Sunday, December 18, 2011

Journey of Awakening – 44: Leaving Maine

Mainers have a saying that goes something like “no matter how many years you stay away you’ll always come back.” I think it has something to do with the sense of ‘place’, the feeling of ‘coming home.’ I’ve had that feeling about a few of the places I’ve lived. Occasionally I have a bit of nostalgia about the old North Side where I grew up in Minneapolis, a real neighborhood.

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Lincoln, Nebraska, where I lived for seven years and where our kids were in grade school holds fond memories of family and friends.

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Me and Rob at home       Gordon & Claudine Scott                Trinity UCC

San Francisco represents a time of re-emerging as a human being after a period of spiritual aridity.

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The San Francisco ICA House           No Caption Needed      Now Six Bucks to ride?

And Maine. It is difficult to capture in words the feeling of being at home I experienced while travelling from town to town in that state.

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There is that nagging truism about not being able to go home again. And my experience bears that out. Each time I’ve returned to any of those places that saying comes to me not in word or emotion but as experiential fact. Nonetheless, the sense of ‘home’ comes up and I have to ask myself: “What is that?”

This week I had the urge to type Ellis Bliss’ name into the Google search box and the first post that came up was her obituary. Ellis died this past September and her memorial was held in October at her old UCC church in Portland. Memories came up: The time she dropped the lobster for dinner into the pot before the water was boiling and we watched the poor creature jump out on the floor; how she was always there to welcome me ‘home’ after a long cold drive; how she would beam as she talked about her kids; her devotion to Harry who was always a big dreamer and social activist; and welcoming me back after 20 years of no contact even though I had two colleagues with me for an overnight stay.

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                 Me and Ellis in 1996                      34 Bay Road in South Portland, Maine

I left Maine behind that cold November in 1977. And it was true that nothing was the same when I returned years later. But I guess the lesson for me about coming home was that even though I left Maine, Maine never left me, just as all the places I mentioned earlier remain with me, though I left them long ago.

Whenever I forget that ‘home’ is just another concept that I can get hung up on, that sense of ‘being home’ comes up to remind me that I am never not at home.

Well, I thought I was through with Maine. Apparently Maine was not yet through with me but I would have wander around the eastern United States for a few months before that discovery.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Journey of Awakening – 43: Maine Turns Gold

                  There was dancing and singing I was told

                   In the Great Hall when Maine went gold

                   Champaign flowing for young and old

                  What I remember – It was damn cold!

When we, the corporate we, the ICA, came up with the idea for the Town Meeting 76 campaign to orchestrate 5000 local community forums, one in each county of the United States, some of us housed in the eight story office building in Chicago which was the ICA’s international headquarters and training center, devised this method of tracking our progress. Since there was no way of completing all of the 5000 forums in the actual bicentennial year, we gave ourselves four years to finish. A huge map of the U.S. was found and mounted on one wall in what we affectionately named the Great Hall. It was a room large enough to hold up to 1000 bodies and where we held our large assemblies in the summer. The map was printed with every county line showing. So when a Town Meeting was scheduled someone would color in that county with a yellow marker, which in our creative minds was pure gold. And when all the counties in a state were colored in, a celebration was held, not just in Chicago, but in each of the campaign headquarters around the country.

It happened in Maine one foggy day in early November 1977. The last of Maine’s 16 counties was scheduled. Thanksgiving was not that far away. Somehow the citizens of Maine had come through. We were to conduct about 10 of the forums on the same Saturday. The logistical genius of our mostly volunteer organization always amazed me. On the ordained Saturday, about 20 of us arrived in South Portland at the Harry and Ellis Bliss home to be sent out, two by two, to conduct the all day forums. After singing Harry’s favorite, When New England Wakes up Singing, we caravanned out to the Maine Turnpike and headed off to our assigned towns.

Small Towns in Maine – The Real Main Street of AmericaMaine Street Maine  Maine Street Maine2  Small Town Maine  Small town Maine2  Small Town Maine3  Small Town Maine4

People actually came and participated! It was a great day! The sun was shining. We were on top of the world. And I – I felt good. I felt like a conqueror. Like a hero. It was the last time that year I would get to have that feeling. But it was all good!

