Friday, December 14, 2018

Educational Presentation provided tips on holiday scams


By Lorraine Glowczak

Every year, thousands of individuals are tricked into deceptive schemes that can wreak financial and/or emotional havoc on one’s life. These scams not only continue during the holidays, but   tend to increase in number and intensity. To prevent individuals in the greater Windham community from falling victim to highly motivated con artists, AARP Maine Communications Director, Jane Margesson, along with Captain James Boudreau of the Windham Police Department, offered a presentation at the Windham Public Library last Thursday, December 5 at 1 p.m., informing participants of the variety of scams that are popular today.

“There’s nothing festive about fraud,” Margesson began. “During the holidays, scams increase, and we are here to help older adults keep their financial futures secure.”

In the interactive presentation, Margesson offered important information about the various fraudulent and deceptive offers that can easily be mistaken as valid bargains. The following are some of the more popular holiday scams:

Online shopping safety:
“When shopping online, use well-known sites and type in the web address yourself, instead of clicking on a link,” Margesson advised. To do so can download unwanted viruses or may open the door to computer hacking.

For those who enjoy the convenience of online shopping, be sure to make the purchases from home where the internet is secure. “Public WiFi is just that – public! Scammers can obtain important financial information if you place orders in public internet service spaces such as those you might find in a coffee shop or an airport.”

Gift Cards:
There are also behind the scene scams that some may not have heard about. For example, one would not necessarily be suspicious of purchasing a gift card for their loved ones, but Margesson and Capt. Boudreau both warned that gift card numbers can be stolen and once money is placed on those cards, the scammer will be the one to receive the money, leaving the gift card buyer and the gift recipient with nothing but a worthless plastic card. “Buy gift cards online from the retailer or from the store cashier, to avoid compromised cards that may be sitting on gift card racks. And always keep the receipt,” stated Margesson.

Genealogy websites:
One of the most popular and largest scams have occurred through genealogy websites. Be very careful about any personal or financial information that is requested. “Scammers know that genealogy research is a great way to obtain information so beware what you share.”

Charitable giving:
To verify if the charity is a valid organization that will use your donation in the way they promise, one can check with websites designed to help. Two trusted websites for confirm the authenticity of charitable causes are: 1) Giving.org and 2) Charitynavigator.org.

Foreign lotteries:
It is important to note that foreign lotteries are not legal in the United States. Additionally, no lottery will ask a winner for “up front” money in order to receive the winnings. “And, of course, if you didn’t enter the lottery – you most likely didn’t win anything,” Margesson emphasized.

There are preventative measures one can take to safeguard credit. “Turn on the ‘credit freeze’ with all three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and Transunion). It is free to turn the freeze on and off at any time.” A freeze locks the data information until an individual gives permission for the release of the data.  Go to www.aarp.org/me or send an email to me@aarp.org for more information.

Shredding important documents is another strategy to keep financial information from being stolen.  AARP Maine will be sponsoring free shredding events again in 2019 starting in April.
Most importantly, keep yourself informed by accessing information and resources through either the AARP Fraud Watch Network at aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork and always report suspected scams to local law enforcement.




Before the memory fades: Ralph Griffin – the apple man of River Road


By Walter Lunt

Kay Soldier, the late Windham historian often posed the question, “Whatever happened to all the characters?” She was referring to certain townies that were, by most people’s standards, unusual, eccentric or quirky. Such characters were more visible and obvious back in the decades of the mid-20th century. One individual who fit Soldier’s definition of “a character” was Ralph Griffin, the so-called Apple-Man of River Road. He was best known for selling corn and apples and for paying his taxes with small change -  more on that later.

The well respected "character", Ralph Griffin
Griffin was a well-known Windham personality who sold vegetables and fruits in front of his white farmhouse just south of the Dundee Park Road. Also known as Red, or Pop, he was a fixture at that location for over 50 years.

Born in 1902 in South Portland, he left school early to help support his impoverished family of three brothers and two sisters.

“I’d do “gypsy work,” he explained, “my father was alcoholic, and he’d dig up money I hid in the back yard. I used to go to rich people’s houses and (collect) milk bottles – you got a nickel deposit for each one.”

Griffin continued to work at odd jobs until his mid-20’s, saving “every penny” along the way. In 1930 he joined the U.S. Coast Guard as a machinist’s mate. He described his duty during World War II as “chasing German U-boats all over the North Atlantic.”

Griffin swore off all banks and written contracts after losing all his savings in the stock market crash of 1929, adopting a “pay as you go” philosophy for the rest of his life. He bought the 40-acre farm on River Road in Windham in 1935; to avoid a bank loan, he made monthly payments in cash to the previous owner.

Griffin soon had cows, sheep, chickens and a multi-acre vegetable garden. He had married Aimee Irene (Loring) in 1932; they raised five children.

“Old Pop was a taskmaster,” according to his son Merrill, “he would leave all of us a week’s worth of chores before shipping off (on his Coast Guard duties).”

