David Brooks: The Power of a Dinner Table

By David Brooks

New York Times

Kathy Fletcher and David Simpson have a son named Santi, who went to Washington, D.C., public schools. Santi had a friend who sometimes went to school hungry. So Santi invited him to occasionally eat and sleep at his house.

That friend had a friend and that friend had a friend, and now when you go to dinner at Kathy and David’s house on Thursday night there might be 15 to 20 teenagers crammed around the table, and later there will be groups of them crashing in the basement or in the few small bedrooms upstairs.

The kids who show up at Kathy and David’s have endured the ordeals of modern poverty: homelessness, hunger, abuse, sexual assault. Almost all have seen death firsthand — to a sibling, friend or parent.

It’s anomalous for them to have a bed at home. One 21-year-old woman came to dinner last week and said this was the first time she’d been around a family table since she was 11.

And yet by some miracle, hostile soil has produced charismatic flowers. Thursday dinner is the big social occasion of the week. Kids come from around the city. Spicy chicken and black rice are served. Cellphones are banned (“Be in the now,” Kathy says).

The kids call Kathy and David “Momma” and “Dad,” are unfailingly polite, clear the dishes, turn toward one another’s love like plants toward the sun and burst with big glowing personalities. Birthdays and graduations are celebrated. Songs are performed.
I started going to dinner there about two years ago, hungry for something beyond food. Each meal we go around the table, and everybody has to say something nobody else knows about them.

Each meal we demonstrate our commitment to care for one another. I took my daughter once and on the way out she said, “That’s the warmest place I can ever imagine.”

During this election season of viciousness, vulgarity and depravity, Thursdays at Kathy and David’s has been a weekly uplift, and their home a place to be reminded of what is beautiful about our country and what we can do to bring out its loveliness.

The kids need what all adolescents need: bikes, laptops and a listening heart. “Thank you for seeing the light in me,” one young woman told Kathy after a cry on the couch. David and Kathy have set up a charitable organization called AOK, for All Our Kids, to help each of the kids come into his or her own fullness. Four started college this year, and one joined City Year, the national service organization.
Poverty up close is so much more intricate and unpredictable than the picture of poverty you get from the grand national debates. The kids can project total self-confidence one minute and then slide into utter lostness the next.

The college application process often seems like a shapeless fog to them; nobody’s taught them the concrete steps to move along the way. One young woman lied on her financial aid forms because she didn’t want to admit that her father was dead, her mother was on drugs — how messed up her home life actually was.
There’s no margin for error for these kids, and she would have lost her college dreams if not for a squad of adults ready to mobilize around her.

The adults in this community give the kids the chance to present their gifts. At my first dinner, Edd read a poem from his cracked flip phone that I first thought was from Langston Hughes, but it turned out to be his own. Kesari has a voice that somehow emerged from New Orleans jazz from the 1920s. Madeline and Thalya practice friendship as if it were the highest art form. Jamel loses self-consciousness when he talks of engine repair.

They give us a gift — complete intolerance of social distance. When I first met Edd, I held out my hand to shake his. He looked at it and said, “We hug here,” and we’ve been hugging and hanging off each other since.

Bill Milliken, a veteran youth activist, is often asked which programs turn around kids’ lives. “I still haven’t seen one program change one kid’s life,” he says. “What changes people is relationships. Somebody willing to walk through the shadow of the valley of adolescence with them.”

Souls are not saved in bundles. Love is the necessary force.

The problems facing this country are deeper than the labor participation rate and ISIS. It’s a crisis of solidarity, a crisis of segmentation, spiritual degradation and intimacy.

Throughout this ugly year, AOK has been my visit to a better future, more powerful than any political tract about what we need next.

Sometimes Kathy and David are asked how they ended up with so many kids flowing through their house. They look at how many kids are out there, and respond, “How is it possible you don’t?”