At the end of the day we all straggled back in to South Portland to tell our amazing stories to one another. And we sang. And we drank toasts. And we even danced. Life was wonderful. We phoned in to our colleagues in New York, Hartford, and Chicago.

And Maine was gold!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Journey of Awakening – 42: The Time Nobody Came (Almost)

Some smart ICA colleague or colleagues discovered, as they tramped around the vast open spaces of Montana or Wyoming or Utah calling on townspeople that a town meeting did not have to be an all day affair but could be accomplished in an evening, in about three-and-a-half hours, and without the quality or productivity suffering. In Maine this proved a little difficult because people did not like to get out much after dark. We were aiming toward one Saturday in November when we would send teams of two out to each town we could schedule on that one day.

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      Maine Street, Rockland, Maine    Court House, Rockland, Maine

But we did happen to call on a Methodist Minister in the coastal town of Rockland who believed that people in his town would not come to an all-day forum. He somehow convinced us that he single-handedly could host the meeting in his church’s fellowship hall and that he would do all the contacting, inviting and publicizing to ensure a good attendance. I should have trusted my gut instinct and our years of experience working with local church clergy, who were notorious for promising to take on tasks and not following through. They would often double, triple, even quadruple-schedule meetings to attend and then pop in and out for half an hour in each one. Not that their intentions were other than honorable. It must have been the “all-things-to-all-people” image that they were caught in. I had some empathy, having been in their position at one time.

Rev. Wesley was a fine and enthusiastic young man. We scheduled the meeting for two weeks later and left the details in his willing hands, after giving him as much orientation and sample flyers and promotional materials as we could in a short visit. I phoned him the week before and he assured me all would be ready for a well-attended and productive evening. We always assigned a team of two to facilitate the forums. I and a young woman who was an ICA volunteer arrived the afternoon of the town meeting to find that, indeed, the Rev. Wesley had distributed flyers in the community, published an announcement in the Rockland paper, personally invited the town leaders, arranged the tables and chairs in the hall in the format as we had instructed, and had even provided a spread of refreshments along with coffee and tea. All was in readiness.


Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Rockland, Maine

The hour of the meeting came. The three of us sat in anticipation of the arrival of the citizenry. People often straggle in at such community meetings. But there are always a few who are on time for everything. I thought that surely at least some of Rev. Wesley’s flock would show up, to show support for him if for no other reason. A half-hour passed, then 45 minutes, finally an hour. The realization came slowly but surely. No one else was coming. It had long been a doctrine of our group that whoever showed up for any endeavor was exactly those who were needed for its accomplishment.

Rev. Wesley was embarrassed. He began to re-iterate all that he had done to ensure a successful attendance. I was not going to heap more guilt on his already feeling like a failure. I ventured:

“Well, since we came all this way, and there is all this food and drink and we have prepared all the materials, and we have a great process for citizen participation, would you like to be the Town Meeting and we’ll take you through it just as though you were 200 strong?”

T hat was the turning point of the evening. The Rev. Wesley’s eyes lit up. It was as if his body began to levitate. “Why not,” he said. “Let’s do it!”

And we did. We the facilitators went through our little speeches about the New Human and the New Community, and the pioneering qualities of being global citizens working at the local community level. We drew on the history of the country as well as the lessons of the revolutions of our day, the youth, women, civil rights, and the desire of every human to participate and make a difference.

Then we asked and wrote on big flip chart paper: “What are the big challenges facing Rockland right now?” “Oh, young people are leaving after high school because they can’t find jobs.” “And the newspaper is going under so people won’t have access to local issues and events.” “Oh yes, and small fishermen are no longer able to make a living.” After recording the challenges we asked him what the real underlying obstacles to dealing with them were.

Then we posed the question of what practical actions could local citizens take to deal with the obstacles and meet the challenges. “We could start a ‘buy local’ campaign.” “We could have quarterly community meetings to address issues.” “We could work with our fishermen to form a cooperative.” These were all flip-charted and then written in the form of proposals.

Finally, we took the Rev. Wesley through what was known as the ‘Song, Story, Symbol’ workshop. We had him choose a familiar sing-able tune and wrote three verses, then pulled out of his weary brain the highlights of the history of Rockland and wrote a town story following the theme of past, present, and future. Lastly, we got out the colored markers and a big sheet of poster paper and created a new symbol in graphic form.