Griffin rarely returned home from his Coast Guard base alone. He observed that several of his younger shipmates would drink and fight on weekends in Portland. One was known as “the scrapper.” Griffin brought them home to his farm. “I had to keep them out of trouble.” They worked in his garden, enjoyed home-cooked meals and experienced a measure of family life.  The Griffin family photo album shows these men in later years, married and settled down, and still visiting the Griffin farm.
At his apple stand

Before long, the multi-acre garden was producing more food than the family consumed. He opened the farm stand at the end of his gravel driveway in the early ‘40s. “I need the extra money to pay my (property) taxes,” he would tell his customers. And he was known for chastising the town and its various boards and committees for “spending money they don’t have.” Griffin always spoke his mind at the annual town meeting, usually on financial matters.

In later years he bought a farm tractor and new pick-up truck. In both instances he insisted on delivery so that payment could be made by counting out cash on his kitchen table.
The familiar vegetable stand consisted of two card tables, several wooden boxes spilling over with corn or squash and the open back of Griffin’s green truck. Whether stopping or not, every third or fourth passing vehicle would honk. Griffin would wave, often without looking up. Along with instructions on how to best prepare the food they were buying, customers would be treated to some philosophical and political banter. “I loved talking to Pop, but I never stopped unless I had at least an hour to kill,” said one.
Among his favorite topics, Griffin would muse, “If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it.” Or, “Five things have ruined the world: selfishness, greed, suspicion, notoriety and television (he would often substitute other vices, but the number, five, never changed).” On preparing corn, “Put ‘em in cold water, husk them and put them in a bag in the coldest part of your icebox (refrigerator). Don’t cook them any longer than five to seven minutes. Add a little sugar – makes them tender.” During a lull in customers, Griffin would sit in a plastic lawn chair, waving to passing motorists.

Apples were his mainstay. Many residents and out-of-towners remember the red apple-shaped signs with white lettering posted on both sides of the driveway. He was proud of the quality and variety he sold: Macs, Baldwins, Snows, Red and Yellow Delicious and Miltons (a cross between a Mac and a Snow). Because there were no visible apple trees on the property, he would often be asked, “Where do you get your apples?” He would always answer, “Up country – I select them myself.” This was truthful. A family member once accompanied Griffin “up-country” to collect several bushels of apples. It was a huge apple orchard operated by an accommodating farmer; Griffin inspected the bounty carefully as one would examine gem stones. On the return trip, the passenger was sworn to secrecy as to where they had been.

Heading to town hall to pay his taxes - in coins
The years following W.W. II were good at the farm on River Road for the Griffins and their extended family. Ralph and Irene enjoyed hosting picnics at a riverside get-away spot on the eastern edge of his “back-40.” The strip of property was owned and controlled by the S.D. Warren Co. Always one to avoid legal written agreements, Ralph had secured verbal permission to set up camp there many years earlier. He and the family had cleared the area, built a small camp and dock and hauled sand for a beach and swimming hole. In 1966, however, S. D. Warren agreed to donate approximately 25 acres of its land bordering Dundee Pond and the Presumpscot River to the Town of Windham for a public park. It was the same piece of land Griffin had prepared and used for almost 30 years. Griffin protested what he called “the land grab” for two years, asserting squatter’s rights and claiming the park would be costly to taxpayers. His name became a household word as he spoke passionately at town meetings and wrote letters of protest to newspapers and town, state and U.S. officials. Then Senator Edmund Muskie responded, “…this is a local matter which should be settled between you and the Town of Windham.” Senator Margaret Chase Smith went a bit further by inquiring at the U.S.
Dept. of the Interior, but finally conceded that the town’s application for a park development grant had been handled properly. The rest, she stated, was a local matter. Despite Ralph’s continued efforts to oppose the park and his ongoing feud with the Windham Planning Board, the town’s first picnic and swim park, Dundee Park, opened in the late summer of 1967. In a final gesture of good will, the town granted the Griffin family a life-time pass to the new park. A move characterized by Griffin as “salt in the wound.”

Ralph Griffin again achieved town-wide fame ten years later. The town had undergone property tax revaluation. Griffin’s taxes skyrocketed. That year, the farm stand failed to produce enough revenue to cover his taxes. For the first time, he was forced to use his savings. He was determined not to pay without fanfare. Griffin filled empty milk cartons with small change earned from his roadside vegetable sales. Call it a sense of humor, or defiance – Griffin notified the local press, proceeded to town hall and blanketed the counter with coinage; to be exact: $100 in pennies, $250 in quarters, $150 in dimes, $10 in half-dollars and four one-dollar bills. He’d made his point.

The town responded by prohibiting the practice, so the following year Griffin paid in one-dollar bills.
Following many months of declining health and home health care, Ralph Griffin died in 1996, age 93, just days after being told his cash savings had run out and he’d have to go to a nursing home. He’d been adamant about never resorting to that.

Full disclosure, Pop Griffin was this writer’s grandfather. This is written as a special tribute from his family, and as a special memory to all who knew him.

To this day, people approach members of his family to recall the memories and say things like, “Hey, I knew your grandfather, he was quite a character, wasn’t he.”  

