Friday, August 7, 2020

Insight: Look to the past for inspiration for the future

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

Each year as the calendar turns to August, I stop and reflect about what can be accomplished in life if you set your mind to it. For some this comes easy, but for my father, it was a constant struggle to forge a new life free from the limitations of hardship and poverty.

Born Aug. 11, 1925 as the youngest of nine children and raised on a farm outside Fairport, New York, my dad’s story is like many others who lived through the Great Depression. Putting food on the table and staying warm in the winter was the priority and all members of the family, no matter their age, were expected to contribute.

Ed Pierce, Sr. near Biserte, Tunisia, 1944
While other students at Fairport High School were playing sports or participating in other after-school activities, my father worked two jobs. On Saturday mornings he received a penny for every bowling pin he placed upright on a lane as a pinspotter at a local bowling alley. When classes in school wrapped up weekdays, he trudged off to a 25-cent an hour job at a company that made tin cans for businesses.

There wasn’t money to go to the movies or to buy new clothes. He didn’t own a car and he walked six miles into town for school and then back home again.     

His teachers raved about his abilities in mathematics and science and encouraged him to go to college, but on the same day he graduated from high school in 1943, his draft notice arrived in the mail and those plans were put on hold.

Trained as an infantryman, my father joined thousands of other soldiers on a troop ship bound for Libya. Years later, he spoke of seeing extreme poverty there as Libyan families would raid the soldiers’ trash and convert discarded burlap bags into clothing for their children.

Leaving North Africa, my father was part of the U.S. contingent of troops landing at Anzio Beach, Italy in January 1944. In one of the bloodiest battles of the war, the Americans eventually prevailed, gaining a foothold to drive the Nazis from Italy.

A few months later, as his unit was advancing on Cisterna in Italy, my father was shot in the back by a sniper while trying to repair a broken communications line. He survived his wounds and was discharged from military service in 1946.

He enrolled at Manhattan College in New York City and used the GI Bill to study mechanical engineering. Missing home and finding the cost for room and board expensive, he transferred to the Rochester Institute of Technology and worked a series of part-time jobs in addition to his college studies to pay for his textbooks.

While working as a private investigator, he met my mother and they married in 1951 after he became the first person in his family to ever earn a college degree. I came along in 1953 and my brother in 1957 and by then, my father was pursuing the post-war American dream. Along with my mother, they bought their first home, their first new car and he started his career as a mechanical engineer for Delco Automotive and later ITEK, Xerox, Nalgene Plastics and Harris Corporation.

He rarely talked about his experiences in war, but became something of a sports fanatic, never missing a game on television and championing my desire to someday write about sports for a newspaper.

Just after retiring at age 65 on May 19, 1991, a drunk driver struck my father’s car head-on near Kissimmee, Florida as he was returning home from an afternoon visiting his oldest sister in Lake Wales, Florida and he died.

Through everything he did growing up, my father paved the way for me and my brother to have a better life. I’ll never complain about how bad things are during the pandemic after hearing him talk about eating buttered spaghetti noodles without sauce or meat as the main dish for supper during the Great Depression, or how he watched in horror as an Army buddy lost his life standing just inches away from him during a blast from a Nazi machine gun turret while storming the beachhead at Anzio.

Today, we stand on the shoulders of those who endured far worse than we will ever know and the lesson they have left for us is that we can and will survive these trying times. My father was proof of that and I am reminded of it each year when his birthday nears. <     

Bill Diamond: What will school look like this fall?

By Senator Bill Diamond

What happened to our education system this spring was unprecedented. Almost overnight, in-classroom instruction ended, students were sent home, and they, their parents and their teachers had to adapt to a new normal of remote learning over the internet. School administrators took decisive action to ensure students would continue to get the food and support they needed to thrive. It was a heroic effort by all, which was necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community. All involved deserve our praise and gratitude.

This is part of the reason why Maine leads the nation with our effective COVID-19 response: We are diligent, we look out for our neighbors, and when times get tough, we step up. But we are not out of the woods yet. Major outbreaks of COVID-19 persist across the country, and as summer wanes, many activities will move indoors, increasing the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Unfortunately, this means the prospect of schools returning to in-classroom instruction this fall brings up a lot of concerns. It should be said that in classroom instruction is beneficial to students. With remote learning, students’ experiences can vary significantly based on their home environment, socialization is difficult, and lesson plans may not always translate. Remote learning may also increase the risk of child abuse or neglect, as it adds to stresses and pressures at home, and gives children less contact with mandated reporters who may be able to intervene.

Still, it is inescapable that in-classroom instruction presents a risk of COVID-19 transmission. Research indicates that while children who are infected with COVID-19 are less likely to experience the most severe effects of the disease, they are capable of transmitting to other children and to adults they come in contact with. That is a risk that we should take very seriously.

