The Universal Notebook: The circle of life

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So here I am right back where I started.

My column now appears in the Lakes Region Weekly and the American Journal, the suburban weekly that was called the Westbrook American when I first began writing for it in 1965.

Back then I was a 16 year old wet-behind-the-ears high school correspondent. Today, I am a veteran journalist who has either come full circle or been spinning his wheels for 52 years.

While I no longer get the same kick out of seeing my name in print that I did as a teenager, I still greatly value having my words and thoughts read and considered.

For my introduction to the pleasures of print, I have to thank Erland Cutter, my best friend and my predecessor at the Westbrook American, and Mrs. Altie Hayden, my favorite Westbrook High School teacher and the person who recommended me to Earl back in 1965 when he graduated as valedictorian and went looking for his replacement as student reporter.

(Side note: Earl Cutter went on to a long career as one of WHS’s best-loved teachers and my successor at the Westbrook American was Donnelly Douglas, a great three-sport scholar-athlete, now an attorney in Yarmouth.)

As a cub reporter, I worked for editors Bob Moorehead and Harry Foote, both now members of the Maine Press Association Hall of Fame. I credit those heady days at the Westbrook American for my lifelong friendship with Earl Cutter, for becoming addicted to nicotine and caffeine, and for teaching me how to type, the one manual skill that has enabled me to eke out a modest living all these years.

How did I learn to type? I turned in my first story longhand. Bob Moorehead, a brash young man right out of the University of Alabama, said, “Type it up.”

“But I don’t type.”

“You do now, kid,” he replied. I went from hunt-and-peck to a pretty fair two-finger typist in no time.

Westbrook in the 1960s was a foul-smelling paper mill town, but we defensively took pride in being Blue Blazes when opponents chanted, “Go back! Go back! Go back to the mill!”

I mostly covered high school sports and soon discovered that if you’re being paid 50 cents a column inch, it was profitable to write play-by-play accounts of football games. Legendary Portland Press Herald sports reporter Dick Doyle took to calling me when he couldn’t get to a Westbrook game and I started stringing for the Portland papers, too.

While I started out as a sports reporter and spent much of my reportorial career as an arts writer for Maine Times and Down East, The Universal Notebook is an opinion column that has become increasingly political over the years. I was at Blais & Hay Funeral Home for the funeral of a friend a few years ago when one of my contemporaries asked me, “How can anyone who grew up in Westbrook be so liberal?”

How can they not? The Westbrook I grew up in had very clear and simple social lines of demarcation – labor/management, Franco/Anglo, Catholic/Protestant, Democrat/Republican. If you were from Scotch Hill you were a pro-labor Democrat. If you were from Deer Hill, you were a pro-management Republican. I lived at the foot of Deer Hill, but my sympathies were always with the working class across the river.

I came of age during the civil rights and anti-war movements and the rise of the counterculture, so I learned to question authority, work for justice and side with the underdog. The essence of liberalism is a belief in progress and the essential goodness of the human being.

When I graduated from Westbrook High in 1967, America was on the brink of spinning out of control, which it did the following year amid assassinations, protests, riots, and cities burning. The United States has not been the same since. And in a perverse way the country itself has now come full circle. It’s just that the anti-establishment fervor is on the right rather than the left.

The good news for American Journal and Lakes Region Weekly readers who may be put off by liberal rantings that readers of The Forecaster have become used to over the past 14 years is that the paper publishes a diversity of views, including the conservative commentary of John Balentine and the libertarian tongue-lashings of Al Diamon, an old college friend. That is as it should be.

While I am willing to entertain, engage with and debate divergent views, I have remained resolutely progressive. That’s unlikely to change at this late date. I’m just grateful that I have been able to make my way in the world with words, even if they haven’t taken me very far from home.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

  • poppypapa

    “The essence of liberalism is a belief in progress and the essential goodness of the human being.”

