Friday, July 30, 2021

Insight: Closing the book on a lifelong obsession

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

More than 56 summers have passed since I first laid my eyes on what would become a lifelong obsession for me, completing an entire collection of all 598 Topps 1965 baseball cards.
From the time I stepped out of R’s Market on Monroe Avenue in Brighton, New York in July 1965 and spied my friend Billy Whitney on his bike in the parking lot thumbing through a freshly opened pack of five cards he had purchased there for a nickel, I was hooked. The vibrant colors and team pennants were the first thing that I noticed about the cards, and he gave me three cards in his pack that day which were duplicates of what he already had in his collection.

So my 1965 collection began with Card #142 Pitcher Bill Monbouquette of the Boston Red Sox, along with Card #114 Outfielder Jim Hickman of the New York Mets and Card #90 Third Baseman Rich Rollins of the Minnesota Twins.

I took the cards home and carefully placed them in an old shoebox on the shelf of my bedroom closet and throughout the rest of that summer, any spare nickels I had were used to purchase packs of baseball cards at R’s Market. With each new pack I opened, I dreamed of finding the most valuable cards in the set at that time, Card #350, Outfielder Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees, or Card #250 San Francisco Outfielder Willie Mays, that I could trade to my neighborhood pals for seven or eight other 1965 cards to build my collection. Mantle or Mays never showed up in any of my new packs, but once I discovered #Card #300 Pitcher Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers and I traded it to my neighbor David Ronner for four Baltimore Orioles cards, including Card #33 Outfielder Jackie Brandt, Card #15 Pitcher Robin Roberts, Card #94 Catcher Charley Lau, and Card #290 Pitcher Wally Bunker.

Trading the 1965 Topps Koufax card was something I came to regret as an adult because the price to replace it skyrocketed after he retired the following season and at age 36, he became the youngest player ever inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.

As I returned to school in the fall of 1965, I had about 125 cards in the shoebox and I would sometimes pull them out and read through the statistics on the back of each card, marveling at the lengths of their careers or the far away cities or towns that they once played in. For example, I noticed that Card #157 of Shortstop Zoilo Versalles, the 1965 American League Most Valuable Player, indicated that he was born in Havana, Cuba, and played his first season of professional baseball in Elmira, New York in 1958. Or that Outfielder Jerry Lynch of the Pittsburgh Pirates (Card #201) led the Piedmont League in batting in 1953 at age 22 while playing for the Norfolk (Virginia) Tars.

As I continued my education on into high school and then college, I occasionally pulled out the shoebox and wondered how I could add to my collection of 1965 cards.

In 1982, I found a chance to do that when a sports card store for collectors opened near the U.S. Air Force base that I was stationed at in Arizona. I was able to purchase many common 1965 Topps cards from that store, and added Card #260, Hall of Fame Pitcher Don Drysdale of the Los Angeles Dodgers, from that store.

When the internet came around, I found some more cards I needed for the 1965 set on eBay and others I ordered from a sports cards dealer in Ohio. I’ve upgraded cards in the collection that were in less-than-ideal condition and protected them carefully to ensure they remain in pristine shape.

As of this morning, I’m down to the last card to acquire before finishing the collection, that being Mickey Mantle, Card #350. Earlier this week, I acquired Card #477 Hall of Fame Pitcher Steve Carlton’s rookie card and the week before I had purchased Card #300, Pitcher Sandy Koufax, which was the card I originally flipped for four others.

I’m about to close the book on the 1965 set and my wife and I have decided to sell it and use the money from it to help pay for a new roof for our home. The complete set of cards is worth thousands and I’d rather put it to good use than have them stored away unappreciated.

