Kennebec Tales

January 3

Linemen, the Red Barn and a Christmas tale of compassion foretell a caring 2014

An old adage that the quality of year can be determined by the first person who steps over your threshold is something to keep in mind in tough times.

There’s an old adage that the quality of the first person who steps over your threshold in the new year determines what kind of year you’re going to have.

The origin is unclear, but let’s say with its mix of superstition, bull and corniness that it’s Irish.

We grownups know only we can determine what kind of year we have — not the guy who stops by today to fix our furnace, or that friend of your brother who crashed yesterday’s New Year’s Day football-watching party or the neighbor who stopped in seven minutes after midnight to tell you you were making too much noise and your New Year’s Eve party needed to end.

But it’s also that time of year when, whether we like it or not, we reassess what happened the year before and start toting up our resolutions, or maybe hopes, for the year coming up.

So who stepped over our threshold? It doesn’t have to start New Year’s Day. After all, the calendar is a narrow measure of the larger world and while we may pay attention to old adages, we certainly don’t let them be the outline of our lives.

Maine as a whole can count all the linemen, both in state and those from out state, who trashed their Christmas week by helping thousands get their power back. Sure, it’s their job, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t work hard at it and we’re not grateful for the effort.

There’s also Laura Benedict, owner of the Red Barn in Augusta, who fed linemen for free as long as they needed meals. She didn’t have to and she could have figured she didn’t need the hassle after getting smacked down by the attorney general’s office earlier in the month for not properly negotiating the red tape for the hundreds of thousands of dollars she raises for charity.

But Benedict supports charities because it’s the right thing to do, so she’s navigating the red tape and stepping up where she’s needed.

Add to that the countless and unheralded people who left their comfort zones to help a neighbor or neighbors during the storm — who volunteered at shelters or took in friends. Or even a smaller scale, offered a lineman or someone without power a cup of coffee or hot meal.

Then there are those who don’t need a time of crisis to help. They take the time to help total strangers just because they see someone who needs help and they know they can give it.

For instance, Suzanne Hedrick, who last month was driving on Civic Center Drive on a bad-weather Monday — bad enough that she skipped a stop to get gift certificates for her grandkids for Christmas — when she saw a young woman walking along the side of road in the slush and heavy snow.

The 82-year-old former Manchester school teacher, who still had shopping to do in Lewiston and was a long way from her home in Nobleboro, didn’t have to stop, but she did anyway. It turns out the woman, Julia, 21, was walking to the Bread of Life homeless shelter on Hospital Street.

“God almighty, that could be one of my granddaughters,” Hedrick said in an email. “She had a terrible walk of at least four miles through heavy traffic, traffic circles, frigid temps.”

Hedrick and her husband, Charlie, not only gave Julia a ride to the shelter where she was living with her young boyfriend and one and two-year-old sons, but also offered $20, which Julia didn’t want to take.

Hedrick called the Rev. Francis Morin to make sure the shelter was an OK place for the family to stay.

Morin is pastor of St. Michael Parish in Augusta and Hedrick, who lived in Augusta for many years, knows Morin well.

“He assured me that the Bread of Life Shelter offers many services to its clients. However, I am still deeply concerned about this very young mother and her two precious little boys,” Hedrick said in an email shortly before Christmas.

Hedrick bought some warm winter gear for Julia and her family, intending to get them to them for Christmas.

But when she went back to the shelter on Christmas Eve, it was closed.

She was concerned about the family and wasn’t sure what to do, when the day after Christmas she saw them featured on the front page of the Kennebec Journal. They were at the emergency shelter at the Augusta Civic Center because the shelter had closed when it lost power during the ice storm a couple days before.

She worried about the young family’s future.

“I don’t know how they will survive in this society, and Augusta has so little to offer. It is heartbreaking,” she said.

She has not had a chance to get back to the family because of a death in her own family, but she fully intends to deliver the hats, scarves and mittens she bought before Christmas.

“I am so thankful I made the decision not to stop for the gift certificates. Julia was a mindful Christmas gift to me,” she said. “I felt as if, somehow, I was in Bethlehem.”

Compassion and the ability to look past her own threshold into someone elses drives the Hedricks. She shared her story not to congratulate herself, but out of concern for Julia’s family and others in similar situations.

Charlie Hedrick volunteers at a food pantry and the less fortunate are always on the couples’ minds.

In the midst of an update of her story about Julia this week, for instance, Suzanne added, “I can just imagine the impact on so many families with the loss of unemployment insurance.”

The Hedricks will continue to make a difference in the lives of people they don’t know and who no one is making them care about.

It’s a bet people like the Hedricks don’t waste a lot of time waiting for someone to step over their threshold. They spend their time looking for doorways.

So maybe the question isn’t who stepped over your threshold in this shiny new year, but whose threshold you’ll step over.

Maureen Milliken is news editor of the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Email her at mmilliken@mainetoday.com. Kennebec Tales is published the first and third Thursday of the month.This is a corrected version of this column.

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