Friday, November 27, 2020

Insight: A Thanksgiving not to be forgotten

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

It came upon me without much fanfare as a small backache over Thanksgiving weekend in 1998, but it left an indelible impression on my life and I’m thankful to still be here to relate the story.

I was covering youth football playoffs for the newspaper and standing on the sidelines taking notes when I felt a dull pain in my back that grew more pronounced as the day wore on. By that evening I felt nauseous and weak and went to the Emergency Room to see what was wrong.

That started a chain reaction of being examined, poked, prodded, and tested by four different physicians over the course of the next month as my symptoms grew worse. One of the doctors then arranged for me to have an x-ray of my chest.

Results showed a spot on my lung and I was referred to a surgeon, who set me up with a CAT scan the next morning and made an appointment for me to review that test at 9 p.m. in his office the same day. The surgeon didn’t waste any time and in my weakened condition, I liked his aggressive approach.

In looking over the CAT scan, he told me that he couldn’t be sure without surgery, but he felt I might have lymphoma, a type of cancer, and that it could go two ways, treatable or not-treatable. He told me if it was the treatable kind, I was in good hands and he could pull me through.

It was exactly what I needed to hear at that time and was a small measure of hope. The surgeon was cocky and arrogant, but I felt if anyone could help me feel better, it was this guy. I mean what other doctors have office hours at 9 p.m., right?

I went in to the hospital on the day after Christmas and the surgeon performed exploratory surgery, took tissue samples and sent them to the lab for an exact diagnosis.

After almost a week in the hospital and my mother keeping vigil at my side, the surgeon walked into my room and told me he had good news and bad news for me. I asked for the bad news first and he said that on the first day after the exploratory surgery, he had told my mother that the type of cancer I was suffering from would take my life in less than 90 days.

Stunned at hearing that news, I meekly asked him what the good news was. He told me that just to be safe, he got a second opinion and sent my lab results and findings to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. They disagreed with the local findings and believed that with a regimen of six months of chemotherapy and follow-up surgery to then remove any residual vestiges of my cancer, I could expect to continue to lead a normal life.

The chemo treatments were utterly awful. I lost all my hair which fell out and within a few months had dropped from 171 pounds to 100 pounds. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t drink anything and was in bed by 5 p.m. every night. Everything tasted like ballpoint pen ink to me. I had trouble standing and walking and could barely make it from the car in the driveway into the house after numerous doctor visits and checkups.

When the chemo treatments ended it was summer and slowly my appetite returned and I was able to build up enough endurance to walk to the mailbox at the end of the driveway and then to walk on the sidewalk a couple of houses away and back again and then eventually walk around the entire block.

But another CAT scan showed a spot of residual cancer on my left adrenal gland. Within a week I was having that adrenal gland removed in the hospital before it spread to my kidney.

Two more surgeries followed that, but by the time Thanksgiving rolled around in 1999, I was back to reporting for the newspaper and much more cognizant about cancer and treatment for it. Within two years, I was told I was totally cancer-free.

I’ve gone on to become an editor and lead a number of newspapers and was married to a wonderful first-grade teacher in 2005.

But each Thanksgiving I pause, give thanks for my life, and recall how lucky I am to have lived through that. I’m proof that modern medicine truly is amazing, and that a cancer diagnosis isn’t the end of the world. <           

Andy Young: What is there to be thankful for in 2020? Plenty!

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

By any reckoning, 2020 has been a terribly trying year. But Thanksgiving isn’t for reflecting on life’s imperfections; it’s for consciously acknowledging what we’re truly thankful for. I try to keep that in mind when listing the multiple factors, tangible and abstract, that I truly appreciate not just this week, but every day of the year. Pandemic-related travel restrictions altered our large extended family’s traditional Thanksgiving Day dinner this year, but the fact we were able to hold it electronically is yet another blessing to count.

I’m thankful for having a loving and healthy family, a meaningful job I truly like, and being allotted 600 words with which I can publicly express my gratitude.

Im thankful for my car that gets 55 miles per gallon, for reduced-sodium vegetable juice, and for my sons cooking.

Im thankful for memories of past Thanksgivings at my grandparents house, which included visits with Chief Squanto (my peace-pipe-smoking, blanket-clad grandfather); turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberries, pearled onions, plus my mom’s apple pie for dessert; watching some team beat the Detroit Lions; and turkey soup and sandwiches that night. I’m also grateful for parents who didnt make us eat those nasty turnips Uncle Eddie insisted on having every year.

Im thankful for the three-person interviewing team at Kennebunk High School who, individually and collectively, took a chance on a 44-year-old novice English teacher who applied for a job there nineteen years ago.

