Friday, June 2, 2023

Insight: Too much, too tune

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

My wife and I recently watched the film “Mr. Holland’s Opus” which contained a scene in which actor Richard Dreyfuss mentions that when he first listened to an album by jazz legend John Coltrane, he hated it. Then he listened to it again, and again, and again, and found he couldn’t stop playing it.

That’s exactly how I’ve felt about some music selections and artists a few times in my life and here are some examples:

In January 1980, a blizzard hit Washington D.C. and dumped quite a bit of snow on our nation’s capital. There was very little to do but bide my time in a barracks room at Fort Myer, Virginia and sit out the snowstorm one weekend while waiting to go to work at The Pentagon on Monday. I had planned on reading a Stephen King novel and watching the Virginia Cavaliers basketball team led by freshman Ralph Sampson take on the North Carolina Tarheels and their freshman star James Worthy.

Up until that weekend, I had only heard the song “Heart of Glass” performed by the band Blondie on the radio. I never paid much attention to them as I wasn’t much of a fan of what was known as “New Wave” music and I was more into more traditional rock n’ roll music such as Fleetwood Mac or the Rolling Stones.

Apparently, another Air Force sergeant in the room adjacent to mine had purchased the new Blondie album “Eat to the Beat” and picked that weekend to play it over, and over, and over again on his turntable in his barracks room. With the walls of the barracks being paper thin, I could hear everything he played, which usually consisted of older country songs such as “The Battle of New Orleans” by Johnny Horton or “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash. Therefore, it did come as a great surprise to me that this fellow had chosen a “New Wave” group to listen to non-stop that weekend.

At first, I became irritated and considered knocking on his door and asking him to turn down his music when he started playing the album early on that Saturday morning. I couldn’t imagine myself ever liking
“New Wave” music and then he played that Blondie album once, then twice and then a third time.

By the fourth time he played the album around noon, I found the first song on the “Eat to the Beat” album “Dreaming” to be catchy and started to enjoy the vocals of Blondie’s lead singer, Debbie Harry. Then the second song “The Hardest Part” came on and I found that was pretty good too. By the time the third song “Union City Blue” played, I discovered I liked that one as well.

The album must have played 10 or more times that Saturday and at least five times on Sunday and by the time that weekend was over, Virginia had beaten North Carolina, the snow had stopped falling, and I realized that I had become hooked and a fan of the band Blondie.

Several months later when I rented an apartment and moved out of the barracks, I purchased the “Eat to the Beat” album at the store and although I eventually got rid of my collection of vinyl record albums more than a decade later, I’m pretty sure that “Eat to the Beat” remains in a box of CDs stored in my basement right now, more than 43 years later. I also became a fan of more melodic “New Wave” bands such as Duran Duran, Nick Lowe, and Simple Minds.

Another performer that grew on me slowly through repetition was Marty Stuart. My brother, my father and I were driving from New Mexico to Florida in February 1991 and the only thing playing on the radio as we passed through Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama was country music. My brother drove during the daylight hours and my dad during the late afternoon, leaving me to take over driving that night. As I slowly scrolled up and down the radio dial searching for something to keep me awake, several Marty Stuart songs were broadcast over and over again. The first song was “Tempted” and the second one was “Little Things.” I also learned from a DJ introducing the “Tempted” tune that Stuart was a skilled guitarist who had played at one time in Johnny Cash’s band.

I had never heard of Marty Stuart before that trip and then after hearing the song “Tempted” at least six times that night, like Blondie and the “Eat to the Beat” album years before, when I finally did get my own apartment in Florida a few months later, I went out to the store and brought home my own copy of Stuart’s “Tempted” album. Even though I wasn’t a huge country music fan, there was something about Marty Stuart I liked and hearing his songs aired repeatedly on the radio that first night has made me follow his career closely ever since.

It’s funny how repetition can change the way we think about music and can leave us wanting to hear more. Has this ever happened to you? <

Andy Young: Learning from the learners

By Andy Young

It’s graduation weekend for several local high schools, which has me thinking about why I got into teaching in the first place.

