Friday, September 17, 2021

Insight: The hardest aspect of growing older

Mike Wilson
By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor


There are many aspects of growing older that aren’t bad. You have the knowledge and wisdom accumulated over a lifetime of experiences, along with discounted movie theater admission and lower car insurance rates. But the thing I dislike the most about being my age is saying goodbye to cherished friends and never getting an opportunity to speak with them again.

The all-too-familiar refrain of “Very sadly we’ve lost a dear classmate” reached me by Facebook over the Labor Day Weekend. My friend and the devoted organizer of our Rush-Henrietta Class of 1971 reunions, Janet Howland, had the sad task of sending out that message about Mike Wilson, a beloved teammate and pal, who died suddenly on Sept. 3.

Mike now joins a list of star athletes and classmates I have been fortunate to know, but who have left us far too early. My friends and classmates Mike Thone, Todd Clemens, Rick Calver, Steve Graves, Rod Middelsteadt, Alan Howden, Bruce Harrison, David Miller and John Rosati are gone now, among many other members of our graduating class.

I first met Mike Wilson our sophomore year in Physical Education class and found him to be quiet and reserved but once he got to know me, I discovered that he had a great sense of humor and was somewhat of a prankster at heart with a twinkle in his eyes. He was tall and had long brown wavy hair and was strong and fast, talents that served him well on the football field.

He was also very smart in school and helped me study and pass Algebra and Chemistry as we both had the same classes and teachers as juniors. Mike had a big heart and once you were his friend, he never let you forget that. He went out of his way to help anyone who asked for his assistance, and I even saw him pushing the car of the school security guard after school our junior year to help him start the vehicle without jumper cables when the car battery lost power.

As a senior on our undefeated championship football team, Mike was honored as an All-County selection at halfback, scoring 92 points and scoring 14 touchdowns. But after high school, life happened to intervene, and the Class of 1971 all went in different directions.

I went to college in New Mexico and then spent eight years in the U.S. Air Force. Mike stayed in Rochester and started his own produce business where he was still working when he died.

A father of four children and a grandfather of eight, he told me in a Facebook message that he was looking forward to seeing everyone from our graduating class at our upcoming reunion in Rochester, New York on Oct. 29.

For me that was going to be a special time, as I had not sat down and chatted with Mike since school. I was serving in the Air Force during the 10th annual reunion in 1981 and working for a daily newspaper in New Mexico as my classmates gathered for our 20th reunion in 1991 and I missed both of those get-togethers.

One day in February 2001, another classmate, Bob Fay, tracked me down and called me to mention that I had been listed as “among the missing” by the reunion committee and he gave me a phone number to be included “among the found.” I called and attended the 30th class reunion later that summer in 2001, and the 40th reunion in 2011.

I was glad I attended those reunions and was grateful to see my friends from school once more, but I always wondered why some classmates didn’t make it for those events.

For some reason, Mike Wilson couldn’t attend those reunions, but since the 50th reunion will be the last organized gathering for our classmates, he told everyone he would be there and had purchased his ticket for the dinner already.

From looking at his photos on Facebook since we reconnected in 2019 after the death of our classmate and friend Todd Clemens, Mike still looked as he did in high school, with the exception that his wavy brown hair was now grey. It’s evident in those photos what mattered the most to him was his family, his wife, his children, and his grandchildren. In almost every photo he posted he’s hugging them and letting them know how much he loved them.

Mike Wilson was proud of his family and lived his life to the fullest. He loved rock n’ roll music and sports and was as honest and genuine as they come.

So next month’s reunion will have yet another empty chair and many of us who gather will speak of him and share our grief at his unexpected departure. Losing dear friends is never easy, but what great memories we have of lives so well spent. <

Andy Young: A troubling omen for a major Maine industry

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle 

There’s an economic apocalypse headed for Maine.

How do I know this? Two words: scientific data.

The first writing assignment I give every year in my Grade 12 English classes is simple. It’s a questionnaire that seeks information from each of my students. The sheet concludes with four inquiries:


1)    Who is someone you admire (and why)?

2)    What specific thing(s) do you want to get out of your English class this year?

3)    Who’s the best teacher you’ve ever had, and what made him/her/them so effective?

4)    Of the five literacy skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking, and thinking), which is your strongest, and which one most needs to improve?

The answers I get generally provide an accurate barometer for gauging the level of academic commitment I’m likely to get from each responder. Terse, one-sentence feedback generally comes from someone who’s not all that motivated. However, thoughtful, in-depth reactions come from those likely to end up getting a great deal of value from the class. Often nearly as much as they contribute to it, in fact.

The survey also includes several simple “warm-up questions” requiring responses of less than a sentence. Examples: Where were you born? What’s a place you’d like to see someday? What’s your favorite food? And then, just to allow an outlet for creativity, what’s something that too gross for you to ever eat?

Happily, the return rate on this year’s initial written task was 100 percent, and I spent much of this past weekend compiling and examining the results.

Among the findings: the vast majority of this year’s seniors were born in southern Maine, although some began life in North Conway, New Hampshire; Columbus, Ohio; San Juan, Puerto Rico, or Boston, among other places. Among the exotic locales these future impact-makers aspire to see some time in the future: Japan, Tahiti, Dubai, and Australia. The usual suspects appeared on the “Favorite Food” list: steak, pasta, pizza, and strawberries all got multiple shout-outs.

But there’s grim news contained on the question of “foods too nasty to ever ingest.” While asparagus, broccoli, and olives all got their share of mentions, the runaway winner (or perhaps loser, given the nature of the category) was…. seafood! And it wasn’t particularly close; olives, the second-place finisher, didn’t even get half as many votes as the Class of 2022’s official least favorite food did.

I don’t wish to be an alarmist, but while this admittedly tiny sampling provides data that is merely anecdotal, it behooves those in charge of our fair state’s sea-related industries to redouble their efforts to trumpet the attractiveness of the commodities brought to market each year by the thousands of hardworking Mainers who make their living harvesting products from the Atlantic Ocean. 

