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Home Stories Mark My Words

To Those Who Have Never Been Out Of Maine

I suspect people still travel overseas nowadays, but I don’t hear much about it.  I watch the contrails of jets going to and from Europe as they pass over my house day after day.  They must be carrying people some of the time; they can’t all be loaded with crates of French wine bound for New York City restaurants.

At the beginning of my eighth grade year, (fall of 1964), the entire school was called into an assembly to hear a student describe her trip to England that same summer.  I don't recall anything of her talk except that it was boring.  It also seemed highly unlikely that I would ever go abroad myself.  We didn't know we were poor when I was a kid, but we knew we didn't have much.  In those days, when a family such as ours might go about in patched clothes and repaired shoes and might not even have a car or a phone, poor people were those who might not have indoor plumbing or who might be grateful to get a box of my family’s used clothing.

So, travel to exotic places was not on my radar.  But I was on the government's radar.  After all, we were liberating Viet Nam, and five years later, when I was eighteen, we had the first military draft of my generation, and I was offered a free trip to southeast Asia.

I declined the offer, though.  I signed up for four years in the Army instead, which allowed me to specialize in something that they didn't need in Viet Nam, and which spared me going there.

My first trip in the Army was to Fort Dix, New Jersey in August 1970.  Marching in the sands of New Jersey in mid-summer, wearing long-sleeve shirts and packing 30 pounds of gear, can be compared with nothing else but marching in the sands of New Jersey in mid-summer, etc.

My next Army-arranged trip took me to California, where I spent a year in Monterey.  I had never been west of Chicago up to that time, so I had finally arrived in a place that, to me, was exotic.

For those who are at all familiar with model railroading, John Allen lived in Monterey.  Throughout the 1960s, John's HO-gauge railroad, called the Gorre &Daphetid (sounds like Gory and Defeated), was the most-featured layout in Model Railroader magazine.  Many magazine covers during that era were graced with photos of his modeling work.

My father and I bought many issues of Model Railroader when I was a kid growing up in Ohio, and I still have some of the same issues from the 1960s, complete with almost-monthly articles about the G&D.

It so happened that John Allen, although not a wealthy man, lived alone and devoted his free time to his amazing railroad.  When I joined the Army, I packed the magazines away and became a man.  I had studied Russian during my first year in college, just before enlisting.  This, and my score on the military language aptitude test, earned me a year-long, total-immersion course in Russian at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey.

I made my own trips around California during that year, several of them to sites significant in railroad history, including Tuolumne and Roaring Camp.

After the Russian school I was assigned to the Army Security Agency and took further training in cryptanalysis.  My next big Army trip took me to Germany, so I could de-code Russian military transmissions that had been intercepted at a big antenna in western Europe.  While I was in Germany, though, I picked up an issue of Model Railroader, and there I found three pieces of very disheartening news: John Allen had died of natural causes at the age of 59 in January 1973, ten days later the G&D layout was almost totally destroyed by an unfortunate fire in the basement of his home, and, third, his home, with the G&D stretched across the entire basement, had been located in Monterey, California.

Not once in all those childhood years of drooling over the photos of his work had I noticed where he lived.  I had spent a year in Monterey without realizing, without even suspecting, that he was right there, that he welcomed visitors, and that I could have seen the most famous model railroad of the twentieth century as often as I could have presumed to ask.

There must be a term for such a missed opportunity, and another for a fool who misses one.  Being an aficionado of great words, I would love to discover both terms.

During my year and a half in Europe I traveled.  The 'round-the-clock work scheduled at Field Station Augsburg afforded four-day breaks every month, and by carefully planning leave time around those breaks I had a half dozen or more vacations, when I could jump a train or ride the luck of my outstretched thumb and needed only to make it back in six days' time.  (I made plenty of other two- or three-day excursions, usually by train.  But you can reach a lot of Europe in only a day’s train travel.)

In California I had visited Laguna Seca and seen live auto racing for the first time.  In Europe I traveled on my own to races at the Nürburgring and Monza.  With a couple of friends, one of whom had a Fiat, I shared the driving to take us to the 24 hours of LeMans and to the Grand Prix of Monte Carlo in 1973, where for two nights we slept on the beach to the amusement of the strolling gendarmes, who periodically through the night would nudge our feet and say: “No can sleeping here.”  We would dutifully drag ourselves to another spot on the beach and wait to be nudged again.

I wandered alone through Germany, Austria, France, and Italy, and I am not disappointed in what I saw.  I walked the length of Lichtenstein from north to south.  I hitched a ride in Switzerland with a Swiss Toyota salesman, who spent a couple hours showing me -- on winding winter roads high in the Alps -- what a new Celica could do.

On other trips I found myself, sometimes inexplicably, in Grenoble, Lugano, Como, Chiavenna, and Livorno.  Sometimes I would step from a stranger’s car near dusk and wander the town until night fell.  Sometimes I paid for a humble lodging and sometimes I would unroll a sleeping bag in a field and hope not to be noticed until morning.  I awoke early one morning in a field in Switzerland, though, to the voice of an angry old man shouting clearly enough: “Ich bin telefon der polizei!”  Another morning my racing-fan friends and I awoke simultaneously to the sound of breathing and chewing and looked up into the faces of a half dozen French cows, peacefully regarding the peculiar bagged forms on the ground.

After wandering around Firenze (Florence) for a day or so, visiting galleries and realizing that the Renaissance is still the pride of the city, I bought a ticket to Pisa.  As the train approached the station in Pisa, I noticed a roundhouse graced with several steam locomotives, so when I debarked from the train I walked back a mile to the site of the roundhouse to take pictures.  There I was arrested and taken to a railroad administration building and made to sit while they debated what to do with me.  Eventually they turned me loose with, what I supposed was, a warning; it was in Italian and included enough gestures to my camera that I drew that conclusion perhaps wisely.  That same afternoon I found my way across the city of Pisa to the leaning tower, but the basilica behind it was far more impressive than the famous old tower.

