Friday, January 28, 2022

Insight: Here’s to good friends

From left, Ed Pierce, James Smith and Mike Hodges serving
in the U.S. Air Force in Bonames, Germany in 1978. 
By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

NPR's Code Switch program recently issued a simple challenge to listeners. Show hosts asked those tuning in for a moment of self-reflection to identify their five closest friends and then link what traits that these five individuals all have in common.

It wanted to know if they were all hilarious, kind, intelligent or even if they were of the same race as you.

This got me to thinking and here’s my Top Five Closest Friends, the reasons they appear on my list, and what common traits they all share.

Three first three names have been in my life for some time: Janet Howland, Steve Roake, and Mike Hodges.

Little did I know way back in Mr. Ward’s eighth-grade Social Studies class at Carlton Webster Junior High School in the fall of 1966, that some 56 years later Janet Howland would be a friend for life and someone that I greatly admire. I was assigned the seat behind her in that class and found her to be someone with a great sense of humor and very down to earth.

After high school graduation, Janet became the driving force behind our Class of 1971 reunions and the glue that keeps us all together as a group more than five decades later. She is unselfish, caring and as kind as they get and a genuine leader who inspires others for the collective good of our class.

I have known Steve Roake since 1976, when I accidentally set his beard on fire while playing a practical joke on him. We worked together and for some reason I thought it would be funny to place an exploding cigarette in his pack during lunch. When I admitted to him that I pulled that prank on him, I expected him to get mad and clobber me, but instead he laughed and invited me to his home for supper to meet his wife and children. It launched a friendship that has lasted 46 years now, even though he still lives in New Mexico, and I am in Maine.

Mike Hodges served in the same unit as I did in the U.S. Air Force in Germany in the late 1970s and several times asked me to assist him in transporting fuel and other supplies back and forth from our home base to locations out in the field in the military. During those long drives, we had some intense discussions about many different topics, and I discovered that we shared a mutual appreciation for many of the same bands and musicians. He owned some sophisticated stereo equipment and to this very day, I can still feel my ears ringing from listening to ELO’s “Do Ya” cranked up to concert-level decibels when their “New World Record” album was first released.

Naming two other close friends for this special list wasn’t difficult as they certainly deserve mentioning as well.

Nick Vecchioli has been a steadfast buddy of mine since junior high school and is one of the most talented people I’ve ever known. He always was cheerful and humorous in high school chorus and became an accomplished musician in his own right. What many do not know about him is that he’s also a wonderful writer. He once emailed me a copy of a short story he had written called “The Green Futon” about how a piece of furniture connected him with his children during a difficult divorce years ago and that is as fine a composition as I’ve ever read and deserves to be published.

The final friend I’d put on my list is Chuck Young, whom I played with on the same junior varsity football team way back in 1970. At our 30th class reunion, I ran into Chuck again and he‘s the same charming and outgoing person I knew in high school although now retired after a long career in law enforcement. A few months later, he asked me to help line up a sports celebrity for a charity golf tournament he was involved with, and I was pleased that he asked me to assist him with that. Since Facebook launched, anytime Chuck posts anything, it’s always worthwhile for me to read and see what he’s been up to or thinks about issues.

What common thread links these people? Janet, Nick, Chuck, and I all went to high school together. I worked with both Mike and Steve. But even though these five all have different backgrounds and lead different lives, they all share many traits that I deeply value in my friends.

Each of these friends laugh at my jokes and can lift me up when I’m experiencing trying times with just a simple conversation. They are incredible problem solvers and have overcome significant circumstances in their lives that others would not be able to survive.

They would go out of their way to lend a hand if I asked for assistance and although they’re not all from the same race, they have always treated people of all skin colors and ethnicities with respect.

In my lifetime I have made some remarkable friends and any number of them could have made this list. Genuine friendship does last forever if you’re fortunate.  <

Andy Young: The Dumbest State

By Andy Young

Writing uncomplimentary things isn’t something I enjoy, but facts are facts. Connecticut is a really dumb state. It’s literally fraught with nitwits. There. I said it. 