After all, would Wisconsin’s ruling class sit idly by after learning a large number of high school seniors in their state hated cheese (or Heaven forbid, beer)? Would the powers that be in Texas merely shrug if they discovered that numerous young people in their cattle-producing state were aspiring vegans? And if young Detroiters decided they’d prefer to do all of their traveling by bicycle (or worse, in Toyotas), would Michigan’s power brokers stand by idly?

The public relations wing of Maine’s fishing, lobstering, clamming, crabbing, scalloping, eeling, and oystering industries had better get cracking.

Overstating the severity of a problem rarely leads to finding a solution, which is why characterizing the alarming disgust many young Mainers are showing toward seafood as an omen of a coming apocalypse for the Pine Tree State is likely a broad overstatement.

It’s probably no more than a looming cataclysm. <

Friday, September 10, 2021

Insight: An epiphany that should resonate with all ages

A piece of the World Trade Center is on display
in front of the Laconia Police Department in
Laconia, New Hampshire to pay tribute to the
victims of that tragic terrorist attack.
PHOTO BY TRISH BEAUCHESNE
By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

I recently watched the six-part TV series on Hulu called “9/11: One Day in America” and a flood of memories came rushing back to me about that fateful day in American history and my own connections to the attacks that day.

For those who haven’t seen that series, it was created by National Geographic and includes unseen footage from the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and interviews with firefighters, survivors, loved ones of victims, civilian rescuers, police officers and helicopter pilots. What I watched was stories of incredible courage, the will to endure and to embrace life, tragic circumstances and above all, the indomitable human spirit.

There are portions of the series that choked me up and brought tears to my eyes 20 years afterward, and unbelievable tales I had never heard before on the evening news or read about in newspapers or magazines.

When it was finished, I came away with a profound sadness for those who lost their lives to such senseless acts and a greater understanding of what happened that day and how ordinary people took extraordinary measures to help their fellow man.

One such individual, Chuck Sereika, I had met in 2009 in Vero Beach, Florida. He was introduced to me as someone who had been at the site of the World Trade Center in 2001, but that was all I knew about him. He operated a home cleaning business and I only spoke to him for a few minutes.

My impression was that Chuck Sereika was a normal guy trying to make a living like everyone else. But in watching this series on Hulu, something clicked, and I then realized what a hero this ordinary man was.

On Sept. 11, Chuck Sereika was in his apartment in New York City and was trying to resume a normal life after giving up his career as a paramedic. The stress of that job fed an addiction and he quit and was not long out of a treatment facility on that tragic day.

A phone call from his sister alerted him to turn on the television and watch the events unfolding live. His sister asked him if he was there and helping and that question prompted him to take his paramedic uniform out of the closet, put in back on and go the World Trade Center site to see if he could be of assistance.

He got there as the darkness of evening fell and walked through the piles of twisted metal and girders with two U.S. Marines trying to find survivors from the collapse of the buildings. Standing on the smoldering metal was so hot that he could feel the rubber on the bottom of his boots melting.

But soon the group followed cries for help to a smoking hole in the ground. Sereika climbed down 20 feet below the surface and found Port Authority policeman Will Jimeno and Sgt. John McLoughlin trapped but alive. It began a massive effort to dig them out and free them from the metal beams pinning them down there. All while Chuck Sereika stayed with them, rendered them whatever assistance he could, and gave them hope that they could survive, which they did.

To think that I had met this man and not known his story at the time left me saddened and appreciative of what ordinary people can do when facing trying times.

When I moved to Laconia, New Hampshire and was working for The Citizen daily newspaper, one of my duties in covering the city of Laconia was to cover the Laconia Police Department. Each time I visited the police station on Fair Street while working on a news story, I passed a modern statue of twisted metal outside at the entrance to the sidewalk.

One day in 2014, I happened to stop and read the inscription and was shocked to learn that it was a piece of the World Trade Center. A foundation gave pieces away to cities across America so its residents would never forget the events of that day and what it means to be an American.

I must have passed by hundreds of times before ever stopping to read the inscription and realizing that part of history was so close by to where I was living and working at the time.   

Ultimately, watching the series about 9/11 left me wondering about what all of the political strife, apprehension of each other, rage and anger and non-stop criticism of each other on social media and on television produces.

We are all Americans and blessed with freedoms other nations and people envy. If the lessons of 9/11 have shown us anything, underneath the politics, the divisive society we live in today and our distrust for our fellow man, it means nothing compared to the common bond and the precious life we as Americans all share. <  

Bill Diamond: Universal free school meals ensure that no child goes hungry

By Senator Bill Diamond

You wouldn’t know it given the weather we’ve been having, but the fact is that the fall is coming, and back-to-school season is here. After a year and a half of big challenges, I know students, teachers and families are looking forward to a more traditional school year this fall. But as much as we would like to say goodbye to many of the changes that we’ve had to make due to the pandemic, there’s one great innovation that’s here to stay: This year, and every year moving forward, all Maine students – regardless of income – will have access to free school meals thanks to a measure passed by the Maine Legislature. 

In Maine, one in six children experience food insecurity, meaning they don’t always know where their next meal will come from or when it will be. When kids go hungry, it’s much harder for them to learn, grow, and play the way kids deserve to be able to. Focusing on a school lesson is hard with a rumbling stomach and playing during recess or during afterschool practice is impossible if you don’t have any energy. When schools provide free meals to all kids, even those who don’t always have a full pantry at home can count on being well-fed during the week. 

You may be asking why universal free school meals are so important if we already offer free or reduced-price meals for low-income students. In the past, students have qualified for these meals when their families fill out forms about their finances and bring them to the school. But it can be hard to ask for help, and some families are reluctant to admit that they need assistance. On top of that, students often don’t want their peers to know that they’re getting a free or reduced-price meal, and so they forgo a meal altogether to avoid real or perceived judgement by their classmates. And then there are families who don’t qualify on paper, but who still struggle to put food on the table through no fault of their own. I’ve spent much of my time and energy as a legislator making sure no Maine kids slip through the cracks and providing universal free school meals is an important step in ensuring no child is forgotten.

Even though school meals will be free for everyone, it’s still important to fill out all the forms your child brings home. These forms allow the government to get an accurate snapshot of a school and its needs, so the school can get necessary resources to provide for its students. Be sure to complete the forms your child brings home this fall or visit www.maine.gov/doe/schools/nutrition/studenteligibility to fill them out electronically.

