Friday, September 17, 2021

Insight: The hardest aspect of growing older

Mike Wilson
By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor


There are many aspects of growing older that aren’t bad. You have the knowledge and wisdom accumulated over a lifetime of experiences, along with discounted movie theater admission and lower car insurance rates. But the thing I dislike the most about being my age is saying goodbye to cherished friends and never getting an opportunity to speak with them again.

The all-too-familiar refrain of “Very sadly we’ve lost a dear classmate” reached me by Facebook over the Labor Day Weekend. My friend and the devoted organizer of our Rush-Henrietta Class of 1971 reunions, Janet Howland, had the sad task of sending out that message about Mike Wilson, a beloved teammate and pal, who died suddenly on Sept. 3.

Mike now joins a list of star athletes and classmates I have been fortunate to know, but who have left us far too early. My friends and classmates Mike Thone, Todd Clemens, Rick Calver, Steve Graves, Rod Middelsteadt, Alan Howden, Bruce Harrison, David Miller and John Rosati are gone now, among many other members of our graduating class.

I first met Mike Wilson our sophomore year in Physical Education class and found him to be quiet and reserved but once he got to know me, I discovered that he had a great sense of humor and was somewhat of a prankster at heart with a twinkle in his eyes. He was tall and had long brown wavy hair and was strong and fast, talents that served him well on the football field.

He was also very smart in school and helped me study and pass Algebra and Chemistry as we both had the same classes and teachers as juniors. Mike had a big heart and once you were his friend, he never let you forget that. He went out of his way to help anyone who asked for his assistance, and I even saw him pushing the car of the school security guard after school our junior year to help him start the vehicle without jumper cables when the car battery lost power.

As a senior on our undefeated championship football team, Mike was honored as an All-County selection at halfback, scoring 92 points and scoring 14 touchdowns. But after high school, life happened to intervene, and the Class of 1971 all went in different directions.

I went to college in New Mexico and then spent eight years in the U.S. Air Force. Mike stayed in Rochester and started his own produce business where he was still working when he died.

A father of four children and a grandfather of eight, he told me in a Facebook message that he was looking forward to seeing everyone from our graduating class at our upcoming reunion in Rochester, New York on Oct. 29.

For me that was going to be a special time, as I had not sat down and chatted with Mike since school. I was serving in the Air Force during the 10th annual reunion in 1981 and working for a daily newspaper in New Mexico as my classmates gathered for our 20th reunion in 1991 and I missed both of those get-togethers.

One day in February 2001, another classmate, Bob Fay, tracked me down and called me to mention that I had been listed as “among the missing” by the reunion committee and he gave me a phone number to be included “among the found.” I called and attended the 30th class reunion later that summer in 2001, and the 40th reunion in 2011.

I was glad I attended those reunions and was grateful to see my friends from school once more, but I always wondered why some classmates didn’t make it for those events.

For some reason, Mike Wilson couldn’t attend those reunions, but since the 50th reunion will be the last organized gathering for our classmates, he told everyone he would be there and had purchased his ticket for the dinner already.

From looking at his photos on Facebook since we reconnected in 2019 after the death of our classmate and friend Todd Clemens, Mike still looked as he did in high school, with the exception that his wavy brown hair was now grey. It’s evident in those photos what mattered the most to him was his family, his wife, his children, and his grandchildren. In almost every photo he posted he’s hugging them and letting them know how much he loved them.

Mike Wilson was proud of his family and lived his life to the fullest. He loved rock n’ roll music and sports and was as honest and genuine as they come.

So next month’s reunion will have yet another empty chair and many of us who gather will speak of him and share our grief at his unexpected departure. Losing dear friends is never easy, but what great memories we have of lives so well spent. <

Andy Young: A troubling omen for a major Maine industry

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle 

There’s an economic apocalypse headed for Maine.

How do I know this? Two words: scientific data.

The first writing assignment I give every year in my Grade 12 English classes is simple. It’s a questionnaire that seeks information from each of my students. The sheet concludes with four inquiries:


1)    Who is someone you admire (and why)?

2)    What specific thing(s) do you want to get out of your English class this year?

3)    Who’s the best teacher you’ve ever had, and what made him/her/them so effective?

4)    Of the five literacy skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking, and thinking), which is your strongest, and which one most needs to improve?

The answers I get generally provide an accurate barometer for gauging the level of academic commitment I’m likely to get from each responder. Terse, one-sentence feedback generally comes from someone who’s not all that motivated. However, thoughtful, in-depth reactions come from those likely to end up getting a great deal of value from the class. Often nearly as much as they contribute to it, in fact.