To that end, the Maine Department of Education has put together a color-coded health advisory system to determine the relative safety of returning to school. Red means there is a high transmission risk, and classes should be done all remotely. Yellow means there is some risk, and classes should be a mix of remote and in person. Green means the risk is low and classes may be done in person. As of Friday, the Department of Education has put the entire state in the green category, but circumstances could change.

These designations are done by county, which limits their usefulness, as there is a lot of geographic diversity within our counties. For example, Lake Region Schools and Portland Schools are technically in the same county, but the Maine CDC data show that there are significantly more cases in Portland than there are in Casco, Standish, Raymond, Baldwin and Windham. That difference matters.

Still, we should take some comfort in the extraordinary work being done by our school staff to prepare for a potential reopening. In the Windham-Raymond School DistrictBonny Eagle SchoolsLake Region School District, and the Sacopee Valley School District staff have been working closely with families, teachers and communities to plan and prepare for the eventual return of in-classroom learning. They are planning for symptom screening, physical distancing inside the schools, hand hygiene, and protocols to follow after a student has tested positive. They have also been working to acquire personal protective equipment. They, and our communities, will face many difficult choices in the coming weeks and months, and I appreciate that everyone continues to step up in this moment and make sure every child can get the education they deserve.

If you have questions or concerns about what reopening schools will mean for our community, I want to hear from you. You can send me an email at diamondhollyd@aol.com or call my office at 207-287-1515.<

 


Andy Young: Realizing a childhood ambition … sort of

By Andy Young

Columnist

When  I was young (as opposed to Young, who I still am) I had no interest whatsoever in winter, spring, summer or fall. The only season worth caring about was baseball season. I planned to be a major leaguer, a goal I knew I could attain thanks to having read several sanitized, ghost-written memoirs of big league stars, each of whom professed to have succeeded by simply drinking milk, respecting his parents, listening to his coaches and getting lots of practice.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t considered that unlike Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax, Willie Mays and their friends, I couldn’t hit a ball 400 feet,  throw one 90 miles per hour or run like the wind to catch one. My playing career peaked at age 15, when I was selected to my town’s Babe Ruth League all-star team. Surprisingly, we won the first game in the single-elimination state tournament against a cocky bunch of bearded, muscular city kids before swaggering up to some small town we’d never heard of and getting humbled by a bunch of unassuming country boys. My contributions were limited to shouting encouragement from the bench, since back then no rule mandated that each player get in the game. Our team’s coach stuck to using the players he judged to be his best nine for the entirety of both contests, and even with 20-20 hindsight and a pair of rose-tinted spectacles, I don’t recall being one of them.

But despite being equipped with a fastball that even with a tailwind couldn’t break 60 miles per hour and a 5-foot 8-inch, 120-pound frame that only occasionally generated sufficient power to drive a ball over the infield, I dreamed of seeing the name “Andy Young” in a major league box score someday. It’s hard to say exactly when I accepted that aspiration wouldn’t come to fruition, but by the time I hit 35 even my closest friends were suggesting, however delicately, that perhaps it was time to focus my attentions elsewhere.   

One brutally honest associate, who in retrospect was probably an early practitioner of “tough love,” was more direct. “I will never open up a newspaper and see your name in a major league box score,” he heartlessly declared.            

I can only hope that guy, who now lives on the west coast, bought a copy of the newspaper this past Sunday, because if he perused the box scores on the sports page, he’d have seen that 26-year-old Andy Young, a native of West Fargo, North Dakota and product of the Indiana State University baseball program, had made his big league debut the previous evening, playing a flawless second base for the Arizona Diamondbacks in the top of the ninth inning of an 11-2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. In fact, he was in the on-deck circle when Christian Walker, Arizona’s first baseman, struck out to end the game.

Andy Young isn’t just the 19,748th person to have ever played major league baseball. He’s also the 18th native North Dakotan to have done so. More relevant (or at least more relevant to me) he’s the 41st big league baseball player with the surname Young, having been preceded (in no particular order) by Anthony, Cy, Eric Sr, Eric Jr, Mike the outfielder, Michael the infielder, Chris the pitcher, Chris the outfielder, Delmon, Alex, Dmitri, Kevin, Walter, Curt, Gerald, Babe, Don, Bobby, Delwyn, Ernie, Irv, Pep, Cliff, Ralph, Matt, Kip, John, Del the outfielder, Pete, Del the infielder, Dick, Tim, Danny, Jason, Harley, Russ, Charlie, J.B., George, and Herman.

But best of all, Andy Young has made my childhood dream come true.

