Until recently, most of my holiday seasons have been filled with performances of music and readings. That is no longer true. Living up here in Northern New Hampshire, especially in Coos County, offers few such opportunities. One or two requests to share my music and my readings publicly still come my way, but not to the extent that they once did.
A week ago this past Friday, I did present a program of holiday readings and music to the Men's Breakfast Meeting at the Congregational Church, in Gorham. But, otherwise, no other major program is on the calendar. Well, times and tastes change. And the season itself has undergone a significant change in emphasis.
Preparing for the program Friday a week ago, and going through the voluminous material I have gathered over the years set me to thinking, however. If I had to choose one holiday song or Christmas carol to sing, what would it be? If I were asked to read one poem, what would it be? If I could read only one holiday story, what would I choose? What is my favorite holiday movie? My favorite painting of the season.
Well, here is my holiday list. What would yours look like?
My favorite song would be Hugh Martin's "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," written for the charming Judy Garland movie called "Meet Me In St. Louis." Only I would change the word 'merry' to the word 'blessed,' as Martin himself often did when he performed it. In fact, Martin, along with writer John Fricke, wrote an all-religious version in the composer's later years. By the way, the story of the original version of the words to the melody and the ones ultimately performed in the movie makes for quite a story in itself. You can find it online.
My favorite Christmas carol is composer Gustav Holst's setting of Christina's Rossetti's poem "In the Bleak Midwinter." Possibly, if you are a church-goer, you have sung it during a service. It is found in many hymn books. Ms. Rossetti's poem is also my favorite Christmas poem. It can also be found online, if you care to look it up.
The last few lines of an essay by Helen Keller called "A New Chime for the Christmas Bells" are my favorite way to begin a program of holiday readings. The first line is "Light the World's Christmas Tree with Stars." It, too, can be found online.
Although I have had several occasions to read all or part of Charles Dickens' beloved "A Christmas Carol," and have performed the role of Scrooge on stage, my own favorite holiday story is one called "A Legend of the Holly." It takes place in the time of King Arthur and deals with what the word 'friendship' truly means.
Opera and classical music is no longer in favor on television these days, but for many a year, beginning in 1951, Gian Carlo Menotti's beautifully crafted chamber opera "Amahl and the Night Visitors" was performed annually on NBC, which commissioned the work in the first place. It holds a special place in my heart because I had the honor of performing the role of Melchior, one of the three kings, in a semi-professional production of the opera some years ago.
My favorite painting would be Vincent van Gogh's "The Starry Night." While not specifically a holiday painting, it never fails to remind me of the great light that started and led the Wise Men from the East on their long journey to Bethlehem.
As for my favorite holiday movie, that would be the original version of "Miracle on 34th Street," first shown in 1947. It featured Edmund Gwenn giving the finest performance of Kris Kringle I have ever seen. Gwenn's Santa Claus was everyone's ideal of the "jolly old elf," I think. It has never been equaled, in my opinion. His Santa Claus certainly made a believer out of me. Whenever I am asked my age, I give the same answer as Kris Kringle does in the film, "I'm as old as my gums, and a little older than my teeth." No disputing that answer.
So, there you have my list of personal favorites. What would be on your list?
As the song says, "Have Yourself a Merry (Blessed, if you prefer.) Little Christmas."
Last Updated on Monday, 22 December 2014 14:45
Once upon a Berlin Time
Hello fellow Berlinites. The athletes from Berlin High School were showing their class when out of a field of seven teams; the BHS Mountaineer's ski team came through in grand style during the beginning of February to capture the Eastern Interscholastic Championship. This was added to their title of New Hampshire State Champions, which they had just won in February of 1946.
Roland Vautour and Captain Don Sheridan placed first and second respectively in the slalom event, and five Berlin men placed in the jumping event. It was Rae Tankard who took first place at this event, beating teammate Gus Bouchard by one tenth of a point.
The BHS ski teams of the past, took many championships and they, along with the great winter carnivals made the activity of skiing in Berlin and New Hampshire one of its great sports.
The Democratic City Committee of 1946 announced that their candidate for the upcoming city elections was Mr. George Bell. Bell was a former city treasurer and prominent businessman in Berlin.
Word of our local Berlin war heroes was still coming in months after the great conflict was done. Clifford B. Gallant, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Gallant of Cascade, who had been missing in action since January of 1945, was officially declared dead by the US Navy in a recent letter to his parents
Clifford had been reported missing when his carrier-based plane failed to return from a torpedo run made against Japanese shipping in Hong Kong, China. It was believed that all the men aboard the ship lost their lives when their airplane crashed into the sea as a result of anti-aircraft fire. Gallant was a graduate of St. Benedict School in Cascade and then Gorham High School with the class of 1943.