When I began pursuing a career in education it was for the same reasons that I assumed other aspiring teachers did. The prospect of a steady job that helped impact the future was inviting, as were the inherent fringe benefits, which included receiving universal respect and support from parents and administrators, being held in high esteem throughout the community, and being regarded with a blend of admiration and awe by each young person I interacted with, either in one of my classes or on one of the teams I coached. The prospect of a seven-figure salary didn’t hurt, either.

Educators enjoy far too many intangible rewards to list here, but I recently experienced one of them: the privilege of learning from a student. Where I teach, the final requirement for Grade 12 English class is for students to prepare a three to five-minute valedictory speech, then deliver it to their peers. The assignment combines writing, reading, listening, speaking, and thinking, a quintet of skills each young person will need on a daily basis for the foreseeable future, and quite possibly for the remainder of their lives.

I listened to several dozen of these presentations last week, and although many had similar themes, each oration was as unique as its presenter. Not surprisingly, nearly each speech was relatable to the audience, since with one obvious exception (me), everyone listening to the prepared remarks was the same age as the speaker.

One particularly memorable opus stuck out to me; it came from a young woman who recounted how challenging dealing with school during the Covid pandemic was. Remote schooling became the norm for the last three months of her freshman year. The following autumn she was initially excited about returning to normalcy by physically attending school two days a week, but between all the regulations (masks, staying 6 feet distant from others, etc.), she eventually found it easier to just stay home and do school via computer. The tuning out, getting distracted, and low grades that followed were predictable, but what wasn’t was another insidious form of collateral damage: difficulty interacting with others. “During my junior year,” she wrote, “I didn’t really care to talk to people or make friends because I was so used to being alone all the time.”

As she delivered her remarks, I was impressed with her ability to articulate what was true not just for her, but for many of her peers as well. But after processing her words I had an epiphany: I too experienced difficulty socializing during (and to some extent after) the pandemic, and for the same reasons she did. It really is comfortable being alone: too comfortable, in fact. But thanks to an exceptionally perceptive person nearly a half-century younger than I am, I remembered that social skills, like physical ones, need to be utilized. And if they aren’t, well, the phrase “Use ‘em or lose ‘em” comes to mind.

Thanks to an insightful young person’s articulate description of how she dealt with a significant challenge, I’ve rededicated myself to getting out and mixing, even when it’s more convenient to just stay home.

Teaching, as it turns out, has been everything I imagined it would be. Administration has my back, I’m universally respected in the community (as far as I know), and I do indeed enjoy earning a seven-figure salary annually.

Even if two of those numbers appear on the right (or wrong, if you prefer) side of the decimal point. <

Friday, May 26, 2023

Insight: Saluting an American Hero

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

Bill Topham of Rochester, New York was one of the most charismatic and funniest men that I’ve ever met and yet he also was devoted to those he cared about and enjoyed sharing tales of what it was like to serve as a U.S. Army Air Service Signal Corps mechanic during World War I.

My grandparents were all deceased by the time I entered first grade, so Bill had become a foster grandfather to me and my brother Doug. Our family spent many wonderful weekends with Bill and his wife, Ida, when I was growing up and the stories that he passed on to me are unforgettable.

Bill Topham served in the U.S. Army Air
Service Signal Corps as a mechanic and a
photo processor during World War I.
Bill was born in 1890 and was 27 when the U.S. was drawn into the war in Europe. During a Joint Session of Congress on April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson had asked for a Declaration of War against Germany and many young patriotic men in America packed military recruiting offices once the war was officially declared on April 6, looking to enlist. Not wanting to serve in the infantry, Bill Topham was captivated by airplanes and enlisted in the Army’s newly formed Air Service Signal Corps, and he was assigned to Baker Field in Rochester and the U.S. Aerial School of Photography.

His duties were to keep the limited number of Curtiss JN "Jenny" airplanes at Baker Field operational so that American pilots could train on the aircraft before being sent overseas for aerial observation and photographic assessment missions of German positions in France and Belgium. The early Jenny airplanes he worked on were difficult to maintain and lacking in flight performance because of hasty manufacturing and the rush to get them to the Air Service pilots.

