Friday, March 5, 2021

Insight: A spotlight on the past, a guidepost for the future

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

In our family, since I was very young, I’ve always been the curious one who asked about the people in old photographs and for my parents to tell me more about them.

The rumor was we were somehow connected to John McIntosh, the 18th century Scottish-Canadian farmer who discovered the McIntosh Red apple growing wild on his property near Matilda Township in Ontario. My mother’s grandmother was born with the last name of McIntosh, so about 10 years ago I started to explore through genealogy if there was a genuine family connection to John McIntosh and my own ancestral roots.

I began my search by hiring a genealogist from California who was not very good. I found out more about our family’s origins through online research than he was able to learn during the span of a month’s time. I let him go and proceeded to hire another genealogist, this time one who lived in England and was adept at tracking immigrants to North America coming from Scotland, Ireland and Great Britain.

John McIntosh and his wife, Isabella Rutherford 
McIntosh emigrated from Scotland to Canada in
the 1830s. One of their six children, James
Rutherford McIntosh, Sr., moved to America in
1867 to find work as a mechanic. He was my
great-great-grandfather. COURTESY PHOTO 
She helped tremendously and was able to establish that yes, our family is related to John McIntosh, just not in a way I had envisioned. As it turns out, John McIntosh’s family originally hailed from Edinburgh, Scotland and he was born in the Mohawk Valley of New York in 1777. By the time he found the apple trees, he had moved to Canada and created his own farm at the age of 20.

Word apparently spread of his good fortune all the way back to Edinburgh and eventually his Scottish relatives decided Matilda Township sounded like a great place to live. One of John McIntosh’s cousins, also named John McIntosh, emigrated with his wife Isabella to Matilda Township (Now called South Dundas, Ontario) in the 1830s, joining other McIntosh family members who had moved there.

The original McIntosh apple trees continued to produce fruit until a devastating fire in 1894, but by then their discoverer, the original John McIntosh, had passed away in the fall of 1845.

His cousin, the other John McIntosh, was a carpenter by trade and had married Isabella Rutherford in 1835 before leaving Scotland for a new life. The couple had seven children, five of whom survived into adulthood.

One of their children, James Rutherford McIntosh, Sr., was born in Caistor, Ontario in 1840. He wasn’t interested in becoming a farmer like many other members of his family and showed an aptitude for fixing machinery. In 1867, he moved to America and settled in Rochester, New York where he landed a job as a mechanic at the Bausch and Lomb factory where eyeglasses and precision microscopes were manufactured.

James Rutherford McIntosh, Sr. married Ellen Agnes Duffy, who had moved to Rochester to find work in a factory after growing up near Plattsburgh, New York. The couple had six children, one of whom, Harriet Elizabeth McIntosh, was born in 1874.

Harriet McIntosh was married twice. Her first husband, Frederick John Baker, was a master carpenter by profession and the couple had three sons together. One of those sons, Bernard W. Baker, was born in 1897. He was blind from birth, but married Myrtle Kirby in 1918. Bernard and Myrtle Baker had three children, and they chose to name one of their daughters, who was born in 1923, after Bernard’s mother, Harriet.

Somehow over the year an extra “t” was added to her first name and she became known as “Harriett.” Harriett Elizabeth Baker was my mother and she passed along to me the family story about how we were somehow descended from the farmer who had discovered the McIntosh strand of apples.

Part of my quest to find my roots was because of my mother. She had been suffering from macular degeneration when I started looking into genealogy and I thought it would help to lift her spirits to find some answers to puzzling family heritage questions. I would call and update her through each ancestral discovery made and I was able to outline for her much of our family tree before her death at the age of 95 in 2018.

In each family there are some who seem destined to find their ancestors and try to breathe life into those who have gone before. In a way, I found that genealogy is much like journalism because it is really about telling a compelling story, just a little more personal. <

Andy Young: The literacy gifts that keep on giving

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

Thanks to the collectible baseball cards featured on boxes of Alpha Bits, Sugar Crisp, and Post Toasties during my boyhood, I not only learned to use scissors safely at an early age, I picked up reading more quickly than I otherwise might have.