With the ownership of the Coulombe Rink in innovative hands, the newly named Notre Dame Rink was now in operation. This was, of course, before the arena was constructed. Being able to utilize this rink often, the boy's hockey team from Notre Dame High School was starting to flourish and in one more year would win its first state championship.
The yearbook for Notre Dame of 1946 had a great hockey picture of their 1945-1946 team, but no names. While doing the Berlin history for 1946, I found a short story about this team having a banquet at the Guardian Angel Parish Hall, where they would receive their varsity letters for this sport. The paper had the same picture that I could not pull, but the names were there. So I matched them to the yearbook.
Here are the names that go along with this old hockey picture that is posted with this story: First row l-r, Oliva Blanchette, Raymond Dugas, Robert Rodrigue, Robert Gosselin, Robert Lavigne, Paul Emile Lessard, Paul Boucher, and Leo Montminy. Second row l-r, Reverend Armand Provost, Manager Norman Moffet, Roland Pouliot, Emile Arsenault, Jean Guy Vachon, Paul Lepage, Norman Poirier and Coach Reverend Leo St. Pierre. Third row l-r, James Rooney, Paul Brodeur and Robert Fissette.
The city of Berlin was buzzing with excitement on Sunday morning, March 24, at the news that three almost simultaneous fires, which local officials believed of incendiary origin, were set to two adjacent buildings on Main Street and to an automobile, which it was believed the arsonist used to make his getaway.
The Berlin Fire Department was called out at 12:45 a.m. to a fire that had originated on the second floor, in the rear of the Clark building, which was blazing furiously.
Quick intervention on the part of the firefighters prevented a major conflagration, as the whole business district would have suffered considerable damage, if the fire would have gained much more headway.
The fire department had barely registered the first alarm, when they were called by Mr. Leon Trottier who arrived home with his wife at 12:45 a.m. after visiting friends. Trottier discovered a fire in the hallway of the second floor of the building in which they had an apartment at 33 Main Street. This is all part of the Northway Bank building today.
Police and fire officials said that a pair of pajamas had been snatched from a close line and set on fire in the hallway, with the purpose of setting the building on fire, but this small blaze caused very little damage.
While these two fires were being extinguished, a third call that originated from Cascade Flats, reached the department. The spare truck was immediately dispatched to this scene, where an automobile owned by Mr. Frank Ruel was engulfed in flames. The car, which had been parked on Glen Avenue, near the area of the two Main Street fires was totally destroyed and was apparently used by the arsonist to make a hurried getaway.
Opinions seem to be divided however, as to the connection of the automobile fire and the Main Street fires. Police Chief Walter J. Hynes believed the last fire was the work of a second party. If I find out more, I will relate it to my readers.
After only a month of operations, Mr. Kenneth Parsons, superintendent of the local branch plant of the Ware knitters Incorporated, announced on March 26 that the company had increased the minimum hourly rate for apprentices to $.50 per hour.
Mr. Parsons was very pleased with the new employees and the cooperation of the Berlin people. Thirty-five employees were already working here within a month, with the number increasing daily.
Finally, during a council meeting on April 2, 1946, Councilman William C. Thomas collapsed and died after making a motion during the meeting. A recess was immediately called, while Dr. Beaudoin the County Coroner was summoned to the council chambers. The doctor declared that the 73-year-old man died as a result of an acute heart attack.
Mr. Thomas was a nine year veteran of the City Council from Ward 3 and had resided in Berlin since 1906. He was employed as a machine room foreman by the Berlin Mills Company and then the Brown Company since that year.
In a later council meeting held after the death of Mr. Thomas, it was voted in favor of paying Ex-Councilman Thomas's salary of $250 for the year to his widow in recognition of the faithful years of service he had given to the city of Berlin.
I will continue with the news that was happening and the history of 1946 in the city of Berlin with my next story.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 December 2014 13:19
If there's one thing that the people of the North Country understand, it's working hard. We don't expect things to come easy. We don't expect the world to come to our doorstep. We just expect that if we put forward our best work, we will get a fair deal in return.
That is the attitude that needs to prevail in the current FairPoint strike.
The workers of FairPoint have done a good job in our state. They have put forward their best work. And they have been responsive to customers and attentive to safety.
When the company came to them and said that workers needed to make concessions to have a new contract, they stepped up to contribute a fair share, offering painful compromises that add up to more than $200 million in savings for the company.
But there was no deal, the talks remained stuck, and a strike ensued. Two months later, the situation is still in limbo.
From what I have seen in the North Country, that has meant some real consequences for people who depend on the company for service. Dana Hinkley, the Fire Chief of Stark, tells me that he had to try for nearly 9 weeks to get FairPoint to fix their phone service, and he had to file eight separate work orders. In the meantime, the 516 residents of Stark couldn't call their emergency first responders — the phone would just ring and ring.