I was on the streets of Munich the day the Israeli athletes were massacred at the Olympic village in 1972.  I had visited the Olympic park only the day before, near the headquarters of BMW.  The day of the massacre, the local citizens that I encountered in the city understood what had happened, but my ignorance of the German language delayed my realizing what had occurred until much later that day.

The Germans had a tradition then called Volksmarsch.  I participated in 18 of these events, held annually in any given village on a day of importance to that area, commemorating, perhaps, a famous son of that village.  It’s a social event to promote fitness and beer-drinking.  After paying a modest fee and walking a marked course of 10km to 30km, most often on forest trails and between agricultural fields, each participant would receive a medal suspended from a ribbon, in the style of a military campaign medal.  The medal was always provided right there, on the spot at the end of the walk.  Veteran volksmarschers would often participate while wearing all of their dozens of medals, further ensuring their enduring fitness.

That period gave me the richest travel experience I could have hoped for, and it was less than ten years after the eighth grade assembly that left me doubting I would see much of the world.

Thanks to the Viet Nam war, I saw Europe.  But that wasn't the end of it.  I didn't travel a lot for several years until Beth's parents bought a boat, a 38-foot trawler they named Oqim.  From 1988 to 2007 our little family joined her parents in cruising the entire east coast of North America, in one- to three-week segments, from Saint John, New Brunswick (including the length of the Saint John River to Gagetown) to Key West, Florida.

And, thanks to the Viet Nam war and my facility with the Russian language, I finally traveled to Russia and Ukraine in 1996.  The background on that trip is an example of an opportunity I did not miss.  I was invited to attach myself to the Surrey Opera Company as a friend, (but not to sing with them).  That made the arrangements easier and provided a couple nights of lodging with local people in St Petersburg.  But, while the singers were rehearsing for a concert to be performed at the end of their two weeks, I struck out on my own.  For about ten days, besides myself no one but the KGB had any idea where I was.  This, for me, was the trip of a lifetime.  I went searching for Babi Yar in Ukraine, but its exact location has never been positively determined.  I prowled St. Basil’s Cathedral on my own and attended a worship service in a separate little Russian Orthodox church on the opposite end of Red Square.

And, in Russia, I met people.  Lots of people, who readily talked with me, gave sometimes stern advice for my safety, and who sent me home to America with their personal addresses against my promise that, if I ever returned, I would come visit their humble homes.

Then, in the spring of 2001, when our daughter had a college semester in Galway, we spent two weeks in Ireland.  There is no verbal description for Ireland that does it justice.  The stone ruins are silent testimony to its long, tragic history.  The coastal inlets and islands bring to mind some of the prettiest Maine settings.  The towns may have modern conveniences (and may not, as well) but if they do, it is not advertised in neon.  There is a spooky desolation in much of the countryside.  The island of Ireland is almost the exact same land area as the state of Maine.  But I can imagine only one other land area of comparable size (Austria) that crams so much beauty into such a compact space.

Ireland, as they say about so many places, must be experienced to be believed.  And so, I might add, must Aruba, for my family has had the good fortune to have made a few trips there as well.  The first trip suffices to sum it up: We were there from Saturday to Saturday at an all-inclusive resort.  I didn’t understand all-inclusive very well until, on the first evening, after a long flight and no supper, I wandered over to an outdoor pizza bar next to the pool next to the beach and asked for a pizza.  When it was brought to the counter ten minutes later, I asked how much it cost.  No charge, I was told.  I looked toward the end of the bar where there stood a beer tap.  I pointed to it and asked: No charge?  No charge, I was told.  With everything provided except the effort to attend to one’s own personal hygiene, I found myself by Thursday of that week saying I had had enough rest and was ready to go home.  And I had to endure two more days of the same before I could do so.  If I recall correctly, we have been back four, maybe five times.  At about the fourth trip to the same resort, even some of the staff recognized Sam and greeted him by name after our absence of two or three years.

Of all the places I have lived, both in the USA from coast to coast and in Europe, of all the places I have traveled to and marveled at, of all the places I have read about and visited in books, photos, and films, though, I have no desire to plant myself permanently anywhere else but in rural Maine.  I have seen the advantages of modern urban development, the cultural quaintness of historical stasis, the laid-back ease of the tropics, the stoic resignation of workers behind the Iron Curtain, and the bustle of a rising economy.  I’ve been welcomed as a friend by people speaking at least four different native languages besides English.

But home is here.  I just had to see a lot of the world to make sure.


David Woodbury comes from the Farmington area, where his family has roots and where Fly Rod Crosby was a not-so-distant cousin.  According to local history, the first settler in what is now Lincoln, in the 1820s, was Aaron Woodbury, also a cousin, (but more distant).  Along with his wife, Beth, and son, Sam, David came to Lincoln in 2001 after more than 20 years with Great Northern Paper in Millinocket.  With a University of Maine degree in Wildlife Management, he is an active Maine Guide and promotes his writing and other enterprises at Comments on his column are welcome.  Just email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . All Mark My Words columns copyright 2012 by David Woodbury.


It’s time for some quotations. All of these came from signs, posters, and photos that crossed my space on Facebook. (Did you see that hiduendo?) This list follows the random sequence in which I collected these tidbits.

There may be wisdom in these remarks and stories. Some may strike us funny. Some are attributed to an author, but most are not. As for the ones that are attributed, we need to heed the admonition attributed to Abe Lincoln: Don’t trust everything you read on the Internet.

