All stories are human interest stories
I was looking over the stories I've written in the six months since I came to the Camden Herald, and was surprised to find I'd done 120 of them. They cover the range of things that go on in this neck of the woods from municipal meetings to car crashes to business profiles and human interest pieces. Here are some of the most memorable or enjoyable ones.
There was the packed-to-the-rafters, contentious Lincolnville town meeting in June, where the town voted by a small margin to abolish its police department. For all the emotion and ill-feeling generated by that meeting and events leading up to it, an examination of police reports three months later showed no spike in crime. And conversations with selectmen and other residents indicated that, while former Chief Ron Young (now police chief in Damariscotta) may have been missed, his position was not. But three months is not a lot of time, and I expect to revisit this issue during 2014.
Appleton was in the news when its school board, along with School Union 69 Superintendent Nancy Weed, had to cut this year's budget for Appleton Village School, primarily because of an erroneous number in the budget that was passed. The board labored to make the cuts in the way that would have the least effect on students.
I got to write about Noah Botley, a 15-year-old from Lincolnville who has fibrous dysplasia, a rare bone disease for which he has already had three facial surgeries at a hospital in Pennsylvania. I was impressed by the knowledge and aplomb with which he talked about his disease. Even more, I was touched by the deep faith with which he and his family approach life. As his mother, Jean, told me, “We trust God with every detail of our lives.”
Noah put it more in a teen's vernacular when he said, “... God's got it covered.”
On the other end of the age spectrum was Clara DeOrsay, a 105-year-old who has come to Megunticook Lake for the last 60-plus summers. It was delightful to sit on her deck overlooking the lake and hear what Camden was like decades ago.
It was also my privilege to write stories summarizing – if that were possible – the lives of two well known, beloved residents who died this year: Leslie Land and Jackie Watts. Land, of Cushing, was known as a pioneer in the local-food movement, a writer about gardening and food, and an art collector and friend of many of the artists in Cushing. She wrote a column called “Good Food” for the Herald in the 1970s. It was a treat to photograph her garden, and to hear stories about her from her husband, Bill Bakaitis, and several of her friends.
Watts was a one-woman institution in Lincolnville, where she helped found the Historical Society, wrote books on the history of the town and its families, and supported nearly every beneficent cause going in the town. She also worked for many years at Maine Windjammer Cruises, serving as owner Ray Williamson's right hand. And she started a Watts family tradition of holding Thanksgiving dinners at Tranquility Grange, and inviting not just her large extended family, but anyone in town who had nowhere else to be. As the wife of longtime fire chief Maurice Watts, she served as a dispatcher, raised money for the department and baked a heck of a lot of pies, according to longtime firefighter and Deputy Chief Mike Eugley.
I enjoyed writing a number of school-related stories, about topics as diverse as egg-drop day at Hope Elementary, the summer marine biology program in the Bahamas for Camden Hills and Oceanside high school students, and the Stories of the Land and its People program run by the Farnsworth Art Museum for area fourth- and seventh-graders. According to their teachers, many of these kids might never go into an art museum if not for this program that teaches them the art of “deep looking” and then sets them loose with cameras to capture their own communities.
Although it was not strictly school-related, I also got a kick out of writing about four Camden Hills freshmen girls who are building their own toboggan for the U.S. National Toboggan Championships at the Camden Snow Bowl in February. They have the help of an experienced and patient teacher in David Vaughn, a toboggan builder who is sponsoring the team. It was encouraging and exciting to see these four young women eager to learn woodworking skills more commonly associated with boys, and to compete aggressively in a tough cold-weather sport.
There were a number of crashes, mostly fender-benders where no one was seriously hurt.
Sadly, I also covered one fatality, a crash on Alford Lake Road in Hope the day before Thanksgiving that took the life of 20-year-old Cameron Dow. It is sobering to realize that, with just a little bad luck, that could have been me, or anyone.
And just before Christmas, I interviewed Tree Roth and Dora Lievow, two cross-country skiers who came to the aid of 83-year-old George Stevenson when his tractor fell through the ice on his farm pond. Stevenson was saved because he allows recreational use of his land. In fact, he was clearing snow from the pond so people could skate on it when his tractor broke through the ice. The two women called for help, then pushed a boat out and got him into it. He went home after a day or so in the hospital.
In a sense, all stories are human interest. As the old Roman said, "Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto": loosely translated, "I am human, I think nothing human is alien to me."
Whether the news is good or bad, the stories of this place are distinct. We have the good fortune to live in a place that maintains a sense of an older, more neighborly way of life.
And, for me, telling those stories is still the best job around.