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From laugh-out-loud funny to deeply poignant, A Life Lived Outdoorspresents a collection of hand-picked essays by George Smith, one of Maine’s favorite outdoor writers, 
exploring the way life should be, could be, and sometimes is in the great state of Maine. 

Making Do in Maine

We make do in Maine. For those who have no idea what this means, do is not a product that we make. Make do is what we do.

The term make-do is actually in the dictionary, defined as “makeshift,” a hyphenated adjective. Makeshift is a noun or adjective meaning, “A crude and temporary expedient: substitute.”

They got it wrong. There is nothing temporary about making do. And it’s more than an adjective; it’s a permanent way of life—at least in Maine.

This occurred to me last winter as I noticed the cold seeping through the hole in the thumb of my right-hand glove. These gloves were only a year old, so I’ve been making do with them. It was nearing the end of January, so it seemed wasteful to buy a new pair. I decided to make do until spring.

Actually, I have an idea for making do with my gloves even longer. That idea came to me one time while watching my nephew, Nate Damm, playing basketball with one white and one black sneaker. He was not making do; these were new sneakers. Apparently mismatched colors are trendy.

So why not mismatched gloves? I have a closet full of single mittens and gloves, the mates lost or worn out. I’ve started mixing and matching them, and can make do for years to come.

This works for socks, too. It’s just amazing how many times two matched socks can go into the laundry basket and only 10 A Life Lived Outdoors one return to my bureau drawer. Now I am making do with mismatches.

Making do sometimes means aligning yourself with fate and taking whatever comes your way without complaint. I once backed out of the garage right into the side of a friend’s automobile. This is not that unusual. Twice I’ve backed out of the garage right through the garage door. If God had wanted me to look back, He’d have put eyes in the back of my head.

In the case of my friend’s car, my vehicle was unharmed, but her car sported a deep dent in the left rear fender. When I apologized and offered to pay for the repair, she said, “Oh, don’t worry about it. We don’t fix things like that.” That’s really making do, isn’t it?

Daughter Hilary once hit a deer at the end of our road, leaving a long dent in the left front fender of her car. The fender was pushed back a bit so she couldn’t open her driver’s side door. I fixed that with a screwdriver, maneuvering the fender back into place. She made do with the dent.

My home office is a make-do kind of place. Pieces of the laminated side panels of my wooden desk are missing, and the front panels on the drawers are all loose, so that the things inside are constantly slipping through the cracks and falling out onto the floor.

I have four filing cabinets in three different colors, scavenged from who knows where. But they’re all the same height, so we’re making do. The radio on my desk once included a CD player, but that function no longer works. I can still get Maine Public Radio, so we’re making do with it.

I was making do with a very old television in my office. None of the buttons on the TV worked, and the remote no 11 George A. Smith longer could punch up any stations that required a zero, but otherwise—hey, it was good enough. Then Lin bought me a new office TV for Christmas, and now I’m getting all the channels. I’ve stored the old TV in the garage, if you want it.

Making do is really about sticking with the stuff that is good enough. It’s frugality to the extreme. We don’t throw much away, at least those of us with attics, garages, barns, or big yards. Someday that stuff will be useful, something we can make do with.

Of course, there are Mainers who don’t make do. We bless them every time we go to the dump and cart home the “goodenough” stuff they discarded there.

You can tell the difference between the “making-do” Mainers and those that aren’t, when each has a yard sale. There’s nothing at all useful at the yard sale of a “making-do” Mainer.

Camp is where we really make do. A long crack in the middle pane of the window over our camp’s kitchen sink is covered with duct tape. I broke the window ten years ago. There’s a lot we don’t have at camp: no TV, no radio, no telephone (no cell-phone coverage), no closets, no electricity, no e-mail, no messages, no newspapers; no news at all.

We’re making do.


— My Maine column, Down East magazine (2010)