Tom McLaughlin

A former history teacher, Tom is a columnist who lives in Lovell, Maine. His column is published in Maine and New Hampshire newspapers and on numerous web sites. Email: tomthemick@gmail.com

Monday, August 31, 2015

What's the Attraction?


Looking, as he does, like Mussolini with an orange pompadour, I found it hard to take Donald Trump seriously. For the past few months, however, I’ve been watching, fascinated, as he deals with criticism from members of our media elite who have long taken themselves too seriously.

He deals with them as a parent might deal with a confused adolescent, and I have to say I’m beginning to like him. He baffled NBC’s Chuck Todd on Meet The Press last week when he said about illegal immigrants: “They have to go.”

Todd interrupted him saying: “So, you’re going to split up families…”

“Chuck,” said Trump, but Todd interrupted again, saying “You’re going to deport children?”

“No, no,” said Trump. “We’re going to keep families together. We have to keep the families together.”

Todd interrupted again. “But you’re going to keep them together — out?”

“They have to go,” repeated Trump.

“What if they have no place to go?” said Todd, interrupting yet again.

“Chuck,” said Trump — this time putting his hand on Todd’s arm in an attempt to get him to stop interrupting, “We’ll work with them, [but] they have to go. Either we have a country or we don’t have a country.”
And there it was — a simple, common-sense statement that summed up the whole issue. Either we have a country or we don’t have a country. That’s how Trump is. He speaks extemporaneously. He doesn’t travel with a teleprompter like our dear leader in the White House. He doesn’t read speeches prepared by others. He doesn’t work from note cards. He talks. He explains. When questioned he comes back with real answers, not equivocations.
Pundits on both the left and the right are baffled. They said Trump’s popularity was a flash in the pan and he would soon flame out. I thought so too, but he hasn’t. During the first debate, the three moderators from Fox News were loaded for bear and they blasted him from the starting gun, but he hung in there and even started turning it around on them. That was when I realized what was happening.
Trump’s growing support is not unlike the phenomenon we called “The Tea Party” a few years ago. That same exasperation with Washington is out there, but now it is without a name. Trump’s support is made up of people who are sick of the status quo. They elected a House Republican majority, then a Senate Republican majority, but those Republicans aren’t doing anything to stop our runaway government the way they promised they would. They’re right in it with the Democrats.
What the Tea Party got from the Republican Establishment

If there’s one thing the federal government is supposed to do, it is to police our borders — prevent invasion. But we have been invaded by more than 30 million illegal aliens and neither political party is doing anything stop it. They believe Trump will, and they’re getting behind him.
Standing in Nogales, AZ looking across border

Five years ago, I went down to the Mexican border to see for myself what was going on. I rented a jeep and drove along our side of the fence in Nogales, Arizona. The first Border Patrol Agent I spoke to was from Lisbon Falls, Maine and he confirmed to me that the chaos I saw was just how it was down there all the time. He warned me that it wasn’t safe for me to even be there, and I was standing on American soil!
About a month later I was invited to voice a conservative viewpoint on a local [New Hampshire] television show. “Do you represent the Tea Party?” the host asked me.

“No,” I said. “The Tea Party is an amorphous group without official leaders or representatives or any real organizational structure, but my views are representative.” Then I explained that we believe the Constitution is being ignored by the federal government, which is seizing too much power and needs to be cut back.
Whatever the movement comes to be called this election cycle, it’s already having a huge impact on the presidential race. Templates used to analyze past races don’t apply to this one, and pundits are baffled. Republicans are led by Trump, but right behind him is another non-politician: neurosurgeon Ben Carson. Behind him, non-politician and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina is rising steadily.
Over on the Democrat side, it’s all senators and a governor, but perceived as an outsider because he’s a socialist, Bernie Sanders is coming on strong. One thing he has in common with Trump? He says what he thinks and eschews professional handlers. Ordinary people in the “way down here” like that because they’re sick of political rhetoric. The pundits are still shaking their heads over how Maine Governor Paul LePage ever got reelected. He’s another guy who says what he thinks and people like that. He also does things, his favorite motto being: “When all is said and done, a whole lot more is said than done.”

