Friday, June 18, 2021

Insight: The good, the bad and the totally obscure

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

Back in May, I passed the 46-year threshold in the profession of journalism, and it’s been a roller coaster ride filled with some great articles, memorable individuals and wonderful stories to tell. Along with the late hours, sometimes intense supervisors, meals on the run and playing countless hours of phone tag, I’ve been lucky to survive to this point and am still working in a profession driven by relentless deadlines and rigorous accuracy. 

Packed away in my basement are about a dozen moving boxes filled with old copies of newspapers I’ve worked for and articles and clippings of stories I’ve written going back to 1975. Some of my co-workers through the years have told me I could save a good deal of space by digitizing the old articles and storing them electronically, yet for sentimental reasons, I simply cannot bring myself to do that.

Careful examination of what’s stored inside these boxes of old and yellowing newsprint will reveal unusual tales of athletic glory; love undiminished by time or death; champion animals; physicians who delivered hundreds of babies; the end for old buildings and the dedication of new bridges, and new schools.

Here’s a recap of some random articles found in the first box of old newspaper clippings stacked in the basement. These were the first six articles in order I found in the box:

In the Saturday, April 26, 1989 edition of the Valencia County News-Bulletin in New Mexico, I wrote a feature story about five spotted donkeys living on a farm behind the A&W Drive-In in Belen. The brown and white donkeys were retired after a career making television commercials and ranged in age from 7 to 17. The Allen Family had purchased four of the donkeys from a veterinarian near Santa Fe and one was born into the group a few years later. The donkeys were nearly celebrities in Belen and frequently subjects for local artists.

In the Monday, Aug. 25, 2014 edition of the Laconia Citizen in New Hampshire, I wrote an article about Betty Tidd of Gilford, whose pies sold out each time the Gilford Public Library hosted their annual fundraising “Book, Pie and Ice Cream Sale” in conjunction with the town’s Old Home Days celebration every summer. Her unique “Betty Pie” featured four different types of huge fruit slices, including strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and raspberries, all held together by a sugary glaze and a heavenly golden baked crust. Tidd said that the secret to making a great pie is simple – you have to start with good fruit and go from there. Each year Tidd would be one of 30 or so residents who would contribute pies for the fundraiser, but she remained its most popular and endearing baker, with her pies sometimes being auctioned off for $50 or $60 to benefit library programs throughout the year.

In the Wednesday, July 17, 2002 edition of the Merritt Island Press-Tribune in Florida, I wrote an article about hospital recreational therapist Ricky Campbell, who loved fishing so much that he left his former career behind to become a fulltime fishing guide at the age of 42. Campbell said he didn’t regret changing his career one bit and loved being outdoors and being his own boss. He said his most challenging times as a fishing guide came in the summer months because of the threat of sudden storms out on the water on his boat or having to endure the significant heat, humidity and insects while working outside in Florida.

In the Saturday, March 19, 1988 edition of the Albuquerque Journal in New Mexico, I wrote an article about a crowd of angry citizens who gathered and voiced their concern about a lack of funding for mental health and the handling of patients during a public hearing in Albuquerque regarding the development of a statewide mental health action plan. Speakers said the New Mexico Health and Environment Department was unresponsive to the needs of the mentally ill and was only interested in providing minimal care for those suffering from mental illness.

In the Oct. 2, 1985 edition of the Clovis News-Journal in New Mexico, I wrote an article about Kay Jemison, an 8-year-old second-grade student who found an injured baby squirrel at the end of her driveway and with the help of her family had slowly nursed it back to health. She had named the squirrel “Monty,” short for quarterback Joe Montana of the San Francisco 49ers. The squirrel lived in a small cage in their family room and liked it when members of the girl’s family would give it shelled peanuts.

