Friday, September 30, 2022

Insight: Peering into the great unknown

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

I admit that I’ve never been much into psychics or the paranormal.

This book about the famous psychic 
Jeane Dixon was one of her favorites.
Whether it be fortune tellers, palm readers, or those who make predictions from gazing into a crystal ball, I’m somewhat of a skeptic and have a hard time accepting that someone who doesn’t know me at all can tell what is going to happen to me in the future.

Maybe some of my resistance was some sort of rebellion against the core beliefs of my mother, who fully accepted the notion that a psychic could foretell outcomes in everyday situations. She told me a story when I was very little about how she once had a dream about seeing her grandmother cross a river and waving to her from the other side and when she woke up that morning, she was told that her grandmother had died overnight.

That led to her embrace of the spiritual world, and my mother would spend hours reading books about Edgar Cayce and Jeane Dixon. She frequently reminded me that Jeane Dixon had accurately predicted the assassination and death of President John F. Kennedy and was consulted for her psychic abilities by First Lady Nancy Reagan. Dixon’s astrological column appeared every day in the newspaper we subscribed to and her book “A Gift of Prophecy: The Phenomenal Jeane Dixon” was a national best seller. But for every prediction that Dixon made correctly, I could find ones that did not come to pass, and I told my mother I thought Dixon was somewhat less than accurate.

I did find the story of Edgar Cayce rather interesting, however. He was said to be clairvoyant and would make bold predictions while asleep in a trance-like state. Born in 1877 and raised on a Kentucky farm to a devoutly Christian family, Cayce would often give metaphysical readings that spoke of future events much like the writings of Nostradamus. My mother purchased a biography about Cayce called “The Sleeping Prophet” by Jess Stearn that detailed some of his predictions including the 1929 Stock Market Crash, World War II and suggesting that the lost continent of Atlantis would soon be discovered in the Atlantic Ocean. He gave readings to prominent Americans such as Woodrow Wilson, Thomas Edison, and Harry Houdini.

As much as I was wary of my mother’s fascination with some people’s ability to see into the future, my own encounters with psychics have left me scratching my head.

Once when I was about the age of 8 or 9, my parents took my brother and me to visit family friends at their home. That day it just so happened that an elderly friend of their family was visiting from Canada. He did palm readings and asked my mother if he could read my palm. She agreed and he told us after looking at mine that he knew I was going to be a professional writer someday. He also read my mother’s palm and insisted that she had been married previously, which she vigorously denied. Several years later, my brother and I learned that indeed, my mother had been married and divorced before she married my father.

When I moved from New Mexico to Florida in 1991, my father said he knew a place that he wanted to take me on my first weekend there. We drove to a community just north of Deltona called Cassadaga where most everyone in that town claimed to be a psychic. I was feeling sort of low at that time and had left my reporting job in New Mexico to re-establish my life in a new location thousands of miles away. My father told me perhaps getting a psychic reading would boost my outlook about the future.

Despite my skepticism, he insisted that I do it, so I paid $25 for a 20-minute reading with a woman who used tarot cards. She told me that she could see me getting married in the future and that her first name would begin with an “N.” She also told me I would land a job soon and that she could see me on a football field covering a game as a sportswriter. She said I would own several homes and she saw me in an old car looking at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. I mentioned to her that I didn’t know any women whose first name started with an “N,” and she told me, “You most certainly will.”

Afterward, I told my dad I didn’t place much faith in psychic predictions. He told me he didn’t either, he just wanted me to feel good about myself and my future again. Within weeks I had found a job with a newspaper and was covering high school football games. A few years later I met and married Nancy and we have owned several homes. In 2007, we took a vacation trip to San Francisco and went for a tour of the city in a restored 1933 Packard that ended up at Golden Gate Park overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.

As for me, I think I more closely identify with those who believe that the sixth sense may or may not be genuine. <

Andy Young: The value of utility words

By Andy Young

During a major league baseball career that ran from 1965 to 1976, Cesar Tovar played 469 games in center field, 394 in left field, 227 at third base, 215 at second base, and 207 as a right fielder. On Sept. 22, 1968, he played one inning at every position on the diamond for the Minnesota Twins in a 2-1 victory over the Oakland A’s, in the process playing errorless ball defensively, scoring one of his team’s two runs, stealing a base, and, in his one inning as a pitcher, striking out future Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson. Tovar was truly the embodiment of a terrific utility player.