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Socialist Dreamers Still With Us


As a boy, I recall noticing something in the eyes of older people. It was a kind of acceptance, a wisdom, often a kindness habitually bestowed on kids like me because I reminded them of their own children and grandchildren. Growing up, we were taught to respect our elders, but that usually came naturally. Unlike people my parents’ age, they had time to talk, to answer questions. They had patience. They’d had children, grandchildren, and sometimes great-grandchildren, but average life expectancy was lower then and it was relatively rare to know one’s great-grandchildren.
My grandson Riley with his great-grandfather

As an adult, when people my parents’s age were elderly, that respect continued. They were the World War II generation, all of them touched by that war in some way whether they were in uniform or worrying about relatives who were. They’d known deprivation during the Depression as well as the suffering of war. They’d had decades to reflect on all that and it showed in their eyes. They’d long ago come to accept that the world was imperfect and always would be. They were proud of their country and grateful to have been born here.
As an older person myself now, I still see that elderly wisdom in some of my contemporaries, but not nearly to the extent I did in previous generations. Too many have carried an adolescent petulance through adulthood, middle age, and well into retirement. They have not accepted the world as it is and continue to carry a peevishness because they haven’t been able to make it perfect. They blame “corporate America” and “the rich” and “the Republicans,” thinking if it weren’t for them, we’d all be living in a utopia by now.
Many in my generation eschewed parenthood because of the commitment and the sacrifice it involved, because it cut into their endless quest to “find themselves.” They’re old, bald, pot-bellied, wrinkled and gray now. The look in their eyes mirrors a hollowness, a sense they have not found themselves after a lifetime of looking, and now lack the energy to continue the search. They seem to lack the serenity and wisdom I perceived in the eyes of most of the elderly when I was a child. They don’t take to children easily because they chose not to have any. Some who did had only one for whom they didn’t set up a stable household, drifting from partner to partner and dragging the child along. They’re responsible for many of the 55-60 million abortions in America since 1973. Some of them did finally grow up, but too many others did not.
They lived in a country that protected individual freedom enough for them to indulge nearly every whim, but they have little sense of history. They don’t seem to realize or appreciate that they lived most of their lives in a time and place of unprecedented security and prosperity during the post-WWII Pax Americana. They’re oblivious to the barbarity prevailing in the Middle East, north and central Africa, and just across our border in Mexico, not realizing such chaos has been more the norm than the exception for most in the world throughout history. To preserve their freedom, their fathers fought National Socialism in Germany, then endured the Cold War during which the communist dictatorship that was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics murdered 40-60 million. Communist China killed even more — during the lifetime of narcissistic baby boomers. Did they learn anything from all this? They don’t appear to have.
Their historical ignorance disposes them to magnify flaws in their own country, onto which they project their own. They voted to reelect the closet socialist President Obama who would continue to “fundamentally transform” the United States. Now they flock to the rallies of Senator Bernie Sanders because he “came out” as a socialist long ago. Despite the horrific record of socialist governments elsewhere in the world before and during their own lifetimes, they still believe socialism can work if only the “right” people run it. In the imagined utopia they expect will result, they hope to finally “find themselves.”
The Big Rock Candy Mountain

Will they? Not according to the evidence, but their endless quest will continue to weaken the country they disdain, because for them the perfect is the enemy of the good. They cannot accept that there will never be a perfect world this side of heaven. Their grandparents’ generation my have sung “The Big Rock Candy Mountain” along with Burl Ives, but they didn’t actually believe it existed. They accepted that neither human beings nor any political system they fashioned would be flawless. Baby boomers, however, continue to look for “the land of mild and honey, where a bum can stay for many a day, and he won’t need any money.”

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Role of a Lifetime

Again I was reminded of why we have children when we’re young. Daughter Annie visited with her four children: Claire, almost six; Lila, four; and twins Henry and Luke, two-and-a-half down at our South Portland house. Annie is a marvel of energy, patience, and love as she mothers her brood. We explored the waterfront, flew a kite, threw rocks into the sea, saw numerous jets fly toward and away from the Portland Jetport, and watched boats large and small make their way in and out of Portland Harbor. I was charmed by the wonder in the grandchildren as they took all this in. That’s one of the joys of being a grandfather. I’m the one who chronicles it all. Well, not all of it, but some at least. I take pictures and write pieces like this.
 