Poof Tardiff: 1977 V

Hello fellow Berlinites. It was now time in July of 1977 to discuss the future of two of Berlin's old buildings. These were the old St. Louis Hospital and the St. Regis Academy. The Academy had been closed and the new AVH hospital across the river that was being built was getting closer to its opening date.

A $30,000 feasibility study was presented to the City Council on Monday, July 18, by an architectural firm out of Boston. This outfit narrowed down a list of suggestions for the re-use offered by a group of community leaders in April of 1977. They concluded that both the old hospital and the St. Regis Academy were structurally suited to become housing units.

Although the final analysis did not come until sometime later, the architects found that none of the following were feasible: office space for Brown Company, a new City Hall or library, dormitory space and or work-study use for the New Hampshire Technical College (White Mountain Community College today), shopping facilities, including a restaurant and additional beds for the Coos County Nursing Home.

Quite a bit of money was spent on this study and the final conclusion is what we now have thirty-nine years later and that is restored housing for the elderly, which made a lot of our citizens happy. There was even an artist conception of what these updated buildings should look like.

After writing about the closure and rebuilding of the Mason Street Bridge during 1977, an early August article stated that repairs were on schedule. Of course, this pleased the citizens of Berlin's East Side, who had been dealing with this traffic nightmare for several months now.

By this time, construction work on the Mason Street Bridge had reached its halfway mark. Despite delays in the delivery of structural steel sections of the bridge, the rehabilitation was expected to be finished on schedule by mid-September.

This reopening would become a big relief to businesses and motorists who had to put up with this major inconvenience, including a four mile detour via the 12th Street Bridge. As of August 1977, the two Mason Street spans had been open only to pedestrians, who had to weave their way through a tangle of construction workers and heavy equipment. I am sure that I will come across the opening day and how relieved the people were for the completion of this project.

In late August, our beloved paper mills of the Brown Company were again under fire. They were questioning the water treatment standards, even though they had passed the magic deadlines. On July 1, 1977, all communities and industries where to have stopped discharging pollutants into waterways, by order of the Federal Environment Protection Agency.

Though many communities like Berlin and Gorham had not been able to comply with the deadlines for lack of funds, most private industries, including the Brown Company, already had the wastewater treatment plants “on line” for a few months.

The Brown Company could not figure out whether or not they had met the EPA deadlines. Were they discharging too much so-called “B.O.D.” (biological oxygen demand) into the Androscoggin River after treatment? Did the level of oxygen eating pollutants being eliminated from the mill conform to the EPA's guideline, or would they have to spend more money?

The original permit in 1973 given by the EPA, was that the pulp and paper mill could not discharge more than 12,000 pounds per day of D.O.D. from its treatment plants. This permit called for the best practice control technology by July 1, 1977. Since then, the EPA had made another modification. The new guideline allowed for the discharge of an average of 16,700 pounds per day instead of 12,000 pounds required by the original permit.

During the summer of 1977, Brown Company had been increasing the efficiency of its treatment plants, which handled Burgess and Cascade wastewater, but they couldn't manage to meet the goal of the permit. It did succeed in bringing the discharge level down to slightly more than 16,000 pounds per day and that met the newest guideline. Within three years, our Brown Company sold out after being here for over 100 years.

As for the Androscoggin River, it has certainly benefited from the Clean Water Act, but it still has high levels of mercury contaminated waste water being discharged into the river from numerous paper mills. These paper mills have resisted some of the Clean Water Act, citing the cost. The cost was a great enough for Berlin, as we no longer are in the pulp and paper industry and lost the fight with the EPA.

How many people remember the IGA in the Mountain Valley Plaza? Well, it was in late summer that the Milliken Tomlinson Company had concluded negotiations with the great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P) of Montvale, New Jersey to lease space for a new IGA Foodliner in Gorham.

The supermarket would be located in the former A&P store at the Mountain Valley Plaza (Save-A-Lot today) and would be owned by Norman and Oliva Rousseau Jr., who were the current owners of the IGA Supermarket on Berlin's East Side.