In the Dec. 24, 2003 edition of The Melbourne Times in Florida, I wrote an article about the upcoming boys’ prep basketball season. It included capsules of last year’s record, returning lettermen and promising newcomers, the coach’s overall record and how the team fared in the 2002 state playoffs. Of the 12 schools I previewed, I predicted the Class 1A Brevard Christian School War Eagles would make the state Final Four tournament, and they did, finishing as state runner-up. <      

Andy Young: The long and the short of height

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

Some time ago I was teaching a unit on memoir when one of my 18-year-old high school charges submitted something alluding to her height, or rather her lack of it. An eloquent writer who stood just over 5 feet tall, she intimated in her essay that she wouldn’t mind adding an inch or two to her stature.

Few people (regardless of age) are completely satisfied with how they look to others, and that’s too bad. Those wishing to alter their physical appearance slightly can easily do so, provided what they wish to change is something simple, like the style or color of their hair. And those possessing greater wherewithal can, albeit for a stratospheric price, find a plastic surgeon who’ll happily change the size and/or shape of a variety of body parts whose owners consider them too prominent, or in some cases not prominent enough.

But aside from wearing platform shoes or developing a permanent slouch, there isn’t much one can do to augment or lessen his or her personal altitude. 

Fair or not, societal norms and stereotypes have the potential to make things challenging for males of less than average height, or women who tower over their peers. 

I’ve always wondered what the perfect height is. Is it different for a man than it is for a woman? Does it change as one ages? And if and when some international fact-finding organization has synthesized the data that they’ve spent decades compiling and announces they’ve determined precisely what the ideal height is, how many people (of any gender) will be fortunate enough to attain it?

I knew exactly what my personal optimal height would be back when I was 12 years old: 6 feet, 6 inches. Since I planned at the time to make my living playing in the National Basketball Association, I figured having the top of my head 78 inches above the ground would, assuming I had correspondingly long arms, be more than sufficient for me to excel in my chosen career while at the same time not making me one of those people who can’t leave his residence without being gawked at. It was an ambitious goal for someone with a 5-foot-7-inch father, but I was so determined that I abstained from smoking cigarettes, and also from drinking coffee or tea, activities which reliable sources intimated stunted one’s growth. 

I never did make it to the NBA, although an unwillingness to work hard and a general dearth of talent had more to do with my coming up short (pun intended) in regard to my professional basketball aspirations than any lack of height did. But there were fringe benefits to having what were, in retrospect, less-than-realistic athletic aspirations; passing on alcohol and tobacco in my quixotic effort to grow taller turned out to be good decisions, both health-wise and fiscally.

Ultimately, I attained what I consider to be a more than satisfactory stature. For those obsessed with numbers, I currently stand 5 foot 13, or 6-foot-1, for people unable or unwilling to do the math.

The bottom line is that I ended up being one of those fortunate people who, through a process that was most likely one percent design and 99 percent pure luck, achieved the perfect height. But the funny thing is that good fortune has put me in a place where I am surrounded by an astounding number of other kind well-adjusted folks, both male and female, who have by utter coincidence attained the perfect stature as well. 

So what exactly is the perfect height? 

Whatever it is that you are, of course! <

Friday, June 11, 2021

Insight: Looking back at life in seven-year intervals

Ed Pierce at age 7, June 1961
By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

I recently noticed a Facebook post by a friend that posed a question about what everyone was doing on a summer night in 1976. That got me to thinking about my past and how hard it would be to pinpoint exactly where I was at any given time in my life and what I was doing then.

To make it a bit more challenging and entertaining, I decided to examine my life in seven-year intervals and jot down exactly where I was and what I was up to.

At the age of 7 in June 1961, I had just completed second grade in Miss Weaver’s class at Our Lady of Lourdes School in Brighton, New York. About a month before school was out for the year, I remember the teacher wheeling a portable black and white television on a cart into our classroom so we all could watch coverage of the flight of the first American astronaut to travel into space, Alan Shepard. Later that summer I played in my first season of Little League baseball.