My camera is always nearby because I always expect to see beautiful things. Seldom am I disappointed, especially when the grandchildren are around. When I’m with them, it’s nearly always hanging from my right shoulder. The girls made fairy houses in my wife’s garden. When I encouraged them saying, “There are a lot of fairies in the Portland area and we don’t want any of them to be homeless,” my wife gave me that look. The girls then drew a hopscotch grid on the front walkway and challenged the rest of us to hop along, something I hadn’t done since my sisters issued a similar challenge more than fifty years ago. I’m happy to say I can still do it.
Lila and Claire making Fairy houses

It’s a different life at their home in Sweden, Maine (population 391) on a dirt road where no neighbors are visible unless you’re willing to take a long walk. Seeing the sights in Maine’s largest metropolitan area is a thrill for them all, especially for the twins. For them, every plane that flew overhead was something to marvel at. The deep base of larger ships sounding their horns as they moved along the shipping channel thrilled them. It was all they could do to point wide-eyed exclaim, “Whoa!” Back at the house they tried to mimic the sound.
At Fort Williams

The twins still take afternoon naps, so I went with Annie and the girls on another waterfront expedition. Returning, we found the boys dressed only in their diapers and playing in the yard with their grandmother. It occurred to me that boys really do mature more slowly than girls of that age. Their sisters were housebroken before they were two, and girls were much more verbal, much earlier. I remember having conversations with them when were two. Although the twins understand almost everything they hear, their expressive vocabulary is much more limited.
Gathering pantomime

With each other, however, there’s a curious non-verbal communication understood only by them. During a break in the hopscotch, they began a pantomime during which one would bend over and pretend to scoop something off the ground with both hands, then offer it to the other who would bend over and pretend to eat or drink, I couldn’t tell which. Then the other one would bend down and do the same thing for his brother. This they repeated a few times before going on to something else. I have no idea where it came from but I was charmed to watch their mutual giving. Who knows what sort of bonds they developed in utero together for nine months and being together constantly ever since. Though I grew up with seven siblings in a relatively small house, I preferred to be alone whenever possible. I cherished solitude and still do, keeping my own counsel most of my life. In spite of this, I rather envied the twins their closeness.
Pretending to feed his brother

My wife agrees that males of the species mature more slowly than females. We catch up around forty or so, I claim, and she agrees with that too. When I contend that we blow right by females after forty, I get that look again.
Flying kite at Bug Light Park


Grandparents don’t have the energy we had as parents, but we have more experience upon which to reflect— and the time to do so. There’s an important place for us in the extended family and I’ve become content in the role.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

"Social Justice" Rules Our Schools


Cool mornings in August, the smells they bring, and the chirping of crickets during the day all remind me September is very near. Automatically and unbidden come the familiar, bittersweet feelings of another school year approaching. They waft over me for a second or two before I remember that my life is no longer controlled the school calendar. I’m free of it. I’m detached. I’m liberated and I like it, especially when I see many of the trends that drove me out of public education accelerating.
Seattle public schools are implanting IUDs (Intra-uterine devices) in girls as young as sixth grade. That’s shocking enough, but what’s worse is they’re doing it without parental permission! I retired from public school only four years ago, but when I read stories like this it seems like a century. We used to get memos warning us that students may not take a Tylenol without written permission from parents, but now the school can implant a birth control device in an eleven or twelve-year-old girl’s uterus without her parents even knowing about it? What’s going on?
Left wing sites like salon.com hail the practice as liberating and do not mention that it’s done without parental knowledge or permission. To read their article, it’s all good and exciting. Salon quotes Katie Acker, a health educator at one Seattle school: “It’s absolutely amazing and crazy. The birth control culture, for lack of a better term, and the conversations have just changed so much … conversations are just happening so openly and so excitedly. There’s so much pride around, ‘I’ve got this method, I’ve got this method [say students to each other].’ It’s not a hush-hush thing anymore.”
Katie Acker