The 1965 Topps baseball card set has long been my obsession, but if you think I’ll miss them, think again. I do have other sets I’m working on, and I’m not done yet with this hobby. <

Andy Young: Chronicling an ongoing culinary evolution

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle 

When I was in middle school, I desperately wanted to swap my required industrial arts course with any girl who abhorred her weekly cooking class as much as I hated woodshop. Similarly, I’d have happily escaped that shrill and dangerous Hell by trading my every-Wednesday battle with belt sanders, band saws, and the like to some picked-on, uncoordinated boy for the required Phys Ed class he no doubt despised but I’d have excelled in. Either scenario would have been a “win-win” for everyone involved. Alas, school administrators weren’t “outside the box” thinkers back then, and as a result the only two things I ever successfully fashioned in that industrial arts class were sawdust and trouble.

Traditionalist, sexist educational dogma like that had seemingly doomed me and many of my age-alike male peers to a lifetime of culinary incompetence. For decades I could boil water to make ramen noodles, spaghetti, or rice, and I was also capable of heating up a can of vegetable soup, which for many years comprised a surprisingly satisfying lunch and/or dinner once ramen noodles, spaghetti, or rice was added to it. But that was the limit to my range in the kitchen. 

But recently I’ve started baking, thanks in no small part to a friend who made me some incredible applesauce-bran muffins and then gave me the rest of the oat bran she had used to make them ... inside the cereal box on which the recipe was printed!   

Noting that I already had all the ingredients required to produce these delicious muffins on hand (flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, vegetable oil, eggs, salt, applesauce, and of course, donated oat bran cereal), I decided to try producing them myself. 

It turned out the learning curve was a little steeper than I had anticipated. Some of my early efforts at muffin-making were less than stellar. My first attempts came out pretty raw after I had baked them for the recommended 15 minutes, but 10 extra minutes at 400 degrees turned them into applesauce-bran charcoal briquets. In addition, it turned out I was using three teaspoons of one particular ingredient in the batter rather than the required teaspoon and a half, plus a teaspoon and a half of another.  Who knew that the baking-powder-sized can I purchased was filled with baking soda, something I already had more than enough of? There ought to be a law requiring that baking soda be sold only in yellow boxes featuring a muscular upper extremity holding a sledge, so that unscrupulous merchants don’t continue selling the wrong canned white powder to unwitting consumers, who subsequently end up baking powderless, not to mention owning a more-than-several-lifetimes supply of baking soda.

Trial and error improved my skills (and my confidence as a baker) immensely. One night last week I laid out a mixing bowl, a muffin pan, and all the necessary muffin-producing ingredients on the kitchen counter before retiring for the evening. The next morning, I baked a dozen beautiful muffins. And while they were still warm, I brought half of them to a friend with whom I was taking a morning walk. I’ll bet she and her family would have really enjoyed them, too … if I hadn’t neglected to include one integral component on the counter before going to bed the night before. Without that half-cup of brown sugar those muffins tasted...well, like they were probably really nutritious!

Chalk up one more family that’ll politely decline any and all culinary creations I offer them in the future.

I wonder if they like vegetable soup with ramen noodles, spaghetti, or rice?  <

Friday, July 23, 2021

Insight: Cutting the cord opens a world of discovery

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

For those thinking about cutting the cord and reducing their monthly bill for television service, I salute your bravery. 

About seven years ago my wife and I were faced with a similar decision, and I wasn’t exactly sure I could live without a daily dose of breaking news, live sports and the array of hundreds of channels offering the finest in programming from around the globe.

But in letting go of our dependency and living in an area that was impossible to receive television reception without a radio broadcast tower type of antenna, we were stuck. And to make matters worse, my favorite baseball team was playing in the American League Division Series in the Major League Baseball playoffs that same week.

Rather than resort to going to a sports bar to watch the games, I tried to sign up for a televised packet from MLB which would allow me access to stream the live games from my computer to our television in the living room. It ultimately didn’t work because I needed to provide MLB with the name of my cable television provider, and I didn’t have one.

So as my team advanced through each round of the playoffs and was one step away from competing in the World Series, I was still scrambling for options. Turns out, the games were broadcast on the radio, and I sat at my desk listening to the games on my computer as my team was defeated in the American League Championship Series.