Topham didn’t have to travel far for duty early in the war and in fact, before enlisting, he had been hired by the Eastman Kodak Company, who owned the land and buildings where Baker Field was located. But after nine months at Baker Field, Topham was transferred to the 1st Corps Observation Group in France early in 1918 as the unit was tasked with patrolling the Toul Sector between the towns of Filrey and Apremont in Northeast France to support the U.S. 26th Infantry Division. His job had changed too, switching from an aircraft mechanic to becoming a photography technician and he was among a group of 30 enlisted Air Service specialists who printed and enlarged photographs of enemy ground positions and got them into the hands of Army intelligence officers within hours of being taken by observational pilots flying over the battlefields.

Pilots assigned to the 1st Corps Observation group flew daily missions, taking off at daybreak and nightfall as needed. The aerial photographs helped turned the tide of the war, which had been bogged down for several years as each side was hunkered down along lines of trenches and successful 1st Corps missions were able to identify movement in enemy cargo transport by road and rail and discovering sites of enemy strongholds and troop positioning.

By September 1918, Topham was part of Army Air Service observation troops that led the way to victory at St. Mihiel in France and then served at the final offensive of the war at Meuse-Argonne. The “War To End All Wars” officially ended on Nov. 11, 1918, and Topham was discharged in January 1919. He returned home to Rochester, got married, raised a family, and resumed his job at Eastman Kodak until his retirement in 1955.

One Sunday afternoon in 1962, we were visiting him, and he asked me if I had ever seen a World War I uniform. He went into his closet and came back with his olive drab green wool shirt and trousers, wool coat, his doughboy cap, and his pair of brown leather field shoes. They had been perfectly preserved in plastic wrap but did smell a bit like moth balls. He also showed me his gas mask and cartridge belt, which looked exactly like they had when he last wore them in 1919.

Over a cup of coffee with my mother in his kitchen, he regaled us with stories of once seeing famous Army Air Service Brigadier General Billy Mitchell arriving at the air base in Tours for a meeting with the commander of U.S. Forces in Europe, General John J. Pershing, and what it was like coming under enemy fire while retrieving film from pilots on the tarmac from a mission at St. Mihiel.

He described the anguish of seeing many of his friends perish in combat and the devastation of seeing a 20-year-old American pilot’s plane explode in mid-air during an aerial attack by Germans near the Argonne in 1918. But he also told me about the camaraderie of those who served in France and how they all shared a common bond of survival.

I got the word that Bill had died at age 91 on Nov. 30, 1981, while I was serving in the U.S. Air Force in Arizona. It is because of men like him that we all can enjoy the Memorial Day holiday and salute those who gave their lives so that we may continue to live in freedom. <

Andy Young: It’s not just animals disappearing

By Andy Young

Black Rhinos, Cross River Gorillas, and Sumatran Elephants are just three of the rapidly-vanishing species that are currently on the officially endangered list, and thinking about that sad fact reminded me of a memorable interaction I had a little over two decades ago.

I was on a weeklong business trip in Florida, and after finishing work for the day I headed back to my hotel in the rented car my employer had provided. As I approached the on-ramp to I-95 south I saw a disheveled fellow sticking his thumb out, and for reasons I can’t fully explain, I pulled over.

The man obviously wanted a ride. I told him I was only going south for two exits, but it turned out that where he needed to go was located off the same exit I was headed for. I told him to hop in, and off we went.

Clearly down on his luck, he wasn’t terribly specific about whatever misfortunes had befallen him. He seemed nice enough, and while what he related of his situation was regrettable, he wasn’t complaining or cursing the fates. To me he just seemed like a decent guy who had been victimized by more than his share of adversity.

He told me I could drop him off at the highway exit but doing that would have left him with a lengthy wait or a lengthy walk, so I told him I’d take him wherever he needed to go. It turned out that dropping him off in the parking lot of a one-story cinder block motel in a run-down area of town really wasn’t all that far out of my way. I offered him a bit of money, for which he thanked me. However, he refused to take it, insisting that my showing him a little kindness was more than enough.

The 20 or so minutes I spent with that man made me feel both blessed and fortunate to have everything that I did, and good about having selflessly done something nice for a fellow human being. Eminently satisfied with myself, when I got back to where I was staying, I called my wife to tell her about my day. Leading with the story of the hitchhiker, I expected she’d be impressed by her husband’s magnanimous gesture, but more likely overwhelmed with awe over his random act of kindness.