Isn’t that wonderful? I agree with Acker when she say’s “It’s absolutely amazing and crazy.” After that, she loses me. At one point Acker described how excited she was when the whole girl’s gymnastic team gathered around as an IUD was implanted in the uterus of one of their teammates. Clearly, Acker sees sex between middle schoolers and teenagers as wonderful. Investigating her profile in the King County School System, I can see nothing about cautioning her students to avoid sex until they were older. I suspect she’d look at me blankly if I suggested students might wait until marriage for sexual activity. She especially recommends a site called “Bedsider” for her students. Browsing it, I found lots of suggestions for how girls could overcome inhibitions and enjoy themselves.
Parents, probably born way back in in the regressive 20th century, are seen as obstacles to an enlightened 21st century “progressive” lifestyle. Conservative sites pointed out that students in Seattle Schools could not buy a can of Coca Cola in school, but they could have IUDs and hormonal implants inserted into their bodies. How do they reconcile this? Is there no reaction from parents in Washington? Has leftist Kool Aid been added to the water supply up there? Has the left become so dominant that conservative parents have been intimidated into silence?
Teachers’ unions endorse all this. Public school “health” classes in California elementary schools encourage students to ask themselves how they know whether they’re male or female. The Los Angeles Times reports that: Starting this fall, students applying to the University of California will have the option to choose among six gender identities listed on undergraduate admissions forms: male, female, trans male, trans female, gender queer/gender non-conforming and different identity.” Who is behind this? Former Obama Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano who is now president of the University of California system.
Clearly our public schools, elementary, secondary, and post-secondary see themselves as agents of social change. Sixties radical terrorist and Obama good buddy Bill Ayers, for example, became an education professor at the University of Illinois where he instructed public school teachers that their primary mission as teachers was to bring about social change — not instructing students in reading, writing and arithmetic. Ayers was not alone up there in Illinois. He’s representative of an enormous trend in public education across the United States. What is “social change” in their minds? Again, Janet Napolitano is instructing her professors not to say things like: “America is the land of opportunity,” “There is only one race, the human race” and “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.” These, according to thecollegefix.com, are considered “microaggressions” and indicative of subconscious racism in anyone who may utter them.
Other examples of “microaggressive" speech at the University of California include “America is a melting pot” and “Affirmative Action is racist.” All of these “microaggressions” are phrases I used regularly when I taught US History, along with “Everyone can succeed in this society if they work hard enough.” Clearly, neither I nor anybody who thinks like me, is suitable to teach in our brave new schools anymore. It feels good to be out.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Evil in Camouflage

“It’s a lump of cells,” insisted my left-wing opponent, referring to what is removed from a mother in an abortion. I started off the show with the appalling news that Planned Parenthood was selling parts of aborted babies as documented by a series of videos released by the Center for Medical Progress last week. He pooh-poohed it. That’s what the left must do — deny that it’s a human baby being killed in every abortion procedure. He stuck to the protocol. Every two weeks, my Democrat friend, Gino, and I meet in the local Time Warner studio to debate social and political issues of the day on our show called “Left and Right.” The sale of baby parts was big news last week.
Left wing Democrats (is there any other kind now?) never say “baby” or “human” or “kill” when discussing abortion. They don’t even like to say “abortion,” preferring to substitute “choice” or “women’s health” as if pregnancy were a disease and abortion the cure. They cannot talk plainly about what really happens during an abortion or people would be horrified. Hence, discussion is antiseptic and language censorious. The undercover videos cut through all that. Abortion doctors working for Planned Parenthood described how they modified abortion technique so as not to “crush” some baby parts and preserve them for sale, all this while chewing on a salad and sipping wine. “We’ve been very good about getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part,” said Dr. Nucatola, medical director for Planned Parenthood nationally, “I’m going to basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact.”
Clearly it’s not just a “lump of cells.” It’s got a heart, a lung, and a liver because it’s a baby.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest insisted last week that the videos were “entirely inaccurate,” then admitted he hadn’t seen them and he was repeating Planned Parenthood’s own talking points. Earnest said they were “selectively edited.” If you’re inclined to believe that, watch one yourself. 
The first three videos released were bad enough, showing doctors talking about how they do abortions, but the fourth showed images of Planned Parenthood staff poking at the baby parts in a dish, identifying a brain, a kidney, a leg, and a penis, declaring, “It’s another boy!” This, of course, is kryptonite for Democrats.
On my show I said abortion is the single most important issue for the Democrat Party, and my Democrat opponent agreed. To allow images of aborted human babies would be death for Democrats so, while claiming the videos were “extremist, right wing” attacks on Planned Parenthood, they went into defensive mode. Obama’s new Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced an investigation — not of Planned Parenthood which was violating federal laws against sale of human baby parts — but of the Center for Medical Progress which was exposing it all!
Leftist mainstream media outlets like ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, and the big broadsheet newspapers can be relied on to ignore stories depicting abortion in a bad light. That’s why they refused to cover the Dr. Kermit Gosnell murder trial, which I covered extensively in this column. They’re doing their best to play down the Planned Parenthood videos as well, giving the poached lion in Africa far more coverage than Planned Parenthood selling baby parts in the United States.
Boston College philosophy professor Peter Kreeft said: “When I talk about abortion, I often surprise most of my audience, even some prolifers, by saying that not only is abortion always evil but that it is not a ‘complex issue,’ that deep down we all know that it is evil; that Mother Teresa is very clearly right when she says ‘If abortion isn’t wrong, nothing is wrong.’”
Kreeft is right. Deep down, we all know it. That’s why most Democrats qualify their support for abortion by saying: “Personally, I’m against abortion, but I believe a woman has a right to choose.” That’s why Planned Parenthood is always blowing smoke about what they actually do, insisting it isn’t really a baby. It’s just a lump of tissue like an appendix or a tonsil. That’s why our left wing media couldn’t cover the murder trial of abortionist Dr. Kermit Gosnell. That’s why even most pro-life people can’t bring themselves to look at pictures of aborted babies. Because we know evil when we see it — all of us. Loretta Lynch is investigating the Center for Medical Progress instead of Planned Parenthood because she wants to shoot the messenger, not the evil perpetrator — which has become an object of worship for Democrats. That’s why Democrats fight state laws requiring women to have ultrasound images of what is in their uterus before having an abortion. Ninety percent of them change their minds when they see it’s not just a “lump of cells.”