Im thankful for dried apricots, stewed tomatoes, and anything written by David Halberstam or Carl Hiaasen.

Im thankful for my house thats warm in the winter, but cool in the summer. 

Im thankful I live where Ill never step on a fire ant or a poisonous snake while walking barefoot. I’m also thankful for having the good sense not to walk barefoot outside!

Im thankful for all the wordless smiles Ive shared with people Ive never seen before, and likely wont ever see again. 

Im thankful for neighbors I can talk and laugh with, used bookstores (as opposed to used bookstores; who wants to buy an old store?), and fresh spinach. 

Im thankful for every word of encouragement Ive ever gotten from friends, colleagues, or total strangers.

Im thankful every time I hear someone, but particularly a young person, say please or thank you.

Im thankful for my childrens past, current, and future great teachers.

Im thankful for students who stop by after school not to angle for a higher grade, but because they truly want to improve their literacy skills.

Im thankful for cold milk, bike rides, and curbside recycling.

Im thankful for individuals who sincerely enjoy my attempts at humor, even on those rare occasions when I’m not really all that funny.

Im thankful for friends and relatives who write, call, e-mail, or invite me to dinner every so often just because.

Im thankful for having a sister who found the ruins of the long-lost baseball quilt our grandmother hand-made for me over five decades ago, quietly had it reconditioned, and presented it to me years after I had thought it was gone forever.

Im thankful for having a brother whose phone calls never come at inconvenient moments, even though he lives 12 time zones away.

Im thankful for garden-fresh cherry tomatoes, raw almonds, and You Tube videos of the Smothers Brothers.

Im thankful I still have the copy of Go Dog Go that says Merry Christmas, 1963 in my moms handwriting inside the front cover.

But I’m most thankful for learning while constructing this essay that when it comes to counting my blessings, 600 words aren’t even close to being enough. <

Friday, November 20, 2020

Andy Young: Moving on, albeit 50 years later than predicted

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

When I was growing up, most kids were teenagers by the time they decided (hopefully temporarily) their parents were hopelessly backward, socially inept morons, cultural troglodytes who had no clue about life in general and young people in particular.  

But I was ahead of the curve on that one.

I was a mere 11-year-old when I got all the proof I needed regarding my father’s utter cluelessness. It was a hot, humid Saturday afternoon. My Little League baseball teammates and I, having just finished our game, were sprinting over to the snack bar with the 25 cents we had been given by the kindly adult who had been in charge of “passing the hat” during the contest. Nearly everyone was purchasing popsicles or ice cream sandwiches with their quarter, but not me. I invested all twenty-five of my cents into five packs of Topps baseball cards. In the back seat on the way home I celebrated when I got the Bill Freehan card I needed, but moaned audibly when none of the packs contained an Al Worthington, which both my best friend and I needed to complete that year’s 6th series.

And that was when my father revealed the depth of his simplemindedness. “What are you going to do,” he asked insolently, “if you ever stop caring about Major League Baseball?”

It was quite possibly the most ignorant question I had ever heard. Me without baseball was no more conceivable than Bugs Bunny without carrots, Popeye without spinach, or Clark Kent without a phone booth. Of course I didn’t dignify his asinine query with a verbal response. I may have rolled my eyes, although if I did it would have been out of his line of vision, since in those less-enlightened times disrespecting one’s elders could merit anything from a whack on the rear end to, if the affront was grievous enough, a swat across the face. But still; what a dope! Had I known what DNA was at the time, I’d have prayed I was adopted.

Time marched on. I played baseball (except for a brief time when I was deemed academically ineligible by my mother, who wasn’t far behind my dad on my personal “Foolishness Scale”) until I wasn’t good enough to make a team. Then I coached, umpired, and, as a nominal adult, worked in professional baseball as a broadcaster, publicist, and jack-of-all-trades. I spent a large part of my first four decades on Earth obsessing over sports in general and baseball in particular. I have played, coached, officiated, written about, and spoken about the game, and have done all but the first of those things for pay.

Which brings me to last week, when I opened to the sports page of the newspaper and read the following headline: 

Lewis and Williams Named M.L.B. Rookies of the Year.

Then it hit me. I had no idea who “Lewis” or “Williams” were; I couldn’t conjure up a mental picture or a first name (Kyle and Devin, as it turns out; I looked them up) for either one.

Then I thought a little more. The most recent big league baseball game I attended was in Montreal, which has been without a team since 2005. I can’t remember the last time I watched baseball on TV, and when I last visited Fenway Park my ticket cost five dollars and fifty cents.