A recent holiday reunion brought my family and I back to the place where I was born and raised. I secured overnight accommodations there with an established national hotel chain

When we arrived after a lengthy drive, the lobby desk was being manned by a young fellow who asked if I had a reservation. When I responded I did, he asked me for my last name, which I cheerfully provided. “Ah yes, Mr. Young,” he said with a smile. “And your first name?”

When I said, “Andrew,” he furrowed his unibrow, the first indication that I probably wasn’t dealing with a Rhodes Scholar. I helpfully added, “A-N-D-R-E-W,” hoping to help hapless simpleton find the room which my tired and hungry family desperately wanted to get into.

Finally, after a few more moments of looking puzzled, the empty-headed young man’s face brightened. “Okay, Mr. Young,” he said cheerfully. “I’ve got your room. It’ll be $79 per night, for three nights.”

Whoa. I most definitely did NOT reserve a room for three nights. Returning to his computer screen, he said, “I’m sorry, sir, but you made this reservation online; you’ll have to talk directly to them about making any changes.”

When I called it quickly became apparent the person who answered the phone was a lamebrain from Connecticut, too. When she asked for the confirmation number of my reservation, I read it off the sheet of paper I had written it down on, only to have her inform me in an emotionless, perception-free voice they had no record of it in their system. My son suggested looking for the confirmation number online, but it turned out even the automatons in Connecticut are dumbbells, because the disembodied robot voice at the other end of the line insisted it had no record of my reservation. 

Nearly as miffed as I was hungry, I took the kids to a nearby Subway to get some sustenance, where we were waited on by a genial but simple-minded sandwich maker and an equally vapid cashier.

At our hotel’s breakfast nook the next morning I sat near two men who were speaking Spanish. I didn’t understand everything they said, but it was pretty obvious to me that these two Constitution State residents weren’t rocket scientists, either.

The morning desk man seemed pleasant enough, but since he was another glassy-eyed local I knew what I’d be dealing with. I informed him of the previous night’s mix-up, but naturally his computer couldn’t find the confirmation number I had painstakingly written down. I’d have gotten him a copy of the document confirming my reservation, but of course I couldn’t access it, since I had long since forgotten the secret password necessary to gain remote entry to my email account. 

When I mentioned a second time that I was certain I had written down the correct number for my Hampton Inn accommodations, the man at the desk unknitted his doltish brow and looked at me quizzically.

Sensing his confusion, I asked, “What? Is there another Hampton Inn around here?” 

That’s when he responded, deadpan, “Sir, this is a Holiday Inn Express.”

Hey, how was I supposed to know that the big “H” I saw on the side of the building should have been red, rather than green?

Connecticut may very well contain a lot of blockheads. But whatever the current number is, it’s at least one less than it was on the night I stayed there. <

Friday, January 21, 2022

Insight: The Never-Ending Saga of Snackin’ Simplicity

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

When it comes to snack foods, I’m all about simplicity. That seems to be a concept that’s been forgotten of late by food manufacturers. 

Take for example, one of my favorite snacks. As an elementary school student, my mother didn’t want me to eat a lot of snacks when I got home from school because it would ruin my appetite for supper. She would allow me to have a glass of apple juice along with a small bowl of Cheez-It snacks while I did my homework.

For me, Cheez-Its quickly became one of my favorite snacks for life as I enjoyed the taste and the crunch. I also liked them with a bowl of soup during cold winter months, even if they became soggy when floating in my soup bowl.

Baked Cheez-It crackers were first introduced to American consumers in 1921 by the Green & Green Company, a cracker manufacturer in Dayton, Ohio. They are rectangular one-inch snacks that are bright orange in color, tasted cheesy and adorned with salt. In 1932, Sunshine Biscuits purchased the Green & Company Bakery and manufactured the popular snack until their company was acquired by Keebler in 1996 as a subsidiary. Five years later, cereal manufacturer Kellogg’s purchased the Keebler Company and the rights to Cheez-Its.

As I grew older, Cheez-Its became more than just an afternoon snack, it grew to rival potato chips and pretzels among side items I asked for in my lunches and a snack that I could carry around in a plastic bag in my coat pocket for munching on in my professional career as I covered basketball and football games for the newspapers that I worked for.

My parents loved Cheez-Its too and liked that it was a product that could last a long time in the kitchen pantry when they bought multiple boxes.