I don’t understand who has the time or the computer resources to craft these little pieces, superimposing words over pictures, and offer them free for the taking. I am suspicious that there may be some damaging software code hidden within any one of the picture files. So, for your pleasure, I have removed the words from the background photos and present them now as a compendium. You’ll have to provide your own mental images.

Herewith, the first installment of the Wisdom of Facebook:

An old Cherokee told his grandson: “My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside each of us. One is Evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies, and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, and truth.” The boy thought about it and asked: “Grandfather, which wolf wins?” The old man quietly replied: “The one you feed.”

Today’s Special - Buy one for the price of two and receive a second one absolutely free!

DEMOCRACY: The system that picks Barrabas over Jesus.

Why carry a gun? Because a whole cop would be too heavy.

You have never really lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.

If a telemarketer calls, give the telephone to your three-year-old and tell her it’s Santa.

Think about how stupid the average person is, and realize that have of them are stupider than that! -George Carlin

Men socialize by insulting each other, but they don’t really mean it. Women socialize by complimenting each other, and they don’t really mean it either.

“Dammit I’m mad” is “Dammit I’m mad” spelled backwards.

No woman has ever shot a man while he was washing the dishes.

For attractive lips, speak words of kindness. For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people. For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry. For poise, walk with the knowledge that you will never walk alone. People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed revived, reclaimed, and redeemed. Never throw out anyone. -Audrey Hepburn

If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years there’d be a shortage of sand.

GUNS: My right to own one is what protects your right to argue that I can’t.

I just let my mind wander, and it didn’t come back!

There always a little truth behind every “Just kidding”, a little knowledge behind every “I don’t know”, a little emotion behind every “I don’t care”, and a little pain behind every “It’s OK.”

Here’s to all the real men out there... Boys play house, men build homes. Boys shack up, men get married. Boys make babies, men raise children. A boy won’t raise his own children. A man will raise someone else’s. Boys invent excuses for failure, men make strategies for success. Boys look for somebody to take care of them. Men look for someone to take care of. Boys seek popularity. Men demand respect and know how to give it.

I’d tell you to go to hell, but I work there and I don’t want to see you every day.

A seven-year-old tells his four-year-old brother that they should start swearing. “When we go downstairs for breakfast, I’ll say ‘hell’ and you say ‘ass’”. The four-year-old happily agrees. At breakfast the seven-year-old says, “Aw, hell, Mom, I’ll just have some toast.” The surprised mother quickly smacks him. The boy runs upstairs crying. The mother turns to the younger boy. “And what would YOU like for breakfast?” “I don’t know,” the younger one stammers, “but you can bet your ass it won’t be toast!”

Some people tell me I have a short temper. I prefer to call it a swift and assertive reaction to stupidity.

Annoying things to do on an elevator:

1) Stand silent and motionless in the corner, facing the wall, without getting off.

2) Greet everyone with a warm handshake and ask each one to call you Admiral.

3) Meow occasionally.

4) Stare at another passenger for a moment, then announce in horror: “You’re one of them!” Then back away slowly.

5) Say “ding” at each floor.

6) Make explosion sounds when someone presses a button.

7) Use masking tape to outline a little square on the floor and then announce to each one who gets on: “This is my space.”

8) When there’s only one stranger left on the elevator, tap her on the farther shoulder and pretend it wasn’t you.

9) When you get on an empty elevator, lay a dollar bill on the floor. When someone gets on and starts to reach for it, snarl and say: “That’s mine!”

10) Call out “Group hug!” and then enforce it.

Here’s all you have to know about men and women: Women are crazy, men are stupid. And the main reason women are crazy is that men are stupid. -George Carlin

A photographer went to a socialite’s party in New York. As he entered, the hostess said: “I love your pictures; they’re wonderful. You must have a fantastic camera.” He said nothing until dinner was finished, then complimented the hostess: “That dinner was wonderful. You must have a terrific stove.” -Sam Haskins

I don’t have pet peeves. I have whole kennels of irritation.

They keep talking about drafting a constitution for Iraq. Why don’t we just give them ours? It was written by a lot of really smart guys, it’s worked for over 200 years, and hell, we’re not using it any more. -Jay Leno

Great people talk about ideas. Average people talk about things. Small people talk about other people.

Oh, I’m sorry. Did my back hurt your knife?

Oops! Did I just roll my eyes out loud?

If you are agitated and confused, my job here is done.

A friend will calm you down when you are angry, but a best friend will skip along beside you with a baseball bat singing out: “Someone’s gonna get it!”

Your mobile phone has more computing power than all of NASA in 1969. NASA launched a man to the moon. We launch two-dimensional birds into pigs. -George Bray

If skinny people go skinny dipping, what do fat people do, chunky dunk?

The one who angers you controls you. Don’t give anyone that power, especially the one who does it intentionally.

Friends are like underpants... Some crawl right up your ass, some snap under pressure, some don’t have the strength to hold you up, some get a little twisted, some support you well, some are your favorite, some are cheap and just get stretched out of shape, and some actually do cover your ass when you need them to.

Dear Hiring Manager,

    Thank you for your letter of last Friday. After careful consideration, I regret to inform you that I am unable to accept your refusal to offer me the position we discussed.

    This year I have been particularly fortunate to receive an unusually large number of rejection letters. With such a varied and promising field of positions, it is impossible for me to accept all refusals.

    Despite your company’s outstanding qualifications and previous experience rejecting applicants, I find that your rejection does not meet my needs at this time. Therefore, I will assume the position in question next Monday morning.

    I look forward to seeing you then, and best of luck in rejecting future applicants.


Candidate Number Six

The chief danger of the Twentieth Century will be: religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, heaven without hell.” -William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army

I don’t need anger management. I need people to stop making me mad.

