Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Insight: Thoughts about personal gratitude

Olivia Carpenter, left, with her new baby brother,
Leon Thomas Carpenter, who was born Nov. 9
and weighed 3 pounds, 14 ounces at birth.
COURTESY PHOTO
By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

Thanksgiving is all about gratitude, which is a quality that continues to inspire many during the annual holiday season.

Early on, my parents taught me that Thanksgiving Day is about more than gathering with relatives, sharing a bountiful meal and laying in front of the television watching football.

To me, Thanksgiving affirms all the good things that have happened over the course of the past year and to recognize the roles that others contribute to providing goodness in my life.

Without further fanfare, here’s my list of things I am grateful for this Thanksgiving Day:

First, a miracle occurred just two weeks ago when Leon Thomas Carpenter was born in Danbury, Connecticut. After his mother was in and out of the hospital in the later stages of pregnancy this summer and into the fall, Leon made his debut as Grandchild #3 weighing in at 3 pounds, 14 ounces on Nov. 9.

After gaining a little weight in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit where he had been since birth on a tiny breathing machine, Leon was sent home from the hospital last week where he joined his parents, Chuckie and Casie, and big brother Joseph, and big sister Olivia.

The fact that babies weighing so little can make it is simply a testament to the indomitable will to survive and to the medical staff’s skill and expertise in delivering a child so small.

Therefore, I’m grateful that our third grandchild has arrived and is gaining strength and weight with each passing day.

Second, to even be a grandfather for me personally is something truly remarkable. After being single for 14 years and rapidly approaching 50, an internet date at a Friendly’s Restaurant in Florida changed my life forever in 2004.

An elementary school teacher answered an ad that I had placed on a dating website, and we agreed to meet over a bowl of ice cream on a weeknight in May. The fact that she even chose to reply was nothing less than a miracle as I did not have a photo posted with the ad and it only listed the city I lived in, my gender, and my age.

But fate has a funny way of working it out sometimes. That date turned out to be the best one I ever had, and we mutually agreed to see each other again the following week. After several long phone conversations, she informed me that she was going to undergo cancer surgery and I probably wouldn’t want to date her as a result.

But being a cancer survivor myself, I was compelled to share my experience with her and to help her through the process of chemotherapy and radiation. Slowly she got better following the surgery and by Christmas, she came to stay for the holidays and never went home.

We were married in Cleveland, Ohio in June 2005 as she attended her youngest son’s high school graduation and suddenly at the age of 51, I found myself as the stepfather of three grown young men all at or near their 20s.

I’ve watched as these three young men have embarked upon careers, moved into new homes and now in oldest stepson Chuckie’s case, have begun to raise a family.

And to think it all started with meeting a person I didn’t know previously answering an internet dating website ad almost two decades ago. If you think that’s not something to be grateful for, you are wrong.

The life of a journalist since 2004 has taken me from working for a daily newspaper to an online newspaper startup to working for a weekly paper in Florida, then a move north from Florida to a daily newspaper in New Hampshire and eventually moving again to Maine for work at a daily paper in Biddeford, retirement, and then coming out of retirement to work for a weekly paper again in Windham, Maine.

My family has seen my career go from a news reporter, copy editor and sportswriter to community sports editor, managing editor, executive editor and now Managing Editor of The Windham Eagle. And the one constant during all of that transition has been my wife, Nancy, and my three stepsons, Chuckie, Brian and Danny Carpenter.

My life has been fuller because they are in it and now in my role as “Grandpa Ed,” yet another chapter has dawned for me. Therefore, I’m grateful Nancy took the time to answer my internet ad because it made my life complete and a new world opened as I experienced what it is like to be a parent and now, a grandparent.

Lastly, this Thanksgiving I’m also grateful to have reconnected with so many of my high school classmates and friends at our Rush-Henrietta High School 50th Class of 1971 Reunion in Rochester, New York during the weekend of Oct. 29.