Sort of.<

 

 

 


Friday, July 31, 2020

Insight: Families not defined by genes, rather by love

No family is perfect, some just seem to adapt to circumstances better than others.

Not long ago, my wife and I had dinner with visiting friends from New Hampshire who had recently gotten married. Each had been married previously and each had grown children from those marriages. One’s spouse had died and the other one was divorced, but this couple fell in love, and had decided to marry and spend their lives together as husband and wife.

Bill and Ida
End of story? Well no, it seems one of the newlyweds’ adult children objected to the marriage and will not allow her kids to visit with or talk to their grandparent on the phone. And all because an adult child resented the new spouse.

When I heard that story, it reminded me of a couple my own family knew when I was young and how those people changed my life for the better.

Ida was a real estate agent that my parents hired to sell their house in the 1950s. She became best of friends with my mother and soon our family met Ida’s husband, Bill, a World War I veteran with a heart of gold who enjoyed regaling us with stories about his job at Eastman Kodak.

Bill and Ida were in their late 60s and all alone except for a black cat they called “Blackie” and an all-white Spitz dog they called “Whitey.” Ida stayed single until she had married Bill late in life after a career as a newspaper reporter in Ohio. She was fun-loving, loved singing and once went on a date with former heavyweight boxing champion Max Baer in the 1930s.

By the time we were introduced to Bill and Ida, my brother and I had lost all of our grandparents. We listened to other kids talk about spending time with their grandparents and wondered what it would be like to have someone to be close to and do things with like that.

Knowing that we had no remaining grandparents that were alive, Bill and Ida informally stepped up and became our foster grandparents. I spent many Sunday afternoons with Bill watching baseball games on television or helping him cook popcorn. Ida showed me how to sew and how to pour a bottle of soda pop without it foaming over the top of a glass.

I could talk to them both about upcoming school projects, girls I was interested in or why my parents expected us to keep our rooms clean. They taught me to respect others, what calamari is made from and occasionally would take us in Bill’s 1963 Buick Riviera to Bob’s Big Boy for cheeseburgers, fries and root beer.

But the story behind this story is actually quite sad. Bill was married and raising a family with his first wife and he and his wife worked different shifts at Eastman Kodak. When one of them was arriving home on the afternoon bus, the other was just leaving for the Kodak plant on the departing bus.

One day only minutes after he had gotten off the arriving bus after a long shift at work, Bill watched and saw his first wife dashing across the busy city street to catch the departing bus as she was late. A speeding truck struck her in the middle of the crosswalk and she was killed instantly before Bill’s eyes.

He raised the couple’s three children alone and they all graduated from college and enjoyed successful careers and had families of their own. But after spending years as a widower, Bill met Ida and they fell in love and got married.

Bill’s kids would not accept that and disowned him, cutting him off from all access to his grandchildren. They didn’t call or visit him on Christmas or his birthday and he was profoundly saddened by that. He had so much love to share with them and it’s disturbing to me that he died a few years later without ever reconnecting with them.

But my brother and I came to love Bill and Ida and were so grateful that they chose to share their lives with us, even if their own grandchildren could not.

Time is too short to play hurtful games or to be offended by decisions you have no control over. The real strength of families is our love for one another no matter what and it’s a pity some people will never learn that. <

—Ed Pierce

              


Andy Young: Shouldn't today be lucky?

By Andy Young

Columnist

I don’t know much about superstitions, horoscopes, or the zodiac, but simple logic suggests that the date on the newspaper you’re currently holding should be considered a serendipitous one. After all, if Friday the 13th is considered unlucky, shouldn’t Friday the 31st, its reverse, be seen as lucky?

The last day of July has plenty of unique history of its own. Christchurch, New Zealand was incorporated as a city on July 31, 1856. New York International Airport, which was later renamed for President John F. Kennedy after his 1963 assassination, was officially dedicated on July 31, 1948. More recently, Fidel Castro handed over control of Cuba to his brother Raul on July 31, 2006. Two recent Massachusetts governors were born on this date: William Weld (1945) and Deval Patrick (1956). So were Kmart founder S. S. Kresge (1867), actor Wesley Snipes (1962), and author J. K. Rowling (1965). Billy Hitchcock, who managed baseball’s Baltimore Orioles in 1962 and 1963, was born July 31, 1916; his successor, Hank Bauer, was born on the same date six years later! But both were born on a Monday, which makes that remarkable coincidence just as irrelevant to the question at hand as the rest of the above information, since none of these events took place on a Friday.

Fortuitous or not, Friday the 31st doesn’t come around very often. In the 21st century’s just-completed second decade (2010 to 2019), only nine such dates existed. There were none at all in 2011 or 2016, and in only one year was there more than one: January 31st and Halloween both fell on Friday in 2014.

