listen to this.’ I opened the door, but Jack was silent. It took three days before he began to holler again.”

She points out Gladys Done, named because it took her so long to be born. “I birthed her right here, but she just didn’t want to come out. When she finally did, I just took her in my arms and said, ‘Ain’t you glad it’s done?’” Claire grins, delighted at her joke. “And that’s Elvis,” she says, pointing to a shaggy donkey, “cuz of the long hair. This here is Molasses, see it’s got asses in it! And Clementine, one of Jack’s babies. She is a darling, for sure.”

Not every one appreciates asses, though. She was chastised by her boss for having people talk to her about Jack while she was at work. “People used to come in and ask how my ass was, heck, we thought that was pretty funny. But the manager didn’t. Said tourists wouldn’t understand. So I had to tell them to stop.” The state wouldn’t let her have Halfass on her license plate, either.

“I told them, ‘Read the bible, you’ll find asses there, so why can’t I use it?’”

“I was born right by that telephone pole,” she points to it with her ready laugh. “This was my grandparents’ place, called Verandah Flats. They rented cabins. There was a two-hole outhouse and a pump in the kitchen. ‘Running water’ they advertised. Yeah, if you put it in a bucket and ran with it.” Claire bends over chuckling. “But I don’t know how they did it, grandfather on crutches, a forty-year-old horse on the back pasture to feed. It’s a lot of work having animals.”

She has no regrets, no wishes she had explored the world a bit more. “Why?” she asks. “I see folks I went to high school with coming back now. They went away, got rich, and now they want to come home. But they spent thirty years in some noisy city. Can you believe it? All that time working to save money so they could come back here. Heck, they shoulda done like me, just never left. I have it all right here.” She gives one of the donkeys, Clementine, a big hug. Half-assed Farm? Think again.

 

Excerpt from Maine Vanities, a collection of essays about the people and stories behind vanity license plates.

These short portraits capture Maine individuality. There is quirkiness, compassion, and humor. While passions range from skiing to solving Mensa puzzles, and ages from 14 to 91, enthusiasm, curiosity, and delight in sharing the story behind their plate and their bit of Maine is the common thread.

Acadia National Park Day to day Dramatis Personae Maine Vanities Uncategorized

TRUSTY David Trust

Is the ice safe? A reasonable question, since every winter, somewhere, someone goes through. But not David Trust, and not his daughters. David has been an ice fisherman for most of his life, as were his dad and his grandfather. When David’s girls came along, he taught them how to fish, too. Along with being safe, he passed on other rules of ice fishing and of life: keeping your line untangled, being neat, knowing when you can trust the ice.

“We’d be out on the ice, get a flag, and off one of my daughters would go,” David says. “I’d dig one of my buddies in the ribs and say, ‘watch this.’ And we would all look. She concentrated so hard she didn’t know we were following her every move. And sure enough, just like I showed her, she would see if the reel was spinning. If it was, she’d set the hook and bring her fish in, coiling the line into the neatest pile.”

David speaks lovingly of his girls, and the special family times they had out on the ice. “I raised ‘em like boys, but they still turned out like girls,” he says, blue eyes gleaming. “They’re grown now, and they still love to fish.”

But times have changed, and so has the lake. David says that only ten years ago there were kingfishers, redfin shiners, crayfish, polliwogs. The water was brimming with life and vitality, diverse and healthy. Today he says the lake is barren, no forage fish, just bass, some lake trout, some pickerel. “Some asshole brought bass in, they killed everything, they killed the lake,” David says.

And indeed the fish are not there in the numbers they used to be. But this lake is where he learned to fish and where he taught his kids, and so he tries to fish here every winter, making it a family affair. “We have bonfires, hot dogs, hot cocoa,” he says. “It’s all kids, dogs, food and fish. Last time there were six inches of slush, but it didn’t stop anything. The kids were soaked to the bone and still tearing around, racing out to check a flag.”

But for serious fishing, he heads to inland Maine. Out on the ice, on the frozen surface of Green Lake, is his winter home, his winter castle. David’s icehouse, where he spends every minute he can, is 56 square feet of pure luxury. Copper counter tops, Alpine stereo, gimballed stove, weather instrumentation mounted on the roof for wind speed, barometric pressure and humidity. The comfortable dining benches fold out into an equally comfortable bed, and there is a solar panel and 12-volt brass lamps. “Last one I’ll ever build,” he says. And indeed it would be hard to top this one. Fishermen for towns around speak of his icehouse with a mixture of awe and incredulity.