I was able to tell classmates I have known for 55 years or more how much of a difference they made in my life and how much I continue to treasure their friendship and encouragement despite the passing of five decades.

It’s said that in daily life, we seldom realize that we receive more than we give and that through gratitude we discover that our lives are richly blessed. In my case, it’s so true. <

Andy Young: Can littering unite America?

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

Since Maine’s six-week spring is still five (or more) months away, on a recent unseasonably warm Saturday I filled my water bottle, grabbed a couple of snacks, and headed out on my bicycle for what I anticipated would be a bracing and relaxing late-season ride over some lovely, seldom-traveled country roads.

But what should have been a treat was spoiled by something (or more accurately several things) I picked up along the way. Thankfully, it wasn’t a strain of Covid 19, or any other dread disease.

But what I did acquire was nearly as unpleasant. A fifteen-mile trek that shouldn't have taken much more than an hour was made considerably longer because I had to dismount numerous times in order to pick up far too many randomly discarded aluminum cans that formerly housed 12 or more ounces of Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, Miller Lite, Hurricane Malt Liquor, Goose Island IPA, Twisted Tea, Sprite, Dr. Pepper, Diet Coke, and Red Bull. I also grabbed bottles that once contained Gatorade and Vitamin Water. Even more infuriating: I left at least twice as many bottles and cans as I picked up because I didn’t have any room left in my backpack.

I’ve attempted to come up with a sensible rationale for littering. But try as I might, I cannot conjure up a single decent reason for tossing detritus out one’s car window. And it’s not just me who thinks this way. Nobody finds laziness, arrogance, selfishness, and wanton disregard for Earth and its denizens even remotely attractive, nor does any decent person boast of his or her garbage-scattering abilities. So why is it that roadsides are blighted by refuse in general and empty libation containers in particular? I’m not suggesting prison time for litterers, but clearly something needs to be done. 

Here’s a thought: how about upping the amount drink-buyers need to deposit on each bottle of liquid refreshment they purchase?

Maine’s bottle bill program began in 1978, when buyers began paying a 5-cent deposit on glass, metal, and plastic beverage containers. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, thanks to inflation and the passage of 43 years, those five 1978 pennies are currently worth approximately 21.2 cents. So how about raising the deposit on drink containers to a quarter per vessel?

Bottlers and drink sellers would likely fight such a proposal, contending this “new tax” would be unjust. But that argument is demonstrably spurious, since the new rate wouldn’t cost consumers a thing if the bottles and cans are returned, a course of action consumers are more likely to perform if failing to do so will set them back not one nickel, but five.

Of course, the real reason bottlers, brewers, and purveyors of other liquid refreshments might oppose such legislation would be the possibility, however slight, that upping the deposit on bottles and cans might move some folks to purchase alcohol, caffeine, and/or sugar-laced products less frequently. Or -gasp - perhaps not at all!

But perhaps this situation will ultimately be more boon than blight. Contemporary America is stridently divided on issues ranging from vaccinations to abortion to guns. Who knows, maybe this is the topic that can unify the nation. Opposition to littering is something Democrats, Republicans, Conservatives, Liberals, Christians, Muslims, the LGBTQ+ community, environmentalists, venture capitalists, and people of all skin tones all can all agree on, since being pro-littering is only slightly more politically expedient than being pro-pornography, pro-leukemia, or pro-Sandy Hook-was-a-hoax.

In 1975 the Captain and Tenille sang “Love Will Keep Us Together.” Could it be that 46 years later, trash will bring us together? <

Jessica Fay: There aren’t enough veterinarians in Maine and here’s what we can do about it

By State Representative Jessica Fay

Maine has a shortage of veterinarians, and it is growing worse, particularly in rural communities. There are only about 420 veterinarians practicing now in Maine, down from 540 just a few years ago. 

While this shortage is more acute in some areas than in others, it is having an impact on Mainers across the state. It is affecting all sorts of people who love, own and care for animals. Some people are waiting weeks or months for wellness visits for their pets. Dairy and livestock farmers have a hard time finding vets who can make farm calls. Animals are dying in animal shelters for lack of veterinary care.