This new law is a big step forward for Maine kids, and it’s complemented by another policy the Maine Legislature passed this year. We expanded the Local Foods Fund, which allows schools to purchase locally produced food like fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and value-added dairy directly from local farms and food distributors. This program is a win-win; not only does it put more nutritious food on our students’ lunch trays, it broadens the market for farmers in our community so they have more places to sell their goods.

In addition to these innovative programs, the Legislature also made historic investments in Maine’s educational system. For the first time since voters mandated it back in 2004, the state will be fulfilling its obligation to fund 55 percent of K-12 education in our state. This is critical to making sure schools have the resources they need, while taking pressure off property taxpayers in the school district. The Legislature also supported postsecondary students who are pursuing college degrees or professional training programs by investing in the University of Maine and Community College Systems to keep tuition costs down.

Maine’s kids are Maine’s future, and it’s so critical that they have the nutritional and educational foundations they need to build happy, healthy, and successful lives. I’m proud of the policies we passed this year to do just that. As you and your family get ready for another school year, I hope you’ll see the impact these new laws have in your lives. And if there’s ever anything I can do to help, never hesitate to reach out to me. You can email me at diamondhollyd@aol.com or call my office at 207-287-1515. <

 

Andy Young: A date to observe, but not to celebrate

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle 

This Saturday an old friend of mine will observe her birthday.

I don’t mean to imply she’s elderly, particularly since she’s reaching a chronological age that I myself have already attained. But the last five words of this essay’s first sentence were very carefully chosen.

My friend hasn’t felt right about celebrating her birthday for the past 20 years. That’s because two decades ago on Sept. 11 terrorists hijacked four airplanes, then intentionally flew them into crowded buildings. Nearly 3000 innocent people died that day in the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center, at the Pentagon, or in a southwestern Pennsylvania field.

In a speech the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared that Dec. 7, 1941, was, “a date which will live in infamy.” Nearly six decades later September 11th earned that same dubious distinction.

Virtually every American born before Bill Clinton was president vividly remembers where they were and what they were doing on that now-infamous day in 2001. At 8:45 a.m. Eastern Time American Airlines Flight 11, with 81 passengers, 11 crew members, and 20,000 gallons of highly flammable jet fuel aboard, slammed into the north tower of the World Trade Center near the 80th floor. Eighteen minutes later another Boeing 767 plane, United Airlines Flight 175, hit the south tower. Sixty-five more souls (nine crew members and 56 passengers, including five hijackers) were lost at the moment of impact, as were countless others who were in the building at the time. The later collapse of both towers, plus the subsequent crashes of two additional airliners (one into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m.; the other near Shanksville, Pennsylvania at 10:03) added to America’s unimaginable nightmare.

Anyone living in the southwestern Connecticut town where I grew up, which is just 60 miles from New York City, knew or was acquainted with someone impacted by the loss of a friend or family member on 9/11. I went to school with two people who lost their lives on that awful day. I hadn’t seen either of them since the early 1980’s, but due to the time and nature of their demise, both are frozen in my mind’s eye as 21-year-olds.

Circumstances have rendered Sept.11, Dec. 7 and Nov. 22 the three most notorious dates in American history. Without trivializing the Pearl Harbor attack or the assassination of America’s 35th president, it can be argued that 9/11/2001 was the most instantly traumatic date in American history. The horrific bombing of Pearl Harbor catapulted the United States into World War II, but given the limited technology that existed in 1941, the immediacy of the effect on the nation’s psyche wasn’t nearly what it was when the Twin Towers were hit twenty years ago. The Pearl Harbor debacle took place on a Sunday morning in a United States territory many Americans had never heard of, one that was nearly 2500 miles from America’s west coast. And while most Americans had televisions in 1963, there weren’t 24/7 news stations, let alone any Internet. The grim events that unfolded in Dallas got the quickest, most accurate coverage possible at that time, but the broadcast capabilities of America’s three (at the time) networks were primitive compared to the reach of today’s numerous sources of instant news.

It’s not right that people born on Sept. 11h can’t fully celebrate their birthday, but not everything in life is fair. Just ask anyone whose child, spouse, or friend went to work in the World Trade Center twenty years ago.

Time may indeed heal all wounds. But it doesn’t make the scars disappear. <

Friday, September 3, 2021

Insight: Welcoming back my favorite month

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

Ever since I was small, the month of September has always been my favorite time of the year. While it’s still warm enough on some days to go without a jacket, there’s also a pronounced change in the seasons in the air, heralded by cooler temperatures. 

As a young child, September meant going to the Sears store in Rochester, New York with my parents on a Saturday morning shopping for back-to-school clothes. Not that there was anything glamorous about selecting new underwear and socks and as a Catholic school student with mandated school uniforms, my new clothes typically consisted of several blue shirts and a black clip-on tie, blue pants, and shiny new black shoes.

But as mundane as choosing that apparel was, I then got to accompany my father over to the coat department and he would let me pick out a colorful jacket of my choice for the coming winter. It also helped that the Sears aisle on the way to the jacket section had a fresh peanuts section that my father always had to stop at, and he usually bought a bag of Spanish peanuts and shared them with my brother and myself.      

One of the best clothing selections I ever made ever came when I was in seventh grade in September 1965. There was one young men’s jacket that caught my eye, and it was within our price range at $8.

It was a bomber-style jacket, green in color with white sleeves and a large New York Jets emblem on the left front side. Being a football fan and especially of the start-up American Football League at the time, my father suggested that I try it on, and it was a match made in heaven, fitting perfectly. We purchased it as my next jacket, and I was thrilled.

The Jets were led that season by the much-publicized rookie quarterback named Joe Namath and my friends in school were mostly either Buffalo Bills fans or more traditional NFL fans of the New York Giants and the Cleveland Browns. I took a lot of flack for wearing the Jets jacket everywhere I went and was proud to wear those colors each day.

