My great uncle was the parish priest in St. Agatha, up near Madawaska and the Canadian border. His name — I kid you not — was Father Romeo Doiron. My family is of Acadian descent, having migrated a century ago from New Brunswick to work in the shoe factories and textile mills of southern Maine. Like many Franco-Americans, the Doirons eventually lost touch with their relatives across the border. They became, in a word, Americanized. Except for my great uncle Romie. He became Acadianized.
As a diocesan priest, he was obliged to go wherever the bishop sent him, and three decades ago that place was the St. John River Valley. In St. Agatha, he ministered to parishioners from two countries. He spoke French as much as English and played golf across the border in Edmunston. While the rest of his family was becoming more homogenously American, he became a reborn Acadian.
I thought of my late uncle while reading Virginia Wright's article "In the Shadow of the Border," about the toll the war on terror has taken on the bi-national culture of the St. John Valley. For those of us who live south of Bangor, the troubles of Aroostook County can seem remote and exotic. Isn't homeland security worth a few minor inconveniences for people who choose to live along an international border? Perhaps. But there's something cavalier about blithely trading away someone else's way of life, especially when we are unfamiliar with that region's unique qualities. And the Acadians are worth getting to know.
The nautical connotations of the term Down East have led some readers to assume this publication is concerned only with life along the coast. In fact, the Magazine of Maine has always been just that, a journal that takes the entire state as its nearly inexhaustible subject. For our writers, editors, and photographers, covering this beat is a sizeable job. Portland is closer to Manhattan than it is to Madawaska — which is something you don't need to tell the people of the Valley.
Last summer, my wife and I made the long trip from the midcoast to northern Aroostook County. In St. Agatha we stopped at the Long Lake Club and ate ployes with butter and jam. At the table beside us a big family chattered happily in French. Later we paused at the church where my uncle had been the parish priest, and I told my wife stories I knew about Romie, and we both laughed. The day was fine, and we talked of going into Canada. We drove into Madawaska, but the line of cars at the border checkpoint was stalled, and we did not cross over.