Friday, May 14, 2021

Insight: Passing of a childhood hero

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

After falling and breaking my left elbow, I wasn’t paying much attention to the news as the month of May began, but as I slowly became aware of the death of one of my favorite childhood actors, I officially count myself as old now.

I grew up in the era of only having three television networks to choose from, the local affiliates of CBS, NBC or ABC. Those were the days of black and white television programs and TV remotes were not yet invented, you actually had to get up from your seat and physically turn the dial to find another show.

Because my hands and clothing were often covered with remnants of Tootsie Roll Pops, strawberry jam or Bazooka bubble gum, I usually parked myself on the floor in front of my parent’s large Sylvania console television to watch my favorite shows after dinner to keep their furniture clean.

Back then, network programming didn’t start until 8 p.m. after the evening news, and a half-hour reserved for local stations. Operating on shoestring budgets, the local stations typically filled the half-hour with syndicated programming consisting of older cancelled network shows or independent fare such as “The Lone Ranger” or game shows like “Truth or Consequences” hosted by Bob Barker long before his gig on daytime TV’s “The Price is Right.”

The 7:30 p.m. TV time slot belonged exclusively to me as my mother would be washing dishes or tending to my younger brother and my father would be doing something out in the garage or in the basement. As I laid on the floor in front of the TV set, I imagined myself traveling through the Old West as a sidekick of the character Johnny Yuma on “The Rebel,” singing on stage with Ricky Nelson on “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” or helping Lassie rescue Gramps from a catastrophe on an episode of “Jeff’s Collie.”

But my favorite show airing at 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday was “The Rifleman” with Chuck Connors. The show was a western about a widower named Lucas McCain who was raising his young son Mark McCain, portrayed by Johnny Crawford, on a ranch on the outskirts of North Fork, New Mexico. McCain had a special Winchester rifle equipped with a customized mechanism to allow repeated firing by cycling its lever action. 

Each episode was a never-ending parade of bad guys, gunslingers and evil criminals all who had the misfortune to run into the good guy Lucas McCain who zealously stood up for law and order and taught his son Mark the value of honesty, fair play, telling the truth and the meaning of unconditional love. Crawford was just 12 when the show first aired on television and he played Mark McCain for five seasons, also using his popularity with teenage girls as a springboard to a recording contract and a few Top-40 hits such as “Cindy’s Birthday” in 1962. Before landing the job as Mark McCain, Crawford has been a Mouseketeer on the first season of “The Mickey Mouse Club” in 1955.

His popularity grew so much that in the second season of “The Rifleman” in 1959, Crawford was nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor in a dramatic television role. 

For boys who were my age growing up in the early 1960s, Johnny Crawford was firmly cemented into our consciousness as Mark McCain, someone we aspired to be like in our own lives. He could ride a horse, rarely got in trouble, had a great relationship with his dad, possessed good looks and girls swooned over him.

As he got older, Crawford continued to make guest appearances on television and acted in movies, served a stint in the U.S. Army and performed on stage in plays and dinner theater productions. In the early 1990s, he formed the Johnny Crawford Dance Orchestra, a group that specialized in touring and playing vintage Big Band music for older Americans.

I learned on May 1 that Johnny Crawford died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 75 on April 29 and felt devastated as yet another cherished part of my youth was gone.

When I occasionally watch old episodes of “The Rifleman” on YouTube now, it leaves me longing for that simpler time and role models I admired like Johnny Crawford.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that many of the lessons and values I learned watching television growing up aren’t necessarily old-fashioned and are as applicable today as they were when I was young. <

Andy Young: Beware the Ides...all of them!

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle


“Superstition” is a term that, deservedly or not, is often preceded by the word “silly.”

Few people admit to letting baseless fears impact them, but it’s hard to deny that illogical concerns play a subtle role in the daily existences of even the most level-headed amongst us. It’s hard to estimate the number of otherwise well-adjusted, rational individuals who'll go out of their way to avoid crossing paths with a black cat, purposely walk around (rather than under) ladders, and avoid stepping on a single crack in the sidewalk for fear of being responsible for their mother’s spine fracturing.

Words too can conjure dread groundlessly. A notable example appears in Act I, Scene ii of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, when a soothsayer, who the emperor apparently dismisses as a crackpot, advises the title character to “Beware the Ides of March.” That the prophecy still reverberates nearly five centuries later is chiefly because Caesar was subsequently dispatched (and on the date prophesized) by several backstabbing Roman senators.

