The Northport Town Hall is located on Beech Hill Road, a two-lane blacktop that runs northeast from the ocean through Waldo County, Maine. Across from the Hall is the town cemetery, blanketed in leaves and dotted with some crooked, cracked headstones that give away its age. An American flag greeted voters as they walked up the steps and into the three room wooden building that serves as their polling place, stamping their feet and rubbing gloved hands.
The first thing these solid citizens of Waldo County, Maine saw when they entered the building was me.
I’d been there for about fifteen minutes when a pretty young woman walked in bearing a tray of homemade Blueberry Coffee Cake. This being my hour to man the bake sale table at Town Hall, I grabbed the tray out of her hands, whipped off the Saran Wrap and placed the still warm pieces in a prime spot next to the donation jar. The woman gave me an odd look.
“Thanks, fellow Mom!” I said. “These should be an easy sell.”
“You’re going to sell my coffee cake?” she asked, seeming confused by the obvious.
“Well…” I hesitated. “I guess you can sell it yourself when it’s your turn on the table.” Then I smiled to show I had no hard feelings. A good first impression is important when you move to a small town.
“Um, I’m not here for the bake sale,” she said. “My name is Erin Herbig and I’m a candidate for State Representative. Sorry, but I made this for the poll workers.” And with that, she scooped up her coffee cake and walked into the voting room.
Erin Herbig is here at the bake sale!” I texted Ethan, not mentioning that I tried to swipe her goodies. Half an hour later he showed up to see for himself. We were excited to be in the company of a possible future Senator – or even President! – even if she didn’t buy any cookies. Herbig’s turquoise blue signs have been decorating Waldo County for months, all made from organic, recycled materials. They were made by an army of volunteers who are eager to
send a fresh, young face with new energy and ideas to the state capitol of Augusta.
For the next hour, it was “Hi! I’m Erin Herbig – thanks so much for voting today,” from one side of the room and “Hi! I’m Suzanne Dubrow (my married name) – would you like to buy a cookie to support The Edna Drinkwater School?” from the other. We both got a lot of action from the good people of Waldo County. One man in a John Deere hat and hunting jacket came back three times, throwing a total of six bucks in the bake sale kitty. Finally he asked shyly, “How much for you?” and we both chortled at his little joke. The guy really knew how to make a tired, forty-five year old mom feel good.
It was interesting to watch Erin work the room, but when Judy Keith showed up to vote, I knew I was really in the company of Waldo County royalty. Judy was the wife of the late Al Keith, the longtime Harbor Master, a job that in a boating/sailing/fishing/lobstering town is kind of like being King.
The couple used to own The Tower House in Bayside, very near where we live. Built around 1875, this tall, skinny, salmon colored home is perched right on the Penobscot Bay. Judy told me that wintertime was always her favorite season, when the Nor’easters would slam the angry surf right into The Tower’s highest windows. I think you have to be one tough lady to consider that sort of thing a lark.
Al, who died years ago, was such a popular guy that the Bayside Pier, from which my little Ado jumped one fine day fourteen feet into the cold Atlantic, bears his name – “The Alfred J. Keith Wharf.” Last summer, I carved “E.D. + S.D.” into it’s blue-painted wood, following a tradition Judy says started when she was a young woman. She told me these stories of the past while handing out dog treats to voters.
“This is for Fluffy!” she said, pressing a small green bone into an old woman’s hand. “Here’s one for Wolf! How’s he getting around these days?” she asked another, acting almost like a politician herself. Judy never used the names of the people – she just identified each by their dog.
After two hours of manning the bake sale, I had about a hundred dollars in the kitty – a pretty good take for a district that only has 12,000 people. This money will go toward buying a new defibrillator for the Drinkwater school. But while the voters were champs about throwing in a buck or two, they didn’t quite understand why a bunch of kids needed a thousand dollar defibrillator.
“Can you even use one on a five year old?” one woman asked. “I mean, how often does that happen?” I had to admit I didn’t know. And I got her point – maybe we should be buying computers or baseball gloves. But then again, if Griffin ever needed a shock to his heart, I sure would be grateful to have a defibrillator around.
By the time the morning voting rush was over, Ethan, Erin and I were buddies. Had I been eligible in the state of Maine, she would have gotten my vote. In addition to seeming smart, concerned and energetic, Erin knows the territory. Her grandpa was a poultry farmer here, her parents used to own the local Shell Station, and she was a track and field star at the local high school back in the late 1990′s. Now, Erin works for the Maine Farmland Trust, a job
she’ll continue even if she’s elected.
“The job [of State Representative] doesn’t pay much,” she told me in between hand shaking. “But I’m from here. I love the people. And maybe I can do a some good.”
For a moment, surrounded by my can full of cash and dwindling mounds of cookies, I felt like I was from here too. The beauty of a simple, small town bake sale, a politician who brings homemade coffee cake for volunteers, and a town matriarch who knows everybody’s dog by name was not lost on me. If this place keeps yanking so hard on my heartstrings, we may have to move here. Then I can vote for Erin Herbig in 2013.