In later years, I laughed when I watched actor Fred Savage’s character Kevin Arnold on the television program “The Wonder Years” wearing the exact same jacket on the show as I had almost three decades earlier. And I also reveled when the American Football League merged with the National Football League in 1970, but not before the Jets and Joe Namath defeated the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III in 1969. I had the Jets bomber jacket for three years before I outgrew it and it got passed on to cousins much younger.

Besides going back to school after Labor Day every year, the month of September also had a slew of new television shows making their debut on the only three networks airing at the time, ABC, NBC and CBS. I recall one September in 1966 when our family watched classic premiere episodes of “The Monkees” and “Star Trek” on NBC along with “That Girl” on ABC and “Mission Impossible” on CBS.

Back in the old days, new TV shows and cartoons for children also made their debuts on Saturday mornings in September. CBS was my preferred Saturday morning network in the early 1960s because it included many of my favorites such as “Captain Kangaroo,” “Mighty Mouse,” “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” and “Rin Tin Tin.”    

For our family, every five years or so the month of September also meant going to the car dealer so that my parents could purchase a new automobile. New models of cars were typically unveiled in September in the late 1950s and 1960s and sometimes the introductory sale prices for the new models would be affordable for my parents. 

My father wouldn’t drive a car more than five years at a time, saying he didn’t want to pay expensive repair bills and he’d rather be behind the wheel of a new car as it was less expensive to operate. It seems like only yesterday when my father traded in his Ford Fairlane for a brand-new teal-colored 1962 Chevy Impala and our family got to ride home with him in that new car. By 1966, it was traded in for a new white Ford Galaxy 500. 

September on the calendar also marks the arrival of the first official day of fall. Usually before that happens, leaves begin dropping off the trees as nights turns colder and what kid doesn’t like to jump into a pile of freshly raked leaves? It like a rite of passage for many, including me.  < 

Andy Young: Back in the saddle

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

Who exactly decided to declare that a new year should begin each Jan. 1? In today’s world that seemingly arbitrary choice has long since become impractical, illogical, and just plain dumb. 

Contrary to what traditional calendars dictate, any student, teacher, or person related to a child, or an educator knows that the actual start of a fresh year arrives when school begins anew, which around here occurs on or around the first of September.

When I was an immature teenage boy (a classic redundancy), I loudly professed to hate everything about school. That was the default attitude of every homework-despising student who was unmotivated, disaffected, disinterested, lazy, or, in my case, a combination of all four of those unattractive traits.

Like many willful nonperformers, I considered myself way too cool for school, so not surprisingly I spent most of every summer vacation publicly bemoaning the inevitable re-opening of the place, constantly expressing my disdain for school (and the kid-hating slave drivers who worked there) to anyone who’d listen. 

But I also had a secret I wouldn’t have revealed to anyone back then, least of all to any of my like-minded, underachieving pals.

I actually looked forward to the reopening of school each fall. 

The truth was there were some things about the school’s reopening that I enjoyed.

One example: going back meant being transported to a central location where all my friends would conveniently congregate. Another upside: the start of each year of high school meant an end to full-time summer employment. In my case that involved 40 or more hours each week of pushing lawn mowers, pulling weeds, digging ditches, picking fruit, and performing similar thankless tasks. 

And despite the handsome paycheck of $66 and change I took home each Friday, doing those chores helped me decide that none of those endeavors would be something I’d pursue as a career once my school days were finished.  

This week I’m beginning my 20th year of teaching high school English. And here’s something I now know for a fact which I never would have suspected when I was a student myself: adult school staff have the same conflicted emotions about the start of a new school year as kids do!

We all secretly look forward to meeting the new young folks whose futures we’re being entrusted with. And as was the case a few decades ago, we look forward to renewing acquaintances with our friends, many of whom are, not surprisingly, also our colleagues.

Of course, we’re all a little sad about the end of our vacation, although we have to be careful about who we vent to about that particular issue. Nurses, accountants, engineers, construction workers, and others who don’t get ten weeks off each summer often struggle to find empathy for those of us who do.

They also don’t want to hear about the total number of hours we put in during an average calendar year, regardless of when it starts.

I started teaching because I wanted to make a difference. It didn’t take long to learn, though, that every adult who interacts with young people, whether their title is teacher, coach, guidance counselor, employer, parent, or something else, influences each young person they encounter. It’s unavoidable.

The challenging (and occasionally tricky) part is figuring out how to make that impact a positive, (and hopefully lasting) one. 

There are some unique challenges at my school right now, but that’s the situation every September. The bottom line: it’s still a pleasure and a privilege to have the responsibility of impacting the future through teaching. 

Happy New Year! <

Friday, August 27, 2021

Insight: Possible pre-requisites for matriculation

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

Right now, many students in Maine and across the nation are preparing to head back to school and some of them are wondering what classes they will be signing up for this fall. 

Back in my final year of college at the University of New Mexico, I had already wrapped up the requirements for both my major (journalism) and my minor (history), so I had my choice of five three-hour elective courses to complete my studies and earn my Bachelor of Arts degree.

In looking over the list of available courses and discussing it with my friends and family, I was faced with a tough decision. I could either load up on fun and easy classes or try to learn something meaningful and make it worth the cost of my tuition. I decided to choose courses that offered me opportunities to relate to my daily life and upcoming professional career in journalism.

My schedule included an internship in the newsroom of the Albuquerque Journal newspaper starting at 3 p.m. every day, so my college classes needed to be mostly in the mornings. I enrolled for Spanish, Introduction to Astronomy, Film Appreciation, History of Native Americans, and American Constitutional Law.

I figured that each one of these courses would be challenging, but each one also would give me some basic knowledge to use going forward as a newspaper reporter. 

The Spanish class came very early on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 7 a.m. The Spanish instructor was the daughter of an American diplomat and had lived in Panama growing up. She was patient and funny and frequently would include singing in her lessons. Just imagine a room of adults swaying and harmonizing to “La Cucaracha” early in the morning and you’ll get the picture. Whatever she did, it worked because almost four decades later, I can still remember basic Spanish words and what they mean.