A few days later I discovered a replay broadcast of a first-round playoff game on You Tube and was able to relive the excitement and energy of that contest, even though I knew how the final score would turn out.

You Tube quickly became much more than an outlet for watching sports replays for our family. We found we could stream old episodes of our favorite television shows from the 1960s, along with old game shows and documentaries. It seems every Family Feud show ever made has been aired repeatedly since the inception of You Tube and that created a debate in our household as to who really is the best Family Feud host, Richard Dawson, Ray Combs, Louie Anderson, Richard Karn, John O’Hurley or Steve Harvey.

We found that most music can be found on You Tube, including videos of performances of long forgotten classics such as Nancy Sinatra’s “Sugar Town” or “Suspicion” by Terry Stafford. You can watch full episodes of “The Carol Burnett Show” or cute videos of babies playing with cuddly cats or Pembroke Welsh Corgis romping through fields of wild petunias.

I also was able to watch a how-to video about what I needed to do to raise the height of my lawn mower when I somehow misplaced the instruction manual.

The fact is, if you’re in the mood, there is very little entertainment, information or news that you can’t find today on You Tube. It opened my eyes to the fact that our family could indeed survive without paying hundreds every month for being hooked up to cable television.

Streaming turned out to be pretty easy once we got the hang of it. We purchased a streaming device at Walmart for $35 and plugged it into our TV. Then using a laptop and smart TV, we have streamed for the past seven years and haven’t missed a beat.

Through Netflix and other streaming content services, we watched every season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and many other popular television programs. And in the past five years, local television stations began airing nightly newscasts so we can stay aware of developing storms and other happenings in our community.

Then another marvelous event happened when we purchased a new smart television earlier this year. The model we bought came loaded with our favorite streaming services, so I no longer have to use the laptop or smart phone to cast our selections to our television set, just use the remote.

In addition to having built-in streaming services on the smart TV, we also could add other free streaming services like Pluto TV, which has hundreds of channels, although there are commercials. And the smart TV also came loaded with built-in news, entertainment, movies, and sports channels, so with just an internet connection and a modem, we’re right back to where we were seven years prior without the expense.

On occasion I get mail or phone calls from the old cable provider wanting me to return and typically with some fabulous offer. I politely decline and remind myself of how long it took us to cut the cord and eliminate that monthly bill from our household budget forever.

The kaleidoscope of free programming which is available and out there if you search for it will amaze and astound even the most devoted cable television fan. Cutting the cord was not a decision our family took lightly but it opened our eyes to a world of discovery and has proven to be one of the best things we’ve ever done. <   

Andy Young: Forgetting about what I forgot about

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

I vividly recall my 27th birthday. Or maybe it was my 28th or 29th, but whichever one it was, I remember it clearly. 

My mother gave me a book that day, which was strange because back then presenting me with something to read was like giving a vegan a gift certificate to a steakhouse. I was a strident non-reader.

I wish I still had that paperback, which had a distinctive picture on its colorful cover: a different-looking fellow whose face was sideways. The oddly titled novel was written by someone named Winston Groom.

I don’t remember why I even opened that book; maybe I just didn’t want to hurt Mom’s feelings.  But whatever the reason, once I started reading Forrest Gump, I couldn’t put it down. It was laugh-out-loud funny. And if you’ve seen the movie but haven’t read the novel, go get a copy NOW. The filmmakers left several key portions of the story out of the motion picture, including the part about the title character’s brief professional wrestling career, although to be fair it might have been tough to do justice to that on the big screen.

Winston Groom was a prolific author who wrote eight novels and also published more than a dozen works of nonfiction. I promised myself I’d make an effort to read more of his work, and I kept that vow. Every time I saw one of his books I bought it, and while none were quite the equal of Forrest Gump, they were all absolutely worth reading.