Half the players depicted on those 2 ½ X 3 ½-inch cardboard rectangles played for American League teams like the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Kansas City Athletics. The others toiled for National League squads that included the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, and the defending league champion Cincinnati Reds. Of course, no one I knew ever completed the 200-card set but trying to do so was both fun and addictive, just as the cereal company’s marketing gurus had no doubt calculated it would be.

There were also cards available on the back panels of Grape Nuts, but neither I nor anyone I knew would have attempted to ingest those pint-sized shards of gravel unless they came inside a box with Willie Mays, Yogi Berra, Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax, Roberto Clemente, AND Ernie Banks on its back. But the Post Cereal decision makers were far too smart to let that happen. There were never two superstars on the outside of any one package; If you really wanted a Mickey Mantle card, you had to accept it would be accompanied not by images of future Hall of Fame players like Eddie Mathews, Frank Robinson, or Harmon Killebrew, but rather by spear-carriers such as Pancho Herrera, Gene Green, or Ken Hunt.

That fall Post came out with 200 collectable football cards on their cereal boxes, but they weren’t quite as popular. Maybe that’s because those football players had names like Jim Mutchscheller, Frank Varrichione, Sam Etcheverry, Andy Stynchula, Dick Syzmanski, Ed Khayat, John LoVetere and Ralph Guglielmi. Those monikers were awfully intimidating to fledgling readers like me. The baseball players answered to names like Joey Jay, Lenny Green, Bill White, Jim Lemon, Gus Bell, Jake Wood, Sam Jones, or Bob Friend. Who knows, had I been introduced to football cards first, I could have given up on reading as too difficult a skill to master, I might never have gotten out of first grade!

Much time has passed since I painstakingly snipped the baseball cards from the backs of those boxes, and inevitably most of the people depicted on them have moved on to whatever comes after their earthly existence has ended. At this writing, just 54 of the 200 individuals whose photos appeared on those cereal box cards are still alive. The oldest remaining pictured baseball player from that year’s set is former Detroit Tiger outfielder Charlie Maxwell, who’ll turn 94 next month. The youngest: Milwaukee Braves catcher Joe Torre, a comparative stripling who won’t even be 81 until this July 18.

But raw data can be deceiving. Just a year ago at this time there were 33 surviving National Leaguers from the set, which was three more than the American League could claim. But since then seven National Leaguers (Frank Bolling, Eddie Kasko, Lindy McDaniel, Hal Smith, Tony Taylor, Mike McCormick and Stan Williams) have died, while only two American Leaguers (Al Kaline and Whitey Ford) went to their reward during that same time period. So now the statistical shoe is on the other foot. That’s why, after exhaustive research, my data-driven conclusion is that the American Leaguers played a healthier brand of baseball in 1961 than their National League brethren did.

And after a bit of extrapolation, I’ve got another hypothesis as well, which is that I’ve got entirely too much time on my hands.
<

Bill Diamond: Taking an inside look at Maine’s supplemental budget

By Senator Bill Diamond

The past year has had unexpected consequences, both positive and negative, big and small. One effect of the pandemic and our political climate is that most people are more tuned in than ever to what’s happening in their government. With lots of talk about spending at the state and federal level these days, I wanted to share with you what Maine’s budget process is, and where we stand now.

Every other year, the governor proposes a biennial budget, and the Legislature debates the budget and proposes changes before passing a version that gives Maine a roadmap for revenue and spending for the next two years. However, circumstances change, and an unexpected change in revenue or spending means that the Legislature must pass a supplemental budget. This is because Maine’s Constitution requires we end each fiscal year with a balanced budget. Like the biennial budget, the supplemental budget is a proposal by the Governor that the Legislature can then modify before passing. There isn’t a supplemental budget every year, but it happens often.