The survey also includes several simple “warm-up questions” requiring responses of less than a sentence. Examples: Where were you born? What’s a place you’d like to see someday? What’s your favorite food? And then, just to allow an outlet for creativity, what’s something that too gross for you to ever eat?

Happily, the return rate on this year’s initial written task was 100 percent, and I spent much of this past weekend compiling and examining the results.

Among the findings: the vast majority of this year’s seniors were born in southern Maine, although some began life in North Conway, New Hampshire; Columbus, Ohio; San Juan, Puerto Rico, or Boston, among other places. Among the exotic locales these future impact-makers aspire to see some time in the future: Japan, Tahiti, Dubai, and Australia. The usual suspects appeared on the “Favorite Food” list: steak, pasta, pizza, and strawberries all got multiple shout-outs.

But there’s grim news contained on the question of “foods too nasty to ever ingest.” While asparagus, broccoli, and olives all got their share of mentions, the runaway winner (or perhaps loser, given the nature of the category) was…. seafood! And it wasn’t particularly close; olives, the second-place finisher, didn’t even get half as many votes as the Class of 2022’s official least favorite food did.

I don’t wish to be an alarmist, but while this admittedly tiny sampling provides data that is merely anecdotal, it behooves those in charge of our fair state’s sea-related industries to redouble their efforts to trumpet the attractiveness of the commodities brought to market each year by the thousands of hardworking Mainers who make their living harvesting products from the Atlantic Ocean. 

After all, would Wisconsin’s ruling class sit idly by after learning a large number of high school seniors in their state hated cheese (or Heaven forbid, beer)? Would the powers that be in Texas merely shrug if they discovered that numerous young people in their cattle-producing state were aspiring vegans? And if young Detroiters decided they’d prefer to do all of their traveling by bicycle (or worse, in Toyotas), would Michigan’s power brokers stand by idly?

The public relations wing of Maine’s fishing, lobstering, clamming, crabbing, scalloping, eeling, and oystering industries had better get cracking.

Overstating the severity of a problem rarely leads to finding a solution, which is why characterizing the alarming disgust many young Mainers are showing toward seafood as an omen of a coming apocalypse for the Pine Tree State is likely a broad overstatement.

It’s probably no more than a looming cataclysm. <

Friday, September 10, 2021

Insight: An epiphany that should resonate with all ages

A piece of the World Trade Center is on display
in front of the Laconia Police Department in
Laconia, New Hampshire to pay tribute to the
victims of that tragic terrorist attack.
PHOTO BY TRISH BEAUCHESNE
By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

I recently watched the six-part TV series on Hulu called “9/11: One Day in America” and a flood of memories came rushing back to me about that fateful day in American history and my own connections to the attacks that day.

For those who haven’t seen that series, it was created by National Geographic and includes unseen footage from the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and interviews with firefighters, survivors, loved ones of victims, civilian rescuers, police officers and helicopter pilots. What I watched was stories of incredible courage, the will to endure and to embrace life, tragic circumstances and above all, the indomitable human spirit.

There are portions of the series that choked me up and brought tears to my eyes 20 years afterward, and unbelievable tales I had never heard before on the evening news or read about in newspapers or magazines.

When it was finished, I came away with a profound sadness for those who lost their lives to such senseless acts and a greater understanding of what happened that day and how ordinary people took extraordinary measures to help their fellow man.

One such individual, Chuck Sereika, I had met in 2009 in Vero Beach, Florida. He was introduced to me as someone who had been at the site of the World Trade Center in 2001, but that was all I knew about him. He operated a home cleaning business and I only spoke to him for a few minutes.

My impression was that Chuck Sereika was a normal guy trying to make a living like everyone else. But in watching this series on Hulu, something clicked, and I then realized what a hero this ordinary man was.

On Sept. 11, Chuck Sereika was in his apartment in New York City and was trying to resume a normal life after giving up his career as a paramedic. The stress of that job fed an addiction and he quit and was not long out of a treatment facility on that tragic day.

A phone call from his sister alerted him to turn on the television and watch the events unfolding live. His sister asked him if he was there and helping and that question prompted him to take his paramedic uniform out of the closet, put in back on and go the World Trade Center site to see if he could be of assistance.

He got there as the darkness of evening fell and walked through the piles of twisted metal and girders with two U.S. Marines trying to find survivors from the collapse of the buildings. Standing on the smoldering metal was so hot that he could feel the rubber on the bottom of his boots melting.