But today those same five trepidation-inspiring words can also stimulate curiosity in those of us interested in reducing our towering ignorance ever so slightly. Until I looked it up recently, I hadn’t known that the “Ides” of March, May, July, and October were, under the old Roman calendar, the 15th day of each of those months.

One long-ago Roman emperor’s demise isn’t the only reason to fear the Ides of March, though. Nazi troops seized the provinces of Bohemia and Moravia on March 15, 1939, effectively ending Czechoslovakia’s existence. Exactly two years later a deadly blizzard struck North America’s plains, leaving more than five dozen dead in North Dakota, Minnesota, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. And the citizens of Cilaos, a town on the Indian Ocean island of La RĂ©union, cannot forget the traumatic events of March 15, 1952, the date on which they were inundated with a world record 73.62 inches of rain within a 24-hour period!

But regardless of these and a surprising number of other cataclysmic occurrences which have taken place on that particular date, it seems grossly unfair that March’s Ides has gotten tagged as the lone notorious 15th day of a month. What about the Ides of July? King Richard II of England had John Ball, a leader of the Peasants Revolt, hanged, drawn, and quartered on July 15, 1381. A volcanic eruption killed approximately 500 people in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan on July 15, 1888. And a grave injury was inflicted upon humanity’s collective civility quotient and impulse control on 2006’s Ides of July, when the social media platform “Twitter” was launched.

Historically the Ides of October is no better. Hurricane Hazel devastated North America’s east coast (claiming 95 innocent lives in the process) on that date in 1955. The worst industrial accident in Australian history occurred on October 15, 1970, when a span of the West Gate Bridge collapsed, killing 35 workers. And destructive October 15th earthquakes rocked both Hawaii (in 2006) and the Philippines (seven years later).

Obviously, prudent behavior is a must for this Saturday, the 15th day of the month. Hopefully this year’s Ides of May won’t be as grimly catastrophic as far too many past Ides have been, but why take chances on a date that during this century alone has already claimed the lives of singer-songwriter June Carter Cash (2003), televangelist Jerry Falwell (2007), former Miami Dolphin place kicker Garo Yepremian (2015), and beloved comedian Fred Willard (2020)?

I’m not the least bit superstitious. But I still can’t help wondering if, early on May 15 six years ago, Garo Yepremian unwittingly walked under a ladder. <

Friday, May 7, 2021

Insight: Watch out for misplaced boxes of bobbins

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

From personal experience, I can tell you that a small wooden box of bobbins can produce significant pain and suffering and leave you shaking your head in astonishment.

To set the scene, Friday, April 30 was my wife Nancy’s birthday. I had a full slate of activities planned to celebrate her special day and after she left for work, the plan was put into motion. I wrapped her gifts, then went and bought her a full bouquet of flowers and a birthday cake.

To be extra nice, I did three loads of laundry, swept all the floors and emptied all the trash cans. As the final load of laundry made its way through the dryer, I took a shower and expected to sit back and wait for her to return home to see what I had accomplished. We were planning on ordering take-out Chinese food and then enjoying the cake with her youngest son who lives nearby.

But a box of bobbins proved to be my undoing. Since it was chilly and rainy that day, I decided to wear a long-sleeve shirt, which I keep in our spare bedroom closet. To see my selection of shirts better, I stepped into the closet and turned on the light in there. I was barefoot as I was in the process of dressing. Suddenly my foot stepped on a wooden box of bobbins and sewing supplies stored on the closet floor by my wife.

Bobbins and sewing thread spools went flying everywhere much to our dog Fancy’s amusement. On the other hand, I was totally startled, slipped, lost my balance and fell backward, taking a hard fall onto the bedroom floor, landing awkwardly on the left elbow.

As I warded off the dog from snatching up the spools and bobbins, I began to feel some severe pain from the fall. But I was able to retrieve many of the small round bobbins, which are aluminum cylinders used by my wife as she operates her sewing machine.

I righted myself and slowly got up from the floor, tossing the bobbins back into the box and closing the closet door. My initial thought was why would anyone store that box on the floor where someone could step on it. However, having lived in this household for quite a few years, I’ve learned questions like that typically go unanswered or come with remarks such as “why not put it there?’

I finished dressing and thought that the pain would soon subside and would eventually go away. It was, in fact, Nancy’s birthday and nothing could spoil our plans for that monumental occasion.

With some difficulty and using strictly my right hand, I retrieved the laundry from the dryer and folded and put away the rest of the clean clothing and towels. I had lunch and then laid on the sofa waiting for her to arrive back home.

As time passed that afternoon, the ache became worse and it got to the point I could not comfortably turn my left arm or extend it without serious pain. The moment she got home, I told her what happened and sheepishly asked if we could put postpone the celebration to Saturday evening.

