Marching forth for Mark

Grief does funny things to you. It’s not linear, and no, there aren’t five stages. Perhaps if you need to stage grief, know that passage doesn’t proceed neatly.

Mark was killed on January 21. We weren’t the first people who found out. Word passed slowly from where Mark was mangled by the side of the road by a woman, who at the very least couldn’t maintain her lane and left it—hitting Mark walking legally, in the ribbon of pavement reserved for pedestrians (he was walking against traffic, in the middle of the day, while wearing his fluorescent vest)—to possibly being distracted by something other than simply maintaining control of her 5,000-pound lethal weapon.

It was nearly 10:30 on Saturday night when the Maine State Trooper knocked on our front door. That was more than eight hours after Mark was pronounced dead.

I now know more about the timeline and who found out before we did. Some of those people botched the handling of that information. I’m not surprised, really. It’s pretty obvious to see from their actions since Mark was killed that they don’t care at all about how Mary and I feel about losing our only son. Obviously, they know little or nothing about grief and at the very least, they come up woefully short in the empathy department. Lacking basic humanness, could they not at the very least, send a corporate-produced card with a perfunctory message that says, “we’re sorry for your loss”? I know Hallmark carries some decent ones. Apparently not. But, it’s also not my fucking job to help you improve your skills in the area of compassion and grief. Continue reading

The Sweater

I’ve written about the place where I grew up. Various arcs incorporated baseball, my personal recollections about the town from an earlier time—as well as creating my own take on Moxie.

I once contemplated updating the history of the place, post-Plummer. I’m glad I didn’t bother breaking that rock, fashioning it into a story; the scenario of a significant investment of time and research without much of a return seems likely for that kind of project—people no longer seem to appreciate the necessary effort required to dredge up the past, and get at what’s behind the façade of the place where they reside.

After 26 years of living across the river from the place where I was born and put down my initial roots, just moving one community to the east feels just about right to me—actually, somewhat overdue. If my writing emanates from place (which I think it does), then my new home proffers up all kinds of new opportunities and material to mine.  I’m looking forward to learning more about a place I’ve observed as an outsider and semi-regular visitor.

But it is the holiday season. A period each year-end that delivers a personal mix of sentimentality, sadness, and even anger thinking back on Christmases past. Despite Perry Como’s musical refrain that there’s “no place like home for the holidays,” I’m apt to demur. Continue reading

A Bit More About John Gould

[I’m “off the air” for a few days, holed up at an undisclosed location. It’s what guys like me call “vacation time.” While I’m away, I’ll leave you with the transcript of my talk on former Lisbon writer, John Gould, held at the Lisbon Historical Society, Wednesday night.–the j(b)e.]

John Gould is one of a handful of Maine authors that once were known statewide and beyond for their literary contributions. Today, few people outside of a demographic that is likely to be weighted towards card-carrying members of the AARP know who Gould is.

So, who was John Gould?

A thumbnail bio reads like this:

  • Between 1942 and 2003, he wrote more than 30 books.
  • He also maintained a weekly syndicated column for The Christian Science Monitor that ran for 62 years, which makes him America’s longest-running syndicated columnist.
  • He wrote a best-selling book, the book that put him on the map for many, Farmer Takes a Wife. That book reached best-selling status 71 years ago.
  • Gould’s final work, Tales from Rhapsody Home, or What They Don’t Tell You About Senior Living, was released when Gould was 92-years-old. For his efforts to put the spotlight on how many seniors were being mistreated in the twilight years of their life, and paying for that “privilege,” he and his wife Dot got booted out of the home where they were living at the time.

You could say that Gould was the Garrison Keillor of his time and generation. His wry observations, mixed with a contrarian streak, offered a portrait of small-town Maine that few others have been able to capture—Ruth Moore (another forgotten Maine writer) is someone that comes to mind. Ironically, Moore’s book of letters contains several between her and Gould, as he was also fond of corresponding in a fashion that once marked how we kept in touch, long before social media made button pushing the bomb.

Nice turnout at the Lisbon Historical Society to hear about John Gould.

Nice turnout at the Lisbon Historical Society to hear about John Gould.

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A New Standard for Beer

The first beer I ever tasted was probably a Carling Black Label. How do I know that? There’s a grainy picture taken when I was three or four, with my Uncle Dick letting me have a sip of his beer. He was big on that brand.

Given our current culture wars and the binary battles being waged that extend even to beer, this might be the time to step away from the people who flaunt particular lifestyles. Or, if you are part of a group that’s not in the vanguard—stop hiding your uncouth behavior away from the bright lights and your Facebook profile.

I mean, what kind of country are we living in that certain arbiters get to decide the brands of beer we’re all supposed to be belting down? Given the explosion of craft beer and brewing, especially in burgs like Portland, Maine—where a new craft brewer opens every other week—or so it seems, admitting that you like “lawnmower beer” is liable to get you exiled to a place with a much lower hipster quotient.

Cold beers on the patio: the stuff of summer.

Cold beers on the patio: the stuff of summer.

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Fall is for Fairs

Maine has a rich history of fairs and festivals celebrating agriculture. The state’s fair season kicks off in July, and wraps up in October. The grand finale of yearly agricultural fairs happens to be the Fryeburg Fair—fitting, since it’s the state’s largest, and the one many consider to be the showcase Ag fair—it runs the first full week in October.

I know that for many, their fair experience favors the heat of mid-summer. For me, I’ve always liked the crispness associated with fall’s arrival. As a result, my fair-going is oriented towards the latter end of the fair calendar. On Saturday, Mary and I were off to the fair.