This was the final installment of The Historical Record for 2018. This special series of Before the Memory Fades will resume in January.



“A Charlie Brown Christmas” comes to life at Schoolhouse Arts Center


By Elizabeth Richards

The holiday season inspires nostalgia and tradition. Watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is a little of both – a long standing tradition and a reminder of childhood.  So, what could be better than watching this holiday classic come to life on stage? The answer is simple: watching it come to life with a few additions from other Christmas favorites.

Schoolhouse Arts Center has put together a show with perfectly portrayed members of the Peanuts gang, a beautiful performance by the Bonney Eagle Select Chorus and a few additional snippets from other classics to round it all out. 

This time of year, a chance to relax can be difficult to find. The brevity of this show makes it a perfect respite from all the chaos. It’s short enough to hold the attention of even very young children, but long and varied enough to satisfy avid theater fans. The show follows the television special’s script very closely, adding just enough extras to stretch it appropriately. Injecting additional material could pose a problem if done awkwardly, but that wasn’t the case at Schoolhouse. The addition of an adult Charles Brown to narrate the show fit well into the overall flow. Scenes featuring characters from other holiday classics were well placed transitions that didn’t pull attention away from the main show.

The familiar, well-loved Peanuts gang were portrayed as teenagers, rather than young children, which worked quite well. The age change didn’t alter the essence of the characters. Snoopy’s exuberant antics prompted laughter in all the right places as did Lucy’s self-assured bossy nature. Charlie Brown was a bit hard to hear at times, but he clearly expressed, through body language and dialogue, both his frustration at the commercialized nature of the season and his hopefulness that it might change. And Linus, quiet but self-confident, conveyed the true meaning of the season in a touching, compelling way.

The action throughout was true to the original special, especially the dancing scene where each performer smoothly executed their character’s signature moves.  It can be difficult to put on a show with such nostalgia attached and meet the high expectations of an audience who can’t help but have preconceived notions of how each character should look.  Schoolhouse Arts Center rose to the challenge, leaving the audience smiling and humming as they exited the theater.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” runs through December 16, with performances on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $14 for adults, $12 for students/seniors. Tickets can be purchased online at www.schoolhousearts.org or at the door.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Age is just a number to marathon swimmer


By Matt Pascarella

There is no stopping Pat Gallant-Charette. Last year, I introduced you to the marathon swimmer who had broken six world records at the age of 66. A year later, Gallant-Charette has broken eleven world records and still wants to take her swimming career as far as she can.

A Westbrook resident who gave a presentation to the students at Windham High School last year, Gallant-Charette began her swimming career when she was 58 and swam the Peaks to Portland. Her initial intention was to only do that one swim, but she fell in love with the sport and it took off from there.

Gallant-Charette and her nephew after her Lake Tahoe swim
Since I last spoke with Gallant-Charette, she has completed four marathon swims within two months. She broke world records for three out of those four swims. She was also nominated for World Open Water Swimmer of the Year for the fifth time since she turned 60.

Ned Dennison, Chairperson of the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame, surprised her during the Open Water Swimming Conference in California. She was there as a guest speaker when Dennison announced she was to be inducted as an honoree member into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame in Australia in March of 2019.

“I’m still stunned by it because I didn’t start my marathon swim career until the age of 58. I’m 67 now and to be inducted, I’m taken aback by it, it still hasn’t fully sunk in,” Gallant-Charette stated.
Aside from doing phenomenal in the marathon swimmer’s world, Gallant-Charette is a full-time grandmother, watching her three grandchildren, ages ten, eight and six. She recently started tapping trees to make syrup with them but makes time to train six days a week, swimming at least two hours a day.

Her upcoming swims or ‘bucket list’ swims, as she referred to them, are to finish a marathon swim in February in New Zealand, the final swim of the Ocean’s Seven (a marathon swim consisting of the seven open water channel swims); Lake Memphremagog in Vermont, her final of the Monster Swims (the others being Loch Ness and Lake Tahoe); a Switzerland swim and then she will go after the Stillwater Eight, eight very challenging lake swims in the world. It’s important for Gallant-Charette to convey the message of never being too old to accomplish your dreams and goals.

Although she has shattered so many records, when Gallant-Charrette sets out on a marathon swim, her goal is to not break records. She wants to complete the swim. The swims are fun challenges for her and if she breaks a record, great, if not, that’s ok too and it’s on to the next swim.

“I love the sport a lot; I have no intention of quitting,” she said. “I have a great crew that helps me. My brother and his wife, my sister-in-law and my son. I have family members that come with me, it’s a team sport even though I’m a solo swimmer. It really takes a really great crew to have a swim be successful.”

Gallant-Charette really wants to see what her capabilities are. She is a grandmother not only breaking records but doing some very challenging swims people in their 20s would have trouble doing (like the North Channel).

“For right now it’s a lot of fun, I just never imagined it’d get to this point.” You’re never too old says Gallant-Charette. “For me being 67, this was my strongest year ever in swimming.”