Venezuelan player Cesar Tovar built his
career on his versatility on the baseball
diamond and once played at every position 
for an inning in a Major League game.
It’s been years since I’ve paid much attention to professional baseball. But I haven’t forgotten the value of people – and things - capable of filling more than one role. These days it’s words (rather than athletes) with multiple uses that I find captivating. And according to a website that documents such things, there are 54 words in the English language that can serve properly as a noun, a verb, an adjective, or an adverb.

Take “well,” for example. It can be a noun (“Oh, no! The well has run dry”), a verb (“I watched tears well up in her eyes”), an adjective (Charlie says he is well), or an adverb (I’m not the greatest swimmer, but I run well).

Or imagine a midwinter conversation where one person responds to another’s request with, “I hear you loud and clear (ADV); you want me to clear (V) the windshield and then look through the clear (ADJ) glass to see if we’re in the clear (N).”

Some other examples: an individual with a strong back (N) can back (V) out of a parking space, go out the back (ADJ) door, or drift back (ADV) on a fly ball.

Those traveling light (ADV) and finding themselves in a dark laundromat would need to light (V) a candle so they could turn on a light (N) and prepare to do a light (ADJ) load of laundry.

Some tennis players perform best (ADV) when it’s hot out but are still unable to best (V) their country club’s best (ADJ) player, even when they play their best (N).

Follow this sound (ADJ) advice if you wish to stay safe and sound (ADV): sound (V) the alarm if you hear the sound (N) of glass breaking at 3 AM.

I shouldn’t have decided to cross (V) that cross (ADJ) street, because the police officer who stopped me for jaywalking was so cross (ADV) with me that I thought he’d nail me to a cross (N).

Knowing the Patriots would likely down (V) the Steelers, he felt so down (ADV) he went up the down (ADJ) staircase to his bedroom, wrapped himself in a quilt stuffed with goose down (N), and sulked.

That big stiff (N) made a speech that bored me stiff (ADV), so I ordered a stiff (ADJ) drink and left a big tip, since I would never stiff (V) a bartender.

Trying to tough (V) it out, the young tough (N) tried looking tough (ADV) as he chewed on an exceptionally tough (ADJ) piece of beef jerky.

Other utility words include square, round, still, fast, home, flush, right, wrong, long, and short.

But the long and short of it is that nothing can last (V) forever, not even Cesar Tovar’s distinguished baseball career. No American League team he played for ever came in last (ADV), but he played his last (ADJ) game in 1976. And of all the Venezuelans to ever play all nine positions in a game, he was the last (N). <

Friday, September 23, 2022

Insight: A cautionary tale for would-be journalists

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

The Hollywood portrayal of journalists is often far from reality and despite the glamorous image and stylish depictions in movies and on television, many reporters, editors and sportswriters lead simple and unassuming lives but sometimes are targets because of their careers.

Here's an example from my own life to prove my point.

In the late 1980s I was working as a reporter for a newspaper in New Mexico. A man came to the newspaper office on a November afternoon and asked if he could speak to a reporter about a possible story. I happened to be sitting at my desk at work that day when my editor called me over and instructed me to find out what potential story this man wanted to share with us.

I introduced myself and the man said his name was Gene and that he had a "tremendous" article for me. I sat and listened as he told me that he had been wrongly convicted of shooting at one of his neighbors in Decatur, Georgia and had then served a 10-year sentence on a Georgia chain gang reconstructing highways and moving boulders and rocks by hand.

Gene said he had taken his appeal to the governor's office in Georgia, the attorney general's office there and had paid a family member who was a lawyer a large sum of money to prove his innocence and have his conviction overturned. Apparently, nothing had worked and once he was released from the Georgia chain gang, he had moved 1,400 miles west to New Mexico and was now working in construction.

He told me during his time on the chain gang, his wife had divorced him and married his family member, the lawyer who was handling his appeal in the court system. His mother had also died since his arrest, and he was planning on exposing everyone who had testified against him resulting in what he said was a wrongful firearm conviction.

After hearing his story, I told him I would speak to my editor about it, but I doubted he would have me write a story about this because it had occurred so far away and had little news value to the readers of our newspaper in New Mexico. I then returned to the newsroom, pitched Gene’s article idea to the editor, and I was right, he instructed me to tell Gene it was not something the newspaper was interested in writing about. Gene didn't take my response well and called me a 'phony" and said it was a "typical" reply that he had heard from other newspapers that he had presented the story to.