My positive experience with Mr. Groom’s writing was why I eagerly grabbed a copy of As Summers Die, one of his novels I saw while casually browsing at a Goodwill store. I dove right into it, and was instantly hooked, just as I was with his other books I’d read. But then at about page 150 or so the plot suddenly began seeming familiar. By page 200, I realized I had already read it. Getting more than halfway through it before I figured that out was a bit embarrassing, but at the time all I could do was laugh.

Not long thereafter I saw a postcard that I knew my friend Jim would really appreciate, so I bought it and mailed it to him. And I was right: he did get a huge kick out of it. In fact, he enjoyed it almost as much as he did the first time I had sent one to him. Apparently it had slipped my mind that I had sent the identical card to him the previous summer.

Last week I went to the library looking for a good book on tape, and finally settled on Later, a Stephen King novel that said “New” on the case. It was so new, in fact, that it had only been taken out twice previously.

At the start of a lengthy drive the next morning I put in disc number one, hoping to be enthralled. My first impression: the person reading the story sounded a lot like the guy who read the last Stephen King book on tape I listened to. Thirty seconds later I realized why: I was one of the two people who had previously borrowed the taped version of Later from the local library. At least this time I recognized it before the end of Chapter 1.

These increasingly frequent memory failures are beginning to concern me. Who knows what else I’ve done that I’ve already forgotten?

I vividly recall my 27th birthday. Or maybe it was my 28th or 29th, but whichever one it was, I remember it clearly. <

Friday, July 16, 2021

Andy Young: Attempting to nourish my soul

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

It’s time to publicly try out that old axiom about confession being good for the soul. 

Several years ago I played softball on Sunday mornings for a team that wore maroon and white uniforms. Our sponsor was a company that made kitchen cabinets; its name was on the front of our numbered jerseys.

All right. Half a confession is no better than no confession at all. This all happened several decades ago.

Anyway, we were a decent team that generally advanced to the post-season, and every so often we’d even win a couple of playoff contests. But that’s not what needs divulging here.

After our games were over, someone would fetch an ice-filled cooler from the trunk of his car, and we’d all enjoy an adult beverage or two together. We’d laugh, talk current events (okay; current sports events), and do the sorts of things young weekend warriors did back then (and I presume now): rehash the game we’d just played, tell embellished stories, and repeat (with fresh exaggerations) tales we’d told previously that teammates had enjoyed.

We also rolled our collective eyes when a disheveled old man came by to pick up the empty bottles and cans at the park where we’d just played. There were five or six different softball diamonds in town, but no matter which one we had played on, if we lingered long enough we’d see that same reliable, pitiful old man picking through the trash.  

Mostly we just pretended he wasn’t there. But every once in a while, some wise guy would speculate about which park bench he had slept under the night before, or how many containers he’d need to pick up and cash in in order to purchase a bottle of Ripple, Mad Dog 20-20, or whatever cheap rotgut was on sale at the local liquor store that night. Of course, no one was rude enough to make any such comments out loud, but we all thought those things, or at least I did.

That’s confession number one. Now here’s number two.

I’ve become that man.

Yes, it’s true; I’m now that guy who goes around town picking up empties at baseball fields, soccer fields, and on roadsides near high schools on mornings following Friday night home football games. Not only that, I too have reached into trash cans, though preferably no further than wrist-deep, in order to recover a clean-looking bottle or can. And when I’ve collected enough containers that once contained potable liquids, I cash them in. Just like, I presume, that older gentleman did lo those many years ago in a town located about 250 miles south of where I live today. I subsequently take the money I receive for what I’ve picked up, double it, and contribute it to the local food bank.

And now here’s confession number three: the people who already know what I’ve been doing probably think I’m a kind, selfless person who cares deeply about both the environment and the less fortunate. The truth: I’m neither of those things. What I really am is a selfish, guilt-ridden human being who’s trying desperately to stockpile enough good karma to atone for all the rotten things he’s done in the past, like harshly judge an old guy who went around picking up bottles and cans late on Sunday mornings many years ago.