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Monday, July 27, 2015

Immigrants? What Immigrants?

After reading Ann Coulter’s recently released “Adios America!” I’m conscious of how our mainstream media deal with crimes committed by immigrants, legal and illegal. While some crimes are reported on locally, the status of the perpetrators is ignored. Coulter gives example after example too numerous to mention here, of how immigrants commit heinous crimes all over the United States, but the word “immigrant” is always conspicuously absent when the perpetrators are described.

As my wife and I drove through Portland, Maine last week listening to WGAN on the radio, we heard about Jimmy Odong’s crime spree. The twenty-five-year-old man was arrested for a carjacking at gunpoint in Portland and the armed robbery of a bank in nearby Freeport the same day. He’s also the chief suspect in another robbery earlier that day. Last February, Odong was arrested for aggravated assault in a Portland domestic incident.
Odong under arrest

“I’m glad that guy is off the streets,” my wife said as we passed neighborhoods in which some of those crimes occurred.
“Other than all that, Jimmy is probably a nice guy,” I responded.

“Yeah, right,” she said. The broadcast never mentioned that Jimmy Odong was an immigrant from Sudan.
The next day, I was reading the Portland Press Herald, a leftist paper next to which the Boston Globe appears moderate. In it was a picture of Jimmy Odong in police custody. It turns out that long before his most recent crime spree, Odong was well-known to police. In 2009, he was arrested after he “led police on a two-mile car chase through the city’s Bayside neighborhood and downtown Portland. During the chase, Odong crashed into several parked cars and struck a building. After abandoning his car, Odong fled before he was captured in Congress Square. He was charged with reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon, eluding an officer, operating under the influence, operating without a license and four counts of leaving the scene of an accident.” Nowhere in the story did it mention that Odong was an immigrant. WGME and WCSH covered the story too, but neither of those TV stations mentioned it either.
Odong had been in trouble only a week before that 2009 incident when police arrested him for stealing two bottles of vodka from the Hannaford store on Forest Avenue. He resisted and nearly started a riot when a group of young black men surrounded police and shouted: “Killers!” and “Murderers!” Just week before that, police shot a young black immigrant, also from Sudan who had pulled a gun on them. The media identified him as an immigrant only because he could be portrayed as a victim and not a perpetrator. That’s how it is with our mainstream media: if the story is likely to stir up sympathy, mention “immigrant.” If the story is negative, leave it out.
We hear much about American white guys being accused of rape — even when the stories are false. Consider Tawana Brawley, Duke Lacrosse, and the University of Virginia cases alone. Our mainstream media were breathless in their coverage although none had any basis in fact. Why? Because the alleged perpetrators were American white guys. They ignore thousands of genuine sexual assaults by illegal immigrants however, and when they do report, they leave out information about race or immigration status.
Duke Lacrosse players falsely accused

Those of us who don’t limit our information-gathering to mainstream sources know America is experiencing an illegal alien crime wave. In “Adios America!” Coulter reports that fully one quarter of the entire population of Mexico has crossed the border into the United States, illegally in most cases, as well as one fifth of the population of El Salvador. Brietbart.com reports that illegals accounted for 37% of all federal prison sentences in the United States in 2014! Manhattan Institute scholar Heather MacDonald has documented that: “In Los Angeles, 95 percent of all outstanding warrants for homicide (which total 1,200 to 1,500) target illegal aliens.” In 1980, President Carter told Fidel Castro that he could send any Cubans here who wanted to come, so Castro emptied his jails and mental hospitals in the infamous Mariel Boat Lift. Looks like Mexico is taking a cue from Cuba, because we’re certainly not getting the cream of the Mexican crop.
Maine became a sanctuary state when Democrat Governor John Baldacci issued an executive order forbidding state employees from inquiring about the immigration status of anyone, anytime, whether applying for benefits or being stopped by police. The result? Thousands of illegal aliens poured into our tiny state, many going on welfare in violation of federal law. Republican Governor Paul LePage is only now turning off the welfare spigot. In 2011, the Center For Immigration Studies reported that, nationally, 57% of legal and illegal immigrants used at least one form of welfare.
Coulter contends our media grossly underreport the number of illegal aliens living here. She says there are at least 30 million, most of them on welfare. If this continues, Coulter makes a good case that it’s adios to America as we know it.