As we all know, the pandemic and its economic fallout had consequences for Maine’s budget, with the state experiencing a decrease in revenue. Luckily, this shortfall isn’t as bad as it could have been. Before the Legislature adjourned in March 2020, we passed legislation and a supplemental budget in preparation for the economic troubles we saw coming, leaving $106 million in the state’s General Fund to make up for future losses. And in September, Gov. Janet Mills issued a curtailment order to reduce department spending while avoiding staff layoffs and cuts to programs. With curtailment orders, departments are ordered not to use some of the funds that had been allocated to them in the budget, but which they haven’t spent yet.

Even with these measures, Maine is facing a budget shortfall of $255 million for this fiscal year, so in January, Gov. Mills proposed a supplemental budget to address this. This budget is currently moving through the Legislature as we debate how to adjust our spending and where we expect remaining revenue to come from before the fiscal year ends on June 30, 2021.

One part of the supplemental budget that’s been getting a lot of attention is whether the state will tax businesses for forgiven Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. I wrote about this issue in a previous column. The federal government decided not to tax these forgiven loans as income, and as part of the supplemental budget, Maine needs to decide if the state tax code will treat them the same way.

Initially, the Governor proposed that all forgiven PPP loans be taxed, which I was opposed to. However, shortly after I wrote my column, the Governor proposed exempting the first $1 million of forgiven loans from income tax for all PPP recipients. This proposal would mean that 99 percent of Maine businesses that benefited from this program won’t have to pay any income tax on forgiven PPP loans. The businesses that have forgiven loans of more than $1 million won’t have to pay tax on the first $1 million, and all businesses can claim deductions on expenses paid for with these forgiven loans. This commonsense compromise by the Governor supports Maine’s most vulnerable small businesses without forcing critical cuts elsewhere. However, my preference is still that we remove the tax for all businesses because that was the intent of the PPP when it was initially passed.

Still, this exemption means a decrease in projected revenue of $82 million that the supplemental budget needs to make up for. The Governor had originally proposed leaving $40 million in the General Fund and adding $40 million to the state’s Rainy Day Fund in the supplemental budget, but now proposes using that money to fill the gap caused by exempting PPP loans. It’s worth noting that, due to careful planning and responsible spending, Maine’s Rainy Day Fund remains robust, at an all-time high of $258.9 million. In fact, we have not had to use any money from the fund to balance the budget.

Most other elements of the supplemental budget are straightforward adjustments of department spending due to Gov. Mills’ curtailment order. In the coming weeks, the full Legislature will vote on the supplemental budget, with a two-thirds majority vote needed. It’s important that we act quickly, because many corporate tax filings are due March 15, unlike individual income taxes that must be filed by April 15. Later this session, we’ll vote on Gov. Mills’ proposed biennial budget for 2022 and 2023, which she outlined in her State of the Budget address last week.

I know budget matters can be complicated, and I hope I’ve been able to shed some light on where we are. If you have any questions about the budget, or if I can be helpful to you in other ways, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at diamondhollyd@aol.com or 207-287-1515. <

Friday, February 26, 2021

Insight: Isolation growing in America courtesy of digital age

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

While driving home on the Maine Turnpike from covering a story for the newspaper last weekend, I happened to catch the final few minutes of an interview on NPR with the author of a new book about adult friendship and it got me to thinking about what’s been lost with the rise of social media in our lives and how the pandemic has made it even harder to connect with our friends.

The book is called “We Need To Hang Out” and was written by Billy Baker, a Boston Globe reporter. In his book, Baker says that even before the pandemic struck, Americans were leading increasingly isolated lives, communicating through email or text messages, or through Facetime, or by Instagram, Facebook or Twitter posts.

Baker says more traditional means of meeting up with friends became almost non-existent as bars, restaurants, church services, golf tournaments, school events and birthday parties were scrubbed to avoid transmission of the COVID-19 virus during the pandemic and he wonders if the closeness to our friends that we’ve all experienced may be a thing of the past. He says the excuses that we used to make to get together and hang out, like book discussion clubs, watching college basketball games at a sports bar, family nights at movie theaters, late summer fantasy football drafts, school dances and pool parties may be headed the way of fountain pens, carbon paper and 3-D glasses.