The very next afternoon, a Friday, I was back at my desk at work when the receptionist informed me that Gene was back and asked to speak to me. I walked out to the lobby and Gene apologized for calling me a "phony" and asked if I'd be interested in writing a book with him about his case. I told him no, I had little free time and was barely keeping my head above water with all my newspaper work. Gene politely thanked me and left, and I went on with my day and continued my work.

That Saturday evening, my wife and I were just about to sit down to supper when we heard a gunshot in our driveway outside. We lived on a remote farm on a dirt road about 17 miles south of the city where I worked. The time had changed the weekend before and it was dark at 5:30 p.m. when we heard the shot and someone hollering for me outside.

My wife pleaded with me to stay inside, but in looking out the window I saw Gene standing in my driveway holding a pistol. I told her to call the police and I thought I could speak to him out there, calm him down and prevent him from shooting out the windows in our home.

I stepped outside and discovered that Gene was quite drunk, and he was also very angry. He called me a “hypocrite” and said I was like everyone else who had not believed his story. He said he was going to show me what it was like to be humiliated and pointed his pistol at me and told me to get down on my knees.

At that point, I thought I was a goner until two sheriff's cruisers pulled in behind Gene's truck and the deputies shouted to him to drop the gun and walk backward to them. He did and Gene was arrested for violating the terms of his probation. The deputies asked him how he knew where I lived, and he told them he looked up my address in the telephone book.

From that point on, we kept the driveway gate locked and removed our listing from the next phone book. It was very scary and difficult to talk about afterward.

Almost four decades later, journalists everywhere face risks and threats every day for just doing their job. I was fortunate to have survived my brush with an unhappy person and can attest to the inherent dangers of this career. <   

Andy Young: Enjoying the continuing search

By Andy Young

I’ve been looking for a specific person for years, and about a month ago I thought I had found him.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get his name, but I can describe him.

He’s about half my age, stands somewhere between 5-foot-10 and 6-foot-1, and weighs between 170 and 180 pounds. Our paths crossed on the home stretch of a 25-mile bike ride I was taking. The athletic-looking cyclist glided past me like I was standing still. But that happens all the time, so I didn’t have any particular reaction.

Pedaling past me on a titanium bike, he was outfitted like a Tour de France competitor, so he probably wasn’t overly impressed by my ensemble, which consisted of old basketball shorts, a T-shirt, and the long-sleeved, size Triple XL green hoodie I bought because it was 80 percent off. Wearing that hood under my helmet protects what my dermatologist tells me, and my children gleefully remind me of every chance they get, is a rapidly expanding bald spot which needs perpetual protection from the sun.

Doggedly pedaling away on my generic road bike as the mystery cyclist zipped by me like the Roadrunner passing Wile E. Coyote, I turned my attention to the pavement ahead, a section fraught with the sorts of imperfections which, while they’re mere bumps in the road for someone piloting a motor vehicle, are potential teeth-rattlers and/or tire flatteners for self-propelling bikers.

After successfully navigating between potholes and reaching a smoother, wider section of road, I passed him. He was re-mounting his bike after having pulled over to take a quick drink from his water bottle. Going by I gave him a quick wave, knowing he’d soon overtake me on the hill we were about to ascend.

Except … he didn’t pass me. Not for a while, anyway. But when he finally did, he slowed just long

enough to say, on his way by, “Man! You must be in great shape. You kicked my butt going up that hill back there!”

He didn’t have to say that. He didn’t have to say anything. But he took the time to share some words of encouragement that made a total stranger feel like Superman. That spontaneous bit of altruism was what led me to believe that my lengthy search was over, and I had finally located and identified the world’s kindest person.

But then a wonderful individual bought a copy of the book I just had published, plus five additional copies to give to her friends. Then the week after I wrote a column in this newspaper bemoaning the lack of vegetarian ramen in local stores, someone mailed me a dozen packages of the stuff. Shortly after that a man let me in front of him at the grocery store checkout counter when he saw I only had two items. Then there’s the fellow who periodically sends me vintage baseball cards while expecting nothing in return, the student who, with no apparent ulterior motive, brought me the world’s best cookie, and the old friend who, for no discernible reason, sent an amazing letter informing me that I am truly making a positive difference.

All these random acts of kindness have me somewhat conflicted. Here I thought I had solved the
mystery of who the world’s kindest person is, but subsequent developments have left me more confused than ever about this individual’s identity.

