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.