But soon the group followed cries for help to a smoking hole in the ground. Sereika climbed down 20 feet below the surface and found Port Authority policeman Will Jimeno and Sgt. John McLoughlin trapped but alive. It began a massive effort to dig them out and free them from the metal beams pinning them down there. All while Chuck Sereika stayed with them, rendered them whatever assistance he could, and gave them hope that they could survive, which they did.

To think that I had met this man and not known his story at the time left me saddened and appreciative of what ordinary people can do when facing trying times.

When I moved to Laconia, New Hampshire and was working for The Citizen daily newspaper, one of my duties in covering the city of Laconia was to cover the Laconia Police Department. Each time I visited the police station on Fair Street while working on a news story, I passed a modern statue of twisted metal outside at the entrance to the sidewalk.

One day in 2014, I happened to stop and read the inscription and was shocked to learn that it was a piece of the World Trade Center. A foundation gave pieces away to cities across America so its residents would never forget the events of that day and what it means to be an American.

I must have passed by hundreds of times before ever stopping to read the inscription and realizing that part of history was so close by to where I was living and working at the time.   

Ultimately, watching the series about 9/11 left me wondering about what all of the political strife, apprehension of each other, rage and anger and non-stop criticism of each other on social media and on television produces.

We are all Americans and blessed with freedoms other nations and people envy. If the lessons of 9/11 have shown us anything, underneath the politics, the divisive society we live in today and our distrust for our fellow man, it means nothing compared to the common bond and the precious life we as Americans all share. <  

Bill Diamond: Universal free school meals ensure that no child goes hungry

By Senator Bill Diamond

You wouldn’t know it given the weather we’ve been having, but the fact is that the fall is coming, and back-to-school season is here. After a year and a half of big challenges, I know students, teachers and families are looking forward to a more traditional school year this fall. But as much as we would like to say goodbye to many of the changes that we’ve had to make due to the pandemic, there’s one great innovation that’s here to stay: This year, and every year moving forward, all Maine students – regardless of income – will have access to free school meals thanks to a measure passed by the Maine Legislature. 

In Maine, one in six children experience food insecurity, meaning they don’t always know where their next meal will come from or when it will be. When kids go hungry, it’s much harder for them to learn, grow, and play the way kids deserve to be able to. Focusing on a school lesson is hard with a rumbling stomach and playing during recess or during afterschool practice is impossible if you don’t have any energy. When schools provide free meals to all kids, even those who don’t always have a full pantry at home can count on being well-fed during the week. 

You may be asking why universal free school meals are so important if we already offer free or reduced-price meals for low-income students. In the past, students have qualified for these meals when their families fill out forms about their finances and bring them to the school. But it can be hard to ask for help, and some families are reluctant to admit that they need assistance. On top of that, students often don’t want their peers to know that they’re getting a free or reduced-price meal, and so they forgo a meal altogether to avoid real or perceived judgement by their classmates. And then there are families who don’t qualify on paper, but who still struggle to put food on the table through no fault of their own. I’ve spent much of my time and energy as a legislator making sure no Maine kids slip through the cracks and providing universal free school meals is an important step in ensuring no child is forgotten.

Even though school meals will be free for everyone, it’s still important to fill out all the forms your child brings home. These forms allow the government to get an accurate snapshot of a school and its needs, so the school can get necessary resources to provide for its students. Be sure to complete the forms your child brings home this fall or visit www.maine.gov/doe/schools/nutrition/studenteligibility to fill them out electronically.

This new law is a big step forward for Maine kids, and it’s complemented by another policy the Maine Legislature passed this year. We expanded the Local Foods Fund, which allows schools to purchase locally produced food like fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and value-added dairy directly from local farms and food distributors. This program is a win-win; not only does it put more nutritious food on our students’ lunch trays, it broadens the market for farmers in our community so they have more places to sell their goods.

In addition to these innovative programs, the Legislature also made historic investments in Maine’s educational system. For the first time since voters mandated it back in 2004, the state will be fulfilling its obligation to fund 55 percent of K-12 education in our state. This is critical to making sure schools have the resources they need, while taking pressure off property taxpayers in the school district. The Legislature also supported postsecondary students who are pursuing college degrees or professional training programs by investing in the University of Maine and Community College Systems to keep tuition costs down.

Maine’s kids are Maine’s future, and it’s so critical that they have the nutritional and educational foundations they need to build happy, healthy, and successful lives. I’m proud of the policies we passed this year to do just that. As you and your family get ready for another school year, I hope you’ll see the impact these new laws have in your lives. And if there’s ever anything I can do to help, never hesitate to reach out to me. You can email me at diamondhollyd@aol.com or call my office at 207-287-1515. <

 

Andy Young: A date to observe, but not to celebrate

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle 

This Saturday an old friend of mine will observe her birthday.