The high cost of education and relatively low rate of pay for veterinarians in Maine is often blamed for why fewer people are entering the field of veterinary medicine. At Tufts, the closest veterinary school to Maine, the cost of a year of school is around $90,000 including tuition, housing, books, and other fees.   

This high cost leads to veterinary students graduating with significant debt, averaging $183,000 in 2019. At the same time, Maine has the lowest pay for veterinarians in New England.

Compared with our neighbors in New Hampshire, vets in Maine earn about 10% less. Given these factors alone, it is no surprise that Maine has trouble attracting new veterinary school graduates to set up practice here.

We need to be incentivizing more veterinarians to live and work in Maine. After hearing from so many of you regarding your worries about accessing care for your animals, I sponsored a bill titled “An Act To Increase Maine's Veterinary Workforce and Keep Maine Farms Healthy through a Scholarship Program.”

The bill will amend an existing loan program to help veterinary students who want to practice in Maine pay for their education. I was very pleased when the Legislative Council, which is made up of each party’s leaders in the Maine House and Senate, decided in a bipartisan vote that this bill was worthy of consideration. It is encouraging that Democrats and Republicans agree that the Legislature should be examining solutions to Maine’s shortage of veterinarians.

While the exact details are still being worked out, my bill would build upon and improve Maine’s existing veterinary scholarship program. The current program has a maximum of two participants, which doesn’t even begin to address the need. I am proposing to increase this number to 10 students. My bill would also increase the amount of the available forgivable loan, which is currently $25,000, to an amount that would make a meaningful difference in addressing a veterinary graduate’s debt. Protections requiring recipients of the scholarship to stay in Maine or be forced to repay the scholarship would also be in place.

The state needs to act to make sure we have enough vets to keep our pets and livestock healthy. I am looking forward to working with my colleagues to find solutions to Maine’s veterinary workforce shortage. <

Jessica Fay is serving her third term in the Maine Legislature and represents parts of Casco, Poland, and Raymond. She serves on the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Insight: Whispering in the wind

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

Over the weekend, I watched a Sunday news magazine segment on television about a man who took an old rotary telephone, placed it on a piece of wood and then nailed it to a tree in a park in Olympia, Washington. Soon, people grieving the loss of loved ones started visiting the tree and using the disconnected “telephone to the wind” to try and communicate with those who have died. 

As they put it, simply picking up the phone and making a call to the deceased helps them to deal with their grief and to remember their lost friends and family with a simple sentimental gesture of love.

That got me to thinking about whom I would call if I were given an opportunity to do so and just what I would say to them.

Probably first on my list would be my father, who died when his car was hit by a drunk driver in Florida in May 1991 just three days after he retired at the age of 65. My father never got to read some of my better newspaper articles, but I know he was immensely proud of my accomplishments as a journalist.

Early in my career when I was covering a baseball playoff game in Florida on a Friday evening, I felt like someone was watching me and out of the corner of my eye, I spotted my dad, arms crossed and leaning against a utility pole just watching and observing me as I went about gathering information and interviewing players for an article. I never told him I saw him there that night, it was something he’d do from time to time.

Of all my stories he’s missed since, I’d share with him in a call something I’ve written through the years about veterans and how their valor and willingness to sacrifice everything for our freedom continues to inspire me. I’d also tell him about the direction of my life and how grateful I am that he changed my major from physical education to journalism when he had to sign and submit my college application paperwork. Lastly, I’d tell my father how much I miss being able to sit and speak with him, laugh at his silly jokes, tell him how much our family loves and misses him every day and that I still think of him whenever I hear a Ray Charles song come on the radio.

Talking to my father again would be special, but there is someone else I’d cherish being able to speak to one more time, it’s my grandmother, Josephine.