The man who said it cannot be done... should not interrupt the woman doing it.

Don’t try to win over the haters. You are not the Jerk Whisperer.

It is not happy people who are thankful. It is thankful people who are happy.

Women marry men hoping they will change. Men marry women hoping they will not. -Albert Einstein

You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him. -James D. Mills

Happiness is the absence of striving for happiness. -Zhuangzi

Let’s have a moment of silence for all those who are stuck in traffic on their way to the gym to ride the stationary bike.

What is fair? Fair is where you get cotton candy. Fairness exists in the minds of socialists and fourth-graders.

We never really grow up. We only learn how to act in public.

THINK -- It’s not illegal yet.

I wish I was a glow worm. A glow worm’s never glum. ‘Cause how can you be grumpy, when the sun shines out your bum?

The thing about smart people is that they seem like crazy people to dumb people.

Don’t be so serious. If you can’t laugh at yourself, call me... I’ll laugh at you!

On a tombstone: DIED from not forwarding that text message to ten people.

Nothing rhymes with orange? False; nothing and orange do not rhyme.

On a billboard: DUDE, we totally forgot our slogan! The American Medical Marijuana Association

Today I was late for school. The guy on the late sheet before me wrote “saving the world” as his excuse, so I wrote “destroying the world” as mine. I came in later and the next person had written, “It was epic!”

So, a dyslexic walks into a bra...

A Marine deployed to Afghanistan received a letter from his girlfriend. In it, she explained that she had slept with two guys while he had been gone and she wanted to break up with him. She also wanted the picture of herself back. So the Marine did what any other man would do. He went around to his buddies and collected all the unwanted photos of women he could find. He then mailed about 24 pictures of women, with clothes and without, to his now-ex-girlfriend with the following note: “I don’t remember which one you are. Please remove your picture and send the rest back.”

I never make the same mistake twice. I make it five or six times, just to be sure.

Many people, especially ignorant people, want to punish you for speaking the truth, for being correct, for being you. Never apologize for being correct, or for being years ahead of your time. If you’re right and you know it, speak your mind. Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth. -Gandhi

Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you’re a mile away and you have their shoes.

What if you woke up today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?

Remember, when you see a man at the top of a mountain: He didn’t fall there.

The essential difference between one group of American voters and another is that the first group could not exist without the second group to defend their freedom and support them economically. The second group, on the other hand, could exist and live quite nicely without the first. Whichever group you are in, you know who you are.

ask me about my attention deficit disorder, or pie, or my cat. a dog. i have a bike. do you like tv? i saw a rock. hi.

I just realized that if you take the date 21-12-2012 and reverse it you get 2102-21-12. Then if you remove the edges because they are the same numbers and cancel themselves you get 02-21. Then for obvious reasons you remove 2-21 and you get 0. Then you rotate that ninety degrees and you can clearly see... a potato.

People were created to be loved. Things were created to be used. The reason the world is in chaos is because things are being loved and people are being used.

Freedom or free stuff. Your choice. You only get one.

--end of quotations--

As I said, there may be wisdom here, and even if some are attributed to a person who did not actually write or speak those words, it still may be just as wise regardless who said it. I have enough for another installment of this theme, so watch for it in the coming weeks.

The TV show, Glee, is set in a high school in Lima, Ohio, in a period that at times could be the 1970s or could be the present. (That’s a long 'I' in Lima. And there was never a William McKinley High, as the show pretends there is.) You would guess that the show's producers chose a random run-down mid-west town. The football team is affectionately known as the Lima Losers. Nothing of any consequence happens outside the school. And you don't see any of the actual town or countryside in the show, just the school setting and the actors. But, according to the show and the story that it comes from, the music and performing arts program is exceptional.

Let me tell you, as one who lived there and attended Lima Senior High School in the late 1960s, the performing arts program in that small city was exceptional. And the creators of the show did, indeed, have some inkling of that.

This was brought to mind the other day as I listened to a piano concerto through the magic of iTunes. Lima, which has a population about the same as Bangor, sits in the hot, flat, windy, tornado-prone northwest corner of Ohio. It was my mother's home town. (It's my father who was from Maine.) After living briefly in Maine, we moved to Ohio when I was two and returned to Maine permanently when I was seventeen.

So I spent most of my public school years in Ohio, and except for two years of elementary school spent in the nearby cluster of houses known as Gomer, I pretty much grew up in Lima. (Last summer I was finally able to take my wife to see Gomer. It was a much bigger town when I was only three feet tall.)

When I was in first grade, my parents asked me whether I might want to take piano lessons. I didn't know. It was not a simple question, so they took me to meet a private piano teacher, Mrs. Goes. I vividly recall standing in her living room, next to a grand piano, and looking up at the imposing, gray-haired woman and having the question put to me again. And I distinctly remember thinking, at the age of six: How do I say 'No' when she's standing right here looking down at me? So I said 'Yes'.

At first, the lessons were a dollar and a half for a half-hour weekly session. Eventually she charged two dollars a lesson. And once it went above two dollars for everyone else, that was still the most she ever charged me. I remained her student for the next nine years.

For the fourth and fifth grade in Lima, the school I attended was housed in a building very like Ballard Hill School. Each room had its own upright piano, and when I was in fifth grade the teacher started using me to accompany the singing class. That was fine with me; singing made me self-conscious, but I could play in front of any size crowd.

When I reached seventh grade, the start of junior high, the strength of the Lima public schools' music program became apparent. There were two seventh grade choirs in the one junior high alone, with 81 students in one and 92 in the other -- I still have the yearbook pictures. There were two junior high bands and, separately, an orchestra. By this time I had taken up the string bass. So I had a couple sessions a week each in the choir and in the orchestra. And there were separate ensembles drawn from these groups. (See the photos of the 8th Grade Glee Clubs, which were sub-groups of the actual choirs.)

