Maine is my home and my heritage. It has shaped me and my life.

My dad grew up on a small farm in North Wayne, went into the Army after high school, then came home and started working at Wilson’s Dollar Stores as a clerk, eventually becoming part owner. My mom grew up Downeast in Lubec, where my grandfather was a fish inspector and my grandmother packed sardines. Mom moved to Winthrop to live with an aunt after high school, met Dad, and got married soon after.

Winthrop was an idyllic town to grow up in, although I didn’t know it at the time. Both sides of Main Street were lined with stores named for their owners, and the owners were in the stores. At 4 years old, I walked a mile to school, right through the downtown where everyone knew me. By the age of 12, I had three jobs: selling my 4-H Club vegetables at a stand outside Wilson’s, mowing lawns, and working at Wilson’s. If Wilson’s didn’t have it, you didn’t need it.

I like to say I was born a sportsman, a Methodist, and a Republican. But really, I was born a Mainer. Mom was the church organist and choir director, so of course I sang in the youth choir and later the adult choir. We were family centered, with Mom staying home to care for us and our home, and Dad working. We grew our own vegetables and hunted our own meat. Many Sundays after church and lunch, we’d all get in the car and take an afternoon drive.

School was important to us, but not so much that there wasn’t time to play sports and in the band. When my high school basketball team went to the locker room at halftime, I walked over in my basketball uniform, picked up my trumpet, and played with the band. Our high school band represented Maine in President Lyndon Johnson’s inaugural parade. We rode for more than 12 hours in a school bus to get there, my first trip out of state except for those Little League team visits to Fenway Park to cheer for the Red Sox.

I didn’t get out of state again until I was a junior at the University of Maine, when I won a 4-H trip to Washington, D.C., where a two-hour visit with U.S. Senator Margaret Chase Smith inspired me to become a political activist.

Some of my greatest days were those spent hunting and fishing with Dad. We hunted together for 53 years, a very special privilege. It was no accident that I spent my career advocating for sportsmen and women and writing about hunting and fishing.

Of course things change, even deep and cold fast-rushing brooks, and when I returned to Winthrop after college to work in a local bank and trudged one Saturday morning up to the end of High Street, I was surprised to find that the street had been extended deep into my wilderness. And the last half mile of the brook I had fished so many times now flowed through a housing development. I fished the entire length of the brook that day and caught only four tiny trout. You can’t go back, even to fish.

The block of Main Street stores that included Wilson’s was torn down, and is now just a parking lot in the middle of the downtown. Even my high school is long gone, although I have a few of its bricks.

After marrying my wife Linda, we moved 14 miles north of Winthrop to the rural town of Mount Vernon, where neighbors still take care of each other, folks wave when they pass by your vehicle, and I sometimes enjoy breakfast at the local café and am still there for lunch, a morning spent visiting with friends and neighbors. Our community center (an old church), library (a home left to us in the 1930s by a local doctor), and a country store are the major institutions here, along with the fire department.

But Mount Vernon has changed too. It lost its last dairy farm a few years ago, and most residents now drive out of town to work. But still, we love the history of this town. Our house was built in 1796 alongside Hopkins Stream and it’s still called the Peachey House, even though Linda and I have lived here longer than the Peacheys.

Somewhat disappointing to me, two of our three children now live out of state, where they moved to find better job opportunities. Thank goodness for FaceTime, when we are able to keep up with our young granddaughters who live in Massachusetts. OK, so that’s a confession. I’ve had to embrace technology, in order to write and to keep in touch with my family members.

Is my Maine, the Maine of my youth, the Maine that tourists fantasize about, still real? Not really. I haven’t seen a kid on a bike with a fishing rod for many years. Rural Maine is struggling mightily to maintain its population and economy. But there is still something very special about our state.

Please give yourself more time this summer to enjoy Maine. Sit on the deck of a Maine sporting camp enjoying the peace and quiet. Hike the amazing and stunningly beautiful trails at Lubec’s West Quoddy Head Lighthouse.

And sure, you can enjoy a lobster dinner and our 3,500 miles of coastline, but please, spend some time inland, in our small towns. Visit a farmer’s market. Yes, we value the opportunity to produce our own, very healthy food. The western mountains and great north woods are amazing and restorative. And that’s really what Maine is all about.

My state has changed, significantly, although we embrace the old Maine and remain tethered to it. I was born a Mainer, and will die a Mainer, with a smile on my face, knowing how blessed I have been.

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at: www.georgesmithmaine.com