Even as a small child, I can still vividly remember her radiant smile and hugs when we would go and visit her on Sunday afternoons. She was in bed and very ill with colon cancer, but she’d always sit up and hold her arms out for me each time we went to go see her.

When she passed away, all I had left were a few photos of her and memories of eating homemade ice cream that she had fixed for me. But as I grew up, my parents told me that my grandmother had left me several other items in her will that she wanted me to have.

The first was a hand-crocheted bedspread she had worked on for months as she was confined to bed. The other item was a delicate set of mother-of-pearl dishes that she had brought with her when she emigrated from Poland to the United States in 1900.

Those dishes were so fragile that I asked my mother to keep them for me in her dining room breakfront so they wouldn’t be damaged during my military service and frequent moves I would make from one apartment to another as a young adult. When my mother eventually gave up her home and moved into a nursing facility late in her life, I didn’t know what had become of those dishes.

Sometime after my mother died a few years ago at the age of 95, my brother called me and said that he had rescued the dishes and was keeping them for me. On Labor Day Weekend this year, during a visit with him at his home in Connecticut, he gave me the dishes and it made me think about how much I missed growing up without my grandmother.

Therefore, the other call I would place if given the opportunity would be to Josephine.

I’d share with her what her precious gifts have meant to me in my lifetime and how they connect me with family and how much I miss her hugs and kisses, even though it’s been 64 years since she left us. I’d be certain to ask her about her life in Europe, about her parents and family and why she chose to move to the United States and start a new life here without ever seeing her own family again.

Wouldn’t it be marvelous if there was a way to speak to lost loved ones again and to tell them how much you love and miss them? I’m convinced that everyone who would have that chance would certainly take it. <

Andy Young: A King on Mount Rushmore?

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

Reading Billie Jean King’s autobiography, which was published this past summer, brings thoughts of Mount Rushmore to my mind. 

The colossal mountainside rock sculpture of four American presidents’ profiles took 14 years for sculptor Gutzon Borglum and his son to complete. It was intended as a tribute to America’s birth (thus George Washington’s image), growth (Thomas Jefferson’s), development (Abraham Lincoln’s), and preservation (Theodore Roosevelt’s).

But since the memorial’s completion in 1941, historians more interested in uncovering truth than perpetuating unquestioning deification have pointed out some inconvenient facts. Washington and Jefferson owned (and traded in) human chattel. Lincoln’s freeing of the slaves was motivated more by political expediency than by any particular moral objection he had to “The Peculiar Institution.” And Roosevelt’s well-documented views regarding the capabilities and worthiness of peoples more darkly complected than himself are the very embodiment of white supremacy.

But should historical figures be condemned for holding views which were, in their day, just as commonplace amongst their contemporaries as open-mindedness, tolerance, and understanding are amongst the more enlightened, better-informed people of today?

If racism, sexism, misogyny, colonialism, ethnic cleansing, drug use, and/or being unfaithful to one’s spouse were retroactive disqualifiers, the massive sculpture in South Dakota’s Black Hills memorializing America’s eligible presidents would, if it existed at all, likely be known as Mount Jimmy Carter.

But back to Billie Jean: appropriately titled All In, her memoir is inspiring, frank, and often astonishing for its blunt depiction of some of the author’s less flattering qualities. It’s reasonable to assume that at least part of a writer’s motivation for producing a memoir would be to cast its protagonist in a flattering light, but Ms. King doesn’t pull any punches regarding a few notable missteps she’s taken in her life, some of which were, to her everlasting regret, hurtful to her family and others she truly cares about.

But aside from her dedicated commitment to fighting injustice based on race, gender, sexuality, nationality, or any other artificial dividing line, what comes through about the admittedly headstrong, uber-competitive Ms. King is her magnanimity. She possesses the ability to see the good in every human being she’s encountered over her six-plus decades in the spotlight, including those who were her bitter rivals on or off the tennis court. She ultimately befriended Bobby Riggs, the self-promoting “male chauvinist pig” who provided her opposition in the epic “Battle of the Sexes” winner-take-all $100,000 tennis match of 1973, and expresses respect for Margaret Court, arguably her greatest professional tennis adversary whose politics are, to put it mildly, the polar opposite of Ms. King’s.