Friday, November 30, 2018

How to handle ice dams and attic condensation


While stopping a leak or repairing a washing machine hose down in the basement might be fairly straightforward, ice dams and attic condensation, two forms of water damage typical to our cold Maine winters, are a little more complicated and a little trickier to fix. And since many homeowners aren't frequent visitors to their own attics in the frigid winter months, water damage on the top floor might catch you off guard.

What are ice dams? What causes attic condensation? And if you've got either, what can you do?

Ice dams

When the temperature in your attic is above freezing, snow on the roof will likely melt. When the snowmelt runs down the roof and hits the colder eaves, it refreezes.

If this cycle repeats over several days, the freezing snowmelt builds up and forms a dam of ice, behind which water pools up into large puddles, or 'ponds'. The ponding water can then back up under the roof covering and leak into the attic or along exterior walls.

The right weather conditions for ice dams are usually when outside air temperatures are in the low 20s (°F) for several days with several inches of snow on the roof.

Attic condensation

Condensation of water vapor on cold surfaces in attics can cause wood to rot, which can lead to costly repairs.

Condensation typically occurs when warm, moist air migrates or is directed into the attic from living spaces below. Research indicates unusually high humidity in the home's living spaces is strongly associated with attic condensation problems.

Prevention

Building codes have some requirements that attempt to prevent the problems of ice dams and attic condensation. But codes don't address all the issues, and many houses are built without following building codes. First and foremost, it's your builder or designer's job to understand the relationship of humidity and air movement when designing and constructing the house so these problems don't occur.

Nevertheless, there's more you can do. Here are a few simple steps that can help prevent ice dams and condensation in your attic:

Bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans, as well as dryer vents, should never be discharged into the attic space, always discharge outside. You may have an adequately ventilated attic, but this won't matter if the bathroom exhaust fan dumps warm moist air directly into the attic space. This will result in condensed water vapor freezing onto cold attic materials, which will eventually thaw creating wet attic materials resulting in damage in the attic and inside the home.

Minimize ceiling mounted fixtures below the attic that create the need for holes in the drywall or plaster ceiling. Properly seal ceiling penetrations to make them airtight, taking care to follow manufacturer clearance requirements for flues, chimneys, and recessed light fixtures.

Research shows keeping the attic air temperature below freezing when the outside air temperature is in the low 20s can reduce the occurrence of ice dams. Proper attic ventilation is key to keeping the attic cool, while adequate and properly installed insulation is key to keeping your house warm. It is critical to keep soffit vents free from obstructions to allow the natural flow of cool outside air into the attic space to replace the warmer attic air that rises and flows outside ridge and/or roof vents. This flow of air will keep the attic cool and free of moisture build-up.

Consult a professional for the best way to avoid ice dams and water damage in your home.

What not to do

While it might be tempting to try a quick-fix to break up that ice dam, don't get too eager; not only is it dangerous on your roof, but you can also cause a lot of damage, especially in the colder months. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Do not attempt to "chip away" the ice of an ice dam. It will likely lead to shingle damage.

Do not install large mechanical equipment or water heaters in attics, especially in cold climates. Not only do they present an unwelcome fire hazard, but they'll also increase the temperature in your attic.

Do not routinely use salt or calcium chloride to melt snow on a roof. These chemicals are very corrosive and can shorten the life of metal gutters, downspouts, and flashings. Runoff that contains high concentrations of these chemicals can damage nearby grass and plants.

What to do

Follow up with your new home or home-improvement contractor to be sure that insulation in the attic space is adequate for your location.

Verify soffit and roof or ridge venting exists for all roof planes and that soffit vents are neither blocked by attic insulation nor covered by newly installed maintenance free finishes outside the home.

Verify all penetrations, access panels, and electrical fixtures are properly sealed and insulated to prevent heat and moisture from entering the attic space, while maintaining manufacturer's required clearances.

Verify all exhaust fans and dryer vents are discharged to the outside.

Keep gutters clean of leaves and other debris. This will not necessarily prevent ice dams, but clean gutters can help drain ice melt away as it makes its way to the gutters during a thaw.

Follow up a short-term ice dam remedy with determining and fixing the actual cause to your ice dam problem. Consult a trusted and competent professional.

Article courtesy of Tricia Zwirner of State Farm in Windham

Presumpscot Regional Land Trust announces Nelson Preserve and Trail


As a donation from the late Jane Nelson, we are appreciative to receive the 37 acres in Gorham that make up the new Nelson Preserve.  This summer we successfully completed the project fundraising, thanks to individuals and the Town of Gorham. As a result, we were able to accept the land donation and have the stewardship funds to build a public access trail. 

We have now completed the new trail and trail head with the help of dozens of volunteers.
Nelson Preserve is our 16th Preserve with trails and water access free and open to the public - bringing our total conserved land to 1650 acres that includes Black Brook Preserve and Pringle Wildlife Preserve, both in Windham.

The forest within the Nelson Preserve is varied and beautiful - especially notable are large old growth red oaks throughout the uplands. Looking beyond the immediate boundaries, the Preserve is part of a 300+ acre undeveloped block of mature forest and wetlands. It also includes signs of history going back to colonial times with the remnants of a stagecoach road that was a main route for travelers between Maine and New Hampshire.