This 25,000 square foot facility was being stocked, refurbished and would offer many modern innovative parts, according to Charles Redman Jr., President of Milliken Tomlinson.

The new store was scheduled to open during the last week of September and would be the seventh IGA in Coos County. It reflected the company's belief and confidence in the area, as well as the appreciation for the acceptance of the independent IGA operation. It seems like yesterday when Mr. Rousseau opened the supermarket on one end of the plaza and Rich's was operating on the other end.

In August of 1977, the city of Berlin was talking about entering some of its buildings into the National Historic Register. They were: the City Hall, St. Ann's Catholic Church, the Nansen Ski Jump, the Orthodox Church of the Holy Resurrection and the Congregational Church.

According to Mr. Russell Wright, an architectural historian, all were sure entries. He cited that the places noted were significant in establishing the character of this area. This study was part of this city's so-called downtown revitalization plan, which allocated a sum of $10,800 this year under a grant. Other places that were mentioned for the register were the Cote Block on Main Street, Moxie Alley and the Twitchell Farm, across from today's White Mountain Community College.

So, they began doing research into Berlin's unusual buildings and the city officials hoped that restoration and preservation of these buildings in the downtown area and throughout all of Berlin would play a major part in revitalizing the economy of this area. I'm not sure how many places in this city are on the historical register.

I will continue with the year 1977 in my next writing.

Poof Tardiff writes a weekly column for The Berlin Daily Sun. Questions or comments email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Also, join the many friends of “Once upon a Berlin Time” on Facebook and guess at the weekly mystery picture.

St. AnnesSt. Annes

Mt. Valley PlazaMt. Valley Plaza

Congregational Church 1Congregational Church

1977 Housing Project1977 Housing Project

Paul R. Grenier: Senator Woodburn is one of us

Only two things matter in public service here in Coos County-Knowing and Doing. With most of the top races getting all of the attention in this election cycle, none is more important for Berlin and Coos County than to re-elect Senator Jeff Woodburn to another two-year term.

Senator Woodburn is one of us; born, raised, and lives in Coos County. He raised his kids here, taught school here and knows most of us here by our first names. He knows the Androscoggin Valley very well. He was instrumental in helping to expedite the sale of a state building in the industrial park to Capone Iron Works. CIW is already expanding and once complete, will employ 50 people.

He was a great resource for me as mayor when we submitted the SAFER grant, which allowed the city to properly re-man the Berlin Fire Dept. I call upon him weekly and he's always had Berlin's back. Senator Woodburn is working very closely with Bob Chapman to finally secure a tenant at the Groveton mill site, helped with job training grants for Cedar & Oak Furniture in Berlin, and has been an important proponent of the Balsams redevelopment project in Dixville.

Senator Jeff Woodburn has every corner of Coos County covered.

By contrast, Senator Woodburn's opponent, Dolly McPhaul, is a real stranger to Coos County. In a 4/29/16 letter to the Caledonian Record, she states, "We want our children to stay in the area, but creating an ugly industrialized environment will not help that cause." In other words, she wants to keep things here in Coos the same, pristine but poor.

As Mayor of Berlin, I take great offense to this characterization. Berlin is a proud working class city that is beginning to reemerge from the limitations of being a one-employer community. My focus, as well as those of most (but not all) of Coos County's elected officials is on economic growth and job creation. Jeff Woodburn has been by my side every inch of the way, no questions asked, no energy spared.

The Berlin Reporter hit the nail on the head when it stated, "McPhaul does not truly understand the region's economic challenges. "At this critical junction, no way can we afford on the job training to a person with zero experience at the county or state level. As if that weren't bad enough, for the first time in over 150 years, Coos County would no longer have its own state senator if McPhaul were elected. That tact alone should be enough for all of us to vote Jeff Woodburn.

On Election Day, please join me, outgoing Sheriff Gerry Marcou, former Senator Fred King, former Coos County Commissioner Bing Judd and incoming Sheriff Brian Valerino in voting to re-elect Senator Jeff Woodburn to another term. Our future depends on it.

