Readers’ feedback rewarding

Posted Jan. 06, 2011, at 10:14 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 28, 2011, at 12:17 p.m.

An unexpected reward of writing for the newspaper is feedback from readers, a reward magnified by the immediacy of e-mail and the Internet.

I am also tickled when talking to people who mention the column and start to laugh. Usually, they are remembering tales of wildlife encounters. They often have their own stories to relate.

One of many responses to a column on the problem of relocating live-trapped squirrels came from a woman who also transported her captured critters to the same spot so they could be together. Her friends thought that was so funny they started sending her greeting cards from her squirrels (signed Max and Irma) for all occasions — Christmas, birthday, Valentine’s Day, Halloween and New Year’s. She told the story to so many people she has no idea who is sending the cards. As the story spreads, the number of cards multiplies.

“I didn’t know they had so many different squirrel cards,” she said.

Another reader sent me an album of photos of his 2-year-old golden retriever, which has a habit of inviting a squirrel into the kitchen to eat the cat’s food. The dog also brings in live snakes, birds, mice and chipmunks. She is friends with deer and fox around her home and went swimming with a baby seal and its mother. The reader agonized over his need to trap the squirrel, thus ending up on his dog’s “Bad Daddy” list.

“She’s my best friend,” he lamented. “We watch TV together (She loves Animal Planet), and she loves riding everywhere in the truck with me, so I can’t disappoint her.” I have yet to respond to his plea for an easy way to separate the squirrel from the dog.

One of my most intriguing responses was an anonymous gift. In a column on finding a balance with technology in my life, I mentioned my participation in a raffle, hoping I would win first prize — an Amazon Kindle e-reader. A few days later, I received a box in the mail. Inside, wrapped in a Brunswick Times Record with the address label torn off, was a beautiful white Kindle in a black leather case.

I suspected a pair of former students now living in the Brunswick area who might challenge their former journalism ethics professor to accept a gift, as well as call her bluff on really wanting a Kindle. I e-mailed them and phoned. No response, but their Christmas card carried a formal denial: “Sorry it wasn’t us.”

Whoever you are out there, thank you.

In the last two weeks, poignant reminders of stories yet to be told arrived among the many responses to articles about a German refugee who ended up in Fort Kent after World War II. Two veterans of the European conflict recalled their own experiences when they read about Philomena Baker walking with her mother from Po-land through eastern Germany until they could cross the Elbe River into the American-occupied sector.

“Philomena and I may have walked not far apart (I under German guards) from Poland to the west side of the Elbe in the winter of 1944-45,” wrote Bob Harris of Deer Isle, a longtime member of the Bangor Vet Center, WWII Group.

“I was an American POW in LUFT IV, a prison camp north of her stop in Posen, Poland. When Soviet forces entered Poland in early 1945, we POWs were force-marched west over the Oder River at Wolin-Usdom as it reaches the North Sea, and on through Schleswig-Holstein to Schwerin across the Elbe River.”

At 87, he still recalls “being moved among POW camps in box cars packed with men so tightly that we could not sit down.”

Paul Marshall, 86, of Hope wrote that he may have been one of the first Americans to reach the Elbe River and make contact with Russian troops on the eastern side. At 18, he was a private in the U.S. infantry and a member of a five-man “sneak” patrol sent out to meet the Russians before official contact had been made between Russian and American troops.

“It was a volunteer patrol, and we had to make our way through 20 miles of the remains of the German army. Hundreds of German soldiers were all over the place wanting to surrender to the Americans before the Russians took them.

“We did reach the Elbe on [April] 23 and were rowed across the river and taken about five miles back into Germany to contact the Russian ‘bigwigs.’ We as a ‘sneak’ patrol received no recognition of being the first Americans to contact the Russians because we were not officially commissioned to do so. It was a few days after that that an ‘official’ meeting of the Americans and Russians was carried out with all of the publicity and fanfare that the media loved to be part of.

“My infantry division landed at Normandy and we fought our way all the way to the Elbe River, through northern France, Belgium, Holland and then deep into Germany. I was very fortunate that I had only a few scratches, but so many of my mates did not make it all the way.”

Asked whether he had recorded his recollections, Marshall said no. Encouraged to do so, he confessed his wife had made similar requests. Now they have decided to work together to assemble his memories.

“You have encouraged me to do ‘something’ about my memory collection,” he wrote. “Thanks.”

He should be thanked. His stories will be a gift to future generations.

Kathryn Olmstead is a former University of Maine associate dean and associate professor of journalism living in Aroostook County, where she publishes the quarterly magazine Echoes. Her column appears in this space every other Friday. She may be reached by e-mail at kathryn.olmstead@umit.maine.edu.

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