I’m probably no closer to locating the world’s kindest person than I was when I began my quest to find him, her, or them a few decades ago. But for now, I’m perfectly happy to continue enjoying the search. <

Friday, September 16, 2022

Insight: Accessing the deepest corners of your mind

Ed Pierce's grandparents, Anthony and
Josephine, both died when he was a small 
child in the 1950s. COURTESY PHOTO
By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

If the human mind is this incredible feature that separates mankind from all the other species on Earth, why is it then that few, if any of us, can recall memories from our youngest days?

I have some vague recollections of places and people I visited under the age of 5, but not many. I don’t think a whole lot of other people do either.

The earliest memory I remember is being in the living room with my mother at about age 4 watching afternoon television with her in the late 1950s while she ironed shirts for my father to wear to work. She told me as an adult that I actually learned to tell time by knowing when certain television shows came on.

I do recall watching a program with her as she ironed called “The Buccaneers,” which was a pirate-type adventure show starring British actor Robert Shaw, who later appeared in the film “Jaws” as Quint and then as Robert Redford and Paul Newman’s con victim in “The Sting.” That show was followed at 4 p.m. by an afternoon soap my mother watched every day called “The Edge of Night.” I learned that at 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, “The Edge of Night” started and my mother said she would point to the clock’s hour hands and say 4 o’clock.

Those are some of my earliest memories, but where are the rest?

The phenomenon known as “childhood amnesia,” or the inability to recall early childhood memories, has perplexed scientists for more than a century. It seems developmental changes in our basic memory are thought to be as an explanation for our lack of childhood recall, and it’s perhaps the top theory that the scientific community has come up with so far. The development of our memory process spans several brain regions and includes forming, storing and then being able to retrieve the memory.

A brain region called the hippocampus is believed to be responsible for forming memories, and scientists say it continues developing until at least age 7. Decades of testing subjects shows that childhood amnesia shifts as we age, meaning that young children and teens can recall earlier memories than we as adults do but that fades the older that we get. For scientists, this suggests that the problem of recalling early childhood events may have less to do with the formation of memories than with our brain being able to maintain them.

From about the same time that I can remember watching “The Edge of Night” with my mother, roughly 1957 when I was nearing my fourth birthday, I have a faint memory of driving to my grandmother’s home where she was confined to her bed dying of colon cancer. I remember walking up a set of stairs to get to the second floor and then passing through her kitchen to go into her bedroom.

In her kitchen was a shelf where she kept spices and for some reason, I remember seeing a package of Junket rennet tablets for making custard. It’s an odd memory but something I do recall from when I was nearing the age of 4. I also remember my parents sitting me on my grandmother’s bed and her talking to me as they went in the other room with my grandfather to discuss her deteriorating condition.

I’m not sure what exactly my grandmother told me, and try as I might, I can’t remember what her voice sounded like, but I do remember her kind and loving face, her blue eyes, and her softly kissing me on top of my head. If there is a memory that I do wish that I could recall much better, it would certainly be that. My grandmother died on my fourth birthday in December 1957 and although I have some old black and white family photos of her and my grandfather, I would have enjoyed hearing her tell me about her life at some point as I was growing up.

My memory of my grandfather is even fainter. I’m told that to entertain me when I was very small that he once handed me a hammer and some nails and showed me how to hammer the nails into a beautiful oak floor in my grandparents’ home. I have little or no memory of that, but I do remember the shiny and polished oak floor in their living room. I also have some recollection of my grandfather showing me a goose and some chickens in his barn on his farm in Macedon, New York.

Like my grandmother, my grandfather also died on my birthday. He died on my 6th birthday in 1959 and I do remember that day because it was one of the only times in my life that I ever saw my father cry after he received a phone call from his brother informing him about his father’s death.

Life is full of so many happy memories and wonderful events that we all wish we could replay, but we are limited when it comes to most from the earliest part of our existence. But wouldn’t it be great if we could? <

Andy Young: The death of dying

By Andy Young

Queen Elizabeth’s demise at age 96 last week has me thinking about lifespans.

When my father was born in 1923, the life expectancy for American males was 56.1 years, so suffice it to say it would be pretty amazing if he got to celebrate his 100th birthday next summer. Of course, he’d have had to beat some pretty significant odds to do so.