There were three Friday, Aug. 31sts during the just-completed 20-teens (2012, 2013, and 2018), but Fridays Jan. 31st (2014), March 31st (2017), May 31st (2019), July 31st (2015), Oct. 31st (2014), and Dec. 31st (2010) all occurred just once. Not a single Feb. 31st, April 31st, June 31st, Sept. 31st, or Nov. 31st fell on a Friday during the entire decade, but a review of Mother Goose’s “Thirty Days Hath September” confirms coincidence had nothing to do with that.

Now contrast those nine Friday the 31sts with the whopping 19 Friday the 13ths that occurred over those same 10 years. Maybe that’s why “Friday the 31st” never gets so much as a sniff from the motion picture industry, yet filmmakers roll out Friday the 13th sequels with the same regularity and reliability that brings the swallows back to Capistrano. How many movies starring a masked, psychotic, unkillable revenge-seeker does America need?

Unfortunately, overwhelming anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that Friday the 31st is anything but lucky. Mary Ann Nichols became Jack the Ripper’s first victim on Friday, Aug. 31, 1888. A catastrophic flood inundated Johnstown, Pennsylvania on Friday, May 31, 1889, killing over 2,200 people there. Over 100 American sailors were killed on Friday, Oct. 31, 1941 when a U-boat torpedoed their ship. A tornado that struck Edmonton, Alberta on Friday, July 31, 1987 killed 27 people and left $332 million worth of damage in its wake. Friday the 31st wasn’t fortuitous for either Selena, the Queen of Tejano Music, who was murdered by her fan club’s president on March 31, 1995, nor professional wrestler/actor (a classic redundancy) Rowdy Roddy Piper, who died on July 31, 2015.

Lucky or not, there are only nine Friday the 31sts left in the 2020’s. And we’d better make the most of them, since over the same period of time there are 15 more Friday the 13ths, which will inevitably lead to more graphic gutting, pulverizing and decapitating courtesy of Jason Voorhees.  

And there’s nothing lucky about that. <

 


Friday, July 24, 2020

Andy Young: Stream of Consciousness

By Andy Young

Columnist

Someone told me recently that I was difficult to chat with, claiming I can’t stay focused on one subject long enough to have an intelligent conversation. I don’t know what she was talking about.

Baseball’s designated hitter rule is stupid. Claiming “pitchers can’t hit” is even more foolish. In youth baseball right up through high school the pitcher is generally one of the best batters on his team, if not THE best. But no one can hit without regular opportunities to do so, and that’s what happens to the pitcher when they start letting a DH (an abbreviation for a Latin term that roughly translates to “bad fielder”) take his place.

The chipmunk population has exploded this summer! Maybe my neighbor who feeds them is part of the reason, but still, you’d think they’d want to live in her yard, since that’s where the food is. But no; the second-biggest Chipmunk Condo in the neighborhood lies beneath my front steps. The largest one is under the front steps of the guy who lives across the street from the chipmunk nourisher. He’s got no more use for the furry scourges than I do.

I love bran muffins.

Yellow ultra-fine-point Sharpies are useless! The ink is virtually invisible. Writing a letter in yellow Sharpie would be like refereeing a basketball game with a dog whistle.

I’ve never been to the Ozarks, but I’d like to get there someday. I’ve also never been to North Korea. I’m okay with that, though.

I don’t think anyone under the age of 60 has bought a radio in the last decade.

I have never finished the Sudoku puzzle in the daily newspaper on a Friday. The Monday thru Thursday (and Saturday) ones are cake, and I can usually do the Sunday one. But Fridays are impossible. Maybe there’s a fiendish Sudoku Master somewhere who’s bent on achieving world domination by bewildering all his potential opposition with unsolvable logic conundrums.

Why does anyone care about the Kardashians, or similar celebrities who are famous for being famous?

Playing professional or college football during a pandemic is even dumber than playing it when there isn’t a pandemic. Greed, pure and simple, is why NFL team owners and collegiate athletic officials want games this fall, even if they’re played in empty stadiums.

Since social distancing began, I’ve been biking a lot more. So far I’ve pedaled a distance that would require more than two tanks of gas to travel via automobile. That’s $50 or so extra dollars in my pocket, plus a tiny amount of pollution I haven’t created.

But I’ve seen a lot of discarded cans and bottles on the side of the road.

Is anyone in favor of indiscriminately strewing trash out car windows, or in the woods? Littering is selfish, lazy and environmentally destructive. Being pro-littering is like being pro-cancer, pro-bullying, or pro-coronavirus. Making the deposit on bottles and cans a quarter (up from a nickel) per container might not solve the problem of littering, but I bet it wouldn’t make it worse.