In June 1968 at age 14, I was excited about moving up to the high school that fall after finishing ninth grade at Carlton Webster Junior High School in Henrietta, New York. I also was happy because the band teacher, Mr. Richard Taylor, talked my parents into letting me give up playing the clarinet and the endless hours I had to spend after school practicing that musical instrument. After school I delivered the afternoon newspaper in my neighborhood.

By June 1975, I was 21 and in my second month of working for United Press International in New Mexico as a reporter. That July I was assigned to do an interview and write a story about a future U.S. president, Ronald Reagan, who was visiting Albuquerque. He ordered BLT sandwiches for us from room service and the Boston Red Sox against the Texas Rangers baseball game was on television as we did the interview. I remember him telling me his favorite Red Sox player was Carlton Fisk.

I was 28 in June 1982 and was serving in the U.S. Air Force as the sports editor of the Luke Air Force Base Tallyho weekly newspaper. Later that same year I was promoted to editor of the paper. I was thrilled to see “Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan” at the theater that summer and marveled at how Ricardo Montalban transitioned from good guy Mr. Roark on TV’s Fantasy Island to portraying the sinister Khan in that film.

June 1989 found me at age 35 working as a news reporter for the Valencia County News-Bulletin and covering county and city government activities, school board meetings and the chamber of commerce. My wife had me videotape three hours of ABC afternoon soap operas for her and after watching some of the plots of those shows, I became convinced I could write bizarre scripts for TV too.

In June 1996 I was 42 and was a sportswriter living in Florida. I covered many high school football, basketball, soccer and baseball games for Florida Today newspaper and spent a good deal of time traveling throughout Florida. That was the same year I bought a stick shift, six-cylinder 1995 Pontiac Firebird, which was one of the better cars I’ve ever owned.

By June 2003, I was 49 and had survived a bout with cancer. I had accepted a desk position at Florida Today and was laying out and designing pages for some of the newspaper’s weekly publications. I had developed a keen interest in photography and had saved up and purchased my first digital camera by then.

In June 2010, at age 56, I was now the Community Sports Editor for Florida Today and continued to write sports and news articles for the newspaper’s weekly and daily editions. My wife and I had purchased a home and we were planning a trip to visit her family in Vermont later that summer.

June 2017 found me at age 63 in Biddeford, Maine where my company had transferred me from Laconia, New Hampshire to serve as Executive Editor of the daily newspaper there. My wife was hired to teach first grade at the Catholic school nearby and we considered ourselves fortunate to have found a home to buy that featured a garage and a fenced-in backyard after looking at dozens that didn’t.

Not sure where June 2024 will find me, but if the past is any indication, I suppose it will include a few surprises, a few disappointments and much to be proud of. <

Andy Young: 'Little' Rhody? Think Again!

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle                                                                      

Travel tip: Mainers headed for destinations south of the state line who start their journey after 2 p.m. on a Friday should never be in a hurry, since they’re doomed to sit in traffic regardless of the season, the weather, or how fast their car is capable of going. 

That thought occurred to me as I crawled toward Wakefield, Rhode Island on a recent Friday afternoon. It took four hours and 11 minutes to drive from where I started to my uncle’s house, a distance of (according to Mapquest) just 176 miles.

These days Rhode Islanders (or at least the license plates on their cars) refer to the place they reside as “The Ocean State.” But when I was growing up it was known by most people as “Little Rhody.”

Being referred to by that diminutive moniker all these years undoubtedly has negatively impacted the Ocean State’s collective self-esteem. But don’t blame the originators of that unfortunate nickname for having something of a Napoleon complex. Rhode Island’s not just the nation’s smallest state; it’s the smallest state by a lot.

According to Wikipedia, an often-accurate source of information, Aroostook County, Maine consists of 6,671 square miles, making it more than five times the size of 1,214-square-mile Rhode Island. But that’s only part of the story.

Seven other Maine counties are bigger than the Ocean State, too: Piscataquis (3,961 square miles), Somerset (3,924), Penobscot (3,397), Washington (2,563), Oxford (2,077), Franklin (1,697), and Hancock (1,587).