Astronomy was a large class of about 300 students and was held at 9 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays in a large science lecture hall. It included a large theater-sized projection screen for our professor to show us slides of stars and galaxies that he was talking about during each session. From that class, I carried away a rudimentary understanding of astronomical terms such as what is a quasar, where to find the Big Dipper in the night sky, and that one of Jupiter’s moons, Ganymede. is the largest moon in our solar system, has its own magnetic field, and is bigger in size than the planet Mercury.

In Film Appreciation class, we watched and discussed some all-time classic movies, many of which I had never seen before. We learned about film directors, film genres and techniques used by filmmakers to tell their stories. As a huge fan of Westerns, I recall watching “Shane” for the first time in that class and being enthralled with the cinematic landscape of frontier Wyoming that director George Stevens and cinematographer Loyal Griggs depicted in that film. It’s a great story too, especially the showdown between good guy Alan Ladd and the menacing villain of the movie, Jack Palance.

The History of Native Americans class turned out to be one of my favorite courses I ever had in college. The professor was eccentric and dressed in an unusual fashion. (Think German lederhosen outfits if you know what those look like.) But he was a masterful teacher and I learned so much about Native American culture and tribes that it left me wanting to know more about the original inhabitants of the North American continent.

I learned about ancient burial mounds, inspiring Native American leaders such as Sequoyah, Tecumseh, and Black Hawk, and elaborate systems of government such as the Iroquois Confederacy.

In American Constitutional Law, I gained understanding of the structure and functioning of the U.S. government, what a tort is, and studied famous U.S. Supreme Court decisions. To this day, I can tell you why “Miranda warnings” are required to be given by police officers during an interrogation, or that in the 1963 landmark case, Gideon vs. Wainwright, the court ruled that all defendants have the right to an attorney and must be provided one by the state if they are unable to afford legal counsel.

Each of these elective courses served to broaden my education and helped me to better understand the world I live in. If I had to do it all over again and was back in college and faced with a decision about what to take, I would probably follow the same path and enroll for those same elective courses once more.

In my opinion, the purpose of education is not merely to accumulate useless facts and knowledge that you may never use again, it’s really all about growing as an individual and learning to think critically to make informed decisions later in life.

Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if everybody had some valuable insight about the subject or subjects that they tend to spout off about? <

Getting ahead of the game

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

The only thing less enjoyable than visiting a mall is doing so on the day after Thanksgiving, or anytime during the holiday season, for that matter. Obtaining the perfect Christmas gift for a loved one is far easier when you don’t have to vie for personal space with uncontrolled hordes that confuse providing joy for others with blood sport.

Finding inspiration is significantly less stressful in uncrowded conditions, so last week I visited a local, stand-alone shopping emporium, sensing there would be a smattering of browsers there, rather than multitudes of individuals foaming at the mouth in their eagerness to consume.

The store’s extensive clothing section included a ton of activewear that predictably featured the insignias of the Red Sox, Bruins, and Celtics. But there was also collegiate apparel from Virginia Tech, Dartmouth, Michigan, and Vassar, not to mention both kinds of Patriots (New England and Gray-New Gloucester), the Maine Black Bears and the Maine Red Claws. Other T-shirts touted Mountain Dew, the Baltimore Ravens, Bar Harbor, the U. S. Olympic Team, and some familiar-looking polo ponies that are probably some big company’s trademark.

Anyone desiring a T-shirt sporting the name of any humongous corporate sportswear producer (Under Armor, Reebok, Nike, Cabela’s, and Starter, for starters) could have procured one; however, those not desiring to pay for the privilege of being a walking billboard for someone else’s products could acquire generic t-shirts there (in several different colors) with no logo at all on them!

There was also a wide variety of headwear for sale, although judging by the amount of pink camo hats available (and their reduced price), I’m guessing that very few deer hunters are choosing to top off their outfit with that particular chapeau this fall.

The housewares section featured an extensive and varied collection of salad bowls, frying pans, decorative platters, coffee makers, blenders, stockpots, water bottles, toasters, breadmakers, fondue sets, colanders, soup ladles, cookie jars (the one shaped like a pig wearing a chef’s hat was my favorite), teakettles, water bottles, bamboo placemats, turkey basters, kitchen timers, and muffin pans.

And there were plenty of scouring pads, silicone gloves, cleansers, hypoallergenic stain removers, trash bags, and similar products for those concerned with keeping their domicile clean. 

Also in the store: welcome mats, area rugs, paper shredders, staplers, citronella candles, earrings, batteries, bandages, cell phone chargers, shoehorns, bird cages, picture frames, tin signs (Examples: Spiderman, Superman, and “These grounds protected by Smith and Wesson”), fans, humidifiers, dehumidifiers, space heaters, tables, chairs, pillows, mirrors, file cabinets, lunch boxes, backpacks, sketch pads, magic markers, reading glasses, mesh laundry bags, bike helmets, Halloween costumes, sunglasses, reading glasses, notebooks, swimming goggles, golf clubs, flower and/or vegetable seeds, skis, lacrosse sticks, baseball gloves, soccer shin guards, and a wide variety of books and DVDs.

There was also quite a selection for anyone with a coffee drinker in their life. Mugs bearing the words, “Happy birthday,” “Dad, you’re out of this world,” “A hug for my grandmother,” and several different designs of “Boss Lady” were just the tip of the iceberg.

For imbibers of other liquids there were glasses trumpeting, among other things: Pepsi, Coca-Cola, A & W Root Beer, and 7-Up; New Brunswick, Canada; Indian Head Resort; the Liberty Bell; a stylized letter L, and “Happy 35th anniversary.” 

I can’t say I got all (or even most) of my Christmas shopping done last week. But for anyone wishing to get the jump on their holiday acquisitions, here’s a tip: if you can’t find at least one thing for someone on your list at a Goodwill store, you probably aren’t trying very hard. < 

Friday, August 20, 2021

Insight: Insect prognosticators or creepy crawler folklore?

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor


Seems every time I visit one of my favorite British tabloid websites online lately, there’s always a headline and article about how insects have predicted a sudden storm or a weather catastrophe somewhere in the world.

I’ve been reading newspaper articles since I was young, but I’ve only noticed this story subject appearing on that tabloid’s website just in the past year or so. Can there really be something to this or is it merely playing on reader’s worst fears about intelligent insect life plotting to undermine human existence by predicting the weather?