I just discovered that if you watch the Three Stooges for more than thirty consecutive seconds, they stop being funny.

Of all the things Americans value, a television is probably the least essential.

By the time my children get to be my age, there probably won’t be newspapers anymore. Well, at least they’ll never be frustrated by the Friday Sudoku.

Someone told me recently that I was difficult to chat with, claiming I can’t stay focused on one subject long enough to have an intelligent conversation. I don’t know what she was talking about. <



Thursday, July 23, 2020

Insight: Is it mental floss or trivial understatement?


Those who know me best are keenly aware of my ultra-competitive nature and desire to win at whatever game I’m playing. Perhaps some of that stems from endless hours of watching game shows on television as a kid and trying to shout out the answer before the contestants did.

Yes, I was, and remain to this day, a sucker for contests pitting ordinary foes against each other in a showdown for a new fully furnished living room set or oodles of cold hard cash. No matter if it was “The Newlywed Game” or “Concentration” or “The Joker’s Wild” or “Jeopardy,” if it had a question-and-answer format, I was down with it and that led to a lifetime pursuit of useless trivial knowledge that has consumed hours upon end of my life.

Among the useless tidbits I have acquired and filed away for future reference through the years -- 1967 American League batting champion Carl Yastrzemski hit .326 in leading the Boston Red Sox to the AL title that year; Valletta is the capital of Malta; the King of Hearts is the only king in a deck of standard playing cards without a mustache; and that Richard Mentor Johnson of Kentucky served as U.S. vice president under the eighth U.S. president, Martin Van Buren.

From the realm of musical trivia, were you aware that singer Mac Davis’s lone Number One hit as a solo artist was “Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me” in 1972, but that also he wrote “In the Ghetto” for Elvis Presley’s 1968 Comeback Special? And my father used to chuckle because I knew that the one-hit wonder “They’re Coming to Take Me Away Ha-Haaa” was recorded by Napoleon XIV.

I also can tell you that in terms of distance, Maine is the closest U.S. state to the continent of Africa, or that the real name of U2’s Bono is Paul David Hewson. How about that Dave Thomas opened the first Wendy’s in Columbus, Ohio in 1969? Or that because of their weight, elephants are unable to physically jump? 

One would assume that possessing all of this knowledge of trivia would lead to wild success in board games or a shot at a televised game show, but you’d be wrong.

When I was in elementary school, I dominated when playing classic board games such as Go To The Head of the Class; Password; Careers; Life; Uncle Wiggly; and Game of the States.

In taking the Jeopardy test online twice, my computer stalled each time and I ended up blowing my chance at meeting Alex Trebek. But I actually did get to interview Pat Sajak and Vanna White in Phoenix, Arizona when I tried out for Wheel of Fortune in the 1980s. I made it through the first round of contestant testing yet bombed miserably in the second and much harder elimination round.

In 1999, I nearly made it through the phone elimination for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? My phone answer was in the correct percentile on the first night, but I was .002 percent slower than my opponents across the nation in answering the question on the second night of elimination testing.

As a result, I missed a chance to go to New York City because of a slow finger. My longstanding dream of appearing on the same podium with Regis Philbin or any other hosts from vintage TV game shows such as Wink Martindale; Bill Cullen; Peter Tomarken; Allen Ludden; Bert Convy; Dennis James; or Art Fleming remains stalled.

At least at home I still am the undisputed master of trivia when playing the board game version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire that my wife and I picked up at a thrift store in New Hampshire a few years back.

Scrabble is another story though. My wife Nancy presents a significant challenge and I have to play her extremely cautiously to avoid setting her up for triple word scores in the outside corners and feeling humiliated until the next game.

But at least in playing Scrabble, I only have to come up with words, not recite facts like 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel was the shortest player to ever bat in a Major League Baseball game or that one dairy cow can produce up to 200,000 glasses of milk in a lifetime.

And lastly, if you were to ask me what country’s capital has the fastest growing population, my answer would be Ireland, because every day it’s Dublin. <

–Ed Pierce


  
    

Friday, July 17, 2020

Insight: Requiem for lost youth -- Food Edition


I’ll be the first to admit that I have a fascination with nostalgia. Having grown up in the 1960s, I can recall what it was like to view the introduction of new products advertised on television and then saddened to see them go when discontinued or replaced by another.

Recently during a discussion with a younger colleague, I tried to describe “Fizzies,” which were one of my favorite treats as a child. “Fizzies” were similar to Alka Seltzer, effervescent candylike tablets that bubbled when put in a glass of water.

Coming in a variety of flavors, “Fizzies” could be found near packages of Kool-Aid in the grocery store. My favorite flavor was root beer and it was an amazing sight to watch the tablet dissolve before my own eyes and turn into soda pop without the bottle or can.