And in September, the first full month before the strike, New Hampshire's Public Utilities Commission received 36 customer complaints about FairPoint. In November, the first full month during the strike, the number of complaints jumped to 217, a six-fold increase.
All of this goes to a concern about FairPoint's contingency plan for the strike: to replace their workforce with contract workers.
The fact is that FairPoint has had a capable, skilled, professional workforce made up of people who make their homes and their lives in our state. I would hope that any business would see a workforce like that as a major strategic asset, and look to retain and invest in that asset.
Any business plan that doesn't fully value these individuals and what they mean to the company is doomed to fail. I don't see a bright future if the company's plan is to outsource operations over the longer term to out-of-state or out-of-country contractors who can't get the job done. I hope and trust that that is not the case.
We welcomed FairPoint to New Hampshire, as we do all companies that want to be here and help grow our economy and our New Hampshire way of life, and we hope and expect that companies who do business here will invest in our state and our people and give us the products and services that we deserve.
None of this is to place blame, but rather to urge action. FairPoint can still be a big part of our telecommunications future in New Hampshire, a sector where growth and investment will be so critical to our long term economic success.
So I urge the company to put all of their efforts into finding a fair deal with their workforce, and to keep investing in our state, especially since investment in their network here has fallen since 2010. That is the path to prosperity and profitability, and it is what is good for everybody.
We would all like to see FairPoint as a long term partner in New Hampshire, so that our success can be their success. That would be a fair outcome for everyone.
Senator Jeff Woodburn, of Dalton, is the Senate Minority Leader and represents the state's largest, most northern Senate district.
Last Updated on Friday, 12 December 2014 22:09
Hello fellow Berlinites. What was going on in Berlin 68 years ago? Well, the Second World War had finally been decided and the soldiers were coming home to start their lives in an era of peace.
The beginning of January 1946 saw the Berlin Hockey Team, which had been recently organized, having tryouts for young men interested in joining this club. They were asked to apply at the Notre Dame skating rink, formerly Coulombe's rink, for more information. The team would be coached by local hockey legend Leo Vaillancourt.
Berlins major skating events were staged on the Notre Dame rink this season. The rink was now owned by Father O. F. Bousquet and equipped with a modern amplifying system, from which records were played and messages were relayed.
Father Bousquet had plans to build an arena on this spot in the near future, with a tent like covering to protect sports fans and players against inclement weather and it was eventually built and called the Notre Dame Arena.
The New Year's baby for 1946 was born to Mr. and Mrs. Sigefroid Aube of 384 Main St. on January 1 at the St. Louis Hospital. It was the only birth reported at this time for the New Year and made the Aube child Berlin's first 1946 newborn.
By the way, this child was a boy and still lives in the area. His name is Ray, so now you know. How time flies. Have a Happy New Year's birthday, old friend.
In January of 1946, the city of Berlin purchased a new fire truck. It was a masterpiece of modern engineering. This American LaFrance aerial ladder truck with a 65 foot all steel ladder and booster equipment was sold to the city for $17,000.
This ladder truck came equipped with just about everything needed to fight structure fires. There was a list at least two pages long, describing the tools and capabilities of this new truck.
The public was cordially invited to view the truck, which, when weather permitted, was exhibited in the front of the fire station on Main Street. On a good day, there would be a demonstration of the various devices on this truck. The alarm signal (33) would be sounded so the citizens could come to this event.
The following week, there was a lot of colorful news and rumors which had spread along Main Street and rapidly branched off to smaller arteries of our community. This gossip stated that the city of Lewiston, Maine had purchased an aerial fire truck identical to the one bought by the city of Berlin for $16,500, as compared to Berlin's price of $17,000.
For several weeks some of the citizens wanted to know why Berlin paid $500 more for the exact same piece of apparatus. After the bickering was finally said and done, it was determined that the Berlin truck was superior, because it had more accessories and equipment, accounting for the extra $500.
Ware knitters Incorporated of Berlin explained the policies of their new company which was soon to open in this city. James F. Nields Jr., President of the company in Ware, Massachusetts, issued a leaflet explaining the policies of the company to those interested in applying for a job and working at the new branch plant in Berlin.
Ware knitters started operations in 1938 at Ware, Massachusetts with limited resources and one dozen people. Since then, it had grown steadily and by 1946 had additional factories in Maine and Vermont.
Its product was cotton knit outerwear, such as children's sweaters, creepers, cardigan jackets and overalls, along with men's and women's light weight cotton sweaters and sleeping pajamas.
During World War II, this company was heavily engaged in work for both the Army and Navy and was now busy trying to fill the needs of its regular customers.