Rhode Island is only 61 percent as big as Delaware, America’s next-smallest state.

It’s just 55 percent the size of tiny Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province.

Someone with the ability to reshape land masses without altering their total area could cram 32 Rhode Islands into the state of Maine. Texas has room for 221 Little Rhodys, and 548 Ocean States could fit inside Alaska.

But what if Rhode Island were rebranded? Instead of focusing on all the ways in which the state is widely considered substandard, why not bring attention to the many areas in which it excels?

For example, there are 1,017 residents per square mile in Rhode Island. That ranks second nationally in that category, behind only far-less-scenic New Jersey (at 1,210 people PSM). But high population density should be enviable; it indicates that lots of people want to live in your state. If anyone should feel inadequate on this score it should be virtual ghost states like Montana, which contains only seven people per square mile, Wyoming (six PSM), and Alaska, which has only 1.3 more human residents per square mile than Mars does.

Rhode Island can boast of having more Ivy League schools within its borders than 48 other states. In fact, only New York has more.

America’s smallest state is geographically larger than 27 of the world’s sovereign nations, including Singapore, Micronesia, Luxembourg, and two dozen other countries (many of which have multi-word names) you’ve probably never heard of. Fun fact: using the same hypothetical landmass-shaping scenario cited earlier in this essay, you can get 17 Washington DCs inside Rhode Island. Or, if you prefer, 50 San Marinos, or 1,556 Monacos, or 7,141 Vatican Cities.

This allegedly small state has more coastline than Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, South Dakota, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Missouri, Arkansas, Utah, New Hampshire, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Tennessee, West Virginia, Vermont, Nevada, Iowa, and Kentucky combined.

In addition, this figuratively immense place is so deceptively large that it would take, (according to Mapquest) an incredible 59 minutes to drive southwest from Woonsocket to Westerly.

And probably even longer if you tried doing it on a Friday afternoon. <

Bill Diamond: Back working in the State House

By Senator Bill Diamond

Over the past five months, legislative committees have been hard at work, meeting virtually to debate bills and make recommendations to the full Legislature about which bills should become law. With committee work now all wrapped up, my colleagues and I are together again at the State House to cast our votes. Among the hundreds of bills up for consideration are a couple of my bills aimed at protecting Maine’s children and making our roadways a bit more family friendly. Both of these bills received bipartisan support in their respective committees, and it’s my hope and sincere belief that these two bills will make life measurably better for Maine people.

In recent months, I’ve written here about my bills that seek to protect Maine children by reforming the child protection system and funding the Computer Crimes Unit of the Maine State Police. Another one of my bills that will be voted on this month shares this same goal, by making sure that adults who participate in the sex trafficking of children are appropriately sentenced. Under current Maine law, aggravated sex trafficking, which includes the sex trafficking of a child, is a Class B crime. Class B crimes carry no minimum sentence but have a maximum sentence of 10 years. This is out of step with federal law, which mandates a minimum sentence of 10 years for this crime.

My bill will make the aggravated sex trafficking of a child 14 years of age or younger a Class A crime, meaning the new maximum sentence is 30 years. Over the past couple of decades, I have spent a lot of time talking with victims, their advocates and law enforcement professionals, and I’ve come to understand the devastating impact that sex crimes have on anyone, but especially on kids. By giving judges the opportunity to sentence perpetrators to more time when appropriate, we address the trauma done to these kids, and keep dangerous offenders off the streets. 

My second bill addresses a different problem, but one that affects our kids all the same. Maine has a fun tradition of vanity license plates, a program that began when I was Maine’s Secretary of State from 1989 to 1997. These plates have added creativity to our roads for years, but recently I – and many of you – have noticed an increasing number of vulgar and offensive plates. While I support everyone’s right to free speech – and the right to cover your car in whatever bumper stickers you want – the fact is license plates are state property. State resources should not be used to create these vulgar plates and displaying offensive language or messages on state property gives the appearance that the state endorses that language and those messages.