Alas, “Fizzies” soon fizzled out and were gone by the time I completed junior high school before they were revived and discontinued several more times over the years.

Another product I enjoyed in my youth was a cereal called “Crispy Critters.” It was sweetened oats made into the shape of animals like animal crackers and the cereal box featured “Linus the Lionhearted,” who was the star of a Saturday morning animated TV show.

Heavily promoted by Post Cereals, “Crispy Critters” initially sold well, but faced enormous competition and I stopped seeing it on supermarket shelves by the early 1970s.

And while I’m discussing cereal, when is the last time you could find Alpha Bits in the store? It seems to have disappeared for good like so many other brands from my childhood.

As I got into college and started working, and being on a limited budget and miniscule salary, fast food restaurants appealed to me because of economics. One of my favorites was Taco Bell and at the time they offered a tasty item called the “Bell Beefer” on its menu. It was seasoned hamburger meat on a bun served up with diced onions, shredded lettuce, taco sauce and optional grated cheese.

For me, the “Bell Beefer” was akin to a sloppy joe and often paired with nachos on late-night trips through the drive-through. Sometime in the mid-1980s, Taco Bell dropped the “Bell Beefer” and the world seems a much lonelier place without it.

As a young reporter for the Albuquerque Journal newspaper in the late 1980s, I worked evening shift from 2 to 11 p.m. and always ended up being sent to dinner about 8 p.m. by my editors. When I didn’t brown bag my lunch, the only place open near the newspaper plant was a Wendy’s less a half-mile from there.

I rapidly became a huge fan of Wendy’s “Build Your Own Salad Bar,” which included every salad item known to modern man and a “Build Your Own Taco Bar.” For just $2.99, I could satisfy my hunger and I’d be remiss to not mention the heaping bowls of chocolate pudding for dessert included at Wendy’s with the “Build Your Own Salad Bar.”

But alas, like many other food trends of years past, Wendy’s phased out the “Build Your Own Salad Bar” and by the time I became an editor myself in 2007, they were gone for good.

Lastly, those who know me well are also aware of my sweet tooth and inability to pass up candy.

Two personal favorites of mine from childhood, “Turkish Taffy” and “Chick-O-Sticks,” appear to have vanished from the candy selection in modern stores.

At a price of just 5 cents, “Turkish Taffy” was a slab of gooey chewy delight that defied eating all in one setting. Banana was my favorite flavor, but I challenge you to find “Turkish Taffy” anywhere today other than in the nostalgia candy offered in the gift shop at Cracker Barrel.

“Chick-O-Sticks” was a crunchy spear-shaped mixture that indulged my affinity for peanut butter and coconut and usually required me to brush my teeth afterward to remove crunchy after-bits that clung to my molars like there was no tomorrow. Like “Turkish Taffy,” I believe “Chick-O-Sticks” can only be found today in vintage candy sections.

And my wife frequently reminds me she thinks I’m the only human left alive who still buys candy “Circus Peanuts” when I see them at the store. 

Like they say, all good things eventually come to an end, but memories do indeed last a lifetime. Nostalgia sure isn’t what it used to be. <

—Ed Pierce

Jessica Fay: The importance of volunteering


By Representative Jessica Fay

Doing something for someone else improves your life. No matter what our age, we all feel better when we have a purpose and when we are helping others. Volunteering with a community, town or social service organization can provide an important outlet for that sense of personal fulfillment. This is not just me saying it, studies have shown that volunteering is good for our health, decreasing the risk of depression, reducing stress levels and keeping people who volunteer more physically and mentally active.

Over these last few months I have found that volunteering has been a lifeline for me and has helped me stay in touch with our community and its needs. Even as we are more physically distant, I have found that we can build community through volunteering.

I often hear from volunteers that they get more out of the experience than they put in, and they are the lifeblood of our communities and towns. Local governments couldn't function without good people giving of themselves to run for office or serve on boards and commissions. Our libraries and food pantries are staffed and run by those who give their time freely, allowing them to operate with a minimal paid staff.

In these troubled times, lots of people need help and there are many organizations both large and small that could use new volunteers. There are also a lot of people who find that they suddenly have more time on their hands and a need to interact safely with others. Volunteering can be a win-win all around.

No special talents are required, just a willingness to learn and the desire to help. Do you like to drive? Consider volunteering to deliver Meals on Wheels. Do you like to garden? Participate in your local initiative to beautify the community. Like to hike? Offer to help a land trust to maintain trails. These are only a few of the many volunteer opportunities out there in our community.

Our elections couldn't be held without volunteers. Many of the people who work at the polls do so because they believe in our democracy, because making sure that every vote counts is a civic duty. 