David squints out over the brilliant white surface of the lake. “This is what it’s all about, nothing but fishing, and eating. Then fishing some more and eating some more.” He gets up an hour before sunrise and fishes until dusk. Then he stops. “End of the day, you’re done,” his says with finality.
A pair of eagles flies by, flying close, then parting. David pauses in mid-sentence to follow their flight. Yes, it is the fish that bring him here. But it is not quite as simplistic as fish then eat, fish then eat.

Teaching kids to keep their lines untangled, meticulously crafting a 56-square-foot model of luxury, and the casual acceptance that stopping what you’re doing to watch the eagles play is the proper use of time—this is life on the ice for David Trust. And great life lessons to pass on to his daughters, even though they are girls.

Excerpt from Maine Vanities, a collection of essays about the people and stories behind vanity license plates.

These short portraits capture Maine individuality. There is quirkiness, compassion, and humor. While passions range from skiing to solving Mensa puzzles, and ages from 14 to 91, enthusiasm, curiosity, and delight in sharing the story behind their plate and their bit of Maine is the common thread.

community Maine Maine Vanities

SEWBIZE Kathy Stanley

Showbiz was not in Kathy Stanley’s mind when she created this combination of letters for her vanity plate. The owner of two fabric and sewing stores, and with over 100 miles between the two, she is just sooo busy. And, of course, she sews. But with a seemingly overloaded schedule she joined an amateur theatre group, adding rehearsals and shows to her list and another meaning to her plate.

Kathy is voluble and energetic, never still a moment. She outlined the history of the store, while pulling things off shelves for the trip to Portland, helping quilters with patterns, and directing workers. Everyone felt they were getting personal and caring attention. She continues to rattle off the many facets of her life, “Kids, theatre, church, teaching Sunday school, traveling back and forth to Portland, rotary, and sewing of course.”

Before Kathy opened Sewing–by-the Sea, she taught school for sixteen years. Frustrated by more and more restrictions and rules, she decided she needed a change. “I wanted adventure” she says, and resigned from teaching and just started to work. “I had no business plan, didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I did a bit of everything. I baked cookies and cleaned toilets. I did anything for a buck that first year, and wanted a sign up by the road that said that, but my husband wouldn’t do it.” she laughs.

Open seven days a week, including evenings, she gives credit to her family and employees, and everyone who comes to the shop for helping to keep it going. And while she talks about fabrics and business, it is the people she keeps coming back to. And it is very clear that behind her no-nonsense chattiness is a ton of compassion. “One little girl borrowed her sister’s baby stroller, hoisted the old family sewing machine into it, and pushed it to the store to learn how to sew. We couldn’t have her working on that old thing, so she had to use one of the store machines.” And then there was the woman who wanted one of the fancy costly bells-and-whistles machines, but had no money. Kathy chuckles, “She is sewing up a storm now, and I have a little blueberry patch out in the middle of nowhere!” And then there is the young teenager, who gets off the school bus at the store to learn with the sewing group. “She is a natural,” Kathy says. “She just works steadily away while all us old hens gossip and swap stories.”

A woman with a bundle of energy, and tons of heart, she does not find it easy to say to no to anyone who asks for help. It is not unusual to find her still in the store at 9:30, teaching a tricky sewing skill, helping with fabric choices, or simply helping someone with a walking problem down to their car. So where does she find the time for a theatre group? “It’s there” she says with her ready laugh. “I thought it was going to be a change from sewing, but in theatre, when you know how to sew,” she says, “you make your own costumes.” And help with others’ costumes, too.

That’s sew bize for you.

Excerpt from Maine Vanities, a collection of essays about the people and stories behind vanity license plates.

These short portraits capture Maine individuality. There is quirkiness, compassion, and humor. While passions range from skiing to solving Mensa puzzles, and ages from 14 to 91, enthusiasm, curiosity, and delight in sharing the story behind their plate and their bit of Maine is the common thread.

Day trips Destinations Maine Vanities

MOULES Julia Myers

An excerpt from Maine Vanities

Elegant and articulate, Julia Myers speaks with deep affection for the long and arduous days helping her husband run Abandoned Farm, Maine’s first cultivated shellfish operation. Her plate is MOULES, French for mussels. Her husband, writer Edward Myers, had MOSSELS. “Mussels was already taken,” she explained,

Julia Myers loves mussels, and moules.


Julia loved to cook moules marinières. In fact, Julia cooked mussels in every way imaginable, and she would place a discreet ad in the local newspaper announcing what mussel meal would be on the menu that week. The object was to familiarize people with the many wonderful and delicious ways to eat mussels, encouraging them to add the shellfish to their diet, and, of course, to buy them from Abandoned Farm and their vendors. The building where Julia served her meals forth was frequently jammed, with people perched on chair arms, legs dangling from the porch railing. “It was a scramble to be sure we had enough knives and spoons to go around.” It is difficult to imagine this refined and dignified woman sipping Lapsang Souchong out of export china presiding over such off-the-cuff gatherings.