At that moment I experienced an epiphany: my dad was apparently a whole lot smarter than I gave him credit for.  I also came to a second, even more sobering realization.

I never did get that Al Worthington card. <

 

Insight: Gone but not forgotten, favorite foods edition

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

Those who know me best are aware of my penchant for quick and expedient cooking. I’m truly a sucker for items that can be prepared and produced in under 10 minutes.

That said, through most of my adult years I have sought out products at the grocery store that meet my need for speed in the kitchen. Typically, when I become familiar and comfortable with a product, it’s either discontinued or reformulated adding some exotic spice or unusual flavor that makes me move on to something else.

Here are a few selections from the sad saga of elimination from my weekly shopping routine…

** While frequently moving to new locations in the U.S. Air Force in the 1970s and 1980s, I couldn’t afford to dine out every night, so I started to learn to cook for myself on a budget. One rather inexpensive and simple to make meal was Hamburger Helper, and I especially liked the “Cheesy Italian” kind. It featured rotini pasta and a palatable Italian seasoning sauce mix. Week after week, I would make this for dinner and loved the taste. But eventually around 2005 as with all good things, Hamburger Helper discontinued my favorite flavor and for a while, I used my own ingredients and made my own “Cheesy Italian” hamburger casserole, but it was never really quite the same.

** Post’s Alpha Bits happened to be a staple breakfast cereal of our family when I was growing up and feeling rather nostalgic recently, I went to several local stores trying to find it, only to come up empty handed. Alpha Bits appears to have gone the way of Kellogg’s Sugar Smacks and Post’s Waffle Crisp cereals, gone too soon for those of us who crave a genuine sugar fix to start the day.

** Salads are always easy to prepare but finding a favorite salad dressing has always been a chore for me. Back in the 1970s I was introduced to Green Goddess salad dressing, a creamy concoction that stood out from the plethora of oily Italian dressings on the store shelves. Alas, at some point in the 1980s, Green Goddess vanished forever as a   viable commercial product and I had to find another favorite. I ended up choosing Ken’s Creamy Tomato Bacon salad dressing which sadly also met the same discontinued fate as Green Goddess.

 

** No longer gracing my shopping cart thanks to being discontinued by the manufacturer are many of my all-time favorites such as Mr. Salty Pretzel Stix, freeze-dried Astronaut ice cream, Betty Crocker’s Snakin’ Cakes, Hawaiian Punch, Stouffer’s Creamy Chicken Chunks, General Foods International Coffee flavors such as Double Dutch Chocolate and Orange Cappuccino, Borden’s Frosted Shakes, Jell-O’s 123, Savory Chicken Noodle Classics, Nabisco Sugar Ring cookies and Swanson’s Fried Chicken TV dinners.

 

** For many years I purchased an excellent Sunday meal side dish called Betty Crocker Julienne Potatoes. It was a perfect combination of cheese sauce and sliced potatoes that I fancied. When it disappeared from my regular grocery shelves, I found it available again at Walmart for several years. Now it has not been sold there either for some time depriving me of yet another of my favorites.

 

** Like many kids growing up in the 1960s, I tuned in at 7 p.m. every Sunday evening on CBS television to watch “Lassie” which was sponsored by the Campbell’s Soup Company. My mother would buy many different types of Campbell’s condensed soups and like her, I have always preferred Campbell’s over other brands of soups. I enjoyed the large variety of soups that Campbell’s offered and through the years , I was disappointed to find that Campbell’s no longer sells Chicken Gumbo, Green Pea, Split Pea with ham, Tomato Rice, Potato, Black Bean, Beef, Pepper Pot, Chili Beef or Turkey Noodle soups.

 

Pretty sure many will think me old fashioned, grumpy and rather lazy for wanting to see these products return to grocery store shelves. In fact, it’s entirely possible that I could recreate some of these long lost flavors and dishes myself if I had the time or inspiration to do so. Over the course of my life and as I’ve grown older, I’ve found that I’m a creature of comfort and set in my ways, I suppose.

 

In my mind, there’s certainly nothing wrong with accepting my nostalgia and longing for tastes and flavors of the past, hoping that someday some of these foods I’ve described here will possibly make their way back into my grocery cart. <

Friday, November 13, 2020

Andy Young: OMG! Doing battle with forgetfulness

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

Not long ago I was walking, cloth shopping bags in hand, toward the entrance of my local grocery store. Passing a young woman wheeling her purchases out into the parking lot I flashed her a friendly smile and was rewarded with a disgusted scowl. Seconds later an older gentleman looked at me, shook his head in either sorrow or revulsion, and quickened his pace toward the door. I barely had time to contemplate what the chances were of encountering two such unfriendly people back-to-back when the teenager disinfecting the shopping carts near the entrance glanced at me, then gave me a look of utter contempt most people in these parts reserve for drug-dealing, child-molesting New York Yankee fans.