Also when I was in seventh grade, I provided the piano accompaniment for the combined seventh grade choirs during a joint junior high and high school holiday concert in the high school gym. At the time, the Lima public schools included two junior high schools, while the single public high school, Lima Senior High, had about 1500 students. This performance was a huge affair, and I still recall sitting at the piano and starting the intro to the featured song.

In the 1960s there were a couple of renowned choirs that toured the country, also appearing on the most popular television “variety” shows. The Robert Shaw Chorale was one, and another was the Norman Luboff Choir. Each year Norman Luboff himself would come to Lima, rehearse with the high school choirs for a couple of days, and direct them in a concert. I participated in this concert in 1967, the last year I lived in Lima.

But Lima was centered around music in another way, not just in the schools. If you draw a circle around the town at about 75-80 miles out, enclosing 5000 square miles of corn, oat, and soybean fields, several familiar cities lie on that circle: Toledo, Columbus, Dayton, and Ft. Wayne, Indiana. These cities all had respectable local symphony orchestras, college campuses, and connections within the performing arts. Lima, the biggest little town inside that circle, did not have a college campus at the time but did have a symphony orchestra, and a group called the Friends of Music of Northwestern Ohio promoted classical music in the area in a serious way.

Mrs. Goes was active in that group and made sure that I never lacked for a ticket to the performances it promoted. Not that the names will mean much to people reading this today, but in the town's small municipal auditorium I saw pianists such as José Iturbi, Peter Nero, and Roger Williams, opera singers including Shirley Verrett, violinists including Tossi Spivakovsky and Ruggierio Ricci, and Mantovani and His Orchestra. In 1966, performing in the high school gym because of its capacity, Louis Armstrong and his touring group gave a show. After the show, emboldened by many previous backstage visits, I went looking for the famous trumpeter. I even walked through their touring bus collecting autographs from the back-up performers, but he was not in there. I finally found him in the coach's office in the boys' locker room, signing autographs. I ended up last in line, and for a few brief moments I was alone in a room with Louis Armstrong.

In its own way, the Bangor area's support of the arts reminds me of those days in Lima, especially when you add the programs available at the Maine Center for the Arts in Orono.

Lima also stands as the birthplace of one great pioneer in the performing arts and the childhood home of another. I never met Phyllis Diller myself, but in the 1920s and 1930s she lived on the same block of West High Street that my mother grew up on in the same decades. Mom, who is still living, recalls the Driver family six doors down the same side of the street, but does not claim to have known Phyllis herself. There is a touching documentary about her on Netflix, “Goodnight, We Love You.” In it, Phyllis mentions a favorite teacher in Lima, Miss Whitling. I too had Miss Whitling, for seventh grade math, and she would occasionally brag that Phyllis Diller had been her student a generation earlier. It was in her class that I was sitting at the end of the school day, November 22, 1963,when the principal came on the loudspeaker system at 3:10 p.m. and announced that President Kennedy had been assassinated.

If you Google the name Maidie Norman, you will learn that this pioneer in motion pictures also grew up in Lima. I did meet her, but I was well acquainted with -- of all people -- her mother! Mrs. Gamble was a customer on a daily paper route that I delivered seven days a week for seven years, and it was on Mrs. Gamble's front porch that I had the opportunity to sit down with Maidie Norman. As a teenager, I did not appreciate her significance in the acting world, but it was part of my exposure to the entire spectrum of performing arts in this modest midwest town.

My upbringing in this environment has had the deepest possible effect on me. The summer after my sophomore year of high school I attended a six-week program at the Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati. When I graduated high school in 1969 (in Farmington, Maine) I repeated the summer program and stayed on for my freshman year of college at the Conservatory with a major in composition and a piano concentration. And just for fun, I played second bass in the college orchestra.

But there came a string of disasters that made music a dangerous field for me, and the first of those disasters had occurred around Christmastime 1968 while I was still a senior in high school. I worked at Peter Webber's Ski Shop in Farmington after school, and one day, while using a kitchen cleaver to prepare a rubber-soled ski boot to fit a Marker binding, I nearly cut the index finger off my right hand, clean at the knuckle where the finger joins the hand. So when I arrived in Cincinnati that next summer and stayed on as a freshman, I was already a nine-fingered pianist. (The finger is still there but is permanently disobedient.)

The second disaster occurred in November 1969. Gian Carlo Menotti was in the audience for the college premier of a new opera he had composed. I was in the orchestra pit on the bass. The intermission came and the house lights slowly came on. The orchestra pit began to rise on its hydraulic posts so the orchestra could accept the applause. We had rehearsed the music, but we had never rehearsed the rising of the pit. The scroll of my bass, leaning against my left ear, fetched up against the bottom of the stage. The pit continued to rise.

The end pin of my base was driven into the wooden floor of the pit. I ducked out from under it, but the bass snapped in two at the top of the neck, the heavy strings whipped in all directions, and the bridge beneath the strings flew into the audience, missing the composer by a few feet.

A few months later, my parents moved from the house on Perham Street in Farmington that we lived in while I finished high school, and the seven-foot Chickering grand piano, which we had hauled with us from Ohio to Maine, had to be stored somewhere. They had the bright idea to loan it to Mt Blue High School. It was successfully moved to the school, but shortly afterward a couple of students were attempting to push the three-legged piano across the stage. The two front legs buckled and the keyboard end of the piano crashed to the floor. I was away and never saw the remains of it.

I finished my first college year as a nine-fingered pianist with a borrowed string bass and no piano left to come home to. The next summer I hired on to build houses, and because I had drawn a bad number in the first year of the draft, and because it would probably be safer than a career in music, I joined the Army during the Viet Nam war.