This week the former tennis star and lifelong passionate advocate for equal rights turns 78 years old, but she and her wife Ilana Kloss will probably mark the occasion quietly. Ms. King has observed birthdays in subdued fashion ever since her 20th, which unfortunately fell on the day John F. Kennedy (whose subsequently revealed philandering makes him ineligible, by 21st century standards, for any future presidential memorials), was assassinated.

Were there a Mount Rushmore for American athletes who used their fame, even at great personal sacrifice, to selflessly advocate for fairness and the betterment of society, there’s little doubt Billie Jean King’s face would be one of those carved into the imaginary stone, right alongside Jackie Robinson’s, Muhammad Ali’s, and someone else’s.

But then, if infidelity were a disqualifier for the socially conscious athlete Mount Rushmore, Ali and Ms. King would both need replacing. But with whom? Bill Russell? Roberto Clemente? Colin Kaepernick?

Let the discussion begin, and the ongoing search for a flawless human being (living or dead) continue. <

Friday, November 12, 2021

Insight: A role model for the ages

William A. 'Bill' Topham
By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

I have always envied those who have known their grandparents because I never got that opportunity. My grandparents had all died by the time I was 5, so my memories of them are distant and hard to recall, but as sad as that is, I did have one older figure in my life that helped me find my way in the world.

William Anthony Topham was my “foster grandfather” and from a different time and era. Born on Dec. 6., 1890, “Bill” Topham was one of a kind and preferred cultivating flowers and tending his garden to discussing politics and social issues with friends and neighbors.

He was an aging Irishman who loved to grill outside during the summer months and had a hearty laugh that could be heard for miles. Bill was simple in many ways and advised me to always look for the best in people and learn what they were most passionate about as it helps to get to know them on a different level.

This he learned from experience, Bill said. Looking for the best in people made him an outstanding supervisor at an Eastman Kodak manufacturing plant that made Kodak cameras and helped him marry his wife, Ida, who was a successful real estate agent for many years.

A visit to Bill and Ida’s home was always fun for my brother Doug and me. They had a fluffy white Spitz dog named “Whitey” and a huge jet-black cat called “Blackie.” The names were chosen for simplicity, Bill said.

In the winter months, my brother and I got to play downstairs at Bill and Ida’s home in their finished basement, the site of many wonderful Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties through the years. It had a full bar, and my favorite item there was a clock with hands running backwards on the wall behind the bar. During the summer we would sit outside in Bill’s colorful garden and shaded backyard taking in cooling breezes blowing in from the lake nearby.

Bill was in his 70s by the time I had first caught a glimpse of him as he hammered in a “For Sale” sign in my parent’s front yard. His wife was the realtor that my parents had hired to sell their first home when we had bought a new one and that’s how we had first met them. They were alone and getting on in years and kind of took us under their wing as “foster grandparents” when they found out that ours had passed away.

I bonded with Bill as his birthday was in early December like mine is and he loved to regale me with stories of his life growing up in the early 20th century.  

Filled with tales of a time where automobiles were scarce and of sports legends such as boxing’s Jack Dempsey and Babe Ruth, Bill Topham also was proud of his service as a doughboy, the American infantrymen of World War I. He once described in detail for me what it was like to be in the trenches on the frontlines of the war in France and suddenly see an American airplane flying overhead. It was the first time Bill had ever seen an airplane and he said it was an astonishing sight in the middle of a war.

Bill never shied away from the fact that he liked to drink. His favorite was “Wild Irish Rose,” a wine from the area where we lived. He also could sing the traditional Irish folksong “My Wild Irish Rose,” although the words became somewhat slurred after he downed a few glasses of the wine.