Paul R. Grenier,
Berlin Mayor
Coos County Commissioner

Poof Tardiff: 1977 IV

Hello fellow Berlinites. A famous Berlin doctor, Paul Dumontier, was honored during the month of June 1977. Dumontier, who spent 55 years in medicine, delivered the only triplets ever born in Berlin up to this year of 1977.

Annie Albert, Stella Morneau and Gerard Albert, were three of the fifty friends along with the AVH employees who gathered to celebrate this man's life that was dedicated to medicine. The doctor had many firsts that he was credited with here in the “Paper City”, as he was the first in this area to get a patient out of bed the day after surgery, to use hip pinnings and to perform a thyroidectomy.

Dumontier remembers delivering three babies at three different homes in the space of one hour. On nights when the doctor was out late making house calls, he often came back to his home on 289 Pleasant Street to sit in his chair and read the medical journals for an hour or two before finally going to bed. He certainly did not fall behind on the latest developments.

This local physician was a native of Levis, Québec and received his medical degree from Laval University in Québec City during 1922. He took an internship at St. Mary's Hospital in Lewiston, Maine one year later, so that he could learn English.

In August of 1923, he learned the practice of the famous Berlin Dr. Lavallee and made his move to this area. He certainly was able to use his native tongue a lot in Berlin back then. In 1937, Dr. Dumontier did postgraduate work in surgery at Mayo Clinic and was admitted to the American College of Surgeons. The doctor is long gone from us today, passing away in 1989, but he was certainly ahead of times during his practicing days in Berlin.

Another one of Berlin's young hockey players was making news in June of 1977. This time it was a 20-year-old named Ray “Weasel” Roy. Roy, was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Paul Roy of Bridge Street was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the first of the eighth round.

This talented Berlin puckster had just completed two successful seasons with “Les Castors de Sherbrooke” (Sherbrooke Beavers) of the Québec Major Junior A Hockey League. Ray was also an outstanding player for the Berlin Maroons and the last state championship team fielded by Notre Dame High School in 1972.

In September of 1977 Ray began his professional hockey career and he was believed to be the first Berlin youngster ever chosen in the hockey draft. In recent years, he was the first local hockey player to have a shot at the pro game.

Sadly, Roy never did make it to play for the Red Wings, but he certainly thrilled many local fans who watched him during his great hockey days. “Weasel” is no longer with us today, but is fondly remembered by his many friends and hockey enthusiasts. Rest in peace Ray.

It was in this year that the “Granite Playground”on the north side of Horne Field was chiseled into shape. Three people were involved in the sculpture. They were Jean Bartoli and his two assistants Pamela Lambert and Donna Morrisette. The two young girls were being paid under a college work study program. This sculpture was made from more than a dozen granite boulders and slabs into creative pieces that kids can still scramble all over and adults can admire.

After deep holes were dug by the Public Works Department, Bernard Redi-Mix poured cement around the stones up to the level of each sculptured base. The stones that were still lying on the ground were worked on by Bartoli and his two helpers and then they were also cemented into place.

Since this sculpture is tucked away at the far end of the field and not many people know about it. It was put there at the same time that the tennis courts and the playground was built by the Recreation Department and is between tennis courts and the ball field.

As mentioned in an earlier story, bridgework was being done during this year and causing headaches for many of Berlin's residents, especially those who resided on the East Side. The latest inspection of the Berlin Mills and the YMCA-Community Street Bridges at the end of June showed that they were in poor shape and needed to be closed. The Berlin Mills Bridge was drive-able, but only eastbound and the YMCA-Community Street Bridge was for foot traffic only. I do not remember if these two bridges were closed before the Mason Street Bridge was finished, but I believe they stayed open.

Finally, by the year 1977, pulp making in Berlin became 100 years old. Not long after celebrating this country's bicentennial, this city had another birthday to celebrate. It had now been one hundred years since pulp making was started in this city.