Over the years and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve probably fallen into the comfortable-at-home trap and wanting to avoid the social scene. My wife and I stopped going to watch movies in theaters a few years back and we were never regular patrons meeting at the bar with friends for a few drinks. I also noticed that as I became a regular user of Facebook, it was easier to post “Merry Christmas” to my friends there rather than mailing out elaborate Christmas cards every year.

But as I’ve become more reliant on texting, Zoom and social media to communicate with others living at a distance or to speak with family members, I do feel like I’ve lost something special. Attending a baseball game in person is more preferable to me than watching it from the comfort of my living room. And my wife and I love going twice a year to the rock n’ roll dances with people of our own age staged twice a year featuring music of the 1960s and 1970s, but the dances haven’t been held since the fall of 2019 because of COVID-19 concerns and we miss them.

I recently reconnected with a good friend of mine from high school on Facebook and seeing him post on there again was a great feeling. He’s had some health problems the past few years and used to be on Facebook all the time but stopped and deactivated his Facebook account in 2016 to avoid political divisiveness and non-stop arguing over politics.

He told me he left social media to preserve his own sanity for a while and I understand where he’s coming from. It is tiring to constantly be bombarded by messages about political viewpoints when all I really want to see on social media are new photos of our 2-year-old granddaughter in Connecticut or stories about the best local places to order takeout Chinese food.

Not so long ago, friends used to get together for Wednesday evening bowling leagues, Kentucky Derby watch parties and Saturday morning softball games. They wrote and mailed hand-written letters and sent thank-you cards for the birthday presents they received from relatives. They attended plays and musicals staged by community theater groups and camped out while waiting in line on Thanksgiving night outside Best Buy to be the first for the best deals on Black Friday.

They enjoyed family picnics in the park, took cooking classes together at Adult Education and went to church bazaars and community garage sales. They gathered at youth soccer games, 5Ks and on sledding hills on wintery weekend mornings.

To blame our increasing isolation strictly on COVID-19, texting and social media probably isn’t entirely fair. In my opinion, as a society we’ve tended to become less tribal and more individualized and that’s put us on the path to where we are today.

I do think some of the group gatherings and social events will eventually return, the big question is, will they ever regain the popularity they once knew in today’s lonely remote digital age. <

 

Andy Young: Battling injustice over February vacation

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

Like many high school English teachers hoping to improve the quality of their students’ writing, I frequently require the youngsters in my classes to, well, actually write. This week they were asked to prepare a factual and/or fanciful account of something that occurred over their just-completed school vacation. Here’s one of those essays. 

I had hoped to relax over the break, but fate had other plans.

While walking past the skate park one afternoon, I saw a child of perhaps 10 or 11 years old talking to two large, bearded men in their early 20’s. I was enchanted by the heartwarming sight of a pair of husky individuals taking the time to encourage an aspiring skateboarder. But that idyllic outlook changed when the larger of the two leather-jacketed behemoths grabbed the lad by the front of his Red Sox hoodie, began shaking him, and bellowed, “Hand over your wallet, kid! NOW!

Martin Luther King famously said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” What I saw was clearly unjust, so I had to intervene. “Hey!” I shouted. “Leave him alone!”

“Butt out, punk,” the guy manhandling the child said to me, in an infuriatingly condescending tone. Staying cool, I repeated, “I said, put him down and leave him alone.” 

Sporting a sleeveless vest emblazoned with, “Savage Skulls M.C.” on the back, the mugger strode slowly in my direction. “Who’s gonna make me leave him alone?” he demanded.

Rising to my full 5 feet 5 inches, I looked up at him and heard myself quietly say, “Me, apparently.”

Guffawing loudly and rudely, the dull-witted bully said to his thuggish companion, “Hey Butch. Check out the tough guy here!”

Sauntering toward me, the first gorilla launched a roundhouse right in my direction, which I’m sure he later realized was an incredibly huge mistake. Ducking the punch, I grabbed his left wrist, and with a quick yank pulled his shoulder completely out of its socket. As he howled in agony I thrust my knee up into his groin. Suddenly he wasn’t a foot taller than I was anymore.

