- by Carol Standish
The first Bert and I recording was produced over 40 years ago. It was a smash hit, spawning four more. Regional humor became the rage. Imitators of the Marshall Dodge and Robert Bryan performances became so ubiquitous and eventually tiresome that the rage slowly wore itself out. The country continued it’s bleak plod toward homogenization. But before Dodge died tragically in 1982, at the age of 45, he could still fill the house.
Bert and I and other stories from Down East, a selection of 14 stories taken from the records, published in 1981, has long been out of print, but the whole phenomenon is still fondly (if imprecisely) remembered by the older generation of lovers of Maine and Maine humor.
So when Down East Books teamed up with Bert and I, Inc. for a second printing of the original Bert and I, (November 2001, $10.95) it was a great relief to read and chortle anew at the Bluebird II and other classic stories which have remained untarnished by time. As Earl Brechlin says in the second edition, “the secret of Bert and I lies in the Maine mystique…never intended to be a parody of Maine life but a celebration of it.” Yep…and a great antidote to cold weather blues.
Tim Sample performed with Dodge Morgan in the early 1980s and fortunately, is still around to crow about it. With humor that is clearly influenced by his association with his idol he continues to tell his Maine stories in his Maine accent to enthusiastic audiences and even his early books are still in print. The New Saturday Night at Moody’s Diner, an expanded second edition of the first Moody’s Diner (1985) with an introduction by Stephen King was published in 1996 (Down East Books, 134 pp, $15.95). King prefers Sample’s take to Dodge’s, pointing out that Sample “has accurately set down the stories and the voices of his home place, he has made them universal, and he has captured our own unique version of humorous storytelling…[just] stick your nose in here, chummy, turn a few pages, and see if you don’t agree.”
Sample’s latest effort (published this year) is an oddity, indeed. Maine Curiosities - Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities & Other Offbeat Stuff by Sample and Portland attorney, Steve Bither (The Globe Pequot Press, 211 pp, $12.95) is a collection of eccentric “attractions” which they have encountered in their travels around the state. As Sample says in his introduction, “the lines between cultch and culture are so blurred around here that, once you’ve sampled our local version, you may never be able to get ‘em straight again.”
For instance, there’s Maine’s version of the FBI (Freeport’s Big Indian). Built of steel rods, fiberglass and plywood, weighing over a ton and standing over 40’ tall, the statue of the ersatz plains Indian was trucked to Freeport in the 1950s from Pennsylvania. The Casco Bay Trading Post, for which the big guy was the traffic stopper has long folded.
How about Houlton’s Boy with a Leaking Boot statue. The boy holds up his right boot for all to see (his right foot is bare) the water dripping out of it’s sole—24 hours a day. The statue has also served as a fresh water fountain since it was erected in 1916.
Then there is the northern Maine bumper sticker, “Aroostook County, The Way Maine Used to Be.” You get the drift. The book really is an eye-opener. It will strain your incredulity—but be sure to read it in small doses. A large dose could have the opposite effect and depress the heck out of you…so much creative energy…so much…what is it again? Cultch, cultcha? Maine Curiosities is “just the tip of the iceberg, folks,” says Sample. “As long as there are long, cold winters followed by tourist-jammed summers, you can bet that Mainers will continue to create, better and more outlandish roadside attractions.” So, c’mon back, ya’ll, see what we dream up for you for next summer!