The Maine door

By Elizabeth Hebert | Nov 19, 2015

The front door was one of the selling points when we bought our home in Northport last year. I imagined guests strolling the worn path of inset stones through the front lawn, stepping onto the expansive porch, pausing to take in the panoramic view of the cove, then being welcomed through the cozy glass paned cottage door.

Now I understand that this was the silly daydream of a newcomer. A real Mainer does not use the front door. Ever.

Over the past year, I have watched bewildered as dinner guests have emerged from cars parked mere feet from the front door, balanced a hot casserole and a case of Shipyard in each hand, then tromped all the way through our poorly drained side yard, with its panoramic view of a deteriorating garage, just to get to our back door.

Scott, our friendly area UPS driver, leaves notes tucked into the back door with hints on where to find packages he has stashed in the carport for safekeeping. Despite visiting almost daily, Scott has never stepped foot on our front porch, much less left any packages there, even though it would be far more convenient for all involved.

If I'm not quick to answer a knock on the back door, which is often since the back door is far from the center of activity in the house, visitors sometimes nonchalantly let themselves in — navigating the dirty laundry, boots and dog stuff strewn about the mud room — and make themselves at home in the kitchen.

During our first winter in Maine, I came downstairs one morning to find a repairman standing sheepishly by the refrigerator, hands crammed into the pockets of his yellow canvas Carhart jacket, his work boots dripping snow on the throw rug. "Sorry, it's wicked cold out there," he said, a bit defensively. "I did knock!"

We have since installed a doorbell on the back door. There isn't one on the front door. What would be the point?

When we hosted a Christmas party for my husband's office, I hung a fresh Balsam wreath on the front door and spent a day carefully stringing white icicle lights along the front porch. Guests still came to the back door.

When I saw my husband's secretary, a lifelong Mainer, picking her way through the muck in her nice shoes, I tried to gently redirect her to the front. She looked offended. "Only fancy people come through the front door," she said.

I was also unsuccessful in redirecting the deliveryman who insisted on bringing our big screen television through the tiny back door. In exasperation I asked him why no one ever uses the front door. He laughed and said, "I don't know about other people, but I sealed off my front door to keep out the cold in the winter. So you can knock on my front door all you want, but I'm not answering!"

Our former home, in a leafy Virginia suburb just outside of Washington, D.C., had an impressive front door. It was framed in mahogany with a large glass center pane inlaid with brass. You reached the door by climbing a set of formal, red brick steps more commonly seen leading up to courthouses. Everyone came to that door: The neighbors, the cable guy, parents dropping kids off for sleepovers, trick-o-treaters, even our closest friends.

The back door was the door between the attached garage and the mud room. No one would dream of using that door, except immediate family, because it was understood that a mud room is a room you hide like a dirty secret.

Back in Virginia, if a repairman rang the doorbell and you didn't answer instantly, he would leave and you'd have to reschedule. I never learned the name of our UPS driver, and he sometimes left packages on the front stoop to slowly decompose in the rain while I was at work.

I like the Maine way better.

I've come to realize that Mainers come to the back door out of a practical sort of Yankee courtesy. They use their own back door to help contain the black flies of summer, the cold drafts of winter, and the wet boots of spring. And they are doing me the honor of protecting my home as they would their own. Only "fancy people" would be inconsiderate enough to come through the front door.

This past summer we screened in our front porch. Because of the way the porch posts lined up we had to put in an unusually narrow screened door at the top of the steps. I asked Greg, my carpenter, if he thought having such a small door would be a problem.

He looked confused. "Why would it be a problem? Who is going to come to the front door?"

I smiled. "No one important."

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