His 6’8”, 350-pound friend looked at his gasping sidekick, pulled out a pair of nunchucks, and menacingly growled, “You’re going to be very sorry you did that, Pee-Wee.” Ironically I already was sorry, since even in extreme situations like this one I detest having to visit physical pain upon another human being. But when the hulking goon with a swastika tattooed on his forehead came at me, I had no choice. Launching my 135-pound body into the air, I aimed the steel toe of my left work boot directly at his Adam’s apple, and connected with a sickening crunch. Landing on my feet after turning a full mid-air somersault, I thrust my clenched left fist directly into his sternum, which cracked like an egg. His shrieks of anguish were probably audible in New Hampshire. 

I’m not proud of what happened next. It wasn’t very good role modeling. With the tiny, wide-eyed elementary schooler looking on, I kicked that Nazi right in the face, then left him unconscious and bleeding on the sidewalk.

After making sure the pint-sized skateboarder was okay, I brushed off my jacket and resumed my nature walk.

For the rest of the vacation, I just chilled, played video games, and facetimed with my girlfriend. And on Tuesday my mom and me got takeout Chinese food. The Salmon Lo Mein was heavenly.

I’d really love to know if the events described in that essay actually happened. But more importantly, I’m wondering which local restaurant has Salmon Lo Mein on its takeout menu. <

Friday, February 19, 2021

Insight: Greatest five-film spans in acting history

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor


John Ruskin, a 19th century British art critic once remarked that “When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.” He probably never envisioned it being used to describe current great actors, but it does fit when assessing the best five-film periods for some of America’s finest living movie stars.

In my opinion, three actors have had noteworthy consecutive five-film eras in which they created some of their most memorable films and characters and even if they never worked again afterward, they would surely be remembered for the movies they appeared in during those spans. Each of these five-film timeframes included Academy Awards for these performers and cemented their legacies, at least in my mind, as some of my all-time favorites.

In the late 1980s, Kevin Costner made five films in a row from 1987 to 1990 that ignited box-office profits and resulted in his taking home two Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director for his work with 1990’s “Dances with Wolves.”

In 1987, Costner held his own playing crusading U.S. Treasury Agent Elliot Ness against Robert DeNiro’s Al Capone in "The Untouchables." Later in 1987, Costner gave a brilliant performance as a Russian spy who had infiltrated The Pentagon in “No Way Out.” He followed that with a comedic role as a downtrodden minor league baseball catcher in 1988’s “Bull Durham” and then as Ray Kinsella, who hears a voice telling him to build a baseball field in the middle of an Iowa cornfield in 1989’s “Field of Dreams.” His 1990 epic western “Dances with Wolves” netted seven Academy Award nominations, including Costner himself for Best Actor, although Jeremy Irons won for “Reversal of Fortune.” It capped one of the best five-film periods any actor has enjoyed and led to a lengthy career still going strong 30 years later.

Tom Hanks also had a magical five-film run of his own, starting with 1992’s “A League of Their Own” in which he portrayed a former major league ballplayer now managing a team in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in the 1940s. His line “There’s no crying in baseball” reverberates on to this very day from that movie. He followed that with a powerful performance as an AIDS victim in 1993’s “Philadelphia,” the title role in 1994’s blockbuster “Forrest Gump” and as U.S. astronaut Jim Lovell in 1995’s “Apollo 13.” The final film in the five-film span for Hanks was a record-company executive in “That Thing You Do” in 1996 and it also marked his debut as a film director.

For his work in both “Philadelphia” and “Forrest Gump” Hanks was honored with the Academy Award as Best Actor and he certainly could have been nominated for “Apollo 13,” but in winning back-to-back Oscars for “Philadelphia” and “Forrest Gump,” Hanks became the first male actor to pull off that feat since Hollywood legend Spencer Tracy for 1937’s “Captains Courageous” and 1938’s “Boys Town.”