She agreed and drove me to the Emergency Room at the hospital to find out what was causing my pain. Five hours later, with my left arm encased in a splint and wrapped in gauze and in a sling, the doctor said that based upon my x-rays she thought I had a radial head fracture of my left elbow. She instructed me to rest the arm, told me to put lots of ice on it to reduce the swelling and prescribed morphine for the pain.

Driving home in pouring rain, I apologized to Nancy for ruining her birthday. Both of us were starving from not having eaten for more than eight hours and so we hastily gobbled down sandwiches upon getting back home and went to bed.

Days later, I’m still wearing the sling and although the acute pain has mostly disappeared, I’m still in the splint and sling and can’t get the gauze wrap wet when taking a shower. I have an appointment with an orthopedic specialist later this week and will know more then.

The moral of this story is to always be careful and watch where you step. You never know, a small wooden box of bobbins could prove to be your undoing too.

Bill Diamond: Bold reform needed to protect Maine’s children

By Senator Bill Diamond

Twenty years ago, Maine was shocked by the death of 5-year-old Logan Marr, a little girl who had been placed in state custody and was killed by her foster mother’s abuse and neglect. Logan’s foster mother, Sally Schofield, was a former caseworker for what was then called the Department of Human Services. Schofield duct taped Logan to a high chair using more than 40 feet of tape, wrapping it around her body and face, and the highchair eventually tipped over. Logan died, slowly, of asphyxiation in her foster mother’s basement.

I was deeply affected by Logan’s death, as were many Mainers. How did the ultimate harm come to this child, who had been placed in Schofield’s home by the State to keep her safe? I became convinced that there were systemic problems with how the State handled child welfare cases. Many others felt the same way. The chosen solution at the time was to combine the Department of Human Services with the Department of Behavioral and Developmental Services, creating what continues to be known as the Department of Health and Human Services, or DHHS.

DHHS is a huge bureaucracy, and it oversees everything from the Maine CDC to SNAP benefits, to licensing long-term care facilities and more. It also includes the Office of Child and Family Services, or OCFS, which is responsible for child welfare. Over the years, investigations have continued to identify poor coordination between law enforcement and OCFS. Changes had been made to fix the problems that led to Logan’s death, but those changes would prove insufficient.

A few years ago, over the course of barely two months, tragedy struck again. In December 2017, 4-year-old Kendall Chick was murdered by her grandfather’s girlfriend; DHHS had placed Kendall in that home. In February 2018, 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy was murdered after months of abuse at the hands of her mother and stepfather. Marissa’s abuse was reported to DHHS, but they did not take adequate steps to get Marissa out of her deadly situation.

I attended these trials and the evidence I heard strengthened my resolve that we are still not doing what we need to do to keep our kids safe. I want to be clear: My concerns about DHHS’s ability to protect children in state care is not a condemnation of the individual caseworkers and others who dedicate their lives and careers to Maine’s children. This work is incredibly difficult and emotionally challenging; it is not a glamorous job. But the evidence tells us that our system is still failing to keep kids safe, even when DHHS is alerted to child abuse or is actively working a case.

Every year, the Maine Child Welfare Ombudsman issues an objective assessment of OCFS’s work. Despite many improvements, the Ombudsman’s most recent report highlights two patterns of failure. First, initial safety assessments are still lacking, including failure to recognize risk to the child when evidence is clear. Second, OCFS often reaches the end of a case, or makes a critical decision about reunification between children and parents, without sufficient information. The result is Maine children continue to be at risk. These problems are structural, rather than the result of individual failings. A structural problem requires a structural solution.

This year, I introduced a bill that would take the Office of Child and Family Services out from under DHHS and make it its own department. I felt by doing this we could give this critical agency the attention and resources it needs. This bill was given due consideration by my colleagues on the Health and Human Services Committee, many of whom did not feel it presented the right solution. I can accept the consensus that this bill wasn’t the right choice, right now. What I can’t accept is more promises that we’ll fix things, while children continue to suffer and even die.

This is not the end of the road for reform. We need bold change to keep Maine’s kids safe, and I will continue to press forward. I’ve heard from people from all over the state who have shared their experiences, and it’s my obligation to do something about it. It’s an obligation we all share to Maine’s most vulnerable: our children.

If you ever have a story to share, or if I can do anything for you or your family, please reach out to me at diamondhollyd@aol.com or call my office at 207-287-1515. <

Andy Young: A simple, perpetual pleasure

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

Memorial Day weekend portends the arrival of hordes of visitors that are considered by many to be the lifeblood of our state’s economy. But even for Mainers with no direct connection to the tourism industry, the first day of this month provides an even greater excuse for celebration. 