She was neither of those things. Not only was she not thrilled about my picking up the hitchhiker she was appalled and irate. She accurately pointed out that I had just become the father of an infant son. She added that I had no way of knowing whether that man thumbing a ride was on drugs, armed, an escaped convict, a violent criminal, a sex offender, or some terrible combination of those things. Had he been any of them, the consequences could have been dire.

I was initially taken aback by her reaction, but then, upon sober reflection, realized she was probably right. I was indeed responsible for others besides myself, and because of that my humanitarian gesture, while noble, was an unnecessarily risky one. When I called her back, I promised not to pick up any more strangers on the side of the road.

For what it’s worth, I’ve kept that promise. But that’s not solely because I feel any particular loyalty to my ex-spouse, the mother of our three children.

Black Rhinos, Cross River Gorillas, and Sumatran Elephants are endangered largely because of environmental factors. Other things, however, are disappearing for reasons more societal than ecological.

Like hitchhikers. I haven’t seen another one since that day. <

Friday, May 19, 2023

Insight: A saga of humiliation and redemption

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

Sometimes just the scent of freshly cut grass can take me back or if I close my eyes real tight and think about baseball, I am transported through time to the playing fields behind Brookside School and my days as a Little Leaguer.

The 1964 Brighton Little League Minors Division Reds. 
Right Fielder Ed Pierce is at far left in the front row.
For two seasons in 1963 and 1964, I was a member of the Brighton Little League Reds, a Minors Division squad for 9- and 10-year-old boys. Many of my neighborhood friends were on the same team and a few kids from public school that I didn’t know, since I attended Catholic school. Our coach was Mr. Lansky, a physical education instructor and a devoted fan of Willie Mays and the San Francisco Giants.

Our first practice in 1963 was held in the gym at Brookside School in the Evans Farm subdivision in early April because snow was still on the ground outside. The team lined up in a straight row and our coach would roll ground balls to us. Our task was to use our baseball gloves to prevent the balls from getting past us and not being able to do that, the coach determined that I was probably better suited for an outfield position than to be a Reds infielder.

Within a few weeks the snow had melted, and we were outside taking batting practice in our flannel uniforms. Our first baseman, Randy Edelman, had a keen batting eye and was able to drive the ball farther than anyone else on the Reds team. My pal Billy Whitney was a slick fielder and became our shortstop while one of my neighbors, David Ronner, played third base and was our leadoff hitter. Our pitcher was my fourth-grade classmate, John Crow, who was able to throw strikes consistently.

As for me, I was relegated to playing right field for the Reds and constantly prayed that no baseballs were hit my way so I could demonstrate my woeful lack of defensive ability and awkward throwing.

Having never played Little League before, I was the worst batter in the Minors Division too. No matter how hard I tried, my strikeouts piled up. Coach Lansky had me batting ninth for most games and opposing players would yell “automatic out” at me when I stepped up to bat. The first season I played, despite encouragement from my teammates, I played in 12 of the Reds’ 16 regular season games and in every at bat that season, I struck out. The Reds team finished 6-10 and I felt I had let my teammates down.

The next year, 1964, I resolved to become a better player and as far as playing in the outfield that season, I was. At the start of the schedule, I was splitting time in right field with my classmate, Rick Walsh, but after a few games, he was diagnosed with severe diabetes requiring hospitalization. I surprised myself with improved defense, catching several fly balls hit to right field and making better throws to back into the infield, but something was still lacking whenever I stepped in to hit.

Coach Lansky had moved me up to seventh in the batting order for my second year of Little League, but I was still striking out every time up, except for the time that a pitcher hit me in the back with an errant fastball. I played in every game that year and the Reds made the playoffs, finishing 9-7 and in fourth place in our division during the regular season.

In the playoffs, we won our first two games behind pitchers John Crow and Patrick O’Herlihy, another Catholic school classmate. In the semifinals, we were trailing the Cubs, 6-2, with the bases loaded in the third inning and two outs when it was my turn to bat. I looked over at the bench at my teammates before grabbing my bat and all I saw were worried looks and Edelman, who was our catcher that year, was putting on his shin guards. I promptly struck out on three pitches.