Most people engaged in volunteerism don't do it for the recognition, but because they want to give back to their communities, their friends and their neighbors. These people deserve to be noticed, however. In Maine, "The Spirit of America Award" recognizes community volunteers who have gone above and beyond in service to their communities. In Raymond this year the honor goes to Richard and Cleo Sanborn for their lifetime of service on town boards and committees and for their strong sense of civic responsibility. Congratulation on the award and thank you Richard and Cleo for all you have done to make Raymond a better place!

Sadly, volunteerism has fallen off in the last years. The reasons why are many. People are living and working in different communities, they are working longer hours. Trying new things can also be hard. If you are wondering whether volunteering is for you, sign up to help out at an event or volunteer on a one time or trial basis, or offer to help on a project that you notice needs doing.  It will help your community and probably make you feel good in the process.

Representataive Jessica Fay is serving her second term in the Maine Legislature and represents parts of Casco, Poland and Raymond. She serves on the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee and the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee. <


Andy Young: Bad things come in threes, but not for mice


By Andy Young
Columnist

It's surprising how many generally accepted familiar expressions are demonstrably untrue.

For example, he (or she) who hesitates is NOT always lost; just ask the driver who paused an extra split second after the traffic light changed, only to see some behind-schedule, risk-averse knucklehead ignore the just-turned-red signal and hurtle through the very space they themselves would have occupied had they accelerated just a tiny bit sooner.

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” depends, I’ve found, on exactly who it is that’s absent. Sometimes the heart grows more thankful with each passing day an entity in question remains missing. And do all things really come to those who wait? I for one am not convinced, since after nearly four decades of nominal adulthood I’m still waiting on some pretty significant things.

But despite the preponderance of false proverbs, there are still a few valid ones. For example, knowing for a fact that “Bad things come in threes” proved to be of great value not long ago.

On a recent Thursday I experienced an exceptionally bad day. I got up earlier than usual, perhaps because I was preoccupied with the knowledge that at 9 AM that morning I’d be sitting in a dentist’s chair getting poked, anesthetized, drilled and filled. At 8 AM the phone rang; the dentist’s office was calling to thoughtfully remind me that my meager insurance deductible was already maxed out for the year, so I’d be responsible for paying for the morning’s scheduled torture session out of my own pocket. 

And by the way, was I prepared to do so?

Taking some small consolation in the fact that whatever exotic summer vacation trip(s) I had been saving for aren’t going to happen anyway thanks to COVID-19,

I made it to my appointment on time, taking care to pause an extra split second at every stop sign and red light I encountered en route. Two hours later I left, as promised, $1,300 poorer.

Ignoring the still-lingering numbness in both my jaw and my wallet when I got home I retrieved the mail, which consisted of just one item: a bill for another $100 from my family’s Internet provider. 

But the worst was yet to come. Upon entering my humble abode, I flipped on the kitchen light and, out of the corner of my eye, detected some motion. 

And just in case I thought I had imagined it, a mouse emerged from under the refrigerator, briefly assessed the situation, then scurried back from whence he came.

Oddly, seeing the first physical evidence of vermin in the home I’ve occupied for nearly five years didn’t upset me. In fact, I felt a strange sense of calm. 

Ordinarily I’d have hesitated to take the actions I did, but the knowledge that all three allotted bad things had already occurred rendered me invincible. That allowed me to get on my bicycle, pedal through mid-day traffic on a heavily-traveled section of U.S. Route 1, and purchase a pair of mouse traps from a local merchant who carries such things. 

Knowing I was invulnerable, I cycled back through even more congestion without anything even close to a near-miss. In fact, I heard nary a curse from any driver(s) I may have cut off while on my mission.

Once home I set and baited the traps, and less than 10 minutes later I heard an eerie “snap.”

These days I’m grateful for many things, not the least of which is that I’m not a mouse. The one I encountered never did find out what the other two bad things in his day were going to be.  <

Friday, July 10, 2020

Andy Young: Dreaming of exotic staycation destinations

By Andy Young
Columnist

Given the ongoing pandemic gripping both the nation and the world, journeying to faraway destinations is clearly not prudent right now. It’s been nearly six months since I last left the state of Maine, which for someone who works less than 25 miles from New Hampshire seems highly unusual.

Like many teachers and parents, I enjoy discovering new places and revisiting old haunts when school is out. But since traveling this summer involves a high level of risk, the only borders I’ll be crossing will be the ones between local towns. And while wandering around in locales more virus-afflicted locales than ours is currently inadvisable, there’s no harm in taking vicarious excursions by writing, dreaming, or reminiscing about them.