He loved watching horse racing and other sports on television and was a devoted baseball fan. While watching the 1965 World Series with him on a portable black and white TV set, I asked him why he was rooting for the Minnesota Twins to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in that October classic. He said the Dodgers were favorites in that matchup because of their star pitchers such as Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, and everyone expected them to win.

“I’d rather root for the underdog, it’s so much more fun to do that,” Bill said. “Anyone can pull for the favored team, but it takes a special kind of person to pull for the underdog. The reward is so much greater for you when they win.”

It is a lesson Bill passed on to me that I’ve never forgotten about to this very day. I especially think of him if I watch the Kentucky Derby and watch the parade of horses in the field listed as 50-1 longshots.

When I was serving in the U.S. Air Force in Arizona on Nov. 30, 1981, my mother called me and told me that Bill had died at the age of 90.

I consider myself fortunate to have known a World War I veteran like Bill Topham and still miss his wit and wisdom every day.

He once told me to “enjoy all the little things life offers because one day you’ll look back and realize those are really the big things.”

Profound insight indeed. <

Andy Young: Holey pumpkins, Batman; it’s hunting season!

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

My son wanted to know why there was a pumpkin on our front porch when he got home from school last Friday. It was a fair question, since it was November, and there hadn’t been any type of fruit there before Halloween. 

The short answer was that I had put it there. But how and why it had arrived was a more entertaining saga, which began when a friend and I met for a hike at 4:30 last Thursday on a brisk, sunny afternoon. Nothing remarkable was posted on the sign at the start of the trail, aside from a caution strongly advising hikers to wear bright clothing during hunting season.

A quick aside: I am exceptionally knowledgeable about certain things. I can list all 45 American presidents (in order), identify any of the 50 state (or 10 Canadian provincial) capitals, and recite the entire roster of the 1969 New York Mets from memory.

However, there is also a myriad of topics about which I possess an astounding lack of enlightenment. Ballet, botany, astrophysics, Paraguay’s economy, and stupid reality TV shows (or as some people say, “reality TV shows”) are just the tip of my personal ignorance iceberg. But as we began our idyllic stroll through southern Maine’s sylvan loveliness last Thursday my most relevant dearth of knowledge was this: I didn’t know when exactly “hunting season” was.

It turns out it’s now. 

Blissfully unaware, my friend and I walked the length of the path, which concluded in a lovely meadow. As the sun began setting we found ourselves going up a gentle hill that soon morphed into what clearly had been, until not long ago, acreage where acorn squash and pumpkins were being cultivated. The field had recently been plowed under, leaving a few surviving gourds which had, for one reason or another, gone unharvested by their grower.

At this point we saw in the distance some buildings I recognized as fronting on Route One. Agreeing that walking down a busy road with our backs to traffic during what passes for Maine’s afternoon rush hour was a poor option, we headed back toward the trail we had come in on when we heard a faraway voice shouting at what we quickly realized was us. While we weren’t able to discern the lone yeller’s every word, the phrases, “hunting season” and “orange clothing” were coming through loud and clear. 

Like many Mainers, I possess several blaze-orange vests. However, unlike those folks who plan ahead mine were at home, and not available when I quite obviously needed them. And just to complete the scenario, as we were attempting (mostly unsuccessfully) to communicate with the person in the distance who was cautioning us against heading back into the woods at dusk, a young man clad in (among other things) an orange hat and an orange vest walked across the path we were about to return on. He was carrying a very large firearm. A friendly sort, he advised us there was another shotgun-toter not far behind him, one with two dogs in tow.

Daylight was ebbing, and so were our viable options. Neither my companion nor I had any orange clothing, so what to do?

Answer: find the brightest, most orange available object. Carefully selecting the two most flawless pumpkins we could lift, we started our return walk energetically, displaying our gourds prominently as we hiked vigorously back to our point of origin.

The happy ending: my comrade and I arrived safely back at the parking lot, and without a single ammunition-sized hole in our respective pumpkins.

Or, fortunately, in ourselves. <