May Day was originally intended, at least in the northern hemisphere, as justification for festivals heralding the onset of spring, and the more pleasant weather that typically accompanies it. But for me May 1 is much more than that. It’s the day on which I can take the slender, miniature four-sided wooden plank (the one with “January” painted on one of its sides, “February,” on another, “March” on the third face, and “April” on the other) that serves as one-third of the base of my family’s perpetual calendar and move it all the way to the back of the line.

The last thing I do before retiring each night is change the date on that brilliantly simple, simply brilliant six-piece contraption. An utterly uncomplicated yet ingenious device I picked up for under $10 Canadian dollars on a trip to Nova Scotia some years ago, it consists of a small, decorative wooden frame (mine has a frog painted atop it), three tiny, thin, four-sided wooden bars, and two cubes that sit atop them. One of the six-sided blocks features one of the numbers from zero through five on each of its faces; the other’s sides sport zero through two and seven thru nine.

But what about the six? Ahhh, here’s where the ingenuity comes in! The face of the block bearing the numeral 9, when rotated 180 degrees, clearly displays the digit which, at first glance, seems to be missing from the collection.

I liked my fully functioning froggie calendar so much that, on a subsequent trip to New Brunswick, I purchased a second such item, one with a butterfly as its backdrop. It cost even fewer Canadian dollars than my frog-themed calendar had! I immediately put it to work as the official date-proclaimer on my desk at school.

Manipulating the blocks correctly allows the calendar’s operator to always display the correct date. As for the month, well, that’s for the trio of small pieces of lumber to announce. Each has sides on which are printed the names of four months; in addition to the one referenced earlier, the second bar’s four sides bear the words “May,” “June,” “July,” and “August,” while the third is emblazoned with the names of the final quartet of months.

It’s hard to find fault with this simple yet innovative device. Its only real drawback: its user can’t write down appointments on it, as is the case with more traditional, two-dimensional paper calendars. It’s also incumbent upon the owner to remember the year himself or herself, since no rational person should want their simple calendar’s piece count to jump from six to 10.

Operating a perpetual calendar like mine can be challenging for the dull-witted, or for those who are easily frustrated, like the student who tried numerous times, without success, to make the one on my desk read “October 69.” Too bad for him the six and the nine are in reality the very same block.

Few tangible but inanimate objects give me as much pleasure as my perpetual calendar does. That frog is usually the last thing I see before closing my eyes each night, and the butterfly, which served ably at school, will do so again once current COVID-related restrictions on objects that could conceivably spread disease through being touched by coronavirus-tainted hands have been relaxed.  <

 

Friday, April 30, 2021

Insight: Has spring officially arrived in Maine?

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

Before I moved to Maine, a friend told me he wouldn’t live here again because the state had nine months of winter every year. I laughed and thought he was mistaken, but after a few years, I recalled that conversation and wondered if perhaps his notion about Maine weather didn’t truly have some merit.

My wife Nancy is a first-grade teacher and on the day that her spring break officially began this year on Friday, April 16, we looked out the window that morning over breakfast to see that it was snowing once again. Mother Nature had seemed to not grasp the concept of “spring break” that day.

Just a few weekends before that sudden snowstorm on April 16, many Maine residents found themselves outside in relatively warm 70-degree weather, doing yardwork and enjoying not having to wear a jacket outside for the first time in 2021. Of course, there are always hard-core individuals who insist on wearing a T-shirt, shorts and flip flops while grocery shopping in Maine in January, but I think they would do that no matter what the weather conditions are any time of year.

As for me, despite seeing a few daffodils and crocus flowering in neighbor’s yards that same week the weather warmed up while taking our dog for a walk, I remained wary and thought that a nor-easter could spoil everyone’s early spring picnic plans if the wind picked up and I was right.

Just when you seem to think that spring has arrived and snow has gone away until the fall in Maine, it returns with a vengeance.        

A few years back, it snowed at our home the week before Halloween, and I ended up having to shovel the sidewalk so that Trick-or-Treaters could trudge their way through the white stuff to our front door. By my logic, if October counts as a snow month in Maine, certainly then November, December, January, February, and March also can be labeled as snow months here too. Through the years that I’ve lived here, significant accumulations during those months leave little doubt they belong on the list of official snow months for the state.

Since it snowed on April 16 this year and again the following day on April 17 this year, I can now add April to that list of snow months in Maine too. And, I’m not sure how many people here remember waking up on Saturday, May 9, 2020 and peering outside only to discover that  about 3 ½ inches of snow had fallen on Maine overnight that day.

