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Ask those you know this important question

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Winter days in Maine are sometimes black-and-white.

My friend, Bill Kitchen, last week posted a photo view from his home porch of Bad Little Falls in Machias. You think you’re seeing a black-and-white photo until you read Bill’s photo caption. You are, in fact, looking at a full-color photo of the river moving almost without a ripple, between white, snow-covered banks and fir trees.

One foggy winter day, long ago, driving Moosehead Trail toward Dixmont from Newport, I drove down the long hill into Plymouth, passing the Plymouth Honor Roll, the Village Store, the Grange Hall, Emmanuel Bible Baptist Church, to the head of the causeway transversing Plymouth Pond.

Everything in view — the frozen pond, the ice fishing shacks, the bare hardwood trees, the pine trees — was in shades of black and white. I described that scene in a letter to my friend, Jack Foley, as feeling as if I was outdoors in an Ansel Adams photo.

Now and again — driving Maine in winter on I-95, or looking out a window at Bear Pond and Bear Mountain — I am in a black-and-white Maine moment. Although I’ve lived in other states with harsh winters (Iowa, Connecticut), I have only experienced black-and-white winters in Maine.

Why write about black-and-white Maine winter days knowing Piscataquis Observer readers will first see this column Christmas Day? I trace the reason back two weeks when I misread a Christmas song title. An old high school classmate was asking for feedback on his original song, which I mistook as: “What Did You Get From Me?”

Listening to the song I discovered it’s actual title: “What Did You Get For Me?” And the lyrics are concerned with questions about material gifts, as in, what did you get for Christmas? What did your parents get you for Christmas?

I was disappointed. I had imagined this Christmas song, “What Did You Get From Me?” with words written from the heart of a 60-something parent, making Christmas a time to ask his adult children and grandchildren:

How did I do as a parent and grandparent?
What values did I pass along?
What kind of example did I set?
Did I encourage you to pursue your dreams?
Did I succeed more than I failed?
Have you forgiven my shortcomings?
Did I teach you skills to navigate through life?

My imaginings turned to thoughts of my own mother and father. How would I answer those questions this Christmas if asked by my parents? This is the family’s first Christmas without my mother, Claire Fish, who died February 11 this year. My father, Chet Fish, age 92, lives in an assisted living facility in Pennsylvania.

A few years ago I did answer those questions for my mother and father in a letter, which we three talked about in a later phone call. The letter was inspired by my relationship with my mother’s father, my maternal grandfather, Bill Commo. He and I were avid pen pals in the last decade or so of his life. We wrote back and forth about everything. When my grandfather died, I had no remorse over things I wish I had said but never did.

I wanted that same positive experience with my parents.

What did you get from me is a worthy question to consider of all influential people in life, good or bad, living or dead.

Even better, is to reflect this Christmas on the current people in my life and ask: What do they get from me?

If I’m honest, the answers are bound to appear in black-and-white.

Scott K. Fish has served as a communications staffer for Maine Senate and House Republican caucuses, and was communications director for Senate President Kevin Raye. He founded and edited AsMaineGoes.com and served as director of communications/public relations for Maine’s Department of Corrections until 2015. He is now using his communications skills to serve clients in the private sector.

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