As we reflected on the evening and how any of the proposals might be actually implemented, my partner who fortunately was a crack typist, completed the document containing the entire evening’s work, and we all went into the church office and ran it off on the mimeograph machine.

And as we were stapling the pages of the copies together, we discussed the follow-up strategy. Rev. Wesley was now on a roll: “I could take this one proposal up with my Rotary Club. And this one the Ministerial Association might be interested in tackling. And the Chamber of Commerce could easily take one this one. And that one I’m sure the Kiwanis Club would like.”

We left Rockland in good hands. I have thought of that meeting many times and of course, told the story on many occasions sitting around the imagined campfire. All of us who were involved in that Town Meeting campaign have our stories. I would like to have known if any of those proposals ever got accomplished and whatever happened to Rev. Wesley.

But the Town Meeting when almost nobody came turned out to be a great and memorable event.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Journey of Awakening – 41: Joe Died This Week

October 1977. I had just returned from my second week in October foray in Maine on the Town Meeting Circuit. The weekly gathering of the TM campaigners was to be in my home base at the Boston Religious House. I was greeted by a somber group including my wife, Linda with:

“Joe died this past week and all the Houses will have a celebration of his life on Sunday!”

Joe Mathews, Dean of the Ecumenical Institute/Institute of Cultural Affairs, formerly on staff at the Christian Faith and Life Community of Austin, Texas, before that on the faculty of Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, and prior to that a Chaplain in the United States Army during the Second World War, was a 66 year-old visionary and transformative force in the 20th Century church renewal movement. The impact of his life went far beyond the confines of the institutional church and the constraints of his Methodist evangelical background. Joe was an iconoclast, a revolutionary thinker, a master teacher, and a plumber of the depths of the human spirit.

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Stories of Joe abounded in our Order and among those who encountered him, whether on the seminary or college campuses, in the courses he taught to local church pastors and laymen, or in the many denominational and ecumenical gatherings at which he was invited to speak. There was the time he was to speak to a large gathering of church folk. The time came for his sermon and everyone in the congregation waited for 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, then coming to the conclusion that Joe was late, or not coming. At that point a faint voice was heard from behind the pulpit: “Grace be unto you and Peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!” Joe proceeded to give his entire sermon from the enclosure under the large pulpit.

Another time Joe was speaking to a large assembly of leaders of the church in Seoul, Korea. He was warned by one of his Korean colleagues that Korean Christians were some of the most conservative in the world, and knowing of Joe’s propensity for using profanity in order to shock the people of God out of their lethargy, he cautioned him to be careful in his speech. Joe nodded and then took the podium. Looking out over the congregation and making eye contact with as many as he could, he stood silent for several minutes and then let out a booming expletive as the first word out of his mouth, drawing it out so there could be no mistake which word he was using. And of course it was the “F---“ word.


These are of course just a few of the apocryphal stories that were told among us. I was not there so I am only reporting it as I heard it.

I first met Joe Mathews when I was teaching at the University of Nebraska, Cotner School of Religion. It was 1966. A campus minister friend invited me to attend a lecture sponsored by United Ministries in Higher Education and the campus YMCA. This was, I later learned, part of a speaking tour on college campuses all across the nation, preceding the offering of weekend courses, called Religious Studies I: The Theological Revolution of the Twentieth Century. Joe was an impressive presence and a powerful orator. To be honest, I only remember one line from his lecture that resonated with me and stuck in my mind:

“There is only one absolute! And that is that there is NO absolute!”

Having majored in philosophy and theology this appealed to me as a self-styled seeker after truth. After the lecture I got a taste of the Joe of the apocryphal stories and added a personal one to my collection. My campus minister friend invited me to his campus church office for a conversation with Joe and a handful of pastors and lay leaders. There were two women in the group who were probably in their late sixties. Joe was waxing eloquent and answering questions. One of his favorite descriptive names for the clergy of the time was “little old ladies of both sexes.” He used this term in responding to a question and then, realizing who his audience was, leaned over toward the two ladies and lightly touching one on her hand said: “I mean that in a kindly way.” Joe could be repulsive in one minute and then totally win you over in the next.