I grew up listening to Rock & Roll on a six-transistor radio. I liked a lot of it. In my first year of college, as a musician, I met, or at least saw, some of the best there have ever been in serious music -- Isaac Stern, Victor Borge, Dave Brubeck. I jammed with Jerry Mulligan. I interviewed John Denver. But it was surely my early exposure to classical music that still leaves me emotional when I hear Tchiakovsky’s first piano concerto or first violin concerto. It was sitting in a closet at the age of ten, with my parents’ record player and listening secretively to Rachmaninoff in the dark, that has shaped my soul. It was skipping through a Chopin etude and ruminating over a Brahms rhapsody, and finding that I really could play something that sounded like tinkling crystal or a moaning storm that made me feel it in my bones.

The magic of iTunes has done much to bring good music into our home. But it does not offer everything. I have a set of 78 RPM records with Artur Rubinstein playing Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto, conducted by Leopold Stokowski and recorded in about 1938. I haven’t heard this rendition in, probably, 35 years, since I haven’t seen a record player that could handle 78s in all that time. I know the entire piece note by note, -- you could play me one bar from it and I would identify the exact place within it immediately. I have, or have had, several more recent recordings of it.

But this old performance... You have to realize that the music itself is beyond beautiful. It is Tchaikovsky at his most passionate. From phrase to phrase it takes you to the gates of heaven. It is the epitome of what mankind can offer, and I can imagine only in heaven itself will you hear anything more beautiful. The music is one thing, and it is incomparable. But the performance of it is another.

I even have the Van Cliburn rendition of it. But the Rubinstein/Stokowski combination, the virtuoso and the genius, is an edge-of-your seat thrill. It is fast, almost reckless. At the actual performance of it, the audience must have been perspiring in sympathy with the symphony. It is, where it should be, both ear-ringing loud and cloud soft. It is energy throughout, athletic in its pace, brilliant in its artistry, and never to be repeated in another generation. It reminds me of the downhill skiing performance of Franz Klammer in the 1976 Olympics -- risking all, going for the best there has ever been, grace on the edge of disaster, a virtuoso. A piece of music can bring me to tears, a performance of it can put me nearly in shock.

To the small city that deserves its television fame, fictional as it is, I owe my appreciation of music. It inspires me, and, in a way, I feel as though I am one of those who inspired the show.

[In the photo of the Boys Glee Club, find the boy in the back row in the sweater with the bold stripes. I'm two faces to the right of him.]



Children have a very mistaken sense of time. It is mistaken in at least two respects. A child under ten has almost no idea, even by lunch-time, that a day is actually going to conclude yet again with nightfall and another bedtime. And the same child has no concept that childhood itself will not last forever. An hour is a lifetime, a day is an eternity. Something that is planned a week in advance, like a trip to Storyland, can be understood only as if it is scheduled in another lifetime.

With the onset of puberty a child slowly starts to realize that adulthood is on the horizon, but still retains the misconception that much of the carefree ease of childhood will somehow carry forward into adulthood.

I have better recall of events in my pre-teens, say from ages three to eleven, than I do for most events from twelve to sixteen. I remember going out to play and giving no thought to what comes next, until unexpectedly being called to the back door at dusk. Then there was the ordeal of snarling with my sisters over dinner and then bath time and then the noisy chaos of “bedtime.” I now realize that my parents were desperately trying to dispose of us as early in the evening as possible so my mother, a teacher, could grade papers and my father, a college student for eleven years, could write one.

To this day I recall the neighborhood paths in my earliest childhood, the floor plans of a number of houses, even the geography of several square miles that I was acquainted with when very young, (mostly as a passenger in a car), better than similar features unique to my early to mid-teens years. I am sure, however, that my objective perception of details through my teen years is clouded by the intrusive distractions of females.

When my children were growing up, I fiercely protected their innocence. I exposed them to the hope of a good and orderly, well-governed world, stimulated by learning and travel, charged with the joys of music and good health, a world vibrant with interesting, loving, kind-hearted people. I shielded their eyes and ears from the jarring cacophony of nastiness, and I diverted their attention, as long as I could, from the glitz of decadent self-indulgence.

But the twin beasts of nastiness and decadence eventually caught up with them and stretched their sugar-coated, barbed tentacles around them, as those beasts manage to do with all our young. Some children are lured at a tender age; I’m astonished at the poison I sometimes hear from the mouths even of fourth graders -- selfish and thankless, abrasive and accusing.

There is a passage in Nicholas Nickleby, by Charles Dickens, which I am now reading, that goes like this:

“If we all had hearts like those which beat so lightly in the bosoms of the young and beautiful, what a heaven this earth would be! If, while our bodies grow old and withered, our hearts could but retain their early youth and freshness, of what avail would be our sorrows and sufferings! But, the faint image of Eden which is stamped upon them in childhood, chafes and rubs in our rough struggles with the world, and soon wears away: too often to leave nothing but a mournful blank remaining.”

It harks back to the familiar passage in a letter of Paul of Tarsus: When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

Few are the children who emerge into adulthood aware and armed to resist the serpentine lures of the world but who have also remained unensnared. However I believe I was one of those few. The chaos of the 1960s was getting under way, but my family’s traditional values made me at least skeptical of the false anarchy of the period – (false in that those pretending to destroy the system were, like the denizens of the “occupy” fizzle of the past year, highly dependent on the same system to sustain their luxuries).

I emerged into adulthood acquainted with some of the seamier things of life but very optimistic about my own future. It wasn't money or "success" that I expected, but the freedom to bring with me most of the interests that had caught my fancy in my youth. If I had to become responsible and hard-working, I reasoned, then it must be in order to support my pursuit of those wonders which most dearly occupied my mind.