Somewhere in the 21st century though, the simplicity of the Cheez-It was exploited by the manufacturer and supermarket shelves were expanded to now include more than 40 different sizes and flavors of Cheez-Its. Shoppers are faced with a bevy of choices and could stand there for some time trying to decide which box of snacks to take home with them.

During my weekly visit to the grocery store last weekend, I observed more than 22 different types of Cheez-Its for sale there.

There were Cheddar Jack; Cheez-It Bigs (a saltine-sized cracker suitable for dipping); Chipolte Cheddar; Extra Toasty; Grooves Sharp White Cheddar; Mozzarella; Pepper Jack; Reduced Fat; Hot and Spicy; Original; Provolone; Duoz Sharp Cheddar and Parmesan: Grip’z mighty thins; Duoz Jalapeno and Cheddar Jack; Duoz Bacon and Cheddar; Italian Four Cheese; Snap’d Barbecue; Snap’d Jalapeno Jack; Snap’d Cheddar Sour Cream; Snap’d Double Cheese; Grooves Scorchin’ Hot Cheddar; and Grooves Zesty Cheddar Ranch.

That’s more of a sensory overload that I typically can stand while looking over the supermarket shelves to choose a snack item. But on that day, my decision came down to two simple options. I was able to narrow the field down considerably by eliminating the more exotic flavors leaving just Cheez-It Original or Cheez-It Extra Toasty. Having had both kinds previously, I selected a box of the Extra Toasty flavor, added it to my shopping cart and continued down the aisle.

About 35 feet west of the Cheez-Its, cookies were displayed on the shelves and again I was faced with having to make a choice over which type of Oreos to purchase.

This day I found Oreo flavors included Toffee Crunch; Ultimate Chocolate; Original, Chocolate Crème; Golden; Strawberry Cheesecake; Birthday Cake; Red Velvet Cake; Lemon; Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie; Double Stuff; Thins; Golden Thins; Fudge Dipped; Brownie Batter; Berry Burst; Lemon Twist; Cookies and Crème; Waffles and Syrup; Java Chip; Dark Chocolate; Caramel Coconut; Carrot Cake; and White Fudge Covered.

A dazzling array of flavors, but being old and a traditionalist, I chose a package of original Oreos to add to my shopping cart.

The good old days appear to be over for shoppers seeking simplicity on their trips to the grocery aisles. Everywhere you turn in 2022 choices among favorite brands and products appears to have suddenly blown up.

Be it Hellman’s Mayonnaise with 11 different types available or Kellogg’s Pop Tarts with seemingly new flavors offered on each subsequent visit to the supermarket, options are abundant and plentiful. Boston Cream Pie and Apple Fritter flavors are the newest Pop Tarts being sold, but my purchase of a box of Frosted Cinnamon Roll Pop Tarts drew the attention of my wife, who has long preferred the Frosted Brown Sugar Cinnamon kind.

During my latest visit to the store, I counted a total of 23 different types of Pop Tarts there, and I noticed several other different flavors were also offered at a different store when I had to go in there to pick up an item we needed for dinner.

I remember reading a few years back a quote from author JK Rowling that mentioned that the choices that we make show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.

If that’s the case, please put me down for a box of Extra Toasty Cheez-Its. <

Andy Young: Thudding back to reality

By Andy Young

Until recently I had excelled at maintaining an extremely complimentary self-image. In my mind’s eye the outside world viewed me as energetic, healthy, and handsome, undoubtedly recognizing me as someone who perpetually dodged the ravages of aging by combining frequent physical and mental exercise with decent nutritional habits, along with a generous supply of good luck.  

Of course, I’d never articulate any such beliefs out loud, since doing so would not only expose me to a certain amount of deserved ridicule from those around me, it would also virtually assure bad fortune in my immediate future. (Exhibit A: look what being on the cover of People Magazine for her impending 100th birthday did for Betty White.)

However, my fantasies of being everlastingly youthful and vigorous never last long, since subtle but clear reminders, like getting together with chronological peers who look our actual age, occur every so often. That’s usually more than enough to jar me back to the truth.