Here in Maine, dealing with insects and arachnids is a fact of life for many of us. We’ve got an abundance of ticks, black flies, mosquitos, caterpillars, moths, bedbugs, beetles, millipedes, stink bugs, fleas, cockroaches, gnats, spiders, ants, earwigs, and many more creepy crawlers sharing space with us in the Pine Tree State.

But have you ever heard of a local insect species accurately predicting an unexpected summer downpour or an early fall snowstorm? I certainly haven’t, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some merit to that notion.

My father grew up on a farm in New York state during the Great Depression and I recall him telling me once that if I ever see a bunk of houseflies clustered together on a window screen or the outside of a door, it probably means cold weather is right around the corner.

When I was living in New Mexico, I heard some old folklore stories passed down through the generations suggesting that honeybees and butterflies know when it’s going to rain and find suitable places to hide to stay dry. That’s why you never see bees when it’s pouring outside or hear of people being stung during a rainstorm, according to that folk legend.

A real estate inspector in Virginia once told me that termites can sense the season by the temperature and ramp up their activities in the summer to take advantage of peak season warm weather. Because it’s so cold in the winter in Maine, pesky ants and stinkbugs can tell when the temperature is dropping and usually make a beeline for the first convenient opening they can find into your residence.

Then there was an article in The Old Farmer’s Almanac claiming that woolly bear caterpillars are capable of forecasting winter weather. It says this type of caterpillars has black and brown bands and according to folklore, more black than brown bands found on a woolly bear caterpillar indicates a harsh, cold winter, while more brown than black bands on a caterpillar means a much milder winter.

Again, I do not put much stock in old wives’ tales, but who’s to say these stories didn’t have some legitimate basis for being perpetuated through the centuries?

A little internet research confirms that ticks employ a sophisticated detection system to latch on to new victims. Ticks are known to find their hosts by detecting an animal or human’s breath and body odors, or through sensing body heat, moisture, and vibrations. Some ticks are even able to select a place to patiently wait for new prey through the identification of well-traveled paths by potential hosts.

Another article I read this summer on that same British tabloid website mentioned that a 2014 study in North Carolina found that some honeybees spend a great deal more time out of their hive looking for nutrients on sunny days than on days when a substantial rain is about to fall. This must mean that honeybees are intuitive and somehow know when it’s going to rain, the article speculates.

From everything that I’ve read about insects and weather forecasting, I’m convinced that British readers must have a profound fascination with both insects and weather to find this topic so compelling that it’s appeared more than eight different times since 2019.

Not so much across the pond though. It’s been my experience that the most widely read newspaper or magazine articles about insects and arachnids in America typically are negative and include details about harmful species, swarms of flying grasshoppers, destructive aphid attacks, chirping cicadas, Bugnados, invasive fire ants, murder hornets, emerald ash borers and toxic browntail moth caterpillar hairs.

Negative depictions of insects have permeated throughout our culture too, including popular films like “Silence of the Lambs,” where the sinister serial killer Buffalo Bill leaves African death’s-head hawk moths behind in his murdered victims’ throats until he is stopped by the heroic FBI agent Clarice Starling.

In my opinion, insects receive little credit for all the good they do, such as pollinating crops, providing a food source for fish and birds or helping the environment. The world is a more beautiful place because of colorful butterflies or lightning bugs. Not really a fan of wasps, hornets or spiders but I’m sure they do serve some sort of constructive purpose in nature.

As for insects predicting the weather, my contention is that a much more reliable result is probably available from an app on my smart phone. <

Andy Young: The time has come

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

My team’s Greater Portland Senior Softball League season ended earlier this month with a 23-10 drubbing in the loser’s bracket of the post-season tournament. Our two straight playoff losses were unsurprising, given our regular season record of 16 defeats in 17 games.

How does a team allow 23 runs in a seven-inning contest? Very easily, as it turns out, and were it not for the league rule limiting scoring to five runs per inning (until the final frame), we’d likely have surrendered another dozen or so before our opponents got tired from all that running around the bases.

When I began playing men’s slow-pitch softball, I was a fleet-footed outfielder who batted leadoff, or somewhere else near the top of the order. The truth: I was really good.

But … the whole truth: that was nearly four decades ago.

I stopped playing the game in the mid-1980’s when complications involving employment intervened. (Translation: I finally got a real job.)

But a few years ago, circumstances changed again, and when a friend asked me to join his team in the over-50 league, I couldn’t resist.

At the first practice the guy running things asked me where I played. As a newcomer I sensibly responded I’d go wherever he wanted me to. I wanted to add that if he asked me to play catcher, I’d know it was time to call it a career, but it turned out there was no danger of that, since in the senior league there’s no shortage of physically limited players who actually want to play the game’s least demanding, least interesting position.

A softball field looks a lot like a baseball diamond, but that resemblance is misleading. Slow-pitch softball is to baseball what checkers is to chess. Or maybe what “Candyland” is to chess.

Young slow-pitch softballers who can’t maintain a batting average of at least twice their weight (or three times their weight if they tip the scales at less than 200 pounds) will be hitting at the bottom of the order, assuming they can locate a team weak enough for them to merit any playing time at all.

The only necessity for anyone over 50 wanting to play softball is the desire to have fun, and thankfully all of my teammates had that prerequisite.

Whatever requirements that players possess even a modicum of athleticism pretty much evaporate once one qualifies for the senior league; that’s how someone like me can still participate.

Some modifications help level the playing field: for example, anyone can request a pinch runner at any time, first base and home plate have been altered to help avoid collisions, and pitchers have to duck behind a screen after each delivery, lest they get separated from their senses (or some more tangible body part) by a line drive hit up the middle.

Everyone on a 1-18 team bears some responsibility for the squad’s dreadful record, and this summer I was no exception. Because of arm issues I could no longer play shortstop, and when circumstances dictated my return to the outfield, the infielders serving as cut-off men had to run halfway to the outfield fence to relay my anemic tosses back to the infield. (Update: when I saw my doctor, hoping to improve the situation, his no-frills diagnosis was: “You’ve got a really old shoulder!”)