That’s why I’ve introduced a bill that will give Maine’s Secretary of State a narrow set of guidelines to use when deciding whether to grant the request for a vanity plate. If my bill is passed, plates that are profane or obscene, that connote genitalia or sex acts, and plates that make derogatory references to classes that are protected under the Maine Human Rights Act (including age, race, religion, physical or mental disability, among others) will no longer be allowed. If someone’s application for a plate is banned, or if their plate is recalled under these guidelines, there will be an option to appeal.

There are more than 119,000 vanity plates on Maine roadways today, and most of them are harmless fun. But the few plates that do violate these proposed guidelines make our roadways a more hostile and less family-friendly place. I know I don’t like explaining to my grandkids what some of these plates mean, and I’ve heard from many of you that you have similar concerns. By implementing some common-sense restrictions, like other states have, we can make our roads a more welcoming place for everyone.

As the Legislature finishes up our work and closes the books on a very unusual session, we’ll have discussed, debated and voted on almost 2,000 pieces of legislation that will directly impact your life and the lives of Mainers across the state. I introduced the two bills I’ve written about here after speaking with you and listening to your concerns.

If you ever have a concern you think I should hear, or if I can be of assistance to you or your family, please never hesitate to reach out to me. You can email me at diamondhollyd@aol.com or call my office at (207) 287-1515. <

Friday, June 4, 2021

Insight: National Hug Your Cat Day

Gracie
 By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

According to my wife’s “Every Day’s a Holiday” calendar hanging by her desk, today, June 4, is “National Hug Your Cat Day.”

I had never heard of this annual celebration until this year but apparently this is a movement that’s been growing stronger with each passing year.

It wasn’t until I was in high school that our family obtained our first cat and through the decades since, I’ve owned a few cats as pets and came to love the ones I had.

Benson was a tabby kitty that I got from a friend while I was stationed in the Air Force in Germany in the late 1970s. Despite destroying the arms of a newly purchased sofa and loveseat with his claws and spraying important documents and papers from the Air Force, I accepted his territorial manner and he sort of tolerated me. He lived a long life and even flew in a crate in a passenger seat on a transcontinental flight from Frankfurt, Germany to the United States.

Gracie was almost abandoned as a young cat during a hurricane. While working at a newspaper in Florida, a woman in advertising was in the lunchroom talking to her friends about taking the cat to the shelter and flying to another state as a hurricane bore down on the area where we were living. She had purchased the cat as a companion for her husband as he was dying of cancer and following his death, she had no further use for the cat and wanted to move out of Florida.

I offered to take the cat and to give it a good home and she agreed. Less than four months later, I met my wife Nancy, and it was a challenge when we moved in together as she had a dog who liked to chase cats. Gracie stayed upstairs in a townhouse we were renting, while Hunter, a Pembroke Welsh Corgi stayed downstairs with a baby gate stretched across the stairs to separate the two pets.

Not long thereafter, Gracie was diagnosed by the veterinarian with bladder stones and needed an operation. Fortunately for us, our veterinarian allowed us to make payments on the expensive surgery needed to save the cat’s life and she pulled through that with flying colors.

As a result of her bladder having to be completely rebuilt, Gracie was placed on a special and expensive diet for the rest of her life. My wife and I never complained about that because she was so gentle and loving to us.

Gracie had been severely frightened as a kitten by a dog who had chased her, but she was curious about Hunter and would sometimes sit on the staircase to provoke him knowing the gate was up and he couldn’t reach her.

One time Hunter jumped over the gate and chased Gracie upstairs. When I arrived home from work and went looking for them, I found Gracie sitting peacefully on top of a tall bedroom dresser purring while Hunter had chased her under the bed and had become wedged there until I lifted the mattress off him.

The next corgi we owned, Abby, also required separation from Gracie, as she growled if she caught a glimpse of her. They never became friends, even though they both rode in the back seat together in crates all the way from Florida to New Hampshire when we moved.

