Friday, June 14, 2024

Insight: Should’ve, could’ve, would’ve

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

Last week I saw a list shared on social media that was compiled by a hospice nurse who spent her career dealing with individuals who were dying and later wrote a book about it. Knowing that their time on earth was dwindling, the dying passed on their regrets about their lives.

According to this nurse, the top five common regrets were not at all what she expected.

They included wishing they had the courage to live a life true to themselves, and not the life others expected of them by their family or friends. They also wished that they hadn’t spent so much of their lives working, wished they would have had the ability to truly express their feelings, wished they had kept in better touch with friends, and wished they had let themselves enjoy life more and be happier.

During a national study conducted in 2011, Americans were asked to describe a significant life regret, and the most common reported regrets involved romance (19.3 percent), family (16.9 percent), education (14 percent), career (13.8 percent), finances (9.9 percent), and parenting (9.0 percent).

It occurs to me that all the regrets mentioned above involve personal relationships and I can understand that.

As humans, we all share the common experience of living and interacting with others. Since taking our first breath, we all have been part of the routine of life, and everything associated with it. How we relate to others, however, is a choice, and so is how happily we live our lives. There are people we meet along the way that influence the decisions we make and shape our reactions and directly affect our happiness and lives.

By the time I was 15, I had already figured out what I wanted to do for a career but many adult figures in my life wanted to steer me to choices they felt were better for me. During sophomore English class, my teacher, Ruth Silverman, suggested I was a good writer and encouraged me to explore a career in journalism. Now 49 years into my newspaper career, I’ve never regretted that decision, but I do regret not being able to tell her what great advice it was.

She left the school for another teaching position after that school year, and I have no idea where she went. I’ve tried my best through the years to track her down and tell her about my life and career without success. I’ve asked the school system, former teachers at the school, and looked extensively online but have been unable to find her and probably never will.

For many years, I also regretted that I never had a chance to tell other teachers that helped me along the way how much I valued and appreciated them. However, I was able to tell my high school basketball coach Gene Monje that in 2006 and several years later, he invited me to give his introduction speech at the Section V Basketball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Rochester, New York.

I also had a long-standing regret when I was younger about my high school music teacher Giles Hobin. His chorus class was transformational for me when I reached high school. From the first day, he treated me like an adult and inspired me to appreciate music. I wanted to thank him years later but didn’t know where he was.

In the spring of 2001, my classmate Janet Howland sent me a newspaper clipping of a Letter to the Editor he had written, and it listed his home address, which was the same as it had been for years. I sat down and wrote him a letter saying that unlike other students on the first day of college, I felt totally prepared because of teachers like him and was ready for the challenge. I mailed it to him and expected to hear back from him, but months passed without a response.

As I was getting ready to fly to Rochester to attend a wedding in late October 2001, Janet Howland emailed me to tell me that Giles Hobin had died. I was crushed and saddened that I would never have an opportunity to speak to him again. I was able to attend his funeral service with some of my classmates and as I went through a reception line meeting my teacher’s family, something remarkable happened.

As I shook his son Shawn’s hand in the reception line, he turned and told his mother who I was. She smiled and hugged me and said that she wanted to tell me something.

“Of course, Giles was thrilled to receive your letter,” she said. “It meant the world to him, and he kept it on his nightstand. He wanted to write you back but couldn’t because of his illness. I offered to write it for him, but he insisted that he would write you back, but he never got the chance to do so.”

The experience of being human means interacting with many different personalities to chart your own path in this world. I’ve made plenty of mistakes over time and have made many decisions I wish I could regret, but instead I’ve chosen to be happy and continue moving ahead.

Andy Young: Finally breaking decades-old vows

By Andy Young

When I was an intellectual teenager who knew that I knew everything there was to know, a significant number of venerable individuals, albeit armed with good intentions, kept bombarding me with unneeded “help” in the form of unwanted and often long-winded advice about life.

Andy Young's three children are shown when they were
younger. The youngest has just graduated from high school.
Thankfully I had the good sense back then to not rub my omniscience in the faces of all those old fossils who kept sharing their “knowledge” with me. Then as now, most people resented youthful, arrogant know-it-alls, even benevolent ones like me who were reasonably tolerant of the ignorant adults surrounding them.

But the constant pestering of those platitude-spouting windbags was why I promised myself two important things.