Now in its 39th year, the three-day Common Ground Country Fair in Unity is considered the state’s pre-eminent fair celebrating organic farming, and a self-reliant rural lifestyle. In many ways, the fair, and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA)—the fair’s sponsoring organization—were seeded by back-to-landers who descended on the state in the early-1970s.

The Common Ground Fair began with the intent of bringing back the old-time country fair. That means no midway for rides that you’ll find at many other Maine fairs. Also, there’s no horseracing, alcohol sales, and a dearth of booths selling mass-produced trinkets.

Founders began the fair at the Litchfield Fairgrounds with a goal of drawing 10,000 people and finishing with a net of $10,000. They accomplished both goals that first year, back in 1977. Much of that original vision continues, nearly four decades later.

Of course, times change and nothing stays the same. There are those who grouse about the fair having “sold out.” Now, upwards of 60,000 people descend on tiny Unity, Maine over three days. While rural life and local agriculture are still celebrated, the fair is now more of an “event” than ever before. The “hippy,” or counter-cultural flavor, while still present, isn’t as prevalent.

The "official" MOFGA vehicle (note the WERU bumper sticker).

The “official” MOFGA vehicle (note the WERU bumper sticker).

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At the Festival

I’ve probably written more about Moxie than any Mainer. I might even be approaching Frank Potter’s legendary output—who knows. Clearly, given that Mr. Potter’s Moxie canon is print-based and pre-interwebs, we know that he wasn’t Moxie blogging.

When I rewind back to 2004, the memories are still fresh of the late Sue Conroy, convincing me to take on the PR and marketing that year, joining the small band putting on the Moxie Festival. That was merely year 22 (if my Moxie math is right) of what’s now become the 33rd running of one of Maine’s, if not the nation’s, most unique and intriguing summer festivals. What began with 13 postcards and 500 people (according to one version) blossomed into a festival attracting upwards of 50,000 people to Central Maine and the sleepy town of Lisbon Falls. Continue reading

A Cut Above-Bowdoinham (bonus material)

A week ago Saturday, I drove to Bowdoinham to gather information about the town for today’s Explore feature in the Sun-Journal’s b-section. Things went much better than I anticipated.

It’s not as if I thought that Bowdoinham wouldn’t offer up interesting things to write about. No, last Saturday, I was in a pissy (see definition #2) mood, running on fumes after a long week. Actually, when I walked out the door committed to spending a few hours dredging up details for my story, I was dreading leaving the warmth of the wood stove and going out into the bleak, dreary November cold. I also know that this type of writing about local communities demands (if done well) putting boots on the ground in order to connect with the sense of the place.

This is my seventh Explore feature. The town of Wilton was my first one back in May. Seven is a number that comes up in my writing and in my latest book of essays—it is the “perfect number,” after all. Continue reading

The Ole’ Hometown

Memories are faulty at best. Often, the things that we remember happening, either never did, or they happened much differently than our recollections offer. Of course, as writers, many of us use memories, experiences, and even hometowns as touchstones to craft stories and narrative, swimming around in the pool of what we think we remember.

My final essay in The Perfect Number: Essays & Stories Vol. 1, “Goin’ Back,” is a narrative about my hometown of Lisbon Falls. I often describe the town where I grew up as “a bit rough around the edges” to characterize the changes that have happened to a place that was never high-end to begin with—however, it was never as shabby as it looks right now, in 2014.

Thomas Wolfe was another writer who mined personal experiences and his hometown and included them in his fiction—me, I’m an essayist, not a fiction writer. As far as I know, I’m the only writer who hails from Lisbon Falls who has managed to weave together Thomas Wolfe, Libya Hill (the fictional town of his best-known book, You Can’t Go Home Again), and Lisbon Falls. I bind them together to try to articulate what’s happened to the town over not just the past 5-10 years, but I decided to go back much further than that to the 1970s, when the current unwinding began.

The Facebook page that pushed me to write the final essay in this new book of essays, “You know you’re from Lisbon ME if…”, was all lit up over the weekend about smoke, stink, and what many were calling a “controlled burn” down at the former U.S. Gypsum mill that’s no more—it’s just a big pile of rubble these days that sometimes smokes and stinks (like on Sunday afternoon). Rather shabby-looking, really.

No smoke in this photo--just rubble.

No smoke in this photo–just rubble.

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Explore! Norway—Bonus Material

Every month, I head out to a town in Maine and try to capture the essence of its people and the place. Since May, when I began these Explore! features for the Lewiston Sun-Journal, I’ve visited Wilton, New Gloucester, Turner, and a few weeks ago, it was Norway.

I continue to hold a fascination about the changes that are taking places in smaller communities across the state of Maine and elsewhere. If America is anything, it’s a country of small towns and communities. Maine is no different in that regard.

The economic shift that’s occurred over the past 40 years hasn’t been kind to small towns like Norway. Many communities in western Maine have been hit hard by globalization, and the loss of traditional resource-based jobs that have disappeared. Continue reading

Explore! Turner—Bonus Material

It’s likely that you are reading my blog for the first time, sent here from the Sun-Journal’s website, or the print version of today’s Explore! feature I wrote on the town of Turner. These monthly features are fun to do—they allow me to scout around a town for an afternoon, talk to locals, and uncover a bit of the local history, along with some color and flavor.

I often have “left-over” material, and in this case, it relates to some writing and research I did on Turner a decade ago. The subject was baseball.

Back in 2004, when compiling information, box scores, and research on town team baseball in Maine for my first book, I spoke to a number of former players, some of them former members of the Turner Townies, or chief rivals of the talented local baseball team that drew fans out on many a summer night to watch them play. Back in the 1960s, they played their games at the field that was located in front of Leavitt Institute—what is now the village green, where the gazebo is. Continue reading