    What sort of “progress” do you believe in, Eddie, and what kind don’t you believe in?

    As to “the essential goodness of the human being,” many believe that progressives hold that humanity can be perfected with appropriate education, policy, and governance.

    Is that your belief?

    • David R. Hill

      Amazing. Edgar writes a brief autobiography and you seize on it to challenge his belief system. Don’t take the bait, Edgar!

      • EdBeem

        Poppycock is a frequent flier. Apparently I push his buttons.

        • poppypapa

          Was that from one of your earlier columns, or would you care to cite the author?

          • Darren McLellan

            Stick to managing your own pitiful life

        • Charles Martel

          And, Sharia isn’t a threat based system? My view is that ALL of God’s children are born beautiful and innocent. However, political ideologies such as communism and Nazism turns these innocent people into monsters. The ideology of Islamic doctrine is no different except it’s even worse since it’s cloaked as a religion.

          Your appalling view of conservatives, no matter where you pilfer your quotes, are why our country is divided. There was a time when we could have open and honest discussions, but you are so blatantly in lock-step with BLM, Antifa, Media Matters, the SPLC, socialism, progressivism, etc. that you’ve lost all perspective. It think it stems from knowing you are promoting asinine and ridiculously anti-American values, but can’t admit you’ve been wrong since your days as a hippie.

          • EdBeem

            Conservatives regard Muslims, Black people, poor people, immigrants, LGBTQ people, just about anyone who is not a white Christian as a threat. You regard sharia law as a threat. It is only a threat in the minds of conservatives. Several neuroscience studies have determined that conservatives respond to fear and have trouble dealing with complexity.
            I do not condone violence or support Antifa.

          • Charles Martel

            Your statement couldn’t be further from the truth. Never heard of the role Democrats played with the KKK, abortion, slavery, Jim Crow, Robert Byrd, the Civil Rights Act, etc. since the days of Woodrow Wilson? To think Sharia isn’t a threat is beyond stupid. You pretend to be so educated and smug but you’re only smug because of your ignorance.

          • EdBeem
          • Darren McLellan

            Your the divider big mouth. Stop blaming others for your inability to accept anything that does not fit your twisted little world view.
            Sharia as practiced by Muslims is NOT a problem. Sharia as practiced by Christians IS a problem.

          • Moishe the Beadle

            It’s apparent that you know nothing about sharia law. Muslims who want to subjugate each other is bad enough, but when they want to impose it on everyone else, it’s a problem. Surely, you can handle 34 pages on the subject since you claim I have a big mouth (actually, I’m a very quiet humble researcher).

  • Max Millard

    I remember Harry Foote from the 1970s, when I wrote occasional articles for the Westbrook American (now American Journal) and always found him warmly receptive to freelancers. My last article in that paper appeared in 2003. It was about my mother, Dr. Margaret Millard of Windham, and her battle with Alzheimer’s disease. After the article appeared, I got a call out of the blue from my old roommate from North Yarmouth Academy, a Westbrook native named John Christensen. His mother saw the article and sent it to him, and noted that it mentioned I was living in San Francisco. As a result of the article, I reestablished my friendship with John, and we exchanged many emails and got together a couple of times in Maine. John died suddenly of pneumonia in 2011 at the age of 61, but I will always be grateful to the American Journal for giving me eight years of renewed friendship with my old buddy. Yes, it’s hard to make a living as a journalist when working for weeklies and monthlies, but local journalism still serves a valuable function in making its readers feel that they are part of a true community.

  • Charles Martel

    Shoot! I thought you were going to announce your retirement.

  • Charles Martel

    The Beemer doesn’t think Sharia is a threat. This article is from MEMRI, (Middle East Media Research Institute).

    • Darren McLellan

      Live in fear.
      Cower in the basement.
      Live in fear.

      • Moishe the Beadle

        Wow! Very poetic. “It isn’t Islamophobia if they really are trying to kill you.”