One was to avoid becoming one of those tiresome old duffers who’d prattle on about the importance of treasuring every day, because time passes so quickly, blah blah blah. The other was to NEVER become one of those ancient, self-important blowhards who drones on endlessly about his aches, pains, and latest health issues.

And I’m happy to report that I have kept those vows faithfully.

Until a week ago, when the youngest of my three children graduated from high school.

The day my son and his 148 impossibly youthful classmates paraded past their proud families to receive their diplomas was perfect for an outdoor graduation. Wispy white clouds dotted a clear blue sky, and a gentle, refreshing breeze kept potentially irritating flying insects at bay. Periodic cloud cover obscured the sun just enough to keep the temperature from becoming oppressive. And those conditions weren’t just perfect for a graduation; they were also ideal for becoming lost in thought, which was why I quickly and involuntarily became engrossed in a jumble of beautiful daydreams.

I relived a day not all that long ago when our oldest was grabbing hunks of his first birthday cake with his bare hands and then attempting, with occasional success, to put them into his mouth. Then my mind conjured the vision of my three children and me throwing a frisbee in the front yard, trying to catch 100 passes in a row without dropping one. Next, I was seeing their amazingly creative, multi-colored chalk drawings on the driveway, beautiful but doomed to be washed away by the next rainstorm.

There they were, perpetually occupied with (depending on the season) kicking soccer balls with their friends, gliding down the nearest available hill on whatever object(s) could serve as a sled, or playing Foursquare with the kids across the street. I swear I actually heard their high-pitched squeals of delight as they uncovered one of the eggs a mischievous rabbit had secreted in various places around the yard, or inside the house when precipitation was in the Easter Sunday forecast. I found myself reliving trips to Connecticut to see their grandmother, or to Vermont to visit with cousins who were only slightly larger than they were. All those band concerts, sleepovers, and Little League baseball games seemed like they were just last week.

Suddenly my pleasant reverie was interrupted by the sounds of Pomp and Circumstance, and the sight of 149 maroon-gowned high school graduates marching by. Where did the time go?

Apparently those windy old geezers actually knew what they were talking about. Years, it turns out, elapse unimaginably quickly. That’s why every young person reading this should fully savor every moment of every day. Take it from me: time flies!

Now that I’ve violated one of my once-sacrosanct vows, I might as well go the whole hog. My lower back is killing me. And does anyone want to hear the latest from my cardiologist? <

Rookie Mama: Pack it up, pack it in - Let the travel era begin

By Michelle Cote

“What do they call it when everything intersects?”
“The Bermuda Triangle.”
– Sleepless in Seattle

The month of May is a Bermuda-Triangle-sort-of-firehose-to-the-face in the Cote household: A very real intersection of spring sports, opening camp, and planting our garden at the exact same time.

It’s a time of year that makes a mockery of my desire for a predictable, clockwork-like schedule, as well as a reminder that despite best-laid plans and garden beds, there are certain things that unavoidably intersect at the same darn time.

The plates must spin on, but we can give them a soft landing.

Enter the multi-tabbed spreadsheet – Today’s sorting, color-coding, slicing, dicing wonder of an answer to my hand-written lists of yore.

It would be wrong to imply spreadsheets have completely replaced lists written in my wild hand – Let’s be honest; my physician grandfather passed down enough promotional pharmaceutical notepads and pens to last several lifetimes.

I can’t pronounce the product names splashed across the tops, and no one can read my cursive shorthand. It’s like a cute little cuneiform that keeps me accountable.

But back to spreadsheets.

When you can accurately predict the unpredictable is coming for your schedule, try to take moments to plan what you can.

We’ve now entered the summer vacation season era that jumps on the heels of spring sports’ end – When I was a kid, welcoming summer meant new jelly shoes and beach towels, but today it means I’ve got to be kind to my future self and take time to plan out family travels, with the same intensity carried out by Kevin McAllister when smoothing out his Battle Plan in ‘Home Alone.’

It’s June, which means we’ll all collectively blink and welcome Labor Day Weekend.

So, get your spreadsheet planning in order if you haven’t already – Fire up a Google or Excel sheet, add your columns for dates, destination locations, check-in times, ticket confirmation numbers, website links galore.

This virtual itinerary can help you plan your travels down to the minute, and you can edit to your heart’s content as you go.

So when you’re really in go-mode, the brunt’s been done.