Denzel Washington’s top five-film span opened with 1998’s “The Siege” where he played the head of the FBI's Counter-Terrorism Task Force in New York, and he followed that with an Oscar-nominated lead role in 1999’s “The Hurricane” as unjustly convicted boxing champion Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. In 2000, Washington inspired audiences as an African American football coach leading a high school squad in their first season as an integrated team in “Remember the Titans.”

He captured the Academy Award for Best Actor in 2001’s gritty “Training Day” as a veteran LAPD detective escorting a rookie police officer through his first day serving for an inner-city narcotics unit. The last film of Washington's top five-film span is 2002’s “Antwone Fisher” where he appears as a U.S. Navy psychiatrist working with a troubled young sailor and it also was the first feature film he ever directed.

Each of these actors used these five-film spans to showcase their versatility, their appeal with movie-goers and their ability to lead a successful motion picture and all of them continue to act, to produce and to star in prominent productions today. Costner, Hanks and Washington are naturals in their craft which genuinely comes across in these five-film spans.

Acting is certainly more than memorizing and reciting lines and the performances each of these actors gave in these five-film spans are indicative of years of intense training, hours of preparation and study. As someone who has watched these actors for years now, I’d say they are all at the top of their profession and I continue to marvel at their work. <

Andy Young: The irresistible allure of the $10 discount card

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle


As a high school teacher, I would never discourage any young person from pursuing higher education. But not every college course has actual measurable value.

I’m guessing my life would probably still be just fine had I never taken “Introduction to Calculus,” “Propaganda in Cinema” or “19th Century British Literature.” At least I earned credit for those courses; I flunked “Philosophy and Logic,” a class consisting of three stultifying one-hour lectures per week by a professor who apparently loved philosophizing. None of what he droned on about seemed logical to me, although to be fair perhaps it would have had I bothered to do any of the required readings.

The classes I appreciated most were those that imparted information with practical application to real life. An elective course called “Peer Counseling” helped me relate to other human beings in more ways than I can quantify, and “Children’s Literature” helped open my mind to the value of reading. But the most tangibly useful college course I ever took was “Personal and Family Financial Management.” Acquiring goods and services that were needs rather than wants made sense to me, as did buying locally produced products, and not shopping for groceries when I was hungry.

Being an intelligent consumer was as important then as it is today, and I needed the wealth of knowledge I gleaned from that course recently when I found myself at a large, internationally renowned retailer in Freeport, looking for some new pants. Even though I already own a perfectly good pair that’s only slightly older than my son the University of Maine freshman, I couldn’t help noticing they were starting to fray at the seams. When a “friend” innocently asked me how often I slept in them, I took it as a sign the time to update my wardrobe had arrived.

But there was another reason for the timing of my trip to the local merchant whose flagship store is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. I had bought a pricey but necessary pair of boots for the youngest of my offspring there just before Christmas, and as a reward had been given a ten-dollar gift certificate to use sometime in the future. But an examination of the fine print on the discount card specified that “the future” would only last until Feb. 16, 2021.

Armed with the horse sense acquired from that long-ago semester of learning how to best manage my fiscal affairs, I looked high and low for some slacks that would satisfy my twin needs: comfort and functionality. Simply put, I needed pants that weren’t too loose or too tight and had lots of pockets.

Ultimately I found two pairs that fit. However, I couldn’t decide which I liked better, so I uncharacteristically threw budgetary caution to the wind and bought them both. I felt more than a little proud when I handed the cashier the card entitling me to ten dollars off my purchases. But even with those savings, those two pairs of pants cost more than what I customarily spend on an entire week’s worth of groceries.

When I got home, I had a serious case of buyer’s remorse. Spending $144 in order to take advantage of a #10 gift card before it expired wasn’t something the teacher of that long-ago financial management course would have recommended. In retrospect, I’d probably have been better served taking a Marketing Strategies course than 19th Century British Literature.

Or maybe I should have just applied some of the knowledge I already had. I never should have gone shopping for pants when I was hungry. <