The trail is a 1.5 mile easy-moderate loop, beginning at the trail head on Flaggy Meadow Road, just a few short miles west of downtown Gorham. 

The Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting for the Nelson Preserve and trail will be this Sunday, December 2nd at 1pm. The event is free, but parking is limited - registration is required. If you are interested in participating in the ribbon cutting ceremony, please register at  www.prlt.org/event-sign-up-nelson-opening. All are welcomed.

Land Trust holds information session on new project


Loon Echo Land Trust’s staff will be holding an information session about the Land Trust’s proposed Peabody-Fitch Woods project. The session will be held on Thursday, December 6 at 6:30 pm at the Loon Echo Office, 8 Depot St, Suite 4 in Bridgton. Residents and visitors are invited to attend to learn about the project and to hear about the plans for the property.

Staff from Loon Echo will also lead an informational snowshoe walk of the property on Saturday, December 8 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., with a weather date of Saturday December 15. Meet at Narramissic Farm, 46 Narramissic Rd, Bridgton, ME. Please bring your own snowshoes. Snowshoes will be available, free of charge, by request for those needing them. Email membership@lelt.org or call 207-647-4352.

Loon Echo currently protects nearly 6,700 acres of land and manages 31 miles of multi-use trails in the northern Sebago Lake region. Its mission is to work with the local residents to conserve the region’s natural resources and character for current and future generations. Loon Echo serves seven towns including Bridgton, Casco, Denmark, Harrison, Naples, Raymond and Sebago with an area of 320 square miles located directly north of Sebago Lake.  Loon Echo works within its service area to safeguard water quality, preserve scenic locations such as Bald Pate Mountain, Hacker’s Hill and Pleasant Mountain, and provide outreach and fun educational programs to the public. Loon Echo assists landowners to take steps to ensure future generations will benefit from the preservation of their lands. Member support is what enables Loon Echo to carry out their mission and provides funding for their land conservation and stewardship endeavors. 

For more information about upcoming events or ways you can support Loon Echo Land Trust, visit their website www.lelt.org, call 207-647-4352 or visit their office, 8 Depot Street, Suite 4, Bridgton, ME Monday – Thursday, 8:30 – 4:30.


A review of “The Nutcracker” as Raymond resident makes her prima ballerina debut this weekend


By Lorraine Glowczak

For many families in Maine, it’s an annual holiday tradition to attend the Maine State Ballet’s performance of “The Nutcracker”. Wishing to see the local dancers, Adrienne and Rhiannon Pelletier perform, I attended the Christmas ritual for the very first time on Saturday, November 24 and now understand the reason for its popularity.

Sisters Adrienne (left) and Rhiannon Pelletier perform together on stage. Photo courtesy of Maine State Ballet
It is true that the choreography is impeccable, the stage is filled with magnificently stunning sets and the costumes are among the most fiercely impressive I have ever seen. However, the ballet performances of Adrienne from Raymond (who played Clara last weekend) and her older sister, Rhiannon of Casco (the Sugar Plum Fairy) were just as impressive, if not more. If you have not yet seen the two of them perform, I would highly recommend that you do so.

Both sisters have performed and danced with the Maine State Ballet since they were young. “I have performed in shows all of my life and have played Sugar Plum Fairy the past couple of years,” Rhiannon stated of the prima ballerina position. “This is the first time that my sister and I will share a role – and share the same partner.” Rhiannon admitted she is very excited that her sister will make her debut in the most sought-after role in “The Nutcracker”.

Adrienne will be the Sugar Plum Fairy in this weekend’s performances and is happy to give up her role as Clara. “For years the Sugar Plum Fairy handed me her wand at the beginning of Act II as I sat on the throne as Clara, and this year I get to hand the wand to a new Clara,” she stated in a recent press release.

If Adrienne receives the roaring applause that her sister was met with last Saturday evening, she will be on top of the world. Rhiannon shared what it’s like to receive that level of appreciation from the audience. “It’s my favorite feeling in the world,” she began. “Before you step out on to the stage, you have ‘jelly legs’ but once you hear that applause you know everyone is on your side. You begin to relax and step into your role with reassurance.”

There is still plenty of time left to see the Pelletier sisters perform as there are two weekends left. Adrienne’s debut as the Sugar Plum Fairy will be this Friday, November 30 at 7 p.m., Saturday, December 1 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. as well as Sunday, December 2 at 2 p.m. The last performances are Saturday, December 8 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Sunday, December 9 at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $20 to $70, with discounts available for groups, seniors & children, and are available through Porttix at 207-842-0800, www.porttix.com, and at the Merrill Auditorium Box Office located on Myrtle Street in Portland. Friday, November 30 is Student Night for High School and College Students with valid ID. These $10 tickets can only be purchased by calling or visiting the Merrill Auditorium Box Office.