The raw material employed was cotton yarn. It was knit into cloth which was dyed and finished in Ware. When the Berlin plant opened, the material would be cut into garments and shipped here to be sewed, pressed, inspected, boxed and shipped to its customers.
The man chosen to be in charge of the Berlin plant when it opened was Kenneth E. Parsons. Before entering the service, Parsons was production manager at the Ware plant.
The hours of operation for the Berlin facility would be from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with one hour off for lunch from noon to one and a ten minute recess at 10 a.m. This constituted a 40 hour week, with any overtime to be paid at a rate of 1 1/2.
Employees would be paid $.25 per hour plus certain piece rates, which were the same in all plants. Workers were guaranteed $.45 per hour regardless of how little they made on piece work.
For perfect attendance, the employee would be paid a monthly bonus amounting to 5% of his or her previous months earning.
The company's a vacation plan was as follows: one day's pay for those who worked less than six months (1,000 hours); two days pay for those who work between six months and one year (1,000 to 2,000 hours); one week's pay for those who worked one year (over 2,000 hours) and one day's extra pay for each additional year's work.
As soon as satisfactory progress was made, the company would offer its employees the opportunity of joining its group insurance, weekly sickness and accidental benefits plan, along with hospital benefits for themselves and their dependents.
The company planned to start operations by February 11, 1946, employing some 75 workers by the end of the year. It sure sounded like a good company for which to work back in these days and some Berlin residents still remember being employed here.
Finally, Jean Louis Blais was recently discharged in February from the U.S. Naval Reserves and resumed his duties in his law office located in the Sheridan building on Main Street in Berlin.
Jean Louis, who eventually became a judge here in Berlin in later years, enlisted on November 15, 1943 with the Naval Reserves. He was indoctrinated at Princeton University, studied communications at Harvard and served in the district communication office in Philadelphia for a short time.
Blais was then sent on convoy duty in the Atlantic to Europe until the war ended. He later went from San Francisco to Japan by way of Pearl Harbor and Guam, being finally discharged on February 19, 1946 in Boston Massachusetts.
I will continue with the history of Berlin in 1946 with my next story.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 December 2014 14:46
Politics is defined by conflict, government by compromise. This balance seems to be perpetually lost on Washington, where politicians are swept away in perceived mandates and partisan warfare. This is not what the people want. Quite frankly, it's what they most dislike about politics, and now it is what they most dislike about their government.
The voters in my North Country district, the most evenly divided political district in the state, told me to work with everyone to find practical, nonpartisan solutions. That is what I have always tried to do.
That's what we did in the Senate during the last session by passing several important bipartisan bills that expanded health care, fixed our aging roads, and created a unanimous, balanced budget that funded our important needs while maintaining fiscal restraint.
A few weeks ago, overwhelmingly rewarded those that stood for compromise over conflict. All but one of the senators who voted for expanding health care and investing in our infrastructure were returned to office. Two Republican senators even withstood tough primaries from right-wing candidates along the way, showing that voters valued practical, bipartisan solutions over a hardline partisan agenda.
As the newly elected Senate Minority Leader, I will work with anyone to keep our hard-earned, bipartisan progress intact. No doubt, there are some itching to fight for a radical agenda that includes repealing expanded Medicaid eligibility to provide private health insurance to 50,000 hardworking Granite Staters and the 4 cent gas tax increase that is making vital investments in our infrastructure (while gas prices at the pump continue to drop).
That is not the road we should go down, and I am hopeful that the same spirit of compromise that led us to so much success last year will prevail again. Senate Democrats are united and ready once again to work with Governor Hassan and Senate Republicans to build a fair, responsible, balanced state budget as we did two years ago.
What we will not do is heed the call of partisan, ideological voices who are trying to use the always-challenging process of maintaining a balanced budget as a way to dismantle important investments in education, health, and job-creating innovation in our economy.
While we are extending our hand to find practical compromises, we are also prepared to stand firm to temper the overzealous and extreme agenda that emerged that last time there was a Republican House of Representatives. That Republican leadership, led by then-Speaker Bill O'Brien, slashed investments in education, health care, and economic development in ways that are still reverberating through our economy today. It took the last two years of bipartisan work to get things back on track, and we must not go backwards.
I welcome the new tone from Bill O'Brien — who will be returning as Speaker — and the leadership style of our returning Senate President Chuck Morse, and I look forward to working with both of them. My door, my heart and my mind will always be open to them, their ideas and their willingness to compromise not only to improve life for our citizens, but also to build trust that government can work well when legislators are focused on getting things done for people.
By coming together, can we make our state and our people proud. Let's get to work.
Senator Jeff Woodburn, of Dalton, is the incoming Senate Minority Leader and represents the state's largest, most northern Senate district.
Last Updated on Monday, 08 December 2014 23:28