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Most of the men in our Order and many of the women wanted to be like Joe. Hell, we wanted to BE Joe. So we all adopted his little idiosyncrasies, his teaching style, his mannerisms, even his slight stutter when he seemed to be searching for the right phrase but was really setting you up for a point he was about to drive home. Not that we were all little robotic Joes running around the globe. Joe would not tolerate inauthenticity and did not welcome our devotion. Joe wanted to thrust his one life into history and encourage each of us to do the same in obedience to the one mysterious force that gave each one his/her life and would one day as he put it “stomp you into the earth as a bull pawing the ground.” Joe was a man of his time and a man for all time.

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I did not know Joe personally as many in our group did. So I did not come to love the man as I am sure those close to him did, warts and all. I only remember one other encounter with Joe. It was in the middle of the Town Meeting campaign and we were in Chicago for a meeting of campaign leaders. I was asked to give a report on how the California contingent was doing. We were in the “great hall” on the second floor at the Kemper building, so named because this 8-story ancient office building had been a gift to the ICA by Kemper Insurance Company. After my report I walked to the back of the room and had to pass right by Joe. He always sat in the back of the room by the door. Our eyes met for an instant as he looked up just as I approached and his lips curled into the slightest of smiles, sort of half-way between a grimace and a smile actually. I got the distinct feeling that even though I did not know Joe, he knew me. And I knew in that momentary encounter that my life was approved. All of my past screw-ups and all of my attempts to be somebody, the self-perceived victories and defeats, the betrayals, all of it was OK as it was. The approval I had been seeking from some father figure my whole life was freely given. Joe released me from having to go on seeking approval. That was Joe’s gift to me.

But Joe, like all of us, was mortal. He drank too much. He smoked too much. He drove himself far more than he was ever accused of making demands on others. He got cancer. Joe had a back pain while on a trip to India. He went to a friend of ours who was a nurse in New Delhi who advised him to see a doctor as soon as he returned from this trip. Not long after that he got his final diagnosis. He died in his apartment during a meeting of many of the priors of the Order so that many of his friends and colleagues were able to say their farewells. His wife Lyn and sons and his brother Jim, a Methodist bishop in Washington D.C. were with him.


Those of us who were out on the Town Meeting circuits were informed of Joe’s death on that October weekend. We held a memorial service around our dining room table with a meal and communion service, as did those others in Religious Houses in the 50 or so nations that were now part of the Order: Ecumenical, the Ecumenical Institute and the Institute of Cultural Affairs.

Following the weekend we were all sent out to continue our work on the mission of facilitating human community and helping people to see that their lives counted.

And Joe would have had it no other way.

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Joseph Wesley Mathews—A 20th Century Phenomenon

Friday, November 4, 2011

Journey of Awakening – 40: Maine Welcomes the Snow

The first snowfall was early that year—October 1977. And it was to keep coming. The driving along I-95 was hazardous enough as it was. In the cold rains of Maine or especially when the night fog came in from the coast you longed for a warm fireplace to come home to. I remember the many late nights driving back to Portland and on Friday nights all the way to Boston or Hartford after a long day and a longer week, singing, turning up the volume on the radio, drinking McDonald’s coffee that had been in the pot too long, trying to stay awake. And sometimes getting so sleepy I just pulled off to the side of the road and barely had time to put the car in park before slumping over the wheel with the motor still running.

Two nights are burned deeply into my memory bank. I got onto the Maine turnpike, the section of I-95 from Augusta to Portland, in fog so thick I could barely make out the tail lights on a semi ahead of me. The highway was two lanes going one way, but I decided to follow the tail lights ahead of me all the way and not venture out in the left lane. This turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made because, not very many minutes after leaving the toll booth I was jarred by a flash of light streaking by in the left lane going the opposite direction. A driver had apparently got confused and got in the wrong lane coming from the toll booth from the south. This was not exactly a near-death experience because it happened so fast. However, there was no more temptation to pass the vehicle I was following.