The Reds won our semifinal playoff game over the Cubs, 7-6, and in the league championship game against the Braves, early on, I misplayed a ball hit my way and two runs scored for the Braves. We were able to hold them though and trailed 2-0 in our last time up. Ronner walked, took second on a fielder’s choice and Whitney singled him home to cut the deficit to 2-1, but Edelman popped out. Crow singled and both he and Whitney advanced to second and third. So here I was, the winning run on second base with two outs in the last inning and I’m up. Coach Lansky pulled me aside, telling me to keep my eyes open as the pitcher delivered the ball to the plate.

I miraculously swung and hit the first pitch, knocking it over the shortstop’s head and Crow raced home with the game- and championship-winning run as we won, 3-2. The only base hit I ever had in Minors Division play erased two years of frustration for me and snapped what seemed like a two-year 0-for-87 strikeout streak.

Decades later, the thing I remember the most about my Little League experience that season is being mobbed at first base for my lone hit that year. <

Andy Young: Is Lord Stanley spinning in his grave?

By Andy Young

Believe it or not, hockey wasn’t Canada’s official national sport until that nation’s parliament passed the National Sport Act of 1994. That bit of vital legislation officially declared lacrosse, which had previously been the national sport, to be the Dominion’s official “summer” sport, while hockey was deemed official “winter” sport. This confirmed that when it comes to having elected officials eager to posture and grandstand by spending time and public monies on legislation with no actual meaning (aside from getting the egocentric politicians involved some extra time in front of the cameras), the United States is not alone.

In reality there was never any question about what Canada’s de facto national sport is. Canadians still follow hockey in general (and the ongoing Stanley Cup playoffs in particular) with the same sort of fervor Americans lavished on baseball’s World Series for the first three-quarters of the 20th century, until television and a variety of other factors relegated the nation’s nominal national pastime to something to look at occasionally between Super Bowls.

Professional hockey’s holy grail is the Stanley Cup, which goes to the winner of the National Hockey League’s post-season playoffs each year. Players have spit out numerous teeth, taken hundreds of stitches, and played on fractured limbs for a chance to win the replica of the original Cup that was donated by Lord Stanley of Preston, Canada’s governor general and an enthusiastic fan of the then-nascent game in 1893.

For 25 years starting in 1942, hockey was almost purely Canadian. During that time the National Hockey League consisted solely of franchises in Montreal, Toronto, Boston, New York, Detroit and Chicago. But even though two-thirds of the teams played their home games south of the United States border, in 1967 just two of the approximately 120 NHL players, Detroit’s Doug Roberts and Boston’s Tommy Williams, were Americans. Every other player in the league was Canadian-born and raised. The league’s first European player, Ulf Sterner, lasted all of four games with the New York Rangers in 1965 before, after some over-the-top brutal treatment by hyper-territorial North American opponents, he decamped back to Sweden.

The 1972 summit series between the powerful Soviet National team and a Canadian all-star squad composed of NHL players was followed more passionately by Canadians than any event since World War II. For fans on the west side of the Atlantic Ocean the series confirmed, albeit barely, North American hockey superiority. More significantly, though, it illustrated just how important hockey was (and is) to Canada’s national identity.

These days hockey is a far more international game. At the start of the current season just 41.4 percent of the NHL’s players (294 out of 711) are Canadian. There are 202 Americans; the other 215 hail from 18 different European countries.

As this column is written, four teams remain in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Las Vegas and Dallas are duking it out in the west, while in the east it’s Carolina (Raleigh) vs. Florida.

Would Lord Stanley be excited if he knew that sometime next month the cup he donated will be awarded to a team representing a place at least 653 miles south of the Canada-U.S. border, a locale where ponds, if there are any, never ice over? It’s hard to say, but if baseball’s World Series was going to feature the winner of the National League championship series between the Moscow Czars and the Beijing Wallbuilders against the survivor of the American League Championship series between the Sydney Outbackers and the Johannesburg Afrikaaners, there’d likely be more than a few Americans pining for their sport’s “good old days.” <

Friday, May 12, 2023

Insight: Echoes of wonder and gratitude

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

I find it incredibly hard to believe, but May 4 marked an important milestone in my career as a journalist. As it so happened, May 4, 2020 fell on a Monday and it was my very first day as Managing Editor of The Windham Eagle newspaper.