“I cooked mussels with cheese, with broccoli, in soup, with pasta. There are hundreds of absolutely lovely ways to prepare mussels, although I do not think tomatoes complement them well at all,” she says decidedly. She also grew vegetables and greens, and made salads and side dishes using fresh organic ingredients. Craig Claiborne, the food critic with The New York Times, came for a meal. “As he left he commented that at least the salad was superb. I guess he was not impressed with my mussels.” But then, it may have been the wrong month. May, Julia maintains, is the only time to have mussels. She leans forward with a gleam and says in a lowered voice, “They are heavy with seed then. My husband used to call from the mussel beds to tell me there was a sex orgy going on, and I should come down. The water would be creamy with milt.”

And with plump, sweet mussels. While she concedes they are fine in June, July and August, it is the May mussels that Julia recalls with such delight. Succulent, ripe, brimming with flavor—memories of those May moules still bring a satisfied smile to her face.

I thank the many who told me the tales behind their plate, and shared a bit of their life. I will be publishing more Maine Vanities in the months to come.

An introduction to the essays:
CLKNPUR, FOTTER, SMAS, TIDWLKR–Maine vanity plates are as individual and intriguing as the people of Maine. Some are straightforward, such as THECAPT or MOMSCAR, some take a moment to decipher–Hi NRG, ME JUIF, and others leaving you wondering for days: 1OFFTAL, 7SEVEN7. But they are all communicating, all sending a message, all extending an invitation to hear a story.

Only eight characters, briefer than a haiku, yet they generate an astounding variety of puns, double entendres, palindromes, good grammar, bad, and simple joyful word play. Letters, numbers, a space or a hyphen, any combination of these is possible, as long as the total number does not exceed eight. So few characters, so many messages–as in many other circumstances Mainer’s are capable of doing a lot with a little.

An astounding percentage of registered Maine license plates are vanity plates. This is due in part to the modest fee the state charges and perhaps in part to the individuality of Mainers. It may also be self-perpetuating. As we drive along being amused or confused it is a small step to then feel the urge to come up with one’s own plate to entertain or perplex, or tell the world something about the person behind the wheel.


Who are these people with the vanity plates, why do they have them? Maine has a large number of cottage industries and self-employed entrepreneurs. Self-promotion means survival, and plates tell a message as you follow them down the road. Many plates promote the business its owner runs, ZCAB, CATER, GARDNR, and WE_BILD.

Vanity plates are also a way to share politics, faith, and hobbies. A sports fan proclaims SOXLVR, or METS_85; a politically-inspired driver a plate boasts VOTER. Family is important to many Mainer’s, and there is GRAMSCR, MOMSCAR, and HZ HRS. For philosophy: DO U LV. Plates involving hobbies include is GOLFR, SKI_NKD, I BOWL, TKE_PICS

Many are names and initials. It is common to have a couple’s initials on each of their cars, his might be KBC_JLC while hers is JLC_KBC. Some defy interpretation, or have more than one. MA2ME, is it Massachusetts to Maine, or Ma to me?

The message of a Maine vanity plate may raise an eyebrow, or a question, or simply cause a smile. But behind each and every plate is a personality, and the rest of the story.

These short portraits capture Maine individuality. There is quirkiness, compassion, and humor. While passions range from skiing to solving Mensa puzzles, and ages from 14 to 91, enthusiasm, curiosity, passion and delight in sharing the story behind their plate and their bit of Maine is the common thread.

It has been inspirational and moving getting to know the people behind these plates and their stories. I am honored that so many plate holders shared their time and their tales. “You are the story keeper,” I was told, and another compared me to a medieval sin eater. I find these descriptions apt. These stories now live inside of me. They are my burden, and my delight. They have uplifted me, exhausted me, made me weep, and filled me with hope and optimism. I hope I can convey half of their poignancy.

Mainer’s have strong personalities, and those who slap their politics and their passions on the rear of the car for all to see, and then give up hours of their time to answer questions, tell their tale, and submit to being photographed, are eloquent examples of this breed. It is a pleasure to pass their tales on.

I am hooked. I can no longer just guess what a plate might mean. I want to track down its owner, move into their world, and listen. There are many more stories out there waiting to be told, and I want to hear them all.

Thank you to all my generous subjects, I treasure your stories and have endeavored to share them with respect and appreciation. I offer apologies if I have made any errors or misinterpreted your tale.