A matter of historical record: Before the memory fades - Windham's remarkable country Doctor, Sidney Branson

Dr. Branson
By Walter Lunt

He healed and comforted the sick; he made house calls, established free clinics for children and expectant mothers, was an active member of numerous local civic and fraternal organizations, marched proudly in Veterans’ and Memorial Day parades. And in his spare time, Dr. Sidney R. Branson donned a striped engineer’s cap and operated elaborate model train systems in the basement of his South Windham home.

Before the memory fades, in this first of a multi-part historical record series, I will highlight the life and times of a beloved country doctor who cared for up to five generations of Windham residents, principally baby boomers following World War II.

Today, Dr. Branson would be called a general practitioner, but during the middle decades of the 20th century, his family medical practice might be the only care anyone would have.

“The overwhelming thought I have when thinking about my father is his abiding love and respect for his patients and for the town of Windham.” recalls his son, John, “(His) highest calling was service to the men, women and children under his care.” Born Sidney R. Abramsohn in Brooklyn, New York in 1912 and raised in New Jersey, he later changed his name to Branson.

“I always wanted to be a doctor.” he once told an interviewer, “…it came from within me from almost childhood. In fact, my nickname in high school was ‘Doc.’”

Branson graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1937 at age 28 and soon after came to Windham. In addition to his practice as a family doctor and obstetrician, he was also the Windham school doctor, the town’s public health officer (which included issuing restaurant and food stand permits), county medical examiner, visiting physician to Pineland Mental Hospital, staff physician at St. Joseph’s College and doctor for the Men’s Reformatory (now Maine Correctional Center). Regarding his service with the inmates, Branson indicated the need for emotional, as well as physical healing – “I tried to improve the morale of the patients through a cheery word and smile as well as cure them of their boils, colds and what-not.”

At Pineland, Branson met Nora Baker, a registered nurse at the institution. They would marry and raise three children.

World War II interrupted Branson’s service to Windham. From 1942 to early 1946 he served in a M-A-S-H  (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) unit and in the Pacific theater. He later said he considered service to his country one of his greatest accomplishments.

https://www.facebook.com/WillowTreePrimitiveShop/In a letter to the editor of a local paper following the war, Branson wrote, “Hats off to (the letter writer) defending the use of atom bombs on Japan. I too get upset when I hear people blame America for using these weapons. The Pentagon estimated at least 250,000 American casualties would result (from an American invasion of the Japanese mainland). Our unit was destined to invade a heavily armed Japanese naval base.” After the Japanese surrender, Branson said, “That night our people started shooting their guns in celebration and we had 27 casualties from spent bullets. Fortunately, no fatalities.”

Branson returned to his family medical practice in 1946, just in time to deliver the first-born baby boomers. He estimated that in his 45-year practice, he delivered over 1500 babies.

Branson and wife opened their first office at Little Falls (Gorham, but traditionally referred to as South Windham) in 1941. Branson made house-calls in the morning and held office hours in the afternoon, including evening hours from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. three nights a week. From here, he would serve Windham and surrounding towns.

Son John recalls “(One time) he got up three times in one night to answer emergency situations. Many nights he would be called out to deliver babies at the old Westbrook Hospital, Maine General or Mercy hospitals.”

In 1990, looking back over a long medical career, Branson told Portland Press Herald columnist Bill Caldwell, “I charged $35 for delivering babies at home. Took out tonsils for $35. Asked $3 for an office visit and $5 for a house call. Saw every kind of illness. In a pinch, I’d even pull out teeth with a pair of ‘universal pliers’.”

But the doctor’s most unforgettable house call occurred in Standish with a mother and her daughter. In his own words, Branson told the story this way: “I told my wife I would be back for supper, but it wasn’t until two days later I returned. The shack had no phone. The daughter went in and out of labor, so I just had to wait. Throughout the day flies were buzzing around, so we had to put a net over her. At night the mice came out.” For two days, the mother served coffee and doughnuts. Finally, after a prolonged and difficult labor, “We had a nice baby girl – so it worked out all right.”

http://windhampowersports.com/Another time, again in Standish, a distressed mother called for him to drive out to see what was wrong with her very sick daughter. “I kept two black bags at the ready – a medical bag and an obstetrical bag. I grabbed the medical bag and went. But the girl wasn’t sick, she was having a baby. Because I hadn’t brought the obstetrics bag, I had nothing to tie off the umbilical cord. I saw a sneaker on the floor and told the mother to pull out the laces and soak them in alcohol. I tied the cord with shoe laces. Didn’t hurt any. That baby is now a big strapping man.”

In an interview following Dr. Branson’s retirement in 1982, he was asked if he had any students who would pretend to be sick to avoid school. “We had a few of those,” he replied.

Windham resident Carol Taylor tells about the time she feigned sickness to avoid going to school. Her parents called Doc Branson. After an examination that failed to show any signs of illness, he told the parents “there may be some redness in the back of her throat,” whereupon he turned back to Carol, and winked.

Susan Atwood says, “Doc Branson took excellent care of five generations of my family from my great-grandparents down to my children. (I) loved to hear him say, “Oh yeah” (because he) said it like ‘Oh yarrah,’ like a New Yorker.”