There are, however, far less pleasant ways of remembering that my self-indulgent daydreams are largely delusional. Unintentionally glancing into an inconveniently located mirror can do it. Casually tossing a basketball toward a hoop that’s 15 feet away and coming up ten feet short is another, as is attempting to throw a baseball to someone and having it stop, after several weak bounces, shy (and well wide) of its intended target.

Still, when it comes to returning from these soul-nourishing (if unrealistic) sojourns to Fantasyland, I’d take any of those options, all of which provide relatively soft landings, over the way in which I was reminded of my mortality not long ago, which was with a literal thud.

After 90 minutes of highway driving, I was walking across a parking lot when I felt a bit lightheaded. As I often do in such situations, I bent over to surreptitiously catch my breath….and apparently kept on going. Seconds later I was tasting sand and trying to figure out what had happened while attempting (
quite unsuccessfully) to stop a prodigious amount of blood from leaving my body through my face.

Fortunately for me (though in retrospect probably not for them), my sons and my nephew were with me when I took my unplanned and unfortunate tumble, and thus were there to assist me in my time of need. That’s why we left the scene not for home (as I was suggesting), but directly to the nearest emergency room.

The staff at Harrington Hospital in Southbridge, Massachusetts treated me for a broken nose, gave me a tetanus shot. took some x-rays and put me through a battery of tests that included a CAT scan, an EKG, and an MRI. I was also attended to by a makeshift surgical team who did their best to put my badly damaged lips back together. (One nurse gave me seven separate painkilling shots and did the actual stitching, while the other held her phone up as a flashlight so her partner could see what she was doing.)

All those healthcare pros were as kind and comforting to me as they were great at their jobs. But I couldn’t help noticing that all those compassionate, professional strangers were treating me not like a perpetually youthful, robustly healthy young man, but as a frail, brittle, Medicare-eligible senior citizen. Which, given the situation, was obviously the correct approach.

With visits to the cardiologist, the endodontist, a plastic surgeon, and a few other as-yet-unknown specialists in my immediate future, I’ll be taking a break from imagining I’m Superman for a while. 

And under no circumstances will I agree to appear on any magazine covers. <

Friday, January 14, 2022

Insight: Very little nostalgia for the 1970s

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

The 1970s seem to be everywhere these days, as nostalgia for that decade has grown in popularity through television shows such as “That 70s Show” and films like “The Tender Bar.” As someone who lived through that era in America though, I’m kind of ambivalent about longing for the “good old days” of long lines at the gas station, the Watergate Scandal, the rise of disco music, tube socks, Pop Rocks, Vinny Barbarino, and platform shoes.

John Travolta got his big break as an actor by portraying
low-achieving high school student Vinny Barbarino on
the television series 'Welcome Back Kotter' in the 1970s.
As a college student paying for my own education in the early 1970s, I embraced my lifestyle of poverty, existing on a miniscule budget that afforded few luxuries. I recall trips to the grocery store to purchase a week’s worth of meals that typically included a Kraft Spaghetti Dinner box (came with spaghetti, sauce powder mix, and a small package of parmesan cheese all for 37 cents); two packages of hamburger (one for making porcupine meatballs with rice and the other to go with a package of $1.29 Hamburger Helper); and several Swanson Fried Chicken TV dinners at $1.54 each.

One of the finer aspects of living in a college town in the 1970s was being able to plunk down $2 and attend a double feature at the movie theater. I could spend all evening there and the little money I had left over from the grocery store went toward admission, popcorn, Junior Mints, and a Coca Cola.

The theater offered a balcony and I usually headed up there for the unobstructed views of the movie screen. The combination of films shown at this theater were eclectic. Once I watched a double feature starting at 6 p.m. of “M*A*S*H” with Donald “Sutherland” and “Patton” with George C. Scott and didn’t get home until well after midnight. On my birthday in 1972 I remember watching a double feature of “The Poseidon Adventure” with Gene Hackman and “The Cowboys” with John Wayne.

Music for me in the 1970s came from one of three sources. The first was my collection of vinyl records, while another was through my car’s AM radio. Later in the 1970s I replaced that radio with a tuner that included a FM radio and an 8-track tape player.