All this was brought to mind a few days ago as I watched a young mother with two pre-school boys fuss over one’s temporary illness and worry over the other’s playground safety. The mother herself was little more than a child. These are boys who pursue any whim, run headlong into danger if not directly into obstacles, fall and cry one minute, chase and laugh the next.

Perhaps, like me, they will recall certain sights and events, certain features of the landscape, certain individuals who cross their paths now, and reflect on them fifty years later.

Maybe it was the school system where I grew up; maybe it was owing to my own parents, both of whom were educated but not erudite; maybe it was a natural curiosity within me that made people notice and say: Well if he’s interested in that, let’s show him this.

I think, too, that I escaped many of the circumstances that cause a child to shut down. I think Maslow’s hierarchy worked in my favor. I did not endure divorce as I was growing up; my parents were not affectionate with each other but remained together throughout. We didn’t know we were living in poverty; we only knew we didn’t have much. We jostled and fought as kids but none of us six was fledged injured or demoralized. One supposedly humorous photo going around the Internet shows the back side of an adult-size person in a gorilla suit bursting into a room and the front side of a six-year-old girl, facing the gorilla and shrieking in terror. The caption on the photo says: “Twenty seconds of fun. Twenty years of therapy.” I escaped this kind of torture.

I had enough to eat. To my taste it wasn’t great, but I do not recall any period of gnawing hunger. I escaped verbal abuse, although I endured many boring lectures from my father. I was never given any reassurance about my appearance and so, like most kids, I was convinced that I was neither attractive enough to be in charge of some clique nor ugly enough to be stoned in the public square. I lacked self-confidence as a youth, but I was never torn apart verbally by the adults in my life or made to feel tiny or worthless. In fact, I heard, often enough, that in some academic ways I was exceptional. And with that encouragement from the age of nine or so I made an effort to shine academically. And the effort led to more interests and those interests to more achievements, and so it went.

But once past the Army and college, I still held the suspicion that the idle pursuits of my youth would find a place within the responsibilities of adulthood. By my late twenties, though, the dual realities had struck hard: A day is not long enough, and the casual, idle meanderings of my childhood mind had to be driven to wait in the back row of the demands on my adult time.

Well, they have waited. In my own way, though, I have fought back. For one thing, the two or three – well really six or seven – hobbies that I perfected in my youth I have not abandoned. I have put away childish things. But I still have them. Nor have I given them any significant measure of time during the forty-five or so years since my childhood came to an end. They rest in boxes in my basement, and occasionally over the years I have peeked in and reassured myself that, yes, I do want to re-acquaint myself with them soon. Very soon.

And I have added new interests, compatible with the hobbies of my youth, but potentially more sophisticated. To the degree that I could impart an interest in any of this to my own children, I have tried. And it is interesting to see what they have picked up on their own.

The time is approaching, perhaps very soon, when I will bring out my childish things. I will put power to the rails and try the motors in some very old HO-gauge locomotives. I will open a metal box and paw through some old foreign coins picked up while serving my country and in my travels since. With my wife’s expertise, we will expand our gardens and our orchard. I will scan a thousand 35mm negatives into digital images.

I will look through a telescope night after night, and by day I will sort the rocks that I have collected since I was 18 and have hauled from home to home ever since. I will take my wife camping and canoeing.

I will start assembling 1/25 scale models of classic cars: There must be forty kits in the basement. I will brew more beer, make more syrup, and collect more insects.

I have a list of at least two dozen other interests that I haven’t even mentioned. To do so would be to bore you. But these are the reasons that I have worked so steadily and have been responsible for so long. The fascinations of my childhood matter more than the careers of my adulthood. And only two things have mattered more than all of that: my family and my faith.

The great thing is, when I cross that threshold and truly “retire” I will, I hope, lose track of time. Like a four-year-old on Christmas afternoon, I just want to play. But for a short time to come, I must still follow the calendar and the clock; I must send more money to the government that supposedly protects my right to take the ease which I have earned; I must further protect and nurture the faint image of Eden that still leaves a trace on my soul.


Note: This week we present for your enjoyment one of David Woodbury's past columns. Our columnist will be back with another great story next week!

Camping provided some of the best adventures of my youth. My parents encouraged sleeping outside. When summer came, they practically expected us to. With a blanket over a line strung between two trees and a slab of pasteboard for a floor, I could quickly make a tent. Wind would always take it away in a matter of hours, but I was usually able to find the blanket in a neighbor’s field the next day.

In winter, we were allowed to sleep out if it wasn’t below zero, but only if we slept between two fires. Given that my grandmother was born in 1884 in a sod hut in Kansas, my own parents kept close to the land and raised a bus-load of organic children as well. (This grandmother is the woman in the front row, far right, in the faded photograph below.)

My other grandmother owned a camp on Porter Lake in New Vineyard. By the mid-1960s, when my cousins, Danny and Rusty, and I were in our teens, we roamed the woods with no limits. We routinely equipped ourselves with an axe, a .22 rifle or two, and lots of rope and nails and stuff.

If it was raining hard enough to discourage doing something constructive, we might walk the roadside and shoot bottles in the ditch. This was before the returnable-bottle law. On a better day, with the axe and rope, we built a crude log cabin. Really crude. So crude that one mild winter afternoon we snowshoed out to it and discovered a bear hibernating against the outside wall instead of inside, where it was nice and dark with only a couple inches of standing water under a delicate skim of ice. (We never slept in it either.)

If it seems as though all our outdoor activity involved preparing for sleep, that would be correct. But as much as we attempted it, sleep was actually what we spent the least time doing.

The summer I was 14 and still a couple years from owning my own canvas canoe, the flotsam in the cove by our camp included someone’s dock, liberated by the winter’s ice. Rusty and I converted it into a raft, and with a couple of long oars from under the camp, we had ourselves a functioning watercraft. (There was never a motor boat at that camp.)

