Tom McLaughlin: Giving thanks for beauty

During a difficult period some years ago, an old priest/counselor told me that as I endured pain, my capacity for feeling joy would grow commensurately. It seemed small comfort at the time, but now I believe he was on to something. Grieving the death of my son last June, I'm going through another hard time. A friend who also lost a son to addiction told me his grief comes in waves. I'm seeing now what he meant, and I've been swept along in such a wave for days as I write. I have to let it carry me and feel the grief but not let it drown me. When the wave passes, I'll be able again to perceive beauty around me, which is always there whether I see it or not.
He was an Anglican priest, and his son was alcoholic, too. He understood the anguish I felt watching my own son spiral down. When I asked how to deal with it, he said: "Carry it."
"Carry it?" I asked. "That's the best you can do for me?" It was, he said, so I tried carrying it with as much dignity as I could muster and then asked: "What's next?"
"Embrace it," he said.
"Really?" I said. "I don't ever see myself doing that," and I didn't for years. While my son was alive I still thought I might do something to steer him from his self-destructive path, but his death ended that. Lately I haven't been embracing my grief; I've been wrestling with it. I grapple onto it and throw it aside. Then I get some respite before it comes back. Will I ever come to embrace it? I don't know. The old priest was right about the joy part, though. I'm having my moments between waves.
I'm seeing too much beauty around to record and preserve, though I try hard — a nice problem to have. I've been able to extract increasing measures of joy in attempts to replicate it. Never do I go anywhere without a good camera near at hand. If it's not slung over my shoulder, it's in my car or truck parked nearby. If I'm taking pictures, I know I'm healing. In letters, emails and texts, I use words as a medium for capturing and preserving and those go to people I love, almost always family. Occasionally I use this space to express what I'm feeling as well as thinking, but in a somewhat muted form.
Whether my method of capture is visual or verbal, it always falls short. The scene itself is always more beautiful than my picture of it; the thought or feeling is always more profound than my description of it. However inadequate my recording efforts, they please me more as time goes by. Pictures I took two, three or 10 years ago seem more adequate because the memory of the experience has faded while the quality of my visual or verbal facsimile remains undiminished.
My pictures are my own. I don't sell them and I'm the only one who sees many of them. Every Christmas, however, I collect four or five hundred "best of the year" images and put them onto miniature flash drives for my children. These they insert into digital picture frames I gave them a few years ago. When I visit, I see those images displayed in 5-second intervals on their walls. It's possible they only turn the frames on when I'm visiting, but I don't think so. I suspect they're used often because the pictures are almost as meaningful to them as they are to me. Every shot is imbued with whatever I was feeling as I saw the beauty in the loved one or the scene. I saw and felt something exquisite each time I snapped the shutter.
Before I had a good digital camera, I always had a good film camera, and I shot slides rather than photos. The light capture was better in slides, and capturing light is what photography is all about. Today, I much prefer seeing my digital photos on a computer screen or digital picture frame than on a print. Prints are disappointing, but I still enjoy them. I can derive pleasure while learning to dry mount, pick out a matte and put them together in the right frame.
Though I seldom read what I've written after it's mailed, sent or published, I often look at my pictures. As when listening to an old song or smelling an old, familiar scent, seeing my images of special people and beautiful scenes brings it all back. They help me realize I have much for which to be thankful. Thankful to whom? Why the God who made us, who sustains us, and who calls us home when He's ready, of course. Who else?

Tom McLaughlin lives in Lovell, Maine. He can be reached on his website at

  • Category: Columns

William Marvel: From Conway to the Cumberland

As Kennett High School let out one day nearly 90 years ago, when the Conway railroad station sat in the middle of what is now Route 16, Heloise Cloutman made the mistake of taking a ride on the back of my father’s Henderson motorcycle. She apparently considered it better not to hold on by wrapping her arms around him, and she fell off on Depot Street, in front of the station; he wasn’t aware of it until he rounded that U-shaped drive and saw her running toward him across the median.
Heloise was directly descended from a line of Conway Village blacksmiths. The dynasty began with her great-grandfather, Eliphalet Cloutman, who established his shop along the outlet of Pequawket Pond two centuries ago. He bought a house on Main Street, near the intersection that gave Conway Corner its name, and there his first son, Charles Chase Cloutman, was born in June of 1824. Eliphalet took an active role in the community, serving many terms as selectman and rising to command of the local militia regiment. Col. Cloutman, as he was known thereafter, let one of his sons take over the shop as he approached his allotted threescore and ten, and in 1861 Abraham Lincoln appointed him postmaster of Conway.
Charles Cloutman mastered the trade under his father’s eye, but in 1848 he headed west. He opened his own shop along the Mississippi River in Burlington, Iowa, where he married and started a family. A few years later he moved to Ottumwa, on the Des Moines River, and the residents there came to regard him as highly as his father was viewed in Conway. At the outbreak of the Civil War Charles raised a company of recruits for the 2nd Iowa Infantry, and the men chose him as their captain.
For nine months the 2nd Iowa guarded railroads in Missouri, but early in February 1862, the regiment joined Ulysses Grant on an expedition up the Tennessee River to pierce the Confederate defensive line that roughly paralleled the border between Kentucky and Tennessee. Grant quickly captured Fort Henry, on the Tennessee River, and then marched overland a few miles to invest Fort Donelson, on the Cumberland River. The 2nd Iowa encamped within striking distance of Donelson on Valentine’s Day, finding the ground covered in snow and the mercury plummeting.
The Confederates had fortified a series of ridges overlooking steep ravines in that erosional landscape, but before Grant surrounded them completely they tried to escape, massing most of their forces for an attack on the Union right flank on the morning of the 15th. They had driven the Yankees back about a mile, and their escape route was nearly clear, when Grant ordered a counterattack on the weakened end of the rebel line. The 2nd Iowa spearheaded that assault, scrambling up the side of a steep, slippery ridge with fixed bayonets; climbing that same ridge two weeks ago, I estimated the worst of the incline at 45 or 50 degrees, and found it difficult going even without someone shooting at me. Only 130 Tennessee riflemen manned the earthworks at the top, but the precipitous terrain so slowed the Iowans that the Confederates had time to inflict serious casualties. One of them put a bullet through Capt. Cloutman’s chest just before blue overcoats swarmed over the crest, chasing the Tennesseans back to the next ridge. The fighting ended at dusk, and would have resumed at dawn had the Confederate commander not surrendered.
Cloutman, the highest-ranking Civil War soldier born in Conway, was also the senior officer killed in that charge. Henry Lovie, an artist for Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, accompanied Grant’s army and sketched the attack — probably from descriptions the soldiers gave him, rather than from direct observation. He failed to depict the steepness of the ground, but he did include the requisite romantic feature of soldiers tenderly carrying away a mortally wounded officer. If that figure represented a specific officer, rather than a generic artistic feature, it was almost certainly Charles Cloutman.
Cloutman left a widow and four children, including one born the day after his funeral. Exactly 24 days after the captain was killed, and probably only a week or two after the news reached Conway, Eliphalet Cloutman died amid a local epidemic. His other sons and his grandsons made anvils ring near the Pequawket dam well into the 1930s, when their smithy turned to the repair of automobiles, and the site is still devoted to that same function. Wanting the land so he could build a stable for the Conway House, Hiram Abbott bought the home where Cloutman’s children were born and moved it to Pleasant Street, where it stands today beside St. Margaret’s. Hundreds of people pass it every day, unawares.