That was when I realized I had forgotten to wear my mask.

Nine months ago, the police would have been summoned had I entered a place of business wearing a mask, but today not wearing one is akin to treason.

Selective memory is a type of amnesia where a person can summon certain facts, yet somehow cannot retain other (often important) information.

I believe I am afflicted with this malady.

Some utterly random information is so hard-wired into my brain that I couldn’t forget it even if I wanted to. Unfortunately, little of that material is of much use. My ability to recite the name of every member of the 1969 New York Mets has given me some private satisfaction over the years. But it’s occurred to me that perhaps my inability to recall certain things I desperately need to mentally possess is being caused by too much clutter in between my ears. I’d gladly give up knowing all the state capitals, Cleon Jones’s lifetime batting average (.281), and what the 19th president’s middle initial stood for (Birchard) if I could just recall where I left that book I was reading, remember where I last saw my car keys, or recollect whichever secret computer access code I need at a given moment. The latter problem has gotten so bothersome that I recently changed the password on all of my electronic accounts to “Forgot your password?”

Then some years ago I discovered acronyms. NASA, AARP, UFO, and the like were so easily remembered that they became part of America’s everyday lexicon, so I figured maybe such abbreviations could help me be less forgetful. Knowing I needed four vital items before leaving for work, I invented a mantra I began chanting to myself every morning: KWWC. Keys, wallet, watch, comb. KWWC. KWWC. KWWC.

And it worked! So well, in fact, that I got cocky and decided I didn’t need a crutch to aid my memory anymore. But the reception I got outside the store a few weeks ago convinced me it was time to go back to what had worked before, ASAP.

Times change, though. These days I no longer need a watch since the school where I teach has clocks everywhere. I’ve also stopped carrying one of the other KWWC items. Like many men of my vintage my once-lush locks are now significantly thinner, and thus I need a comb these days like LeBron James needs platform shoes.

My current memory-jogging acronym of choice is KWPM. Keys, wallet, phone, mask. KWPM.

Is it the answer to my memory problems? IDK. That’s still TBD. But since adopting KWPM it’s been more than a month since I ‘ve left the house without any of my four essential items.

Okay, there was that one awkward day. But I learn from my mistakes, which is why I’m confident I’ll never arrive at school without a shirt again. < 

Insight: Examining life twenty years on

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

In the blinking of an eye, it seems 20 years have passed by much too fast.

Thanks to technology, life for me is a bit easier in some ways than it was two decades ago, but in other instances, scientific advances also have made life much more complicated. And while times may have changed, I’m truly still the same person on the inside that I was in the year 2000.

I thought I would look back and compare where I was then and where I am now and see if indeed my life is better now.

Twenty years ago, I drove a six-cylinder 1996 Pontiac Firebird that was constantly breaking down and replacing the tires on it cost almost my entire paycheck. Now my automobile of choice is a four-cylinder 2011 Hyundai Sonata that is great on gas and more importantly rarely has required expensive maintenance. Advantage 2020.

Way back in Y2K, I lived alone in a tiny one-bedroom apartment that I was renting for $900 a month. Now I am married and own a home with a mortgage payment slightly higher than what I used to pay in rent. Advantage 2020.

In 2000, I had a PC at home that used a dial-up connection and a noisy quirky modem. Today, we have Wi-Fi throughout our home, and we have several iMacs and a laptop with no dial-up required. Advantage 2020.

Sad to say, in 2000 my cable television, internet service and home telephone were bundled through the cable company and it was costing me more than $250 for that luxury each month. In 2020, we no longer have a home phone as we rely on our cell phones, and we no longer have cable television. Instead, we stream everything we want to watch, usually from Amazon or Netflix. Our basic internet cost is $75 a month. Advantage 2020.

Living in an apartment without a washer or dryer in 2000, I used to have to take my clothes to the coin-operated laundromat on a weekly basis. Now I own a high-tech GE washer and dryer that is all-digital and very economical. Advantage 2020.

Twenty years ago, I had to wait each month for my bank to mail me my monthly statement so I could keep track of all of my financial transactions and see if any checks I had written were still outstanding. Now I can do that whenever I want either on my computer or using my iPhone. Advantage 2020.