I remember purchasing the vinyl album “Honky Chateau” by Elton John in the summer in 1972 and taking great care not to scratch it while playing in on my turntable. I also had an assortment of 8-track tapes that included bands such as Three Dog Night, 10cc, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Grass Roots, Electric Light Orchestra, Heart, Steely Dan, and The Doobie Brothers. The pride and joy of my 8-track collection was “Hot Rocks 1964-1971” by The Rolling Stones. Unfortunately, that 8-track tape would always stop and make an annoying clicking sound before continuing on to the next refrain of Mick Jagger’s classic “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

Fashion-wise, I owned my fair share of bell-bottomed trousers and tie-dyed T-shirts. I once owned a sporty pair of light plum-colored bell bottoms that had to be relegated for garden work only after I accidentally plastered redwood stain all over them. My wardrobe also included a pair of brown plaid bell bottoms and gold corduroy pants that were so wide at the bottom they could be employed as the mainsail on a sailboat if needed. For some reason, my closet was always filled with chambray denim shirts along with an array of colorful polyester print, striped polos and knit shirts.

My bookshelf was filled with authors I found fascinating at the time, including Tommy Thompson’s true-crime novels “Blood and Money” and “Serpentine.” I also belonged to the Reader’s Digest Condensed “Book of the Month” Club and that’s how I read Taylor Caldwell’s “Captains and the Kings” long before it became a popular TV mini-series starring Richard Jordan and Patty Duke. That format also is how I was able to afford and read “Jaws” by Peter Benchley, Frederick Forsyth’s spy thriller “The Odessa File” and “The Stepford Wives” by Ira Levin.

For me the 1970s happened to be when I got my first job in journalism and learned dances such as “The Bump” and “The Hustle” and how to sign “YMCA.” In the 1970s I voted for president for the first time, chewed “Freshen-Up” gum, owned a lava lamp, and grew my hair down to the small of my back.

I watched “The Six Million Dollar Man” and “The Bionic Woman” every week on television and had the popular poster of Farrah Fawcett in a swimsuit hanging on the door of my clothes closet. I applauded every time Rick Barry made an underhand free throw for the Golden State Warriors and cheered every time Jim Plunkett threw a touchdown pass for the New England Patriots to Randy Vataha.

In hindsight, the 1970s were my formative years and ones where I learned a great deal about life, responsibility and what it means to be an adult.

It was indeed a much different time from the day and age we live in now. While I understand the nostalgia many people feel for the 1970s, I’m not sure I would want to go back there. <

Friday, January 7, 2022

Insight: Century old words a prophetic guide for 2022

Maine Governor Percival Baxter and his dog,
Garryowen, sit for an official portrait at
the Governor's Mansion in Augusta in 1924.
By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

I recently ran across a gem republished by the Maine State Archives and thought I’d share it with you here in case you might have missed it.

Percival P. Baxter was born in Portland in 1876 as the son of a six-time mayor of Portland, James Phinney Baxter. He grew up in wealthy circumstances and graduated from Bowdoin College in 1898 and then earned a law degree from Harvard University. Instead of establishing his own law practice, Baxter chose to work in his family’s successful real estate business.

At the age of 29 in 1905, Baxter was elected as a member of the Maine House of Representatives and served for several years in the legislature before returning to work for his family’s business. In 1909, he ran again and was elected to a seat in the Maine Senate for one term.

Politics held his interest, and he was elected once more to a seat in the Maine House in 1917 and then in the fall of 1920, voters elected Baxter to serve a term in the Maine State Senate where his fellow senators thought so highly of him that they chose him to serve as Senate President.

On Jan. 31, 1921, Maine Governor Frederick H. Parkhurst suddenly died, and state succession law mandated that Baxter, as president of the Maine Senate, would assume the duties of state governor. In the elections of 1922, Baxter was voted in as Maine governor in his own right and served in the position through January 1925.

In 1926, Baxter was defeated in his final political race to represent Maine in the U.S. Senate and then never ran for public office again, choosing to focus entirely on business and philanthropic pursuits. 

But his record as Maine’s 53rd governor was filled with accomplishments. During his term, a new state prison was established, funding for public education in the state was boosted, new public land conservation laws were enacted, and as governor, he appointed the first women ever to serve in the cabinet and other prominent positions in state government.    