I first started going gaga for Google Sheets when I discovered just how fabulous a tool this proved for budgeting, from day-to-day bill pay to holiday fa-la-la-list making. I was late to the spreadsheet game – Remember, promotional pharmaceutical notepads.

But I find that planning ahead today for travels that take place months from now not only helps establish a realistic timeline, but sparks reminders of what we’ll need to pack, from beef jerky road snacks to passports.

Jerky tastes better, but getting all travel docs in order is important, too, I suppose – Updating all six of our passports was a laughably taxing exercise in coordination and preparedness.

I wanted to eat all the beef jerky after that was over.

Planning out our family’s travel and adventure itineraries early has worked well each year because we mindfully include room for flexibility and grace, as nothing goes perfectly according to plan one hundred percent of the time.

And sometimes, it so happens these unscripted memories are that which we hold dearest.

You’ve likely experienced something like this.

Those candid moments brought about because of a wrong turn taken, unexpected weather shift, or needing to improvise because of a packing fail reminds us we all need to be flexible sometimes.

Several years ago, my family and I were wandering newly redesigned streets on the outskirts of Old Quebec and found ourselves innocently – and evidently illegally – crossing a street where we believed to be a designated crosswalk. Not so.

An angry officer appeared from around a corner, chased us away, hurling threats in English as broken as this law we’d misinterpreted, and we were terrified.

It was a rainy, gray day, and we were feeling dreary ourselves, but we found ourselves across that street in another newly renovated area – a gorgeous waterfront park with a newly built public splashpad for children.

The river view, coupled with the famed Chateau Frontenac perched in the distance, was breathtaking.

We had the entire place to ourselves because the rain had kept away crowds, and the sky cleared moments later.

Then, a military marching band celebrating Quebec’s summer festival came from seemingly nowhere and encircled us, playing traditional music beautifully as our boys dashed around the waterspouts in pure joy.

I can’t make this stuff up.

So I certainly could never have planned it.

And this was only one of several Cote family moments gone awry that turned out to be so very memorable in the end – All this time later, we still laugh about that day, the angry officer, and eventual sunshine on a cloudy day.

If you set a solid itinerary that reflects your family’s shared goals, you’re designing a best-intended recipe for success.

As long as you remember to make grace-filled room for the inevitable unscripted takeaways, you’ll have your summer to remember – no jelly shoes needed.

Just don’t forget the road snacks.

Enjoy the era of adventure.

­­– Michelle Cote lives in southern Maine with her husband and four sons, and enjoys camping, distance running, biking, gardening, road trips to new regions, arts and crafts, soccer, and singing to musical showtunes – often several or more at the same time! <

Friday, June 7, 2024

Insight: Welcome to the working world

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

My wife and I recently had a conversation with a young woman who was in the middle of her first shift as a waitress at the International House of Pancakes. That discussion produced a flood of memories for me more than 55 years in the past when I worked as a busboy at a popular restaurant in Henrietta, New York.

The Cartwright Inn Restaurant in Henrietta,
New York was the site of an old stagecoach
and carriage stop and where Ed Pierce
worked as a busboy at the age of 15.
The restaurant is now closed but this
old carriage was in the parking lot there
Starting my sophomore year of high school, my father suggested that it was time that I got a “real job” and give up my newspaper delivery route, which I had been doing since we moved to a new neighborhood when I was starting out in eighth grade. I loved being a paperboy and reading the latest news hot off the press, but reluctantly I agreed to find another job that could possibly pay me more than the $24 a month I was earning at that time.

I applied for a clerk position at Hadlock’s House of Paints, scooping ice cream at Meisenzahl Dairy, and pumping gasoline at Eddie’s Sunoco Station. Because of a lack of experience, being a few months shy of my 15th birthday and not having a driver’s license, I felt I was doomed no matter what employer I wanted to hire me.

Eventually a restaurant called The Cartwright Inn offered me a busboy job for $1.60 per hour. My schedule would be on Friday and Saturday afternoons and evenings, and for the lunch shift after church let out on Sundays. I was thrilled someone wanted to hire me, and my father said he was happy to drive me back and forth to my new job and pick me up when my shifts were over.

I got to wear a uniform consisting of a white shirt, black clip-on bowtie, black pants, red jacket, and black dress shoes and I couldn’t wait for the training for my new job to start. My duties included removing used dishes and glasses from a table, placing them in a rubber tray and carrying them back to the kitchen for dishwashing. When asked, I would assist the dining room manager in setting up tables for a large party or retrieving a glass of milk from the kitchen for a customer that the waitress forgot.