That was a story I could tell in years to come of my adventures in Maine on the Town Meeting circuit. It would have been a good story by itself had not the very same thing happened on another trip a few days later. Same turnpike, different foggy night, different semi, and different car (I assumed). Who would believe it?

My most humorous encounter with the weather as a driver in Maine was in the snow. I came from Minnesota so had much experience navigating partially plowed streets and roads after snowstorms. The back roads in Maine were more of a challenge. And I had been away from Minnesota for several years. The ‘69 Chevy Nova I was driving had seen better days. Cars in Boston and other major cities that have lots of snow tend to become rusted around the edges within a short time. My trusty steed had seen more than enough Boston winters, so what happened should not have surprised me. But it did.


I was driving on a snow-packed country road that had just two tire tracks with a foot and a half of packed snow between them. Suddenly I became aware that the floorboard was growing. As I drove along the rubber mat was lifted up so that my knees were now against the steering wheel and now pushing my legs up on either side of it. I stopped the car right there in the middle of the road to figure out what was happening. When I pulled the floor mat up I discovered a hole in the bottom of the floor board just large enough to act as shaver so the car was skimming the top of the packed snow and shavings were accumulating inside the car. I had to run the car heater with the car sitting idle for about a half hour to drain the snow which had now become hardened into ice. I had to laugh out loud at myself and my rusty Nova and still chuckle to myself whenever I think of or tell this story.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Journey of Awakening – 39: New England Singing

Every movement has its songs. Every movement in history has sustained itself through continually rehearsing its reason for existing. Keeping the vision alive through the stories of its everyday heroes, regularly celebrating the smallest victories and even what could be called defeats, and singing the songs that lifted spirits and moved souls to stay on the march.

In the Town Meeting 76 campaign songs were written by each and every community where a meeting was held. Local residents would get together on the day of the forum and choose a familiar tune and then a small group would go off and write a story of the past, present and future of their town, design a symbol, and write lyrics to fit the chosen tune. These would be presented to the entire gathering in a rousing closing plenary session along with the reports of recommendations for action.

Campaign volunteers also had songs that we wrote for each region where we worked. And we sang at every one of our weekend R & R meetings. We sang at meals together. We sang in the morning. We sang at night. Whenever discussions got too long or too heavy, someone would break out into one of our songs and we were off. Sometimes we even danced. But always we sang.

One night as I was driving back from the Maine Town Meeting circuit, in the rain, heading for Harry and Ellis’ place in South Portland where I was staying during the week, I started humming tunes to myself to stay awake. Some of them were coming to me from my local church days. Then I started singing the words: “When the roll is called up yonder I’ll be there!”

“That would make a great song for Town Meeting New England.”


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Singin’ in the Rain – in Maine

Well, it caught on. We sang it at every weekend gathering of the New England teams. Harry especially loved singing it. Every time I made it back home for dinnertime he insisted on singing every verse at the table, with just him and Ellis and me. Harry died about ten years ago, but I can still see and hear him singing with gusto, throwing his head back and belting out the words.

I can remember only the first verse and the chorus now:

Oh Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts were the font

Of a future bright with hope and liberty

Then the hardy pioneers of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont

Carved a home from rocky soil and lusty sea.


When New England wakes up singing

And New England bells are ringing

Then her people all are swinging

To the beat of marching feet just as before.

Where are the songs that will sustain the movement that is spreading across the globe today?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Journey of Awakening – 38: Potato Country

One hour from Portland to Augusta, the Capitol of Maine, on I-95. Two hours to Bangor; four to Houlton, the end of the Interstate, before New Brunswick, Canada. My map stopped there. I could have continued on north to Mars Hill, Presque Isle, Caribou, Fort Kent, and canoed down to Allagash.


But I figured if I couldn’t find one town before going that far, I would stop at a gas station and conduct an entire town meeting with the attendant and a few truckers. I was getting really adept at gauging my day trips to be able to make it back to my cozy warm bed at the Bliss B & B before midnight.

Aroostook County must be one of the largest in the country, rivaling San Bernardino and those in Texas and Alaska.


