The woman in front of me in line at Marden’s Surplus & Salvage in Waterville plopped packages of blue, star-shaped paper plates on the counter, followed by red, white and blue napkins and cups.

“Getting ready for the Fourth?” the clerk asked.

“Yes. Everyone comes to our house ’cause we have the pool.”

The older shopper was clearly excited about her find.

In just three days, it will be July 4, the day we celebrate our independence from Britain.

The older I get, the more I appreciate this country’s independence and its independent nature. I think about my ancestors who came here, aiming for a better, freer, more prosperous life.

It makes me realize that I, also, have that spirit of seeking, not settling for the status quo, and I surmise I got it from them.

After all, they came here not knowing what they would face, but they took a leap of faith.

My paternal grandmother, Isabella Shields, came to New England from Scotland and worked in the mills in Connecticut to earn enough money to bring her siblings over. She eventually would meet my grandfather-to-be, and they married and settled in Lisbon Falls and Durham, Maine, where his parents lived. They had my father, an only child.

Grammie was a feisty woman, high-spirited with large blue eyes and a shock of long gray hair that she kept wrapped in a bun. She lived in Durham after my grandfather died of tuberculosis caused by complications from being mustard-gassed in World War I. When we were growing up, my father would drive to Durham and bring her back to Skowhegan for a few days at a time to visit us.

Grammie, in a thick Scottish brogue, would sing to me and my sisters: “You take the high road, an’ I’ll take the low road …” and she called me and my sister, Jane, who is a year older than I, “Bonnie, bonnie lasses.”

Grammie was a saver. She kept an immaculate house and made people take their shoes off when they entered. She lived in a beautiful old Cape-style house, and when we visited, we knew to mind our Ps and Qs. She kept two, large glass jars in the living room: one contained pink and white peppermint candies, from which we were allowed to partake; the other was full of coins and she would reach in, pluck a few, and hand them to us.

Grammie died when I was in the fifth grade. I was in Aroostook County at the time with my friend Terri and her family, and my mother did not notify me that she had died until I returned several days later and the funeral already had taken place. Mom knew I was sensitive, and it was her way of protecting me from pain. I secretly was relieved.

I have fond memories of Grammie, and, as time goes by, I admire her even more, knowing her path to the U.S. could not have been easy and that she left her family and everything she knew in Scotland.

I also think of my other ancestors who came here from both Scotland and England to find a better life and seek opportunity. I would not exist had it not been for them.

I can’t say for certain how unsafe, frightening or harrowing their journeys to America were, but I wonder about that as I watch the TV news and read about the influx of immigrants to the U.S. and the struggles they endure — including sickness and death. Many are fleeing violence and poverty in their own countries.

That many Americans want to send them back where they came from is incomprehensible to me, a descendant of immigrants, particularly knowing that those complaining also are here as a result of their own immigrant forebears.

We learn in school to share, be tolerant, giving and accepting.

In church and Sunday school we were taught to do for others, treat people as we would want to be treated, be kind and care for the poor and powerless.

“Judge not, lest ye be judged,” runs through my head.

And more pertinent here: “There but for the grace of God go I.”

People have their reasons for believing as they do, about the United States and its role in the world, about whom to accept or not accept into the country and about putting Americans before anyone else.

But as Fourth of July approaches, we might revisit our hard-held beliefs as we contemplate our lives, who we are and what we want to be remembered for. We might assess what we have, both materially and spiritually, and ask whether sharing our good fortune is what God would want us to do.

Surely, if the choice is tough, an answer will come.


Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 31 years. Her columns appear here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to

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