I don’t mean to imply she’s elderly, particularly since she’s reaching a chronological age that I myself have already attained. But the last five words of this essay’s first sentence were very carefully chosen.

My friend hasn’t felt right about celebrating her birthday for the past 20 years. That’s because two decades ago on Sept. 11 terrorists hijacked four airplanes, then intentionally flew them into crowded buildings. Nearly 3000 innocent people died that day in the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center, at the Pentagon, or in a southwestern Pennsylvania field.

In a speech the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared that Dec. 7, 1941, was, “a date which will live in infamy.” Nearly six decades later September 11th earned that same dubious distinction.

Virtually every American born before Bill Clinton was president vividly remembers where they were and what they were doing on that now-infamous day in 2001. At 8:45 a.m. Eastern Time American Airlines Flight 11, with 81 passengers, 11 crew members, and 20,000 gallons of highly flammable jet fuel aboard, slammed into the north tower of the World Trade Center near the 80th floor. Eighteen minutes later another Boeing 767 plane, United Airlines Flight 175, hit the south tower. Sixty-five more souls (nine crew members and 56 passengers, including five hijackers) were lost at the moment of impact, as were countless others who were in the building at the time. The later collapse of both towers, plus the subsequent crashes of two additional airliners (one into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m.; the other near Shanksville, Pennsylvania at 10:03) added to America’s unimaginable nightmare.

Anyone living in the southwestern Connecticut town where I grew up, which is just 60 miles from New York City, knew or was acquainted with someone impacted by the loss of a friend or family member on 9/11. I went to school with two people who lost their lives on that awful day. I hadn’t seen either of them since the early 1980’s, but due to the time and nature of their demise, both are frozen in my mind’s eye as 21-year-olds.

Circumstances have rendered Sept.11, Dec. 7 and Nov. 22 the three most notorious dates in American history. Without trivializing the Pearl Harbor attack or the assassination of America’s 35th president, it can be argued that 9/11/2001 was the most instantly traumatic date in American history. The horrific bombing of Pearl Harbor catapulted the United States into World War II, but given the limited technology that existed in 1941, the immediacy of the effect on the nation’s psyche wasn’t nearly what it was when the Twin Towers were hit twenty years ago. The Pearl Harbor debacle took place on a Sunday morning in a United States territory many Americans had never heard of, one that was nearly 2500 miles from America’s west coast. And while most Americans had televisions in 1963, there weren’t 24/7 news stations, let alone any Internet. The grim events that unfolded in Dallas got the quickest, most accurate coverage possible at that time, but the broadcast capabilities of America’s three (at the time) networks were primitive compared to the reach of today’s numerous sources of instant news.

It’s not right that people born on Sept. 11h can’t fully celebrate their birthday, but not everything in life is fair. Just ask anyone whose child, spouse, or friend went to work in the World Trade Center twenty years ago.

Time may indeed heal all wounds. But it doesn’t make the scars disappear. <

Friday, September 3, 2021

Insight: Welcoming back my favorite month

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

Ever since I was small, the month of September has always been my favorite time of the year. While it’s still warm enough on some days to go without a jacket, there’s also a pronounced change in the seasons in the air, heralded by cooler temperatures. 

As a young child, September meant going to the Sears store in Rochester, New York with my parents on a Saturday morning shopping for back-to-school clothes. Not that there was anything glamorous about selecting new underwear and socks and as a Catholic school student with mandated school uniforms, my new clothes typically consisted of several blue shirts and a black clip-on tie, blue pants, and shiny new black shoes.

But as mundane as choosing that apparel was, I then got to accompany my father over to the coat department and he would let me pick out a colorful jacket of my choice for the coming winter. It also helped that the Sears aisle on the way to the jacket section had a fresh peanuts section that my father always had to stop at, and he usually bought a bag of Spanish peanuts and shared them with my brother and myself.      

One of the best clothing selections I ever made ever came when I was in seventh grade in September 1965. There was one young men’s jacket that caught my eye, and it was within our price range at $8.

It was a bomber-style jacket, green in color with white sleeves and a large New York Jets emblem on the left front side. Being a football fan and especially of the start-up American Football League at the time, my father suggested that I try it on, and it was a match made in heaven, fitting perfectly. We purchased it as my next jacket, and I was thrilled.

The Jets were led that season by the much-publicized rookie quarterback named Joe Namath and my friends in school were mostly either Buffalo Bills fans or more traditional NFL fans of the New York Giants and the Cleveland Browns. I took a lot of flack for wearing the Jets jacket everywhere I went and was proud to wear those colors each day.