Dave Rampino found four different four-leaf
clovers in some grass outside Windham's
Public Works Department compound in

Now more than three years into this job, I have found it to be among the most rewarding experiences of my entire career, which will reach the 48-year point on May 16. At the age of 21 on May 16, 1975, I had a ringside seat at the Las Vegas Convention Center in covering the Ron Lyle versus Muhammad Ali world championship heavyweight fight for United Press International.

Through the years, I’ve had many memorable stories to tell and countless interviews with national newsmakers, famous politicians, Hall of Fame sports figures and renowned celebrities, but some of my favorite articles have come right here in the Lakes Region while working for The Windham Eagle. I consider myself privileged that some still consider my writing to be worth reading.

Listed in random order, here are some of my favorite stories so far while working for The Windham Eagle newspaper:

On Nov. 10, 2022, I told the story on Veteran’s Day about Windham’s Carroll McDonald, then 97, who was trained to fly the P-51 aircraft during World War II. I always am inspired and motivated to relate the stories and experiences of military veterans of that generation because it brings me closer to my late father, who was wounded in action as an Army infantryman at Anzio Beach in Italy in 1944. Following McDonald’s active-duty discharge in 1945, he returned to Windham and attended business school using the GI Bill and then was hired by the U.S. Post Office as a rural postal delivery driver, a job he worked at for 32 years, delivering mail in South Windham and on River Road until his retirement. In 1951, he joined Windham’s American Legion Field-Allen Post 148 and is still an active member today.

Along those same lines, I enjoyed interviewing Windham’s Edward “Ed” Salmon, then 91, for a Nov. 20, 2020 article about him receiving five military medals and two ribbons for his service in the United States Army in Korea. What made that a special achievement was that the medals were awarded to Salmon 70 years after the fact. He knew he had earned the medals, but he had never physically received them. An effort spearheaded by Legion Post 148 Adjutant David Tanguay rectified that situation, giving Salmon long overdue recognition for his military service.

Service on behalf of others seems to be a common theme among my favorite stories to tell. On April 1, 2022, I wrote an article about Renee Darrow of Windham, who traveled to Poland to work as a volunteer serving meals to Ukrainian refugees displaced by the Russian invasion of their nation by the World Central Kitchen. I’m also constantly amazed by the endurance and dedication of Windham’s Brian McCarthy, who year after year sets out on a bicycle ride spanning hundreds of miles, taking pledges to raise money for the 488th Military Police Company’s Family Readiness Group programs to assist the families of Maine soldiers serving overseas. McCarthy, a South Portland police officer, is a retired Army Sergeant First Class and has been undertaking his “Guardian Ride” for the past five years. I wrote about his charitable cause for the first time on Aug. 6, 2021, and greatly admire McCarthy for his kindness in recognizing the important contributions of military dependents.

I’ve been lucky to find some unbelievable stories to tell in pages of The Windham Eagle in the past three years. On June 13, 2020, I wrote an article about Windham Public Works driver Dave Rampino, who discovered a patch of four-leaf clover while parking a snowplow truck outside the public works compound on Windham Center Road. Rampino hit the jackpot and found four of the rare items after looking his entire life to find a four-leaf clover, beating the odds of 10,000 to 1 of ever finding one. If that wasn’t enough, Raymond Elementary School student Chase Street read that same article about Rampino and was inspired to look in the front yard of his home in Raymond for a four-leaf clover. Amazingly, he found a five-leaf clover. The odds of doing that are estimated at 20,000 to 1. The article about that ran in the Aug, 21, 2020 newspaper.

But of all the articles for the newspaper that I’ve written during the past three years, my personal favorite has been telling the story of Raymond’s Roberta “Bobbie” Kornfield Gordon. It appeared in the Dec. 11, 2020 edition of The Windham Eagle. She’s retired now but has been hosting an annual reunion at her home in Raymond for years of her second-grade students from a class she taught in Rochester, New York in 1966. The class reunions are proof that sometimes the connections between teachers and students are a special bond that can last a lifetime.

These are just a few of many wonderful stories I’ve had the good fortune to tell in The Windham Eagle so far. Hopefully many more will follow.