William Marvel lives in South Conway.

  • Category: Columns

National Perspective: Clinton in commanding position, but must overcome obstacles

By David M. Shribman
No candidate in decades has been in as strong a position to win a major-party nomination as former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Not since Richard Nixon in 1960 breezed to his appointment with destiny in Chicago has a presidential contender had so easy a time advancing to the finals in presidential politics.
Which is not to say that there is clear sailing ahead for Ms. Clinton, whose strong position may be more attributable to her lack of opposition than to her lack of vulnerability.

  • Category: Columns

Mark Hounsell: Not everything is black or white

It was either the fall of 1962 or the spring of 1963; I do not rightly recall. I know I was in Mrs. Ann Croto's fifth- grade class at Conway Elementary School, and she led us one afternoon to the school gym for an assembly. The gathering of students for special programs was not uncommon. In those days, it seemed we were frequently being told something by a lecture or shown something by a demonstration. I remember one assembly we were shown snakes — big snakes. I liked that one. Another time we had Brownlow and Dorothea Thompson show us how to square dance. That was fun because I got to dance with my classmate Carrie Sherman — Hmm-uum!
On this particular afternoon, I went to a school assembly that impressed me then and impacts me still, some 50 years later.
The school invited a "Negro" to come to Conway, New Hampshire, and present himself to the children of this northern, lily-white community. "Negro" was the acceptable label in 1963 but is an inappropriate and insulting moniker in 2015.
As an 11-year-old boy, I was totally mesmerized by this man, who I remember as having the darkest skin color of any person I had seen or have seen since. He was indeed black. Yet, what impressed me was that he was an educator. I am not sure I know why I was impressed with his intellect, but I was — probably from negatively formed stereotypes that came from watching too much TV, like the old Amos and Andy shows. I recall that he presented himself with courage and confidence to the scrutinizing eyes of young children who had not lived long enough to have developed any deep-rooted prejudices.
He offered his features for our scrutiny — his lips, his nostrils and his hair. I will never forget when he offered the palms of his hands to show us they were basically the same color as ours. Funny, but that was when I got the revelation that the black man and the white man had something in common — our hands. It got me to thinking. Perhaps we had common hearts? Perhaps we shared similar dreams and hopes? Perhaps below the 1/16 inch of skin we were the same? It became very apparent to me that day that the black man and the white man are equal as humans.
The past 50 years I have observed the struggles in our country as it relates to race, and I have this to say: Yes, as people of all races we are equal as humans. However, fear, ignorance and hate over race relations still surface when certain situations arise. Jim Crow may be wearing various disguises, but he has not left the building — not really, not yet. In not so subtle fashion, prejudice and segregation abounds in most ethnic communities.
Cities burn as clashes between whites and blacks continue. The division widens as more tolerant whites seem to have had enough of riots and blacks are tired of being shot by the police. It is good to have had enough of cities burning, vandalism and being shot by the the police. What is not a good thing is to realize that irrespective of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the years since that long-ago assembly at Conway Elementary School that spurred a young man's revelation, even though there have been significant advancement in the exercised rights of black Americans not enough effort has been made to eliminate hate and fear as it pertains to race relations. The fact this is true is underscored today as those who benefit from race divisions create organizations, shape the debate and stage events to assure that everything remains either black or white. Too many people are working to maintain racial division instead of working towards sincere unity. We still have a long way to go.

Mark Hounsell lives in Conway Village.

  • Category: Columns

Tom McLaughlin: Aggressive ignorance

After last Friday, young people in Paris know what aggression is. Young people at the University of Missouri, at Yale and at the University of Southern Maine, however, do not. Student “leaders” at Mizzou (what people are calling the University of Missouri these days) certainly do not, but think they do. They're whining because their 15 minutes of fame were cut short by radical Islamist massacres in Paris. Nobody is listening to their petulant demands for “safe spaces” anymore. Instead, people are wondering if there really is any such thing as “multiculturalism” and can we actually "Coexist" with a culture like Islam, many of whose followers kill us every chance they get.

  • Category: Columns