Bill Caldwell was one of my favorite newspaper columnists, partly because he really focused on the Maine he and I loved. Bill wrote for the Portland Press Herald twice a week and for the Sunday Telegram on Sundays for 25 years, writing about 3,000 columns before retiring in 1991.

He had spent seven years in Washington, D.C., as President Dwight Eisenhower’s assistant director of foreign operations, and he traveled the world. He went to Cambridge University and the Sorbonne in Europe and flew bombers in World War II.

But Bill would tell you, “Maine is the best beat of all.” Bill and his wife Barbara moved to a house on the banks of the Damariscotta River and he wrote some wonderful columns about Damariscotta.

For example, Bill described downtown Damariscotta this way: “‘Down Street’ is the place to go for a visit anytime you want a bit of company or news. Shopping is more than buying stuff. It is visiting.” That sure defines the Winthrop where I grew up.

Recently I reread three of Bill Caldwell’s books, beginning with “Enjoying Maine.” The first section of the book was a bunch of wonderful stories of the people of Damariscotta.

One of the things I really appreciated about Bill is that he despised federal and state efforts to tell the people of Maine’s small towns when they had to do.

Here is what he wrote: “I live in a small Maine town. And I am sick of being patronized. I wish Washington officials, Augusta planners, the New York Times, CBS, Harper’s, Newsweek and all the rest would quit acting so doggone patronizing to Maine’s small towns. There is nothing ‘quaint’ about us. The revolt in small towns is against unwanted, uninformed, unproductive outside interference in their own self government. The small towns are bitter at the way state and federal bureaucracies dictate to them how they should run their towns.”

And I loved this statement: “The smallest towns in Maine are the oldest. And the prettiest. And maybe the happiest. They have the longest lived people and the tightest knit families.”

One of Bill’s columns is about bears, and he writes: “Maine, I am happy to report, has more black bears than any state east of the Mississippi, between 7,000 and 9,000 of them.” I guess Bill would be very happy today because we now have 40,000 bears!

Bill’s second book, “Maine Magic,” is also full of funny, sad, moving and revealing columns about Maine. One of my favorites is titled “Glory Good Garbage,” in which he calls the town dump an “endangered species.” Bill writes: “Dumping is as much a way of Maine life as lobstering, deer hunting, franks-and-beans, and pea-planting.” Boy, Bill captured my Maine in that sentence.

Bill and Barbara owned a sailboat and spent a lot of time sailing up and down Maine’s beautiful coast, where they enjoyed lots of our islands.

Barbara loved collecting rocks from the shore. And I learned a lot from Bill’s column about those rocks. For years my wife Linda and I have collected rocks on the shore in Lubec and Campobello, often with our grandchildren. Many of our rocks were black, and I had no idea until I read Bill’s column that those rocks might be 400 million years old. Wow!

Bill’s column on Damariscotta Island is very interesting. Linda and I visited that island, boating out from Boothbay Harbor. We hiked the entire island, which was the first commercial settlement, long before Plymouth rock. As Bill writes: “This unsung place is where our nation began. Here are the roots of America, and almost nobody realizes it.”

I also read Bill’s book, “Rivers of Fortune,” which includes lots of columns about Maine’s fascinating history. The book includes an amazing story of a girl from Ireland who sailed to Maine in 1741. The story was actually written by that girl, who survived several tragedies including many deaths on board the ship when a mortal fever broke out.

Much of the ship was wrecked in a storm and the captain put all his passengers on a  remote desolate island without food or shelter. Most of the people died on the island including this girl’s mother and one of her sisters. The girl and another sister were eventually rescued, which only moved her towards more life challenges. It is an amazing story.

I loved the story about Bangor. A pastor was in Boston, filing court papers to incorporate the town, which was supposed to be called Sunbury. But the pastor was singing his favorite hymn when the court clerk asked him, “What’s the name?” The pastor thought he was asking about the hymn, so he answered “Bangor.” And that’s the name the clerk wrote in the incorporation papers. And the town has been Bangor ever since.

Bill died in 2001, and at his request, his ashes were scattered off the coast of Maine. But his columns, thankfully, live on in his books. Grab one today, and enjoy Bill’s stories.

George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.


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