The Countryman: The Christmas spirit, present and past
At the Tribune Chronicle in Warren, Ohio, we published our afternoon newspaper in the morning one day a year. Christmas morning.
We wrapped the Christmas edition with a special four-page section of good news. Warm words and pictures for a joyous day. I don't have space here for four broadsheets of happy words, but here are three items for Christmas in Maine.
A tragedy was prevented on Dec. 2 in Skowhegan when police officer Tim Williams crawled back into a burning mobile home to rescue a mother and young son, both unconscious from burns and smoke inhalation. Then, he resuscitated them with CPR.
Williams had got into the trailer once but had had to retreat before returning to pull them from danger. Both were severely burned but are recovering. The mom is a student at UMF. The dad was at work when the fire began.
As one fire fighter told me recently, a fire takes about 10 minutes to engulf a mobile home. Fast action.
Williams told reporters that anyone else would have done what he did. That's wrong, of course. Most of us have seen crowds stand around an accident or a fire or spot where someone had sunk and lift not a finger. (I knew a police officer in southern Maine who even took vacation time during the ice storm in 1998 rather than work three or four 16-hour shifts helping folks in trouble. He is no longer a police officer.)
Williams did more than many, if not most, of us would have done. Williams is sworn to serve and to protect. On Dec. 2, he served and protected. And saved.
Almost no one Downeast is rolling in dough. But Morrill Worcester's family and their employees are rolling in balsam fir tips. Their fir tips, in the form of wreaths, honor America's veterans.
Worcester sent the first trailer of 5,000 Christmas wreaths in 1992 from Washington County to Washington, D.C. More exactly, to Arlington Cemetery across the Potomac River from Washington, where the wreaths were placed on graves of veterans.
Blue Bird Ranch provided free trucking. Legionnaires and VFW members hand tied the red ribbons. Mainers in Washington, D.C., organized the laying of the wreaths at Arlington.
For 14 years, the Worcester Wreath Co. sent about 5,000 wreaths to Arlington each year. Then, in 2005, someone posted a photograph on the internet of green and red wreaths standing out against the snow and white granite headstones and footstones. Two years later, under an avalanche of civic interest, the Worcesters organized Wreaths Across America. WAA took off.
Last week, when the wreaths rolled out of Harrington, it was the 25th time that tippers Downeast saw the fir they had gathered leaving to honor veterans. About 1.2 million wreaths were laid this year at military cemeteries everywhere. About a fifth of those are at Arlington, 230,00 or so. Thirty-five trailer-trucks carried wreaths from Downeast. Each trailer carries about 5,000 wreaths.
On Dec. 12, I watched on the internet as the convoy left Ellsworth on Route 1. It passed through Northport, each trucker blowing his horn to salute folks who had parked at roadside to salute the convoy. In early afternoon, the convoy rolled through Kennebunk past a dozen or so landmarks I recognized.
Everywhere, people got out of their cars to stand as the convoy passed. A few put hands over hearts. A few saluted. A few had brought flags for the occasion.
In 1992, Morrill Worcester didn't want to waste 5,000 wreaths. He made the best of it.
Tim Williams acted heroically, and Morrill Worcester dreamed big. Bryanna Ringrose dreamed small. Not tiny, but small.
Her hometown, Bath, is among the smallest cities in Maine at 8,500. Bryanna in 2014 was a rising senior at Morse High School. She got a small idea, talked with her best buddy, Taylor Bisson, and came up with Random Acts of Kindness Day.
Her small idea took hold. Bath has observed Kindness Day ever since. The Dream Team operation at Morse took over the program after Bryanna left for USM.
Here's what happens all over downtown Bath on Kindness Day.
Groups and individuals set up 25 "kindness stations." At one, senior-center residents offer life advice, so you can ask someone who has been there, done that. A kid will paint your portrait, should your fridge door have unused magnets. Anyone can "pat a pet" and get her picture taken with a lizard, puppy, maybe even a ferret.
The Congregational church (Bryanna's church) writes a community poem at its booth. The Methodist church offers hugs. The garden club invites folks to pick flowers. A jeweler offers free cleaning and inspection of jewelry. Other businesses put out goodies for folks to try. The Cosmopolitan Club gives away treats.
Others give away food and art to nourish body and soul.
The big kids support Bryanna. “Go out and do some kind things.” said Mari H. Eosco, chair of the Bath City Council. “Open a door for someone, or pick up some trash. Do it because it just feels good.”
Kindness Day is the third Saturday in August. Bryanna worked Saturdays for us at the Bath Farmers markets. Yes, this old Scrooge gave her the day off to commit random acts of kindness. Bryanna came to us when I asked Morse's athletic director to recommend someone to work for us. She was the student-athlete recommended. She worked nearly every Saturday for three years. In Bath, she was the face of our farm.
By the way, the second year I was at the Tribune Chronicle was the only time I missed Christmas Eve with my family. I volunteered to run the newsroom that night to publish the Christmas morning paper, so Marilyn and the boys hung stockings and made cocoa without me. Meanwhile, a letter written by the newspaper's owner sat on her desk while we worked in the newsroom. The letter was my firing. It was dated Dec. 24, 1984.
Despite the reputation of journalists as being skeptics, even cynics, Bob Neal has always loved these stories of love at Christmas season.