When Abby passed, we were lucky to obtain a new puppy, Fancy, who is a rescue lab-mix. Slowly, my wife introduced Fancy to Gracie, and the two of them became familiar. When we moved from New Hampshire to Maine, Gracie rode in a crate in the cab of the moving truck with me while Fancy rode in the car with my wife.

Gracie’s health deteriorated after that move, and she had reached the point that she didn’t care about being separated from Fancy anymore. One of the best memories we have is of the two of them sitting together comfortably in a living room chair, or as my wife called it, “the lion sitting down with the lamb.”  

About two weeks following Gracie’s 16th birthday she passed away in September 2017 and I still feel her loss nearly every day. We had her for about 15 years, and she was a remarkable companion.

Cats aren’t for everyone. As I have learned, there are no ordinary cats, they have personalities and can be aloof at times, but are also generous with their love. Happy “National Hug Your Cat Day.” <

Andy Young: On the road again, visiting everyone but the neighbors

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

Maine is the nation’s northeastern terminus. It’s also the only one of the 50 states with a one-syllable name, and it’s got more actual coastline than any other inhabitable state. (Okay; Florida and Louisiana both have somewhat more, but who wants to live in a glorified swamp, not to mention ones that are hotbeds of yellow fever, malaria, and similar scourges?) 

And if that’s not unique enough, Maine is the only one of America’s 50 states that borders on one (and only one) other state. And since at this writing Canada is still off-limits to Americans without a vital need to be there, if Mainers want to cross a border, it’s got to be New Hampshire’s.

Thanks to a 15-month “time-out” necessitated by the ongoing (though thankfully subsiding) COVID-19 pandemic, my out-of-state travel since last February has been limited to a single seven-hour mini-excursion last July with my two sons to climb southern Vermont’s Mount Ascutney with their cousin/my niece. But since both the drive down and the return trip were made non-stop, I didn’t get to actually put my feet down onto our lone neighboring state’s soil.

Limiting travel for myself and my family was an important decision I made based on reliable information. When it comes to deciding on my actions during a worldwide pandemic, I’ll heed the advice of distinguished epidemiologists for the same reason I follow my financial advisor’s counsel on monetary matters, my lawyer’s instructions on legal affairs, and my mechanic’s suggestions when it comes to my car.  

But now that the crisis is seemingly on the wane, I’m long since fully vaccinated, and there’s no longer a need to quarantine after returning from out of state, ending my already far-too-lengthy travel sabbatical to attend a long-scheduled family memorial service in New Jersey was an easy decision. That’s why last weekend I drove approximately 800 total miles on a circuitous route to (and back from) the central portion of the Garden State, with stops en route in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, but at first glance the rest of the world (or at least the portion of it I saw) seemed pretty much unchanged. Significant portions of I-495, I-290, I-84, and I-95 were under construction, but that’s been the perpetual state of affairs on those roads since I got my driver’s license four and a half decades ago. Passing over the George Washington Bridge from New York to New Jersey is still a piece of cake at 7 a.m. on a sunny Sunday in late May, but re-crossing it later the same day is an exercise in frustration. My 387-mile trip home, one which MapQuest said should have required a mere six hours and 29 minutes, took two hours longer than that, and a significant amount of my squandered time was spent crawling toward the Hudson River crossing of least resistance, generally flanked by two massive 18-wheelers that blocked out whatever remaining sunlight there was.

But despite the lengthy and occasionally stressful drive, it was great seeing old friends and visiting old haunts, which is why I’m headed for Rhode Island this weekend to see my uncle. I’ll have to go through Boston, but even if traffic’s bad, I’ll bet I can get back in under eight and a half hours.

I’m truly grateful to finally have the freedom to cross the state line without quarantining upon my return. And when I come back from this trip I will, in my most recent travels, have physically set foot in New York, New Jersey, and every New England state – except Maine’s only actual neighbor! <