Life-long resident Gary Plummer said he considers Dr. Branson to be one of the greatest people he has known, citing the doctor’s support for kids and his extensive involvement in town affairs.

Few who knew the good doctor fail to remember his undying interest in trains and the elaborate model rail system that he built up over many years. The layout included an extensive track scheme, over 40 engines, hundreds of freight and passenger cars, and dozens of railroad memorabilia. He worked his hobby after office hours, between 10 p.m. and midnight. He named the HO scale model village the Windham & Gorham Railroad. Two of the passenger cars were dubbed The Pill and The Scalpel. In 1958, Dr. Branson rode the last (real) passenger train over the Mountain Division line.
His long-time friend and fellow rail enthusiast Al Wellman speculated “I suspect part of the reason for the location of his home on Rt. 202 was its proximity to the Maine Central Mountain Division line.”

Dr. Sidney Branson passed away in 2002, age 90. In retirement he had continued to reach out to people. He was known for his smile and friendly hello and as he put it, “A little banter – that’s healthy. People these days are too tense and avoid eye contact. It takes just as much effort to frown as it does smile – so smile.”  

In the next installment of “Before the memory fades”, The Apple Man of River Road

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Student of the Week: Noah Mains


Noah Mains, a seventh-grade student at Jordan-Small Middle School, is The Windham Eagle’s Student of the Week. Mains states that his favorite subjects are physical education and math.

Mains was chosen by his teachers as student of the week for the following reasons.  He is:

Cheerful and respectful.
Can work with all learners – a tremendous group member.
Compassionate and genuinely cares about his own work as well as that of others.
Helpful.
Has a balanced perspective.

Mains believes that working on projects is what makes learning fun. During his free time, he enjoys watching movies.





Book Review: “Cat’s Eye” by Margaret Atwood


By Jennifer Dupree, Circulation Manager of the Windham Public Library

“Cat’s Eye” is only the second Margaret Atwood novel I’ve read, and I wouldn’t know how to accurately compare it to “The Handmaid’s Tale”. I loved both books, but where “The Handmaid’s Tale” is creepy and frightening and futuristic, “Cat’s Eye” feels slower, more real, and deeply rooted in time and place.

Elaine, a fifty-year-old artist, returns home to her native Toronto for a retrospective of her work. The novel moves between Elaine’s present—her anxieties about the show, a meeting with a journalist, her complicated feelings about ex-husband, and the changes to her home town—and her growing-up years.

The scenes that encompass Elaine’s childhood are richly textured and beautifully rendered. She and her brother travel with their parents during the summer because her father’s work as an entomologist demands it. After they settle in Toronto, Elaine makes friends, or, she becomes part of a group of girls who are sometimes her friends and sometimes not, in the way adolescent girls can be. The scenes with Elaine’s friends, most notably Cordelia, are haunting in their sharp loneliness, in the accuracy of what it is like to be a child and teenager, to be on the fringe of acceptance. 

This book tackles big subjects—marriage, infidelity, terrorism, death, sex, grief. Yet, it’s a quiet novel with a steady pace. It isn’t rushed. Largely it is a novel about insecurity, about finding one’s footing in the world. About finding it over and over again.






Keep Raymond warm: Volunteers needed

Window inserts will be made at RVCC
A group of community organizations got together to help their neighbors stay warm this winter and the magic is about to happen!

The Raymond Village Library, Raymond Village Community Church and the AmeriCorps volunteer based at Saint Joseph’s College got together with Window Dressers to help their neighbors stay warm and save on energy costs. Eligible families are being provided with free custom window inserts and the group also picked up some paying customers.

State Representative Jessica Fay said "Helping people save money on their heating bills, especially as we head into another cold winter, makes sense. After the heating crisis last winter, we need to make sure that older people and everyone in our community stay warm. Do to the generosity of the Raymond Village Community Church, United Church of Christ and the Window Dressers project the standard five inserts per eligible family has been increased to ten!”

“We all knew that our neighbors could use a helping hand staying warm and decided we could do something about it together” said Reverend Nancy Foran with the Raymond Village Community Church, United Church of Christ. “When the library and AmeriCorps approached us to partner on this project, we were excited to participate.” 

https://reps.modernwoodmen.org/zconley/The group will build 250 window inserts Tuesday, December 4 to Friday, December 7 at the Raymond Village Community Church. “The inserts act like interior storm windows and save a gallon of heating oil for every square foot of insert. The Town of Raymond helped us spread the word and the Raymond Lions Club made sure that every family that came into our food pantry heard about the program” said Sheila Bourque the coordinator for the Raymond Village Library.

“Raymond is a town that believes in helping each other. I have experienced the heart the community has for all of its residents and the willingness of people to come together to make a difference. The challenge we have is now we have to build 250 inserts!” said Heather Craig, AmeriCorps volunteer.
The effort needs volunteers to work in shifts to complete the window inserts and also has a need for volunteers to feed those working on the windows. Shifts are for three hours and all materials and training will be provided.