Island Falls, Maine

A half-hour this side of Houlton was the little farming community of Island Falls. Fortunately, there was a Congregational Church so I could use my credentials as an ordained UCC clergyman to make a connection. Pastor Jim Johnson was a young man who had recently been called to serve the church, and since I arrived around the dinner hour (another thing I had learned early in my career), invited me to eat with his family, and even made me a comfortable bed on a couch in his office at the church. After dinner he arranged for me to meet with a couple of his elders who were also community leaders. I learned that the area around Island Falls was almost entirely comprised of family potato farms and they were in the midst of a lengthy drought and that even in good years it was hard to make a living off the land. At the same time these farmers were proud of their community and how everyone looked after one another. They were not looking for the government to step in to save them, but welcomed the chance to get together to talk with fellow citizens about making their community a better place so that their kids would not have to leave to find jobs.

Aroostook County Potatoes

Aroostook County Potato Farming

So when I left Island Falls the next day I felt I had made some new friends and also had a date set for the Island Falls Community Forum. I experienced similar welcomes in several other small towns along the I-95 corridor: Enfield, Old Town, Orono, Holden, Pittsfield, and Bradley. The specifics were different but they all expressed common longings. People wanted a place where their children could grow up and find meaningful, productive work. A place where community was experienced and families could flourish. A place where they could maintain their traditions and welcome the future without being threatened by it.

We were aiming to have as many of the Town Meeting ’76 forums as possible on the same Saturday in November, before Thanksgiving. Before the end of September I was well on the way with eight of the sixteen scheduled. At our Chicago ICA headquarters there was a room with a huge 8’ by 16’ county map of the U.S. and a team of people whose sole job was to fill in each county with a yellow marker as a town was scheduled.

Maine was now half yellow!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Journey of Awakening – 37: Coasting in Maine

Making my way downeast along the ragged, rocky coast of Maine, I experienced the full range of the elements autumn had to offer: Fog so dense that driving was both disorienting and downright dangerous; rain so intense it penetrated the pores; foliage so glorious in the autumn sun you were transformed from complainer to Mainer in the space of a day.

I had learned the art of “cold-calling” while in insurance sales. This Town Meeting 76 campaign gave the term a whole new meaning. More in the tradition of the Methodist preachers of the 1800s, circuit riders as they were called. I also came to appreciate my biblical training, as when Jesus sent out those first circuit riders (I guess they were actually circuit walkers) he told them to go into one town and preach and if received leaved with a blessing, and if not well-received to just shake the dust off their feet and move on.

I made my way from town to town, stopping at this church and that business and that town hall, telling the Town Meeting story and trying to close the deal by walking away with a scheduled meeting. I think I neglected to mention that we had no budget to speak of to support ourselves on the road, a little gas money and a few dollars for meals, never enough to last the week. We were expected to live off the land. Fortunately, wherever there was a McDonald’s restaurant we could walk in and get a free meal. One of our Guardians, our term for well-connected supporters of our work, was vice-president of marketing and advertising for McDonald’s Corporation. The company’s sponsorship of TM 76 meant that any of our volunteers anywhere in the U.S. were able to get a meal. So breakfast, lunch and dinner were on Mickie D., which may be the reason I have a sixth sense for where any of his restaurants are whenever I travel.

I like to say I was thrown out of only one town in Maine that entire season. I rolled into beautiful downtown Bucksport one drizzly, foggy evening. It was close to dinner time but no McDonald’s. So I stopped at a couple of likely places, found the Chamber of Commerce president who was also the Head Selectman. This consolidation of power did not give me a positive feeling about this town. After telling my story and arranging for another meeting with two or three town leaders after dinner, I asked if there was a restaurant and Inn where I might be able to request a complimentary meal and room. Actually, there was only one little cafĂ© that qualified. So with the assurance of the businessman that I might get a fair hearing, I headed over to make my pitch.


Bucksport, Maine

I found the owner of the Bucksport Inn in the kitchen, cooking. I guess I should have offered to pitch in and bus tables or wash dishes. I attributed the response I got to my request to his having had a hard day: “Are you nuts? I don’t give nothin’ for free to nobody!” I bought a donut and cup of coffee with the change I had left.

When I arrived back for my meeting, two of the three town selectmen listened politely for awhile and then interrupted, almost in unison: “We don’t think Bucksport is ready for your town meeting project. And you probably don’t need to see anyone else. You might just want to be on your way.”