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Time For Tall Ships


Rounding Bug Light, Maine Historical Society

In South Portland, it’s nice to walk out my door in the morning and smell the sea. During summer, it’s a sweet fragrance. I hear the ferries sound their horns as they leave the pier in Portland and head to one of the islands, and I hear the deeper, base sound of tankers as they’re leaving the harbor — a longer blast, not unlike that of cruise ships that come and go in summer and fall.
Dawn at Portland Pipeline pier

Several tall ships came down the shipping channel last weekend and I watched them from a high point on the old Fort Prebie, now the campus of Southern Maine Community College. I could see down to Cape Elizabeth’s Fort Williams and Portland Head Light where they entered the channel and starting trimming sails to navigate the narrower passage under power. Some kept a few up though and the effect was stunning, mostly because I could imagine how it was for previous generations who stood and watched from where I was standing. Here was this huge ship, even taller than it was long, using wind and water to move along silently and elegantly. Would those long-dead people have been as enthralled as I was? More so?
Trimming sails in the channel

For them it would have been routine, not so special to see stately sailing ships passing by but I’m not used to it. I’m accustomed to what sailors call “stinkpots” — motorized vessels. I even own one that I keep on Kezar Lake in Lovell. Motor boats are not what anyone would call beautiful compared to sailing ships. Nonetheless, I like to watch the big tankers come and go from the various tie-ups of the Portland Pipeline Company on the South Portland side of the harbor. Tugboats help them get around tight corners and then turn around back to port and the tankers head for open sea.
From the Maine Historical Society

Perhaps though, those 19th century Mainers appreciated the scene even more than I did. Their world wasn’t as rushed as ours. They were accustomed to waiting for things and didn’t try to jam too much into a day as we do. Perhaps their unhurried life put them in a better state of mind, more able to appreciate the classic lines of a sailing ship — or several of them — all up and down the channel.
Crowded channel

At least 10,000 people watched the tall ships last weekend, but the big ships were surrounded by smaller, motorized pleasure boats and that made it difficult to imagine myself back in the 19th century. Browsing the Maine Historical Society’s picture collection last winter, I studied many images of Portland Harbor in the days of sail. Some tall schooners in those pictures were tended by motorized tug boats but other, smaller vessels visible were sailboats too. On the South Portland side of the harbor, down the street from where my house is, were shipyards with enormous schooners under construction.
My grandson Riley at wreck of Harold W. Middleton

The bones of a schooner that wrecked over on nearby Higgins Beach in Scarborough are another reminder of those days. They’re all that remain of the schooner Harold W. Middleton that was carrying coal from Virginia and hit ledges offshore. It finally came to rest on the sand near the outlet of the Sprurwink River. Locals made off with the coal and the insurance company salvaged what it wanted, then left the rest in place. Storms storms have covered and uncovered the wreck in the century since.
As a boy in elementary school I loved drawing square-rigged sailing ships. It gave me pleasure to sketch the sweeping lines of the hull and bowsprit, the straight masts and rectangular sails that weren’t perfectly rectangular as they billowed in the wind. I’d draw waves breaking against the bow and imagine how they might appear from high up on one of the masts. Sometimes I’d draw triangular sails on schooners but I liked the square rigs better and I’d always include a flag atop the tallest mast.
Sunrise at Bug Light South Portland

Though I’m semi-retired, I still have a compulsion to keep busy, to accomplish something every day. Plagued by this lingering need to be productive, I seldom give myself enough time off to just walk around, think, feel the breeze, smell the air — stop and appreciate beauty in whatever form it should present itself. Gotta change that. Though I had writing to do last Saturday, I went over to SMCC and waited with thousands of others for the tall ships to appear over the horizon. 18th and 19th century Mainers waited there for loved ones to return from long voyages and became anxious if they were overdue. The local cemetery I walk through contains many headstones declaring someone “lost at sea,” telling me it wasn’t all tranquility and elegance to go “down to the sea in ships.”

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