You know what? Those old adages make sense, or at least the one about confessing does. Now that my soul’s been cleansed, maybe I’ll try keeping my chin up, wearing a shoe that fits, or reading a book without judging it by its cover! <

Insight: Vinyl makes a stunning comeback

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

This past weekend I accompanied my wife to the retail box store and while she shopped for a few items and I walked through the electronics department, I was stopped in my tracks by a sight I hadn’t seen in years. 

There before me was an aisle devoted to vinyl LP records with the top shelves filled with colorful record albums and the lower shelves containing record players for sale. The entire aisle took me back at least 30 years when I ditched my old and scratched vinyl album collection for the latest Insight technology of the time, the compact disc.

Over the decades I had amassed more than 300 record albums with the first one being “Turn, Turn, Turn” by The Byrds. I had saved up money from mowing lawns to purchase it at Woolworth’s in 1966 and it only set me back $3.99. Before long I had added “Out of Our Heads” by The Rolling Stones which was also obtained at Woolworth’s and “Just Like Us!” by Paul Revere and the Raiders that my Aunt Jeanette gave me as a birthday gift from the department store where she worked.

By that time, I was entering eighth grade in junior high school and The Monkees’ television show had made its debut that fall, so Album #4 in my collection was “The Monkees” and it was bought at a record shop the very same week that it was first released in October 1966.

My father thought my collection of records was strange and unusual and lectured me about why albums recorded by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass or Bert Kaempfert would certainly be better musical selections. But I paid little attention to his advice about music after listening to him play Perry Como, Percy Faith and Dean Martin albums whenever my mother would spend a week visiting her sister out of town each summer.

My mother’s choice of music was much more refined. She had every Nat King Cole album recorded to that point and her taste in popular music also included Johnny Mathis, Henry Mancini and Chubby Checker. She would put on “Moon River” and try to teach me to slow dance some evenings when my father had to work late.

As I finished high school and made my way to college, my record collection grew extensively. I signed up for a promotion by Columbia Records in which they sent me eight albums for $1.99 and all I had to do was promise to purchase three new albums from them at the full price of $8.99 over the next year to receive the special offer.

I can still recall the spring afternoon in 1972 when my album box from Columbia Records showed up in the mail. Inside were “Rocky Mountain High” by John Denver; “Saint Dominic’s Preview” by Van Morrison; “What’s Goin’ On” by Marvin Gaye; “Nilsson Schmilsson” by Harry Nilsson; “Teaser and the Firecat” by Cat Stevens; “Anticipation” by Carly Simon; “Harvest” by Neil Young; and “Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits.”  

Later that summer I completed my end of the promotional deal with Columbia Records by purchasing “Eagles,” the debut album from The Eagles; “Honky Chateau” by Elton John, and “Toulouse Street” by The Doobie Brothers. To me, the haul of albums from Columbia Records shaped my transition to adulthood and sent me cascading down a musical path I’m still on today some 49 years later.

As the album collection grew larger and larger, it became quite a chore to pack them up when moving and to find a place to keep them so that the family dog didn’t chew on the album covers or the cat to use them as a scratching post. And keeping them all together in one convenient location also was a problem especially when the collection reached 400 different albums.

The condition of some of the albums also posed some issues. Once my wife and I hosted a Halloween party and several inebriated guests bumped into the stereo turntable while dancing, creating a lasting deep scratch on my “Purple Rain” album by Prince. Other albums such as “Led Zeppelin IV” had developed significant pops and were simply worn out from frequent use.

In moving from New Mexico to Florida in 1991, I was faced with a difficult decision. I could box up and transport the weighty album collection across America or let it go and convert to the popular new CD format. Because many of my albums had deteriorated and CDs were smaller and easier to keep, I gave away my turntable and record collection and decided to buy a convenient CD changer.