After working a few shifts there though, the luster wore off for me. I didn’t like having to stand during my entire shift. The uniform was hot and the stress of having to do everything so fast was mind-numbing. I found some of the waitresses and customers to be rude and the restaurant’s management to have little patience or regard for how they treated staff members.

The best part of the job was always interacting with the other busboys, the cooks and the dishwashers, a few of whom I knew from school. One of those other busboys, Nick Vecchioli was my classmate, and a lifelong friend. Each time I would bring a tray of dirty dishes to the dishwasher in the kitchen, one of them would spray me with the hose used to clean the dishes with. It was always a welcome cooling blast, and it made me laugh each time he did that. In hindsight, that would take my mind off the hectic serving and table-cleaning chaos going on out in the dining room.

The restaurant also had a lobster tank and sometimes when things were slow on late Sunday mornings before the lunch crowd arrived, the busboys would extract a few lobsters from the tank and making sure no managers were around, we would stage makeshift lobster races.

After working there for a good chunk of the spring and into the summer, I was on duty on a Saturday afternoon when I learned that Randall Cartwright, the chair of the school board and owner of The Cartwright Inn, would be dining at the restaurant after his thoroughbred horse raced at the Finger Lakes Racetrack. Sure enough, Mr. Cartwright showed up all decked out in a white suit and string bowtie, resembling the outfit worn by Colonel Sanders.

After his meal, he walked back into the kitchen to have a cup of coffee. Paper coffee cups were contained in a Dixie-Cup type of dispenser and on occasion, some cook or dishwasher prankster would puncture the bottom of the cups with a knife. That was the case this day and I happened to be standing there in the kitchen when Randall Cartwright pulled down a cup, poured hot black coffee into it and proceeded to take a sip. Hot coffee dribbled all over his pristine white suit and I couldn’t help but to laugh out loud.

He summoned me over and told me that I was fired and to leave the premises immediately. I tried to explain that I wasn’t the prankster, but he was embarrassed and did not relent. I had no change in my pocket to use the pay phone to call my father and had to sit on a parking curb waiting outside for more than three hours until he arrived to take me home.

My advice to teens seeking summer work is simple. Take each job seriously and it will be a launchpad for future success.

Jane Pringle: Tackling Maine’s housing crisis head-on

By State Rep. Jane Pringle

It is no secret that our state is in the midst of a housing crisis, which has been exacerbated by a combination of factors over the years that has meant building production has not kept up with demand. The result is a shortage of housing units statewide, which has had real-life consequences on Mainers from all walks of life. Many families have been unable to purchase their first home, some are struggling to find housing close to their workplaces or schools, and others are having a hard time affording their rent or property taxes.

State Rep. Jane Pringle
In October 2023, the Maine State Housing Authority released a study that sets a production target of 84,300 homes by 2030 to compensate for the current underproduction while keeping pace with increased demand. Simply put, our housing stock requires investment, and our homeowners and renters need support. Recognizing this, my colleagues and I in the legislature have taken proactive steps to prioritize long-term solutions and emergency fixes, fully understanding that the housing crisis is a systemic issue that demands comprehensive treatment.

Over the last two years, the legislature has provided substantial funds to support the unhoused population throughout our state, so more of our neighbors can have a safe place to sleep at night. We’ve appropriated more than $21 million for emergency housing initiatives and $7.5 million for low-barrier shelters. We’ve also invested in the “Housing First” model, a proven and effective strategy in addressing homelessness. This approach is both adaptable and compassionate as it prioritizes providing permanent housing to those in need without prerequisites or conditions. In addition, $2 million has been earmarked for housing subsidies for homeless students, a demographic that often goes unnoticed in our unhoused population.

We have also made significant policy strides to invest in affordable housing development, which will help make more units available in the coming years. This includes providing additional funds to the Rural Affordable Housing Program, which provides financial assistance to developers to create affordable housing in rural areas. We have also increased the Low-Income Tax Credit, a tax incentive for developers who build or rehabilitate affordable rental housing. These measures will make it easier for residents who are currently struggling to find a home by increasing the number of units available

Strengthening our state’s economy is always a top priority. One way that we can continue to support businesses while growing new industries is to make sure that workers are able to find a place to live. With that in mind, the legislature passed a bill to create the Workforce Housing Development Loan Fund, which will provide low-interest loans to support the development of affordable workforce housing.