I won’t be holding a formal press conference to announce my retirement, but if I did, I’d paraphrase renowned 20th-century philosopher Yogi Berra, who moonlighted as a Hall of Fame catcher for the New York Yankees. One of his oft-quoted declarations was, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

It’s over. <

Friday, August 13, 2021

Insight: A half-century of fashion faux pas

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

At this stage of my life, I can barely recall what I had for dinner last night, let alone remember what I was wearing 50 years ago. But it looks like I might have to.

Earlier this year, I received an email from my high school classmate Janet Magraw Howland, who’s organizing our 50th Class Reunion to be held in Rochester, New York on the evening of Friday, Oct. 29. The Class of 1971 at Rush-Henrietta High School was supposed to hold our 50th Reunion in July, except those plans were scrubbed by the pandemic and pushed back to October.

In her email, Janet mentioned that reunion attire is expected to be clothing styles of the 1960s and 1970s. Unfortunately, the last of those debonair duds disappeared from my closet by the early 1980s as my waistline continued to expand as I got older.

The more I think about it, much of what I wore back then would probably not be suited for a reunion type of event. I remember really being into simplicity after graduating from high school and wearing colored T-shirts and denim farmer’s overalls throughout much of college. I also owned a snazzy pair of light purple Levis casual slacks which I threw away one summer about 1975 after I stained a redwood fence while wearing them and a lot of redwood stain ended up on them instead of the fence.

Now that I think about it, I also purchased a pastel pink sportscoat resembling one worn by Don Johnson on the Miami Vice television show, but that was in the mid-1980s, and I don’t think it would officially count as 1960s or 1970s clothing anyways. Seems to me I remember parting with that jacket after a can of motor oil inadvertently leaked on it in the trunk of my 1974 Honda CVCC.

Many of the fashionable shirts of the day for young men my age featured dazzling colors and bold patterns and were typically made of polyester. I wasn’t a fan of polyester because it was too hot and felt like I was wearing Saran Wrap. This was also the heyday of extra-wide bellbottoms and tall platform shoes, and I confess to owning some of those.

In 1973, I had purchased a pair of cherry red platform shoes from Kinney Shoes that I got married in and I never wore them again, although they sat on the floor of my closet for more than a decade and a half before I realized they weren’t coming back into style, and I relented and gave them to the church thrift store.

My collection of extra-wide bellbottoms was extensive. I had some in blue, green, brown plaid and a rusty orange shade. The reaction I got from my U.S. Air Force instructors at basic military training when I showed up wearing bright banana-yellow extra-wide bellbottoms was priceless though. They nicknamed me “The Disco Kid” which I grew to despise, and I made sure that the first chance I had to dispose of those bellbottoms, they found their way into the dumpster at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.  

When I graduated from high school in 1971, men’s shirt collars were long and pointy, and it was the height of fashion to wear a shirt featuring a paisley pattern which sort of resembled small amoebas. The last time I noticed anyone wearing a paisley shirt was the character Huggy Bear on the old Starsky and Hutch television show from the late 1970s.

Giant belt buckles were a trendy fashion statement for men in the 1970s. I had several metal-cast belt buckles, one which said “Coors” and the other with a running horse. 

I do know I still have some western shirt button covers which I used to wear when I went dancing on Friday nights at the discotheque. The button covers were made of molten nickel and remolded into a sunflower design. They clasped over the existing button and were prone to falling off, especially if an intense disco tune like “Funkytown” was played, meaning extended time on the dance floor. They have been in my jewelry box since 1987.

Like many other men of that day and age, I owned several double-breasted suits to wear to job interviews and weddings. These days the only time you see a double-breasted suit is in an old James Bond movie with Roger Moore.

And to go with my suits, I had a generous assortment of neckties, many of them nearly as wide as the lapel on my suitcoat. Most of those neckties were made of polyester and came in wild shades and styles. My first job working for a newspaper after getting out of the Air Force in the 1980s required me to wear a tie every day and I preferred the post-disco one-inch leather ties or woven fabric ties that were squared at the bottom. That was about as fashion conscious as I got back then.

So, it’s with some trepidation that I start thinking about what to wear to this 50th reunion. Polyester and bellbottoms? A belted sweater? Probably not. <

Andy Young: How different readers mark their page

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

It periodically occurs to me that downsizing would be a good idea. I’ve got more than enough “stuff,” so ridding myself of some of it (and perhaps getting it into the hands of someone else who’d enjoy it more) makes eminent sense. 

But for me getting out from under a certain type of possession is easier said than done. My efforts to divest are constantly being sabotaged by unplanned trips to establishments that sell used books. I just can’t get out of one of those places without purchasing something. And once I’ve impulsively bought a book or three, I invariably flip through the pages, which in most cases haven’t seen the light of day for quite some time. I got in that habit thanks to a veteran teaching colleague, who advised me to do so when collecting books at the end of the school year to make sure the texts being returned were in reasonably good condition.

But there’s another reason to give those pages the once-over: it’s a good way to discover and remove any makeshift bookmarks the book’s user, giddy about their impending summer vacation, might have inadvertently forgotten about and left behind.

One year I discovered a three-month old paycheck for $80 inside a copy of The Kite Runner. I returned it to the student whose name was on it, expecting an effusive thank you. What I got instead was a moderately surprised, “Wow! So that’s where that went!” If I had lost an $80 paycheck when I was in high school, I’d have taken my residence, my place of employment, the school, and if necessary, the entire town apart trying to find it. Of course, that never could have happened, since back then my paycheck for 40 hours of labor was nowhere near $80.

Most pieces of paper I’ve discovered inside used books were pretty random. I’ve found numerous cocktail napkins, some cash register receipts, and even an occasional matchbook cover.

I once found a ticket to a 1976 Pirates-Phillies baseball game at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium inside a used copy of The Glory of Their Times. That made perfect sense, given that the book’s subject was baseball.

But what made no sense at all was the ripped quarter-of-a-magazine-page I found last week inside a copy of a biography of the 19th president of the United States. When I unfolded it, I discovered the impromptu bookmark had been torn from a publication that was quite plainly pornographic.