OK. It was getting late and it was still misting. I made my way back from the coast to August, where the Maine turnpike section of I-95 began (or ended), found a phone booth, and phoned my friends Harry and Ellis Bliss, who would always welcome me back. Ellis answered and I could hear my hang-dog pleading voice go out through the phone line:

“Mom, can I come home?”

“We’ll leave the light on for ya” came right back. The humor of the Tom Bodett famous line was not totally lost to my tired mind.


Ellis and Me 20 Years Later - 1996

I was still a couple of hours away. That bed never felt so warm and inviting as on that night.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Journey of Awakening – 36: The Fall of Maine

Maine in autumn can be the most colorfully exhilarating place on earth. But it can also be brutal. When the leaves are in full splendor they are truly awe-inspiring. And when one of those Nor’easters come swooping in off the Atlantic you are suddenly unable to stay warm and dry. Chilled to the bone is an understatement—chilled to the marrow would be more accurate. The fall of 1977 was starting off with mild, mostly sunny weather and easy driving.

I decided to stick fairly close to the I-95 corridor heading downeast, since it traversed nine of Maine’s sixteen counties. Several had interesting and unique names, probably adapted from local tribes: Sagadahoc, Kennebec, Piscataquis, Penobscot, and Aroostook. Others were more typical English and New England monikers: York, Cumberland, Oxford, Knox, Somerset, Waldo, Hancock, Lincoln, and Washington.

I would drive a ways on the Interstate until I saw an interesting sign for a town not too far off the highway. Some of the towns had unfamiliar names as well: Kennebunkport, Bucksport, Skowhegan, Bangor, and Machias.

Bucksport  Machias Maine2

           Bucksport, Maine                         Machias, Maine

One of my early visits was to Damariscotta-Newcastle, a quaint little burg right on the coast that depended on the summer tourist trade.

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I happened to stop by the local newspaper office to see what I could learn about the town. The Damariscotta Town Crier was a weekly. Sam, the owner and publisher, was in and to my delight, took the time to listen to my story about Town Meeting 76. Sam was a New Yorker who had bought the paper about 5 years earlier, so was considered almost as much a newcomer as I was. But Sam was looking for a way to build community awareness and participation. He agreed after spending an hour with me to have the newspaper sponsor the meeting. We had a date set before I left his office and I had met with 3 or 4 town leaders and got their OK as well.

I was only at the end of my first week on the Maine Town Meeting circuit and I had 2 of my 16 on the schedule. Life was good. Maine was cooperating. I headed back to Boston for a weekend of celebration, R & R, sharing what was working and what wasn’t, and planning for the next victorious week.

Monday, September 5, 2011

So How Was Your Summer?

An e-mail from my cousin Betty in Texas is probably responsible for this posting. She was concerned that she had not received any message from me since June with an entry on my Blog. Wow! Someone actually has been reading these and someone missed reading about my journey! Then the thought came to me that, at my age, most likely the concern has to do with my state of health and whether I was still “with it,” physically, mentally, or both.

My summer has been full, not of writing, but of visits to and from kids and grandkids, friends’ 50th wedding anniversary celebrations, playing with Norma Jean, a little swimming, and helping son Robb move into his new home in Riverside.

June was a trip to Portland for a week with Eric, Tina, and getting to attend our 5 and 8 year-old granddaughters Katy and Grace’s dance performance extravaganza.


In July 6 year-old (now 7) granddaughter Samantha from Iowa made her second solo flight and stay for two weeks, a swirl of non-stop grand-parenting including two trips to the beach, one to the desert and mountains, and a day at the San Diego Zoo, capped off by a 7th birthday party by the pool.

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August was consumed with Robb having two hospitalizations after a month or two on the streets in Riverside and San Bernardino, followed by our taking charge and moving him from his Perris home to a big old transitional living residence near downtown Riverside.

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Today is Labor Day and I am relaxing while reflecting on the summer that was after a traditional trip to Oak Glen for hot dogs and pie with our gang. I promise to resume my regular posts to Mellow Milan’s Musings beginning this coming week, even if only one of you is reading them.

I hope your summer has been full of life’s rewarding experiences.