As it turns out, the chances of William S. Young celebrating his personal centennial next summer are easy to figure: they’re zero percent, since his earthly existence concluded in 1974, when pancreatic cancer claimed him just a month before he would have turned 51. But even if he were still extant, I know for a fact that my dad would not have died next year. Dying is so 20th century. Nobody dies anymore. They “pass.”

Few people live 10 full decades, so it makes sense that when someone hits the century mark some sort of commemoration is in order. However, it’s never a good idea to celebrate a birthday prematurely, particularly when all the excitement is centered around a centenarian-to-be. Putting Betty White on the cover of People magazine the month before she was to turn 100 turned out rather badly, since the beloved actress, author, and animal welfare activist subsequently transformed from living to non-living just two and a half weeks before her scheduled big day.

America’s end-of-life nomenclature has quietly but inexorably undergone significant change over the past few decades.

In the past, how and when a person met his or her maker determined exactly which delicate phrase was employed to describe the nature of their earthly existence’s end. People who had been in ill health for a lengthy period of time inevitably “succumbed” to their particular affliction(s). Those who met a violent end got “killed” (or, if it was firearms-related, “gunned down”). Unfortunate folks whose lives ended along with a significant number of others (think earthquakes, floods, or plane crashes) “perished.” And for the most part all that phraseology made sense. No decent obituary told of someone succumbing to an assassin’s bullet or getting slain by leukemia.

Americans have never had an easy time talking about death. The euphemisms people employ regarding the end of life in order to avoid using any form of the “D word” range from the sublime (passing away, eternally resting, meeting their maker) to the ridiculous (taking a dirt nap, buying the farm, pushing up daisies), to the utterly nonsensical (remember Jimmy Durante literally kicking the bucket in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World?).

Currently the favored verb for describing someone’s demise seems to have become “passed,” without the “away.” When I was growing up, “passing” referred to one of two things: what Johnny Unitas, Bart Starr and George Blanda did for a living, or what people who drove faster than my dad (which was just about everyone) regularly did to us on the highway.

Given today’s fascination with political correctness, I imagine the thought police re-dubbing classic literature and movies so as not to cause trauma for those who see or hear “the D Word” unexpectedly. Imagine future generations viewing classic films like Night of the Living Expired, Demise Wish, and Passing of a Salesperson.

I sometimes picture all of my departed family and friends having a good laugh at our expense from the great beyond, watching us verbally tiptoe around “death,” “die,” and other forms of the word. But is there actually an afterlife? I don’t know for sure, but like everyone else I know, I’m literally (though involuntarily, and hopefully slowly) dying to find out. <

Friday, September 9, 2022

Insight: Somewhat Spooky Sugary Speculation

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

It seems a bit early this year, but a trip to the grocery store over Labor Day Weekend unveiled for me that a vast selection of Halloween candy is already filling supermarket shelves.

I’m not sure exactly how long candy lasts, but by my calculation at the time of my visit there were at least 58 days left until Halloween. If I had purchased and brought home some candy for this year’s trick-or-treaters, it would have had to sit on my kitchen shelf without being devoured for nearly two months before the evening of Oct. 31 arrives. Knowing my own weakness for sugar, I’m certain I wouldn’t have the willpower to let candy sit for that long at my home without sampling it.

Making the decision to not purchase Halloween candy during this visit, I did, however, carefully examine what products have currently made their way onto the supermarket shelves in 2022, what old favorites are returning, and what is new this fall that I should consider.

The first item that I noticed this year is not something I would hand out to neighborhood kids for Halloween. A price tag of $19.95 for a 1-pound grape-flavored gummy bear in the shape of a skeleton is more of a personal gift for the grandkids in Connecticut, except after mailing them a huge box of Easter candy in April, I have been asked not to mail them sugary snacks going forward to avoid childhood hyperactive “sugar high” meltdowns.

Next, I noticed some odd-looking fun-sized Twix and Snickers candy bars with packages bright green in color. The Twix bars were labeled as “Ghoulish Green” while the Snickers bars were identified as “Ghoulish Green Nougat.” I suppose if these new candy products don’t sell for Halloween that they can always be relabeled and recycled next spring for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

Moving on, I proceeded to look over a creative section filled with small colorful and collectible tins of Halloween candy that caught my attention. I laughed at the “Sugar Skulls Tins” which encourage celebrations of “Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in colorful style!” Each of these decorative skull tins contain 1.4 ounces of vibrant candy skulls for $3.99 each. The product line also offers “Ouija Mystifying Mints” for $3.99 featuring an embossed tin with retro artwork of the “Mystifying Oracle.” Inside are 1.5 ounces of Ouija planchette-shaped peppermints. I chuckled when I saw the “Childs Play Chucky Tins” filled with sour cherry candy knives and adorned with artwork of the serial killer doll “Chucky” all for just $3.99.