Five hundred yards from our shore lay the only island in Porter Lake, cigar-shaped, 200 yards long, and uninhabited. One night during the summer of the raft, Rusty and I loaded it with gear and set out to camp on the island. Just as we were unloading, a persistent drizzle began. We built a fire and prepared our meal: hot dogs stabbed with sharp sticks.

The rain grew steadier and drenching. With the fire consuming far more wood than we were prepared to feed it, we stood on opposite sides of it, so close we each had steam swirling from the fronts of our pantlegs while the skin on our thighs blistered. We kept the flames high, the sparks rising against the downpour, but we knew the wind and rain were going to quench it before long. In those days, sleeping bags, even the Boy Scout kind, were made of cotton cloth with layers of cotton padding. With no tent for shelter, we were not tempted to crawl into that bedding and lie all night on the saturated ground.

In the distance the rain was building to thunderstorm intensity. Our determination to tough it out weakened. Then we heard shouting from the direction of camp. It was my father, and the best we could tell, he was calling us back. So we jumped onto the raft and drove the oars into the lake as hard as we could. The chop in the water washed all our gear into the depths, but we drove onward, two barefoot boys without life jackets, standing like lightning rods on the sides of a crawling raft.

It was a violent storm, our craft heavy and slow. Lightning was striking every few seconds, first near the camp, then on the island, then in the distance, then fore and aft of us again, conveniently lighting our way. We could easily see my dad, standing on the shore and shouting. We shouted back.

It must have taken half an hour to plow across the lake. When we jumped off onto our own camp shore we were hustled inside and given hell. From the start, my father had been trying to tell us to stay on the island no matter what.

A couple years and many camping adventures later, my other cousin, Danny, and I were somewhere in the western Maine woods on a hike. We were going to stay out a couple of nights, exploring and foraging. We packed light: A two-man tent, a bedroll and knife apiece, matches (always matches), and a hatchet. Between us we also had a compass, with which we had no practical skill.

The first night out, we were following a rocky brook with sandy banks, very pretty. We found a narrow beach along the brook, just wide enough to allow for a small fire that we could squat beside, and above that spot, about eight feet straight up a vertical embankment, was a flat space just big enough for our tent.

No rain threatened this time. After goofing around and swearing because we hadn’t brought any food, we climbed the bank, set up the tent, and turned in. For a while, we lay with our feet toward the drop-off, figuring that would be safest. But the ground turned up steeply at the back edge of the tent site, so we were lying side-by-side, our bodies on the flat spot but with our heads against the bank, our necks bent, chin-on-chest.

We agreed: I would rotate a quarter turn one way, Danny a quarter turn the other way. Head-to-toe we were finally comfortable. Danny was nestled against the embankment, away from the brook. I was comfortably away from the precipice where it dropped off to the little beach.

Some time far into the night, I was aware that we had a visitor, sniffing and shuffling outside the tent. Very close to my head, in fact. I couldn’t tell whether Danny heard it or was still asleep. So I decided on my own to get a closer look. Groggy from sleep, I raised myself with one arm and, with the other, I fumbled awkwardly with the zipper.

I forgot that we had rotated 90 degrees, and when I chanced to lean against the side of the tent, the better to manage the zipper, there was suddenly nothing beneath me.

In total darkness, as the free-falling tent yanked him over the edge, Danny spun past above me and far out over the brook, trapped in his bedroll and on his way to a soft landing in about a foot and a half of water. He came to rest, which in this case is a totally inappropriate word, with his head downstream in a fast-moving torrent, wrapped in a tight snarl of blanket and tent shroud. Also still in the tent, I landed hard on my chest and broke a rib. But as Danny was coming to and trying to roll out of the brook onto the beach, my belly began to appreciate the residual heat of a dormant campfire. I tried to scramble past him and into the brook to cool my blistering navel.

Somewhere in our half-submerged struggle, Danny kneed me in the face and set my nose bleeding for several days. We both stood up in the brook at about the same time and tore our way out of our dripping cocoon. Huddling on the narrow beach at two in the morning, we were equally slow to apprehend the fresh, strong odor of a severely-frightened skunk, so stunningly out of place next to the gentle music of the stream, an olfactory accompaniment like someone throwing up at a child’s violin recital. Which is what I did next. Danny followed suit.

We had hiked for hours to get to this idyllic setting. Now we couldn’t agree which way would get us out to a road quicker. Nor were we quick. I was unable to draw a breath deeper than a sidewalk crack. Danny had one knee that had swelled so big he had to cut his jeans open with a hunting knife, to give it space, and he slit his shin in the process. Abandoning our gear, we hobbled and stumbled our way through the moonless forest.

It was daybreak when a sheriff’s deputy found us snoozing against a 45MPH sign, but he would not allow our stinking carcasses into his cruiser. If we had told him we had wrestled a poor defenseless skunk from the jaws of a bear, he might have believed it more readily than the real story. He called a friend of his, who gave us a ride home in the back of a pickup.

So, I have enjoyed camping all my life. These early episodes are what you call “experience.” Lots of kids nowadays are missing out on these opportunities. Now we drive them to their tent sites and provide 110-volt lighting. If they carry matches and knives they’re branded delinquent. We make them sit down in the boat and wear life jackets. When they take a walk, we send them with “trail mix.”

That’s not experience, that’s like living on the set of Sesame Street.

I am grateful for real experience, and am reminded of a line attributed to Bill McKenna, a professional motorcycle racer, (Cycle magazine, February 1982): Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in one pretty and well preserved piece. The point is to skid across the finish line broadside, thoroughly used up, worn out, leaking oil and shouting, “Whooie – what a ride!”

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