Every so often in 2000, I would go to the movie theater to watch films that I was interested in seeing. That wasn’t always the most pleasant experience with soda pop spilled on the floor sticking to the soles of my shoes, people talking loudly over the movie in the theater or having a tall person wearing a cowboy hat choose a seat in the theater directly in front of me. Now because of COVID, I haven’t been to a movie theater in years and can watch the latest movie releases online in the comfort of my living room at home at any time. Advantage 2020.

In order to pay my monthly bills in 2000, I inevitably would spend some time on a Saturday morning waiting in the line at the U.S. Post Office to purchase stamps and return home, write out my checks and then mail them back at the post office. I still write a few checks now in 2020, but many of my monthly bills I either pay over the phone or by computer. Advantage 2020.

At work in the year 2000, newspapers were slowly making a transition to digital photography and were still using 35mm film for much of what went into the print edition. That meant developing film in the darkroom, choosing selections from a contact sheet and then cropping and enlarging or reducing photographs for the newspaper. It was a tedious and time-consuming process done mostly by hand. In 2020, all newspaper photography is digital, making it easier to choose photos for print and online photos, and to store and recall photos almost instantly. Advantage 2020.

Newspaper websites were relatively young in 2000 and the notion of transmitting breaking news to thousands of readers in a matter of minutes was surreal. Twenty years later, it’s become a fact of life for journalists. Advantage 2020.

In reviewing how my life is in 2020 compared to in 2000, I guess many things really are much better for me. But I was 20 years younger and in hindsight that’s a clear advantage for the year 2000. <              

Friday, November 6, 2020

Insight: Standing on the shoulders of giants

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

After more than four decades in the profession of journalism, I’m often asked who I’ve tried to pattern my career after or what journalists played a part in helping me to reach my full potential in the newsroom.

I suppose that some of these names you’ve probably never heard of because they worked in other states or worked behind the scenes as department leaders. Some were editors who were skilled in asking me why I failed to ask a particular question during an interview or why I chose to focus on a particular aspect of an article instead of another.

Each one of these people though had a significant influence on who I became as a journalist, shaped my writing style and taught me how to best craft stories to some extent. I’m humbled to have been given the opportunity to work on the same staff as these outstanding individuals and to truly learn from them.

Aurelio “Arley” Sanchez was a reporter for the Albuquerque Journal who covered Valencia County where I lived in New Mexico. He also was a graduate of the University of New Mexico’s journalism program like I was. As a newsroom intern at the Albuquerque Journal, I quickly came to see why Arley was such a favorite of editors. He knew every aspect of his beat and was masterful at relating stories about ordinary people who did extraordinary things. To this day, I believe observing the professional way he approached his job as a reporter and the fact he was never without a story to tell was a great inspiration to me.

Tom Breen had been an idol of mine when I served in the U.S. Air Force in Washington, D.C. at The Pentagon. He was a wonderful feature writer and storyteller for the Washington Star newspaper and years later after reading and admiring his work daily for that paper, Tom landed a job writing feature stories for the same paper I worked for in Florida. Even though I had been writing news and sports stories for more than a decade, I made time to pick Tom’s brain and listen to his thoughts about writing style. Tom shared his ideas to producing an interesting feature article and I soaked up nearly everything he told me and applied it to my own work.

He confirmed for me that his secret to creating a great story was to write it as if you were carrying on a conversation with the readers. I incorporated his sound advice into my style and despite his death a few years back, I always cite Tom Breen as key to my success in storytelling.

Don Walker was a great friend and editor I worked with in Florida. He knew what questions were unanswered in an article, who to speak with to make an article comprehensive and how to have fun and laugh during stressful times on deadline. He never lost his sense of humor or an ability to recite last Thursday’s Final Jeopardy answer and question. Much of my preparedness and managerial style as an editor are modeled after Don’s example.

In terms of an outstanding leader, Tom Clifford was one of the best supervisors I ever had. He knew how to motivate you to produce your best work. He always made the time to listen to your concerns or weigh your suggestions to do something better. Tom had an innate ability to place people in positions where they could really thrive and succeed and gave me one of my first breaks to advance as an editor in the newsroom of a significant daily newspaper. 

For me, Terry Eberle was exactly the kind of executive editor that you see in movies about newspapers. He was objective, experienced, a genuine truth-seeker and utterly thorough. He was a stickler for details and someone I always felt never asked anyone to do a job he himself couldn’t do superbly.

The thing I enjoyed the most about working for Terry was that he wasn’t full of himself and you always got a feeling that he cared about you. He backed you when you wanted to try something new and reveled in your success when it succeeded.

Each of the individuals I’ve mentioned helped shape the direction of my career and inspired my quest to become a better journalist.

Isaac Newton once said, “It is by standing on the shoulders of giants that I have seen farther.”

For me, Newton’s words ring true.