For those trick-or-treaters who can’t live without the sensation of the Pop Rocks candy that explodes in your mouth, there are two new must-have products for 2022. Bags of KOOL-AID GHOUL-AID Popping Candy and Warheads Popping Candy are now found on store shelves. KOOL-AID GHOUL-AID comes in Scary Berry flavor while Warheads Popping Candy features Wicked Watermelon, R.I.P. Raspberry, and Cackle Apple flavors.

There seems to be a lot of gimmicks associated with returning candy favorites this year too. Hershey’s is offering a large candy skull filled with bite-sized treats and chocolate kisses now rendered to resemble eyeballs, while M&Ms, Snickers, Milky Ways and Skittles now come in a bag proclaiming they are “Glow in the Dark.” Kit Kat is selling “Pumpkin Pie” treats, and Reese’s has gone all-in on Halloween this year with an array of new products including King-Sized 2.4-ounce peanut butter and chocolate pumpkins, white crème peanut butter ghosts, and large Reese’s potato chip big cups.

Also new for 2022 are Froot Loops Gummies; Nerds Candy Corn; M&M Creepy Cocoa Crisps; Tootsie Roll Caramel Pops; Dove Dark Chocolate Pumpkins; Monster Mash Jelly Belly jelly beans; Jelly Belly Pumpkin Lollypops; Dubble Bubble Jack O’ Lanterns; Sour Patch Kids Zombie Orange and Purple Candy; Brach’s Caramel Apple candy corn; Fruit Stripe Gummy Candy; Nerds Rainbow Rope Candy; assorted Halloween-themed candy canes; Toxic Waste sour candy in plastic drums; and Red Vines in Halloween candy corn flavor.

Looking over the Halloween aisle this year, my own personal favorites are the Peeps assortment. Made of marshmallow, Peeps were once exclusively shaped like small chicks and were rolled out for Easter in yellow, pink, and blue colors, but they are now available in varying shapes and flavors for other holidays and especially for Halloween. On this visit to the store, I found Halloween orange pumpkin Peeps, green and red Peeps skulls; glowing green Peeps Monsters shaped like Frankenstein heads; all-white Peeps ghosts; and purple spooky Peeps cats. And for the first time this year I spotted Astronaut Freeze-Dried Halloween Peeps in green, orange, and white colors.

As for our household for Halloween this year, we’re more than likely going to purchase our giveaway candy around Oct. 15 and in keeping with Pierce Family tradition, we’ll be handing out an assortment of full-sized Hershey bars, Snickers bars, Kit Kat bars, Reese’s peanut butter cups, Starburst, Skittles, Three Musketeer bars, and Milky Way bars. These typically come in 20-full-size packs.

We always plan on 80 trick-or-treaters and end up having about 48 or so kids ring our doorbell, meaning 32 candy bars are left over for me. <

Bill Diamond: Continuing the fight to protect Maine children

By Senator Bill Diamond

After four Maine children died last summer – allegedly at the hands of their parents – I and many other Maine lawmakers formally requested that the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee (GOC) begin a thorough investigation of Maine’s child protection system. It’s clear that the system is failing to protect kids, and the only way we can make the changes we need to is by understanding exactly what went wrong in these cases, and where other shortcomings and challenges lie.

The GOC strongly agreed with us, and in August 2021 they voted to authorize an investigation to be carried out by their independent partner office, the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (OPEGA). One year later and the investigation is still ongoing, with the GOC and OPEGA doing great work collecting critical information, reviewing systems and listening to the public.

Their work is nearing an end, at which point the GOC may recommend reforms that the 131st Legislature can vote on when it convenes in 2023.

In July, the GOC requested that the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) share the case files for the four children who died last summer to help in the final steps of the committee’s investigation. Those children — 6-week-old Jaden Harding, 3-year-old Hailey Goding, 3-year-old Maddox Williams and 1-month-old Sylus Melvin — all have parents who have been charged with murder or manslaughter in connection with their deaths. 