As a private citizen, Baxter donated more than 200,000 acres of land to Maine which now bears his name as Baxter State Park, and he also donated his summer home in Falmouth for an initiative now known as the Baxter State School for the Deaf, and an island in Falmouth known today as Mackworth Island State Park. He also created a foundation to help hearing challenged students to obtain a college education.               

But in reading this 100-year-old typewritten note by Baxter, I was struck that despite the passing of a century and the events that have unfolded since then, including the Great Depression, all the lives that were lost in World War II, the Civil Rights movement, the attacks on America on Sept. 11, 2001, and the COVID-19 pandemic, how pertinent Baxter’s words from 1922 are to life here on this very day. 

Proclamation by the Maine Governor Percival P. Baxter, issued Jan. 1, 1922

New Year’s Resolutions for the State of Maine

As the individual is accustomed to pause upon the threshold of a New Year to review the past and survey the prospect before him, so may we the people of Maine on New Year’s Day 1922 look back upon the year that has closed and resolve upon a course of action for the year that has begun.

Let us as a people, whatever our origin or creed, and regardless of our station in life enter upon this New Year with the determination:

** To recognize honest differences of opinion and to make serious effort to get other people’s point of view.

** To give other people credit for good intentions.

** To give and speak well of others.

** To ask no privileges for ourselves we are not willing to accord to others.

** To remember that true personal liberty goes hand in hand with self-control.   

** To appreciate the great privilege that it is to be a citizen of Maine, a state that has no peer among its sister states.

** To make Maine a law-abiding state that will serve as an example to our country.

** To add the “Golden Rule” to the state’s motto “Dirigo.”

For those who’ve ever wondered what the Maine motto “Dirigo” actually means, it comes from the Latin term “I lead.”

Back in the 19th century and into the 20th century, a maxim existed for decades in American politics that exclaimed, “As Maine goes, so goes the nation,” harkening to state voters successfully choosing the eventual winner in 22 of 29 presidential elections spanning from 1820 to 1932. That maxim fit perfectly with “Dirigo” for residents of the Pine Tree State.

Baxter died at the age of 92 in June 1969, leaving a legacy of advocacy for the humane treatment of animals, a passion for nature and a love for his fellow Mainers of all walks of life. 

In this crazy, mixed-up and often divisive world we live in today more than a century after Governor Baxter’s New Year’s 1922 proclamation, wouldn’t it wonderful if we all read and pledged to follow his words in 2022? < 

Andy Young: Grandpa was right: Time really does fly!

By Andy Young

When I was growing up, extended families stayed local for the most part, and thus older relatives played a much more significant role in the lives of impressionable children than they do today. Generations of families tended to stay closer together geographically, since most available jobs were nearby. Back then nobody’s dad worked for a company that transferred people halfway across the country periodically, and no one I knew had a mom who wasn’t a fulltime homemaker.

Another thing that was understood during my childhood: children, particularly pre-teenage ones, were tacitly expected to be seen and not heard while they were in the company of adults. That meant that at family gatherings where older relatives were present, my siblings and I sat quietly at the table until such time as one of us could muster the nerve to politely break in with an “excuse me, please” so that we could retreat to an area where we could listen to (or perhaps even participate in) conversation involving something other than the good old days, crooked politicians, how fast time goes by, and each venerable aunt or uncle’s most recent trips to the doctor.

One particularly long afternoon after I had passively endured one too many harangues from some aging relative droning on about how all us young folks should appreciate every moment because of how quickly time goes by I silently promised myself two things. One was I’d never become one of those windy old geezers who’d bore the ears off any defenseless person within hearing distance with tales of how fast the years pass by. The other was to never become the tiresome old guy who has to tell everyone not fast enough to get away about his most recent visit(s) to the urologist, proctologist, and/or any of the other various and sundry ologists in their life. And for decades I’ve stayed true to those two vows. Until now.

My oldest child turns 21 this week. I don’t see how that’s possible. It seems like just yesterday I was holding him in the crook of my arm, stunned that human beings came in sizes that small. I clearly remember trying to rock him to sleep in my lap, although on many evenings there was at least a 50 percent chance that I’d nod off first.