Recognizing that a significant portion of Mainers are renters, we have also made it a priority to increase tenant protections. First, we enacted a bill that will limit fees that landlords can impose and increase transparency around “hidden fees” in lease agreements. Next, we established a commission to maximize the Section 8 housing voucher program, a lifeline for so many. This commission will investigate ways to improve access to housing vouchers and tenant-landlord relations to make the program more effective and efficient. Additionally, collaborating with MaineHousing once more, we enacted a bill to establish a two-year pilot program to support eviction prevention.

All of this legislation represents only a sampling of all we have accomplished during this past legislative session to mitigate the stress caused by our state’s housing crisis and help meet the goals outlined by MaineHousing back in October. There is no doubt that more must be done, but I am proud of the policies that my colleagues and I have enacted, and I am confident that these measures will lead to meaningful and lasting change.

Rep. Jane Pringle is serving her second non-consecutive term in the Maine House of Representatives, having previously represented Windham from 2012-2014. She is a member of the Legislature’s Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee. <

Andy Young: All about dead presidents

By Andy Young

Don’t let the headline fool you.

This column has nothing to do with those two-and-a-half inch by six-inch pieces of green paper that a few people over the age of 50 still use to purchase things. This essay concerns America’s actual presidents, or more specifically the 39 of them who are no longer living.

When June 1 dawned and Joe Biden, Donald Trump, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter were still breathing, it continued one of the most unnoticed but remarkable streaks in American history.

Since the nation inaugurated its first chief executive in 1789, no American ex-president has ever died during the calendar’s fifth month. That’s 235 Mays (and counting) without a single presidential death.

There are two other months when no former president has died, but August’s and September’s streaks come with asterisks. Warren Harding succumbed to a heart attack on Aug. 2, 1923, while James Garfield (Sept. 19, 1881) and William McKinley (Sept. 14, 1901) were both felled by assassins. But each of them was a sitting president when he died, so August and September remain technically unsullied by the demise of any former chief executives.

While May remains a safe haven for America’s ex-commanders-in-chief, the two months that follow it are extraordinarily perilous ones. A half-dozen ex-presidents died in June, specifically Andrew Jackson, Grover Cleveland, Ronald Reagan, and a trio of Jameses (Madison, Polk, and Buchanan). And the following month is even deadlier: seven presidents (John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Martin Van Buren, Zachary Taylor, Andrew Johnson, and Ulysses S. Grant) expired during July.

Ironically the deadliest day for ex-presidents is July 4. Three of them (John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1826 and James Monroe in 1831) have died on the nation’s nominal birthday. Dec. 26 (Harry Truman in 1972 and Gerald Ford in 2006) and March 8 (Millard Fillmore in 1874 and William Howard Taft in 1930) are the only two other dates to have marked the end of more than one ex-presidential life.

Five former White House occupants died in January: John Tyler, Rutherford Hayes, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, and Lyndon Johnson. Next up on the presidential death-by-month list, with four each: March (Fillmore, Taft, Benjamin Harrison, and Dwight Eisenhower) and April (William Henry Harrison, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Richard Nixon). December (George Washington, along with the aforementioned Truman and Ford) and November (Chester Arthur, John F. Kennedy, and George H. W. Bush) follow with three each. Two presidents died in the months of September (Garfield and McKinley), October (Franklin Pierce and Herbert Hoover) and February (John Quincy Adams and Woodrow Wilson).

New York is clearly the most dangerous state for ex-presidents: nine of the 39 no-longer-extant chief executives expired there. Seven more died in Washington D.C., four had their lives conclude in Virginia, and Texas, California, and Tennessee have each had three presidents die inside their borders.

The longest America has gone between presidential deaths was 26 years, six months, and 20 days, which was the time span between George Washington’s demise on Dec. 14, 1799, and the deaths of Adams and Jefferson on the nation’s 50th birthday, 9,698 days later. The second-longest death-free span was the 7,760 days that transpired between the passings of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.

So, what exactly can be learned from all of this painstaking research? Maybe nothing. However, if I were a current or former president of the United States who was interested in continuing to stay alive for a while longer, I think I’d steer clear of New York and Washington D.C. for the next couple of months. <