If the GOC could access these case files, they may learn critical information about what went so horribly wrong that these children ended up dead. Last month, DHHS denied this request under advice from the Attorney General’s office, saying that sharing this information with the GOC may put ongoing criminal investigations at risk. While DHHS will share the case files with OPEGA staff, they are refusing to share them with the elected members of the GOC. I find that unacceptable.

The GOC has two choices now: They can rely on OPEGA’s staff to summarize and share the key points of the case files, or they can pursue legal action against DHHS and demand that the files be handed over.

I believe it’s critical to the integrity of this investigation and of future investigations that the GOC firmly stand their ground and assert what I and others believe to be their right: To review these cases in a confidential, closed-door session, where they can uncover potentially critical facts without jeopardizing the criminal investigations into those responsible for these heinous acts.

Thanks to family members speaking out, we already know some critical information about the case of Maddox Williams and how our child protection system failed him. Despite the fact that Maddox was living safely with his paternal grandmother, he was placed back with his mother – who had a history of involvement with the child protection system – over the objections of other family members.

Maddox’s mother, Jessica Trefethen, is scheduled to go on trial this fall for Maddox’s murder. There’s no telling what additional details a review of Maddox’s full case file may uncover, or what shortcomings of our child protection system may be revealed if the GOC is allowed to examine the case files of the other three children.

When I served as a member of the GOC back in 2018, our state was confronting two heartbreaking tragedies: The murders of 4-year-old Kendall Chick in December 2017 and of 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy in February 2018. Both girls had prior involvement with Maine’s child protection system, and yet both girls were murdered by their parents.

The GOC’s current investigation is much broader than what we undertook in 2018, as it should be. If we want the GOC to be able to do the work they set out to do, it’s imperative that they have access to any and all information that aids in their work, including these case files.

If you believe a child is in immediate danger, please call 911. To report cases of suspected child abuse or neglect, call Maine’s Child Protection Intake line at 1-800-452-1999. If you have concerns about how a child protection case is being handled, contact the Maine Child Welfare Ombudsman at 207-213-4773.

As always, I’m here to talk through your questions and concerns and to help you address any challenges you may be facing. You can email me any time at or call my office at 207-287-1515. <

Friday, September 2, 2022

Insight: Going, going, gone

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor 

When you reach my age, thoughts of one’s inevitable mortality are hard to prevent from creeping in as I seem to be bombarded almost daily by news of the deaths of someone I know, a friend or relative of someone I know, someone I once worked with, or someone I grew up with. It’s just a fact that when you live a long time, sometimes those you meet along the way in life aren’t on the same timeline or schedule as you.

After enduring the loss in the past year of three high school classmates, my brother-in-law, my 39-year-old auto mechanic, and just last weekend a fellow I sat across from at work for five years, the parade continues. Two weekends ago, it was the longtime partner of a high school friend, and the week before that, it was singer Olivia Newton-John, basketball star Bill Russell, actress Ann Heche and one of my favorite authors, David McCullough. In July, my cousin’s mother passed, and I could go on and on.

As we near the three-quarter mark for 2022, I’m asking if this is it for this year? I’m ready to jump off the mourning express train and focus my energy on positives for the remainder of this year, rather spend another minute shopping for sympathy cards at Walgreens or selecting a bereavement FTD bouquet from an online florist.

None of us know when our time may be at hand. We don’t walk around displaying expiration dates like milk or some grocery products. But there are some lifestyles that may contribute to early demises such as using fentanyl for recreational purposes or driving recklessly while intoxicated. 

That’s why it’s so shocking when someone seemingly in good health such as my former co-worker, who unexpectedly passed away last Saturday, departs. No matter how prepared you may be, when the notification reaches you, it throws you for a loop and you’re left searching for answers.

Death touches us all in so many unique ways. Last fall, a hot internet trend was a video series posted on You Tube and Tik Tok that applies age progression techniques to photographs of celebrities, politicians and well-known individuals who died young. Those videos were hard to watch because they were so life-like. It’s one thing to imagine what Elvis Presley, John F. Kennedy, Kurt Kobain, Selena, or Andy Kaufman would look like today, but these videos went a step farther by making their eyes blink and move, turning their heads slightly and smiling. Those subtle expressions indeed make it appear that these people are still alive when they really died long ago.

Some popular celebrities may die of old age, but the memories we have of them are frozen in time. Such is the case for me of Tony Dow, who played the older brother Wally Cleaver on the classic “Leave it to Beaver” situation comedy television show decades ago. I still envisioned him as a perpetual teenage high school student, but in real life Dow was 77 when he died in July.