I could swear I had the little guy up on my shoulders just last week, carrying him around the house while remembering to duck before every doorway so we wouldn’t have to find a pediatric concussion specialist. 

Wasn’t it just a few months ago that I took him trick-or-treating in his little pumpkin outfit? And I clearly remember his first Easter egg hunt (when he exulted over finding virtually every hidden oval before his infant sister could) wasn’t all that long ago. I recall with absolute clarity him standing absolutely still in his green and yellow outfit as he portrayed a pint-sized Pele at the third grade wax museum, and throwing his first strike off a Little League mound … didn’t all that happen just last year?

But the fact is that the cute little boy whose nervous hand I knelt to hold when he entered a public playground for the first time is turning 21 this week. He’s now taller than I am, or at least he is when he decides to stand up straight.

The sobering reality is that I have become what I swore I never would: a misty-eyed, nostalgic windbag, and an aging and increasingly frail one at that.

Now would anyone like to hear about my latest trip to the dermatologist? <

Bill Diamond: Looking forward to another legislative session

By Sen. Bill Diamond

The new year has arrived! I hope you and your family were able to celebrate the holidays together in good health and good cheer. The holiday season is always a powerful reminder for me of all that’s important in life: family, friends, community and taking care of one another. It’s a time to recharge and get ready for all that a new year has to offer, and I’m excited to do just that.

With the start of the new year also comes the start of the legislature’s second regular session. Maine’s Constitution lays out the schedule for the two regular sessions each Legislature must hold. The first session usually runs from January to June of the first year, with the second, shorter session typically running from January to April of the second year. The legislature kicked off our second regular session on Jan. 5, when legislators will come together at the State House before beginning the committee work that will continue over the next several months.

In the short session, the legislature is limited to dealing with a smaller set of issues, namely budget matters and matters of emergency. That’s why I’m focusing my attention this year on what I consider to be one of the most pressing issues in our state: improving our child welfare system.

Last week, I wrote about one of my bills that would direct the Maine Attorney General to prioritize the criminal investigation and prosecution of murder cases in which the victim is a child, and to work with the courts to prioritize these cases when scheduling trials. I believe obtaining swift justice for child victims is critical to learning key information about the events that led to their murders so we can better protect all Maine kids.

I’m also sponsoring a bill to increase the staffing in the Maine Child Welfare Ombudsman’s office. This small, impartial office is tasked with helping people resolve concerns and complaints with Maine’s child protective system, and while they do amazing work, they are overwhelmed with requests for assistance. Making sure they have the staffing and resources they need to do their jobs is necessary as we seek to identify what went wrong in specific cases and what systemic fixes are needed.

My final child protection bill would establish more robust, ongoing monitoring of Maine’s child protective system. The Legislature recently directed the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability to conduct a thorough investigation into Maine’s child protective system. I’m hopeful that this in-depth examination will give us the information we need to make fixes to the system, but I think it’s important that substantial monitoring of the system continues even after this current investigation ends. This way, we can avoid getting stuck in the cycle we’ve repeated for the past two decades: children die; we investigate what went wrong; make changes based on those specific cases; and go back to believing we’ve done all we can, until the next tragedy strikes. I believe this change will help us be more proactive, and less reactive, in improving our child welfare system.

The legislature will kick off our work in-person, but committee work is set to happen remotely, at least for now. The pandemic is putting serious strain on Maine hospitals and health care workers, and we owe it to them to conduct our work as safely and effectively as possible. While I miss sitting side-by-side with my colleagues, last year showed us just how effective this remote work can be.

For the first time, Mainers were able to testify in front of committees via phone or Zoom. Rather than taking the day off work, securing childcare and finding a ride to Augusta, Mainers could call in to share their thoughts on the legislation that impacts their lives. The ability to participate remotely will continue this year. Committee meetings will be live-streamed and archived and can be accessed at The State House is still open to the public, and I encourage you to come visit on a session day when the full Legislature is in the building to vote on bills. You can stay up to date on the legislature’s schedule at

I look forward to keeping you updated on the Legislature’s work over these coming months. In the meantime, happy New Year to you and your loved ones. If there’s ever anything I can do to help you, please reach out to me any time at or 207-287-1515. <