In later years, I laughed when I watched actor Fred Savage’s character Kevin Arnold on the television program “The Wonder Years” wearing the exact same jacket on the show as I had almost three decades earlier. And I also reveled when the American Football League merged with the National Football League in 1970, but not before the Jets and Joe Namath defeated the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III in 1969. I had the Jets bomber jacket for three years before I outgrew it and it got passed on to cousins much younger.

Besides going back to school after Labor Day every year, the month of September also had a slew of new television shows making their debut on the only three networks airing at the time, ABC, NBC and CBS. I recall one September in 1966 when our family watched classic premiere episodes of “The Monkees” and “Star Trek” on NBC along with “That Girl” on ABC and “Mission Impossible” on CBS.

Back in the old days, new TV shows and cartoons for children also made their debuts on Saturday mornings in September. CBS was my preferred Saturday morning network in the early 1960s because it included many of my favorites such as “Captain Kangaroo,” “Mighty Mouse,” “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” and “Rin Tin Tin.”    

For our family, every five years or so the month of September also meant going to the car dealer so that my parents could purchase a new automobile. New models of cars were typically unveiled in September in the late 1950s and 1960s and sometimes the introductory sale prices for the new models would be affordable for my parents. 

My father wouldn’t drive a car more than five years at a time, saying he didn’t want to pay expensive repair bills and he’d rather be behind the wheel of a new car as it was less expensive to operate. It seems like only yesterday when my father traded in his Ford Fairlane for a brand-new teal-colored 1962 Chevy Impala and our family got to ride home with him in that new car. By 1966, it was traded in for a new white Ford Galaxy 500. 

September on the calendar also marks the arrival of the first official day of fall. Usually before that happens, leaves begin dropping off the trees as nights turns colder and what kid doesn’t like to jump into a pile of freshly raked leaves? It like a rite of passage for many, including me.  < 

Andy Young: Back in the saddle

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

Who exactly decided to declare that a new year should begin each Jan. 1? In today’s world that seemingly arbitrary choice has long since become impractical, illogical, and just plain dumb. 

Contrary to what traditional calendars dictate, any student, teacher, or person related to a child, or an educator knows that the actual start of a fresh year arrives when school begins anew, which around here occurs on or around the first of September.

When I was an immature teenage boy (a classic redundancy), I loudly professed to hate everything about school. That was the default attitude of every homework-despising student who was unmotivated, disaffected, disinterested, lazy, or, in my case, a combination of all four of those unattractive traits.

Like many willful nonperformers, I considered myself way too cool for school, so not surprisingly I spent most of every summer vacation publicly bemoaning the inevitable re-opening of the place, constantly expressing my disdain for school (and the kid-hating slave drivers who worked there) to anyone who’d listen. 

But I also had a secret I wouldn’t have revealed to anyone back then, least of all to any of my like-minded, underachieving pals.

I actually looked forward to the reopening of school each fall. 

The truth was there were some things about the school’s reopening that I enjoyed.

One example: going back meant being transported to a central location where all my friends would conveniently congregate. Another upside: the start of each year of high school meant an end to full-time summer employment. In my case that involved 40 or more hours each week of pushing lawn mowers, pulling weeds, digging ditches, picking fruit, and performing similar thankless tasks. 

And despite the handsome paycheck of $66 and change I took home each Friday, doing those chores helped me decide that none of those endeavors would be something I’d pursue as a career once my school days were finished.  

This week I’m beginning my 20th year of teaching high school English. And here’s something I now know for a fact which I never would have suspected when I was a student myself: adult school staff have the same conflicted emotions about the start of a new school year as kids do!

We all secretly look forward to meeting the new young folks whose futures we’re being entrusted with. And as was the case a few decades ago, we look forward to renewing acquaintances with our friends, many of whom are, not surprisingly, also our colleagues.

Of course, we’re all a little sad about the end of our vacation, although we have to be careful about who we vent to about that particular issue. Nurses, accountants, engineers, construction workers, and others who don’t get ten weeks off each summer often struggle to find empathy for those of us who do.

They also don’t want to hear about the total number of hours we put in during an average calendar year, regardless of when it starts.

I started teaching because I wanted to make a difference. It didn’t take long to learn, though, that every adult who interacts with young people, whether their title is teacher, coach, guidance counselor, employer, parent, or something else, influences each young person they encounter. It’s unavoidable.

The challenging (and occasionally tricky) part is figuring out how to make that impact a positive, (and hopefully lasting) one. 

There are some unique challenges at my school right now, but that’s the situation every September. The bottom line: it’s still a pleasure and a privilege to have the responsibility of impacting the future through teaching. 

Happy New Year! <