Tag Archives: Winthrop

A Stand-off in Winthrop and the Blessings of an Ordinary Life

IMG_8009Yesterday, when I went to the Credit Union, I met a friend who asked, “Did you hear there is a police stand-off in Winthrop today? The schools are in lockout.”

“No kidding!” I said. To put it mildly, I was surprised. Winthrop, population 6,000, is normally a safe, placid town, and it’s one of the things I love about living here.

The tellers at the Credit Union joined the discussion.

“It’s on Spruce Street,” said one of them said.

“There was a gunshot,” another said.

Spruce Street is only about a couple of miles from the Credit Union. “Is Main Street closed?” I asked. I had planned to go to the library after I was done at the Credit Union.

“No,” my friend answered. “Just High Street and Spruce Street.”

At the library, I discussed the stand-off with Richard and Nancy, and we all agreed it was a shocking incident for little Winthrop.

But shocking incidents can happen anywhere, even in a town of 6,000. No matter where they live, people can snap and do terrible things. As it turned out, this was a case of extreme domestic violence, but fortunately the wife and child escaped without harm. Unfortunately, the husband killed himself, and this was the gunshot that was heard.

After going to the library, I headed to Augusta, to a place I have been going for nearly five years—the Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care. In 2010, just before my fifty-third birthday, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. At first, I went to the Cancer Center every four months. Now it’s every six months. In September, on the fifth anniversary, I will start going once a year.

I was lucky. My cancer was “lazy,” slow-growing and not aggressive. My prognosis has always been good. Nevertheless, when I go to the Cancer Center, I am nervous. Will the blood work reveal something terrible? Will the oncologist find a lump?

Yesterday, the answer was no and no. Everything was good, and I could carry on with my ordinary life, which, since breast cancer, has become very dear to me. I could continue my volunteer work with the library, which means so much to me. I could check on an acquaintance who is going through hard times and offer to make soup for her. I could plan an Easter Brunch. A summer of bike riding. Nights on the patio. My ordinary list goes on and on, and how grateful I am to be able to enjoy that list.

Today I have been thinking about the people involved in that stand-off—a man who is dead; a woman without a husband; a child without a father. For the man, of course, his ordinary life is over, and I can only assume there was too much pain for him to bear. For the wife and child, I expect it will be quite a while before they can enjoy an ordinary life, and there might be scars that never quite heal.

An ordinary life, like being useful, sounds flat and boring. But for those of us who have had our ordinary lives tipped upside down, it is anything but dull. For me, at least, my ordinary life is rich and fulfilling, and I hope I have many more years of this life.


The Freedom To Be Weird

IMG_7931Several years ago, an acquaintance called and asked me if I would be willing to take a short poll about Winthrop. I said yes. He asked me several questions and ended with the big one, “What is it you like best about Winthrop?”

I thought for a few minutes. “What I like best about Winthrop is that you can be as weird as you want to be, and as long as you don’t hurt anyone, nobody bothers you.”

The man laughed. For reasons that I won’t go into, he knew exactly what I meant.

Now, I realize this sounds like faint praise that perhaps doesn’t acknowledge Winthrop’s other fine features: its lakes, its woods, its library, its schools. It is also a safe town with a responsible and pragmatic police department. These are all important things.

But the freedom to be as weird as you want to be is a very great freedom indeed. This means you never have to worry about keeping up with the Joneses. Or anybody else for that matter. If you wear scummy jeans to Hannaford or to Rite Aid or to the library, nobody gives you a look that indicates you should have thought twice before stepping out of the house. You can drive an old car. You can bike all over town, and people think it’s cool. Heck, you can even ride your bike through the drive-through at the Credit Union, and the teller will smile at you. (I mention the this because unfortunately, Winthrop is not a biking community where such transactions are taken for granted.)

Another biking story. One day, I rode my bike in the rain to the Winthrop Food Pantry, where I was volunteering. When I got there, I was a little dishevelled, and I went to the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and fluffed up my hair. Unfortunately, I did not look at my backside until I got home, where I discovered  a line of mud that went from my butt all the way up my back from where the rear tire had splattered me. Nobody said a word. Nobody even gave me a funny look. They just came along with me to select their food.

Do you make bread and crackers? Good for you. Do you buy most of your clothes at thrift shops? So what. Are you a liberal black man in this mostly white and somewhat conservative town? Then you just might get elected to the State House of Representatives.

I credit this live and let live philosophy, which can be found in many other towns in Maine, to our Yankee heritage, which encourages a high tolerance for eccentric—aka weird—behavior.  Again, as long as you don’t hurt anyone, you are free to be as unconventional as you want to be.

In Frugalwoods, a blog I follow, Mrs. Frugalwoods wrote about how she has had to work through worrying about what other people think and about living up to societal expectations. Because of this, nothing she did was ever good enough, and she writes, “I was stressed, anxious, preoccupied with doing ‘the right thing,’ and out of touch with who I really am and what actually makes me happy. I wasted so much time, energy, and creativity worrying about what people might or might not be judging me for.” At the ripe old age of thirty-one, Mrs. Frugalwoods has made much progress with this ultimately self-defeating attitude.

Mrs. and Mr. Frugalwoods are considering a move to Vermont, another Yankee state that has a high tolerance for eccentricity. The Frugalwoods dub themselves as “frugal weirdos,” and I’ve no doubt that Vermont will let them be as weird as they want to be.

Just as Maine would.