I’ve always envied those who get to know their grandparents because all of mine had died by the time I was 5. I have recollections of my grandmother Josephine as she was dying of cancer in 1957. A crocheted bedspread she made me and a set of mother-of-pearl dishes she brought with her to America from Poland and left me in her will are my reminders of her. She’s been gone 65 years and I still think about her.

I couldn’t imagine being the police officer who is assigned to make the notification call of the death of a loved one to a family at their home. In my opinion, that’s one of the most difficult tasks imaginable and yet also one of the most important functions of the police department.

In my own life, the state trooper who appeared at 2 a.m. on our doorstep in May 1991 to let us know that my father had died earlier that evening in an automobile accident was kind and thoughtful. He offered to help us find out more information regarding the accident and what steps we needed to take next. But it was still shocking to hear the doorbell ring at 2 a.m. and hear the words he spoke to me, and that conversation is never far from my mind more than 30 years later.

Because everyone dies, the topic of death remains a constant in all our lives that many try to avoid thinking about. Yet there are those who choose to do things like make a will for survivors or purchase life insurance. Some may make funeral arrangements in advance or transfer possessions to those they care about.

The stark fact is though that nobody truly knows when their time is at hand. We go through life aware that the clock is ticking and try to make the most of what is given us. Some people live a long time, while others leave us much too soon. I’m certainly no expert on this subject, although lately it seems that I’m constantly affected by it.

My time will come eventually but hoping it’s not for a while yet. <

Andy Young: Aspiring to visual respectability

By Andy Young 

School starts this week, which suggests I should try to look respectable. That means it’s haircut time.

Certain “friends” of mine chuckle when I broach this particular subject. One remarked that I need a haircut like Angelina Jolie needs liposuction. Another commented I’d require a trim when Shaquille O’Neal feels the need to wear platform shoes. (Or when he needs a haircut, for that matter.)

Don’t let the lush head of hair in the photo that runs atop this column fool you. It was taken when Barack Obama was president.

During his first term.

Or possibly when he was still a community organizer.

In my youth, getting a monthly haircut was a necessity. Fortunately, it wasn’t tough getting an appointment with the local barber; my mom was in charge of keeping my siblings, my dad and I appropriately coiffed.

Growing hair wasn’t a problem for me during my teenage years. In fact, if it wasn’t cut frequently enough it would get into my eyes during basketball games, which could negatively impact my already shaky on-court performance.

I never gave a second (or even a first) thought to thinning and/or disappearing hair until I was in my late 30’s. At the end of Day One of a business trip to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, I was brushing my teeth in the privacy (I thought) of my hotel room’s bathroom when … I suddenly realized I was not alone. There was a balding man lurking behind me! 

Terrified, I let out an ear-shattering shriek, all the while looking desperately for a way to alert security of the situation.

Then I realized the multiple mirrors on the walls in the bathroom had created an optical illusion. The back of the potentially psychotic intruder’s head was, in reality, the back of my own.

I didn’t have much luck growing facial hair, either. I’d never tried cultivating a beard or a mustache until I spent a summer in Alaska, but it seemed like the right time (I didn’t know a soul there) and place (appropriately wild and far away) to try the unshaven look for a while. Four razorless days into the experiment I began looking suave, like a rugged, younger version of James Bond. Encouraged, I vowed to give up shaving for the rest of the summer.

The results weren’t pretty. After a week I looked like someone who had slept on a park bench. A few days later I could have passed for a guy who regularly slept under park benches. By the end of the month, I resembled the runt of the Bigfoot litter. My face sported neither beard nor mustache, but a series of random hairy patches of varying sizes, shapes and shades.

These days my dermatologist, who I see twice annually (or half as many times as I visit the barbershop), informs me I’d best keep the expanding solar panel on the back of my head covered, and accordingly I’m no more likely to go outside without a hat than I am to drive my car without a seatbelt.

The woman who currently cuts my hair inherited the job from her dad, who retired from full time barbering a few years ago. She does a great job, even though doing so takes her about as much time as it would to pull all the weeds from a Death Valley tomato garden. But come December 1st or so, she knows I’ll be back for another haircut, whether I need one or not.

Every so often I find myself wondering how often Shaq goes to the barbershop.

Or if he’s ever worn platform shoes. <