I don’t have to resort to improvised page keepers, because I’ve got my own impressive stable of dedicated bookmarks. My favorite is one I manufactured myself. It features photos of three professional baseball players who played crucial roles in an unusually memorable Florida State League game I attended in 1992.

Making unique bookmarks is easy. Obtain copies of the desired picture(s) or drawing(s), cut them to the appropriate size, glue stick them onto a piece of sturdy cardboard, laminate it, snip off the sharp edges, and -voila - a unique, practical gift that invariably delights its recipient! Personalized bookmarks featuring photos of parents or grandparents with their youthful offspring make dandy birthday, Mother’s Day, or Father’s Day gifts, and receivers of such items will treasure them for a lot longer than they would a necktie or a scented candle. Or a scented necktie, for that matter.

The holiday season is closer than it seems, so last week when I was feeling creative, I produced a dozen or so one-of-a-kind bookmarks.

Now I’ve just got to decide who gets the one with Miss October and Rutherford B. Hayes on it. <

Friday, August 6, 2021

Insight: Creative grocery minds working overtime

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

On a recent trip to the grocery store, I discovered that new products are hitting the shelves this summer faster than I can keep track of them. 

The creative departments at Kellogg’s and General Mills decided that this was a perfect time to introduce a range of new mash-up cereals featuring familiar tastes. Shoppers can now choose between mash-up combinations such as Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes and Froot Loops or Frosted Flakes and Apple Jacks, or new concoctions from General Mills that feature a mash-up of Trix and Cookie Crisp or Lucky Charms and Frosted Flakes cereals.

Not to be outdone, the Kellogg’s braintrust also has jazzed up its line of Pop Tarts this summer with three new bakery treats including Peach Cobbler, Banana Crème Pie and Lemon Crème Pie.

For fans of Thin Mint cookies sold annually by Girl Scouts, I’ve noticed Keebler has now come out with a line of Girl Scout Thin Mint flavored ice cream cones. And the never-ending lineup of exotic Pringles’ potato crisp flavors now includes Wendy’s Spicy Chicken, Wavy Pineapple Habenero, and Scorchin’ Sour Cream and Onion.

Cashing in on the smartphone emoji craze, Eggo waffles has introduced “Eggoji waffles” with playful animated faces on each waffle. Then there’s also a new line of limited Hostess Cupcake summertime flavors such as Key Lime Pie and a returning summer flavor, S’mores.    

Traveling down the soda pop aisle, shoppers can’t help but notice the brightly colored yellow, green and orange cans of new Mountain Dew Baja flavors. The yellow can is pineapple coconut and Mountain Dew called “Baja Flash,” while the green can is called “Baja Blast” mixing traditional Mountain Dew with a lime flavor. The orange can is “Baja Punch” featuring a mix of Tropical Punch and Mountain Dew.

These may not necessarily be new products, but I just observed several items I’ve never seen before in the pancake aisle while shopping last weekend. My grocery store is now selling Cap’n Crunch’s Berrytastic Pancake Mix and Cap’n Crunch’s Ocean Blue Maple Pancake Syrup. The Cap’n Crunch’s Berrytastic Pancake Mix combines Aunt Jemima buttermilk pancake mix with colorful Crunch Berry cereal-inspired bits and Cap’n Crunch’s Ocean Blue Maple Syrup is a sweet topping with Crunch Berry blue color.

Nearby in that same aisle, I saw several kinds of new Aunt Jemima microwave pancake cups in chocolate chip and buttermilk and maple flavors. Each cup contains enough pancake batter that when mixed with water can be microwaved for an on-the-go pancake treat.  

Lay’s Potato Chips has three new flavors out for a limited time this summer including Chile Mango, Wavy Jerk Chicken and Summer BLT. According to the package, Chile Mango combines mango and chile pepper tastes; Wavy Jerk Chicken features the authenticity of spicy, sweet and smoky jerk chicken; and Summer BLT chips combine bacon, lettuce and tomato flavors.

Plant-based burgers and meats have been on grocery shelves for a while now, but during my weekend shopping trip I noticed a product line of plant-based fish in the frozen food aisle for the first time. Good Catch has a line of frozen fish sticks, frozen fish fillets and frozen crab cakes out now made entirely from plants.

It’s also hard to miss BirdsEye’s line of bright green packages of meat-free offerings in the frozen food aisle. BirdsEye’s Green Cuisine line sells a variety of plant-based chicken strips, plant-based chicken nuggets, plant-based sausage and plant-based meatballs and I suspect plant-based fish sticks will not be very far behind those products on grocery shelves. While discussing new BirdsEye products, I couldn’t help but notice a bag of frozen rainbow-colored BirdsEye Steamfresh cauliflower that I imagine some mothers will want to purchase to entice their children to try that vegetable.

Skittles has introduced several new candy products that have arrived on my grocery store candy shelf including Skittles Gummies and single-serve boxes containing only lime green Skittles.

Venturing over to the condiment aisle, I noticed that the classic line of Old Bay crab seasoning now includes bottles of Old Bay Hot Sauce. And Heinz now offers a product called Honeyracha, a blend of ketchup and sriracha sauce.

Choosing a jar of Hellmann’s mayonnaise has never been harder. My grocery shelf now includes Classic Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise; Vegan Hellmann’s; Avocado Oil Hellmann’s; Canola Cholesterol-Free Hellmann’s; Organic Spicy Chipolte Hellmann’s; Homestyle Hellmann’s; Low-Fat Hellmann’s; Hellmann’s Olive Oil Mayonnaise; Extra Creamy Hellmann’s; Light Hellmann’s Mayonnaise; and Hellmann’s Relish Sandwich Spread.

I attribute all of this proliferation of new items hitting supermarket shelves this summer to grocery product developers stuck at home last year during the pandemic who experimented with an array of flavors and tastes while restaurants were scaled back, and Americans were cooking at home more than ever.

I may not ever try Veggie Goldfish carrot crackers, Cookie Pop Oreo-flavored popcorn, Pringles Wavy Deep Fried Pickle potato crisps or Pepsi marshmallow Peeps, but it’s nice to have a selection when shopping, isn’t it? <