I called my mother to check in last weekend. As part of our phone routine, I asked her what my father was up to that particular morning.
“I don’t know,” she said. “He usually drives to Rite Aid to buy the paper, but I got a good deal on a home delivery, so I’m not sure what he did this morning.”
For the first time in over 10 years, my parents were home in central Maine and not in Florida. The month of March for my father has traditionally been spent on a golf course in Fort Walton Beach. This year, he is waiting out the snow drifts at his local 18-hole course.
“Hey, Barney, what did you do this morning now that you don’t have to buy the ‘Bangor’?” my mother shouted to my father. I could hear my father respond in the background.
“Apparently, he just drove around,” she told me with a little less empathy in her voice than I expected.
The “Bangor” she was referring to was, of course, the Bangor Daily News – a paper that was not allowed in our house for all the years of my childhood. It was the rival newspaper to the Morning Sentinel, or the “Waterville” paper, as we called it – which was also where my mother worked for 35 years.
In our house, the “Bangor” got everything wrong. If a family in our town subscribed to the Bangor paper, they were bad, and if a family in our town subscribed to the Waterville paper, they were good.
This I concluded with my black-and-white kid-logic.
My cousin Matt, even though he was blood, delivered the Bangor paper. He regularly took a shortcut through our house before sunrise by entering our front door – sometimes grabbing a snack from our refrigerator on his way – and then exited through our back door toward his next paper-route stop.
Matt’s shortcut was the closest the Bangor paper ever got to landing on our front steps.
I don’t know when my mother starting allowing the Bangor paper in her house. I do know that the home delivery that is occurring presently is clearly a result of the BDN’s circulation department having offered the most frugal woman in America – she’s been known to drop off half-eaten bell peppers for me on her way to Florida – the best deal on the planet. A deal that has resulted in her lifelong partner having absolutely nothing to do on his Saturday morning.
“How sad,” I thought. “And all for the enemy.”
“Scoop,” as her friends called her during her career as a reporter, had become a turncoat.
In 1961, my mother began her newspaper career as a correspondent for the Morning Sentinel. She went on to become the newspaper’s first full-time features writer, then features editor, editorial page editor and finally the first woman to be appointed managing editor of a Maine daily.
At 4:45 p.m. every weekday during the late ’60s and early ’70s, she cajoled one of her five children into carrying her package of typed pages and film via a beat-up banana bike uptown to meet the Greyhound bus, which conveniently passed through Pittsfield on its way to Waterville. The package was delivered to the Morning Sentinel offices for the next day’s paper.
What had happened during the previous 24 hours was any person’s guess.
One afternoon, the town drunk – what we called him before we understood that this was a terrible thing to call a man with a serious alcohol addiction – knocked on our front door, asking for my mother. He had arrived to ask if she would be interested in writing his life story.
My mother sat with him in our seldom-used living room for what seemed like days. Being a nosy kid, I sat with them. I don’t remember a thing he said. I do remember what my mother did: listened until he was finished.
In 1970, a terrible fire broke out in the middle of the night in our hometown. Two people died. My mother had just had her fifth child. Exhausted from midnight feedings, she loaned my 14-year-old brother her Rolleiflex camera and sent him to cover the tragedy. The next day, he received a front-page byline.
As the first full-time features writer, she interviewed Mickey Rooney, Robert Indiana, Helen and Scott Nearing, Bernard Langlais, Andrew Wyeth, Jud Strunk, Kennedy impersonator Vaughn Meader and many more famous and non-famous characters. Only one interviewee asked her if she wanted to smoke a joint.
At the beginning of her career, she was paid by the inch. My sister used to cut and paste my mother’s “ahhticles” to an expense sheet that ultimately measured her worth. She was paid extra for taking photos.
“I wrote long and took lots of pictures,” she is fond of saying.
My mother did not mention how long their BDN home delivery offer would last, but she did promise me not to renew it so as to provide my father with something to do.
The Waterville paper, however, has continued to arrive at their home every day, uninterrupted, for the last 54 years.
Originally written for Port City Post, Portland Press Herald on 3/28/15 and, today, dedicated to my mother who has been spending too much time reading the Bangor Daily News while in Bangor recovering from the flu. P.S. get a flu shot.