When I happened upon the aisle of record albums at the box store last weekend and noticed that vinyl recordings are making a comeback, I shook my head and laughed.

Only in America could a technology long out of favor regain popularity and return to stores more than three decades later.

Next thing you know Polaroid cameras will be all the rage. <

Friday, July 9, 2021

Insight: Quest for a Purple Heart

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

I recently listened to a story on NPR about an active-duty U.S. Navy corpsman who turned down a Purple Heart medal for being wounded by an enemy mortar shell in Afghanistan because he didn’t think his wounds were “severe enough.” 

While I commend that sailor for standing up for his convictions, it also reminded me of how valuable that Purple Heart medal can be for some and a story of a veteran who desperately sought one and died without ever obtaining it.

George Nichols grew up in Boston and was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II and trained as a medic. His job was to retrieve wounded soldiers from the battlefield and bring them to the Army aid station for treatment.

While on his 19th trip onto the beach to rescue wounded servicemen during the American landing at Anzio in Italy in 1944, a German mortar shell exploded nearby, sending shrapnel into his right knee. He completed that mission and Army physicians stitched up his wound, bandaged it and then sent him back to the front lines.

George’s first sergeant told him that he was going to put him in for the Purple Heart medal for being wounded in action. Being just 19 at the time, George said he was more concerned about surviving the war than the medal, so six months later when the war was over, he was discharged without ever receiving the Purple Heart.

He got a job working in the shipyard in Boston, got married, bought a home, and raised two daughters. After retiring, he and his wife moved to Contoocook, New Hampshire to be closer to where their daughters and grandchildren lived. George joined the VFW and some of his veteran buddies asked why if he had been wounded that he didn’t have a Purple Heart.

At age 65, George asked his wife to help him complete the paperwork for the medal and they applied to the VA to receive it. A few months later a letter arrived denying his request. They reapplied and received yet another denial letter and over the course of the next 20 years, the VA denied George’s request a total of 14 times.

His wife died and George’s physical condition required more care than his family could provide, so he eventually moved to the New Hampshire Veterans Home. He had cancer, was on oxygen and was in a wheelchair when he told me his story and asked if I could write about his plight and convince some politician or the VA to do the right thing and award him the medal.

George was by then 89 years old, and he told me all he wanted to do before he died was to receive the Purple Heart that he had fought so hard for.

Of all the military medals, the VA strictly enforces the rules for the Purple Heart more than any other because of the importance it holds and the physical injuries that military members endure in combat to be awarded it.  In George’s case, he was denied for reasons beyond his control.

On July 12, 1973, a devastating fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri destroyed somewhere between 16 and 18 million Official Military Personnel Files documenting the service and medical histories of former military personnel discharged between 1912 and 1964, including those of George Nichols.  

Since the VA requires documentation of medical wounds from each combat injury to award the Purple Heart and without those records lost in the fire, the only way George could receive his medal would be to produce three affidavits of soldiers who physically saw his wounds more than 70 years before in 1944.

He had his discharge papers from the Army, but not his medical records and it was impossible to find soldiers from the battlefield at Anzio who could attest that George had been wounded, even though his knee still bore the shrapnel scars decades later.

When the story appeared in the newspaper, numerous veterans wrote or called the veteran’s home and offered to give George their own Purple Heart medals that they had earned in combat in different wars. He thanked them, but politely turned down their offers, holding steadfast to the belief that VA should give him his own Purple Heart and he would accept nothing less than that.

No matter who tried to intervene on his behalf, the VA could not waive the rules in his case and his quest for the medal was futile. George Nichols passed away in 2015 without receiving the Purple Heart and it broke my heart to know that nothing could be done to help this genuine American hero obtain what he justly deserved.

Therefore, the recent NPR story about the sailor rejecting his medal was rather ironic when compared to that of George Nichols.

We should all be appreciative for the service of both these men and in my opinion, they both deserve the Purple Heart and our respect. <