It was the “Father of Berlin”, Henry H. Furbish who opened the door for our local paper industry in 1877, when he built Mill “A” of the Forest Fiber Company along the Androscoggin River just above where Cambridge Street comes into Main Street.

The major industry which was here before and used, the mighty Androscoggin for supply and power was a huge sawmill which had its lumber shipped out of here by rail. Paper for newsprint was produced elsewhere, being made from rags, which were brought in from other countries. This was difficult and costly to acquire. Furbish decided to change this and chose Berlin to introduce the outcome.

This process involved soda which dissolved poplar wood without damaging the fiber. This also produced a whiter newsprint than the rag method. Furbush refined his project for three years in Pennsylvania, before moving his operation to the “City the Trees Built” and producing paper in a big way.

Things were going so well that Furbush decided to build his second mill called Mill “B” in 1880. By the late 1890's though, this process of pulp making had become obsolete, his mill burned to the ground and he never rebuilt.

By 1885, the Glen Mills started and in 1888 WW Brown opened the first Riverside Mill, thus, lumber was no longer Berlin's top product. It was mostly pulp and paper which had been originally started by Mr. Furbush. If it hadn't been for this man, who knows what would have become of this city. It might have just been power station or maybe a ghost town.

I will continue with the year 1977 in my next writing.

Poof Tardiff writes a weekly column for The Berlin Daily Sun. Questions or comments email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Also join the many fans of “Once upon a Berlin Time” on Facebook and guess at the weekly mystery pictures.

YMCA Community St. BridgeYMCA Community St. Bridge

Ray Weasel Roy 1Ray Weasel Roy

Horne Field SculptureHorne Field Sculpture

Dr. Paul DumontierDr. Paul Dumontier

Ithaca Bound: No Trump

A little over a month from today, on Nov. 7, 2016, this nation will once again have an opportunity to elect a new president. It is a privilege not to be taken lightly.The person we choose will lead this country for better or for worse into the future of what the next four years may hold. The person we choose must be level headed and have a firm grasp of reality. That person is certainly not Donald Trump.
Having done a sizable amount of research on Donald Trump’s life, his achievements and his and failures, and fact-checked his many statements, most of which are simply not true, it is simply not possible to vote for so unworthy a candidate. It is little wonder that so many in his own party have turned against him. They know him for what he is — a self-centered man who cares little about anyone else.
Research has shown Donald Trump to be arrogant, rude, crude, vindictive, racist, misogynistic, lacking in tact and diplomacy, dismissive of the opinions of others, indifferent to the needs of others, indifferent to the sacrifices of others, and totally self-centered.
His embracing of Vladimir Putin, the president/dictator of Russia, should give us all cause for concern. Do we remember that Mr. Putin was the head of the Soviet Union’s notorious KGB, a police organization that was responsible for the murder of thousands of its country’s own people? This is a man that Mr. Trump would embrace?
As for Mr. Trump’s indifference to the sacrifice of others, do we remember what his reply was to the family who had lost a son in battle, while serving his country? “I’ve made a lot of sacrifices,” he said. And when pressed to give an example, he talked about the number of jobs his building projects had created. What does that have to do with sacrifices, Mr. Trump? You made millions of dollars out of those projects. That’s not sacrifice.
A few weeks ago, when the quarterback of the San Francisco 49’s did not stand and salute our flag during the playing of our national anthem, Donald Trump told him to find another country. Perhaps Mr. Trump forgot that the first to our constitution guarantees our right to speak freely. We may not like what is being said, but the individual has the right to say it. Were Donald Trump to be elected president, he would have to take the oath of office that includes the upholding and defending of that constitution.
His unconscionable position regarding the place of women in the society he would want to create would have them down on their knees at all times. He has used words such as “pigs” and “dogs” to describe them. Is such a man really the man we would want to have leading our country?
I think.....I hope not!

Ithaca Bound writes a weekly column for The Berlin Daily Sun. Ithaca Bound is the pen name of writer Dick Conway. His email address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..