ASKED SOME YEARS AGO by a Boston Globe reporter for his description of the “ideal wife,” Captain Eliot Winslow, a well-known tourist boat operator out of Boothbay Harbor, Maine, replied, “She ought to be able to dig clams. She ought to be able to split wood. And she ought to be able to row my dory standin’ up.”
As to the “ideal husband,” an elderly lady in Saco, Maine, supplied that definition in a letter to YANKEE. “The ideal husband,” she wrote, “is a man who is careful of his clothes; don’t drink no spirits; can read the Old Testament without spelling out the words; and can eat a cold dinner on wash day to save the woman folks from cooking.”
While we New Englanders may smile at these two definitions of the old-time man-woman relationship, we also feel comfortable with them. Or at least I do, and so do most of the men I know. What we’re comfortable with is the emphasis on practicalities. And, to be honest, we’re also comfortable with the omission of sentiment and romance.
Along this line, I’m reminded of a letter I once received (and still have in my possession) from an Ohio lady (a Maine native) responding to a short item in YANKEE that talked about the dearth of sentiment in Maine men. Her point was that it wasn’t only Maine. She felt the observation applied to all New Englanders.
She used her husband as an example. She said that although they now lived in Ohio, he was originally from Massachusetts and that he’d “nearly choked” on their marriage vows “being’s that they contained the word ‘love.’ ”
” ‘You look all right’ is the highest compliment I ever get,” she went on, “and once when I bawled (alright, so I was younger then) and said he had never told me that he loved me, he muttered darkly, ‘I show it in other ways’ and went back to his woodcarving.”
She felt he might be mellowing a bit, however, citing a certain incident that occurred one night the previous February when he got out of bed to go to the bathroom. When he returned, it was obvious he thought she was asleep, which, as she put it, “I almost was.” She said he stood next to their bed for a moment, looking down at her, and then said out loud, “I love you.”
“It startled me awake so’s I immediately jumped up out of the bed,” she recalled, “fetched paper and pencil and wrote down the year, date, and exact time — 1:10 a.m.”
However, at the end of her letter she asked me not to print her name or address in YANKEE because, she explained, “I’d hate for his relatives back in Massachusetts to get the idea he’s become maudlin.”
Maudlin. A good word one doesn’t much hear these days….