You can sign up by visiting: www.signup.com/go/UeLBZZg or by calling Heather Craig at 207-893-7783. For more information on Window Dressers visit www.windowdressers.org/.

A big thank you from the Raymond Arts Alliance

Well, we are quite astounded.  From our shy venture into a local performance, recruiting for team members in October, to our first concert in January, The Raymond Arts Alliance is now celebrating it’s one-year anniversary!  We have grown from a team of two to four and now there are seven of us, each donating their skills and ingenuity to collaboration and connection within the Raymond community. 

It is hard to single out any one event as a highlight.  There was juggling and magic (with a 12-year-old magician!), inspiring music from Cuba, Ireland and India, award winning poets and captivating published authors, lively Community Sings, sweet Open Mic Nights, and so much more!

See:  http://www.raymondvillagelibrary.org/raa-event-page/ for a more complete listing; you won’t believe it, we sure couldn’t! There was also the exceptional New England Jazz Band who performed at our fundraiser on Hacker’s Hill through the generosity of the Loon Echo Land Trust.  These talented musicians not only increased our exposure to the community, they accelerated the meeting of our goals in helping to fund the development of local artists. 

Many, many thanks to Sheila Bourque of the Raymond Village Library, Reverend Nancy Foran, and the Raymond Village Community Church for their support, ideas and venue donation.  Although, we can’t possibly thank every artist, musician, baker, benefactor, merchant, (not a one overlooked us), and all-around enthusiasts for our work, please know, we are, indeed, deeply grateful.  And most of all, we thank you: you came, you supported, you gave us your ideas, and donated money, baked goods, time, talent, and encouragement.

You contacted us and others with your kindness and generosity to help spread the word. As Lorraine Glowczak, editor of the Windham Eagle, has noted, this is indeed, a special kind of community! 
Keep staying in touch, keep letting us know your ideas, and join us!  We are excited as we enter our second year celebrating the arts, our community and the magic that happens when this brings us together!






Old fashioned caroling and readers’ theater to capture Christmas magic and support Project Grad


Sipping hot chocolate, eating holiday cookies and sitting around the warmth of a fireplace while singing your favorite carols invokes heart-felt images of Christmases past. Young and old alike yearn for long-ago traditions that inspire the true meaning of Christmas. There is nothing more to set the mood for the holiday season than to celebrate the old-fashioned way with caroling and a readers’ theater.

Faith Lutheran Church, 988 Roosevelt Trail in Windham, invites the community for an evening of Christmas carols followed by a special readers’ theater performance of Truman Capote’s, “A Christmas Memory” starring Laura Morris (Director of Be The Influence) and Tom Nash (Director of Windham/Raymond Adult Education).

The event will occur on Saturday, December 1 and Sunday, December 2, to begin at 4 p.m. on both
days and will include Christmas cookies, pastries, hot chocolate, coffee and tea. The cost of the fundraising event, desserts and warm drinks are on a donation basis. A portion of the proceeds will go toward Project Grad 2019. Raffle items donated by various community businesses will also be available and will be auctioned off during intermission.

“A Christmas Memory” is a holiday classic that is an autobiographical tale of Capote’s young life and takes place in the 1930s. It describes a period in the lives of the seven-year-old narrator (played by Nash) and an elderly woman who is his distant cousin and best friend (played by Morris). The story focuses on country life, friendship and the joy of giving during the Christmas season. It’s also about loving one another despite differences in age, income, perceptions and more.

"For Christians, the Christmas message is one of incarnated love,” explained Pastor of Faith Lutheran, Jane Field. “The wonderful members of Faith Lutheran Church live out their love of neighbor all year long. At Christmas time, they want to give the Windham community a gift that expresses that love through joyful singing together of beloved carols, feeding our neighbors home baked goodies, and listening together to a story about loving one another as God loves us, all while raising money for a good cause. We hope this gift will be received by the community in the spirit in which it is given: the merry and glorious Spirit of Christmas.”

The early two-evening event will begin with a 45-minute traditional and modern community caroling followed by the readers’ theater with an intermission between the two performances. The Music Director of Faith Lutheran Church, David Hansen, has worked hard in pulling the celebration together.

“In preparation for our old-fashioned Christmas celebration, I administered a survey among our Faith Lutheran members, asking for a personal favorite as well as the least favorite Christmas carol,” explained Hansen. “As a musician, the first thing that can set off my inner Scrooge is hearing Christmas music way too early, especially Christmas tunes that are so annoying they don't deserve air time any time of the year. The survey revealed many surprising results and on December 1 and 2, we’ll discover together what the favorites and least favorites were among those surveyed. Come sing a very eclectic compilation of carols through the years.”

Hansen also stated that the reading of Truman Capote's simple and humble recollection of “A Christmas Memory” shares a heart wrenching story, so subtle that it can't help but stir and revive the Christmas spirit and bring joy to your soul. “No humbug guaranteed,” Hansen joked.

For more information about this community Christmas event, contact the church at faithlutheranwindham@icloud.com For more information about Project Grad 2019, go to: www.whs-project-grad.com.