While using the snowblower on our driveway to clean up the mess that storm had left last May, I begrudgingly decided to add May as an official snow month to my list as well. So now that list had grown once again to include October, November, December, January, February, March, April and May for a grand total of eight months in which Maine has received snow since I first moved to the state.

For those who are thinking that last year’s May snowfall was nothing more than a freakish occurrence or an aberration, the National Weather Service reports that since it first began keeping track of measurable snowfall in the 1870s for Maine, that on May 11, 1945, a total of seven inches of snow fell on Portland and the surrounding locations.

And although I wasn’t around in Maine on Sunday, Sept. 29, 1991, the National Weather Service reports that on that very day in Caribou, a total of 2 ½ inches of snow accumulated there during an early season storm that lasted for two days into Sept. 30, 1991.

 

Therefore, some may argue that technically, September should count as a possible snow month in Maine too. That would expand the list of snow months to nine, which is precisely the same number my friend mentioned to me prior to me moving here that I thought was such a preposterous statement.

 

Many of us would prefer to see Maine’s weather through an optimistic prism, harkening to painter Jamie Wyeth’s quote of “There's a quality of life in Maine which is this singular and unique. I think. It's absolutely a world onto itself.”


When it comes to finally accepting that spring has arrived and the snow is gone for good in Maine though, I tend to employ Ronald Reagan’s famous quoting of the Russian proverb of “Trust Yet Verify” following an arms reduction summit in the 1980s. Nudge me when it finally happens. <

 

Andy Young: How Earth Day almost became 'Back to Earth Day'

 By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

I woke up in a great frame of mind last Thursday. Earth Day reminds us of the importance of maintaining a habitable home planet, a state of affairs not enough people seem to acknowledge or appreciate these days.

My own April 22 this year was unusually memorable, but not because I spent it composting, picking up roadside trash, or adopting some new renewable resource.

I had arranged to attend to some chores during the school vacation week. One was getting what remains of my hair trimmed.

I got my first Maine haircut a little over 25 years ago. I had just relocated to Saco from Raleigh, North Carolina, and there was a barber shop within walking distance from where I was living. The owner/proprietor was welcoming and friendly. Even more importantly, he was proficient at cutting hair. He’s retired now, but his daughter, who’s clearly inherited all of his talents, still runs the place.

Nothing earns customer loyalty more quickly than the combination of competence, amiability and kindness. That’s why even though I now live some distance away, I continue to patronize that very same place to get what’s left of my once-lush locks snipped, which explains why I was headed south on I-295 last Thursday morning at around 9:30 a.m.

What it doesn’t explain is why, shortly after passing the second Congress Street exit, I saw a white car coming directly at me. Since I was traveling in the left lane at a rate of around 55 mph at the time, this was cause for concern.

I’d read about wrong-way drivers in the past, usually after some tragic fatality that occurred in the wee hours of a weekend morning. But this too rapidly unfolding situation was occurring on a sunny day. And more significantly, I was directly involved.

There wasn’t enough time to panic. With no left shoulder available at the portion of the highway I was on, I jerked the wheel to the right, veering into the only available space. Thankfully, there was no one already occupying it. The cars in that lane, as well as the ones that had been behind me, all made the split-second adjustments necessary to avoid a potentially lethal high-speed collision.

With no time to hit the horn, swear or be frightened, I had just reacted. Thankfully the wrong-way driver didn’t zig or zag; he just kept speeding north, straight as a string, in the southbound passing (or for him, the right) lane. When I last glimpsed his car in my rearview mirror he was obliviously plowing ahead through on-rushing traffic. A few horns sounded, but I don’t remember hearing any squealing brakes.

I expected to see a grim aftermath of some awful head-on collision on my return trip, but miraculously there were no signs of any accidents. Later, a friend I had told of the surreal incident sent me a news story about a drunk driver who had somehow gone nearly five miles traveling northbound in the southbound lane of I-295 before finally getting pulled over.

I suspect I’m not the only motorist who’s still processing narrowly missing a life-altering collision with a wrong-way motorist whose BAC (blood alcohol content) was allegedly more than three times the legal limit. I hope that irresponsible driver gets the help he needs. He’s exceptionally fortunate he’s merely facing charges of driving to endanger and OUI, but not, thankfully, manslaughter or vehicular homicide.

But I’m even luckier than he is. His reckless actions reminded me to fully embrace getting up each morning and also that as long as I continue to exist, every day is Earth Day. <