Late in the 1980’s my youngest sibling and I informally decided to see which of us could venture to all 50 of the United States first. We each had jobs involving frequent domestic travel and/or short-term relocation, and at the time neither of us was encumbered with children or a significant other. My sister insisted on some basic rules, one of which was that for a state to count you had to either stay overnight there or consume at least one meal within its borders. Her proposed requirements rendered my claims to both Utah (layover between airline flights) and Iowa (a drive across a bridge from Nebraska for a 30-second cameo appearance) null and void, but nothing tangible was at stake. We also mutually agreed that an actual prize might take the fun out of it, so after concurring on guidelines the competition began.

By the mid-90’s each of us had legitimately checked off 48 states.

But then she got married and subsequently became a parent, and a couple of years later I went down that same winding road. It’s a quarter-century later, we’re still deadlocked at 48 states apiece, and today I’m waving the white flag. It’s time to admit, however reluctantly, that I am not going to win the contest.

These days travel is expensive, not to mention potentially hazardous to the health of older people, a demographic into which, by nearly everyone’s definition, I now fit. In addition, I have little things like a mortgage and some college educations to pay for that weren’t a factor back in the 20th century. That my nominal opponent still needs Alaska and Hawaii and isn’t any more likely to get to those places than I am to check off the two states remaining on my list is of little comfort. I’m still holding out hope that a trip to Oregon is in my future, but if I ever have the money necessary to go to Hawaii overnight (or at least eat a meal there), I’d undoubtedly opt to use it for something else.

But I can lay claim to a significant consolation prize: I’ve been to every Canadian province! I got my ninth and tenth when my three children and I motored out to Colorado and Montana eight summers ago and circled back through Saskatchewan and Manitoba on the way home.

It doesn’t look like I’ll make it to Canada this year. But while physically roaming far from home isn’t currently an option, few if any states are more attractive for “staycations” than Maine is. Thanks to our state’s unique geography, visits to Poland, Norway, and Denmark are all within easy driving distance. If I’m yearning for something more exotic (or less Nordic), Mexico and Peru are both doable. Maybe I’ll even try China, if they’re letting people from Cumberland County across the great wall that I imagine surrounds the place. <




Bill Diamond: Fighting for affordable prescriptions


By Senator Bill Diamond

There are very few people I know who aren’t concerned about the high cost of prescription drugs. Seniors, in particular, can find themselves spending massive sums out of their fixed income on medicine they need to stay alive and healthy. Studies show that about one in four Americans who take prescription medications struggle to pay for them.

About 8 percent don’t take their medicines as prescribed because they simply can’t afford them. 

While this isn’t a new problem, it has gotten markedly worse in recent years, as the cost of many life-saving and life-sustaining medications has skyrocketed. For example, in 1996 the price of a vial of insulin was $21. In 2019, that same vial, which contains the same product and doesn’t cost any more to produce, was about $275. That is a 1200 percent increase. Just this year, the price of Humira, a popular treatment for arthritis and other conditions, was raised by 7 percent, after being raised 19 percent over the previous two years. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has exasperated these issues, too. Recent reports show that since January of this year, pharmaceutical companies have raised the price of 245 different drugs by an average of 23.8 percent. We also recently learned that Gilead Sciences, the maker of the FDA-approved COVID-19 treatment Remdesivir, intends to charge patients with private insurance $3,120 per treatment course. To make matters worse, while the treatment was invented by Gilead, almost $70 million in taxpayer funds was spent developing Remdesivir. 

The regulation of drug prices mostly falls to Congress, but unfortunately progress on that front has stalled due to partisan politics in Washington. However, in Maine the Legislature does have some ability to protect consumers and offer relief for Mainers dealing with expensive prescription drug prices. 

That’s why, in the past year the Legislature has taken bold, bipartisan action to help lower prescription drug costs for Mainers. We passed a law allowing the wholesale importation of lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada; another that expanded prescription drug price transparency; and still another that established the prescription drug affordability board

We also expanded the Low Cost Drugs for the Elderly and Disabled program and capped out-of-pocket insulin costs at $35 per month for many insurance plans. 

While some of these programs and policies are still being set up, some are starting to have an impact. Maine recently received an “A” grade on prescription drug price transparency from the Catalyst for Payment Reform and the Source on Healthcare Price and Competition at the University of California Hastings College of Law. But there’s still a lot of work to do. 

We need to make sure Mainers don’t get nickel-and-dimed for medicine that they need. No person should have to choose between their medications and putting food on their table or paying their mortgage. I will keep pushing to make sure the state is doing everything in our power to protect Maine consumers and lower the cost of prescription drugs. 

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out. You can call my office at 207-287-1515 or send me an email at diamondhollyd@aol.com. I’m here to help.<