Archive for June, 2008

Scarborough 350: The Paradis Family

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

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I’m in a business networking group with Matt Paradis. He never fails to entertain the group at our weekly meetings with his wry, witty humor. While his business supports him, it’s his family life that sustains him. Although Matt and his wife, Katie are both native Mainers ­— he’s from Fort Kent; she’s from Lewiston — they met in Boston, where they were both attending Bentley College. They were introduced by their college roommates, who were dating each other, and were married in 1992.

Matt and Katie had settled in Falmouth, but one day on a trip home from Higgins Beach, they decided to check out an Open House sign they spotted. “We weren’t even remotely thinking about moving,” says Matt, but we fell in love with the house when we saw it.” So 10 years ago they moved to Scarborough. Their son Noah was two; a year later their daughter Isabelle was born. Life was good. Their world was turned upside down, though, three years after that. Their son Austin was born prematurely. He weighed less than two pounds, and his airways were constricted by lung disease. Austin was taken to the neonatal intensive care unit at Maine Medical Center, where he lived for five months before succumbing to his condition. He never got to see his Scarborough home.

Katie lost her job — she and Matt went to see Austin daily at the NICU. Noah, who was then seven, would accompany them three to four times a week. Because of the risk of infection, though, he had to remain outside the unit, only able to look in through the glass window. “I grew to know the hospital well,” says Noah, “but I couldn’t get to know my brother. I could only see him in pictures or through the glass. It was very hard, very frustrating.” The weekend that Austin was taken off his ventilator, he was moved into an isolation unit so the family could spend time with him. “The first time I got to hold him was the weekend he died,” says Noah. Little Isabelle, only three, got to be Austin’s big sister by learning to change his diaper.

A lot has changed for the Paradis family since that sad time. After having worked for companies like Pioneer Plastics, Bass Shoes, and Unum, Matt struck out on his own in 2005. He is a business broker, helping companies or individuals sell or acquire other businesses. Katie is now an NICU family support specialist with the March of Dimes. Isabelle just turned nine and dreams of becoming a fashion designer. Noah, 12, has been gifted with a beautiful voice. He’ll be singing the roles of a student revolutionary, a sailor, a prisoner, and a factory foreman in the Portland Stage Company’s production of “Les Miserables” on July 11th and 12th. He would like a career in theater. Most joyously, three years ago the family adopted Allie, who was born in Louisiana. Shy one moment, and running to help me carry my light stand the next, Allie likes nothing better than to be hugged and cuddled by mom and dad. “I didn’t want our experience with Austin to be the last chapter of my reproductive career,” says Katie. “We very much wanted another child.” Austin is remembered, however, in a memorial garden in the backyard where I photographed the family. It is full of lushly growing shrubs and plants, all of which were given to them by friends and family members to honor the young life passed.

Scarborough 350: Diane and Jim Brown

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

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When Jim Brown first laid eyes on Diane Mitchell as students at Scarborough High School, he flipped for her — literally. “He was always doing back flips in the school hallways to impress me,” Diane says laughingly. “I just loved his impish character.”

Forty-six years of marriage later, Jim still makes Diane laugh. They were married the summer Diane graduated high school in the First Congregational Church of Scarborough, where she had been baptized at the age of 13. The church is Scarborough’s oldest, having been founded in 1728 and celebrating its 280th year. The Browns decided to create a replica of the church to serve as a float in Scarborough’s 350th anniversary parade on July 12th. Jim made use of a playhouse he built for his grandchildren five years ago and has fashioned a steeple for the top with a bell that rings. A pair of small benches they had in their home represents the pews. Four of their five grandchildren and several children from the church will ride on the float, dressed in choir robes, while Jim pulls it with his truck. After the parade, Diane and a group of women from the church will be selling 2400 homemade “Whoopie Pies” at the festival. “We hope to raise $5,000 to donate to the church to help have the roof repaired,” says Diane.

Jim and Diane have been doing their baking and building at their home off Spurwink Rd. It used to be the farmhouse her grandparents lived in when they raised lettuce, cabbage and squash on the land. Jim and Diane moved there after Jim’s four-year stint with the US Air Force, having been stationed in Washington state and Newfoundland. “I was so homesick being so far away,” says Diane. “It was great to get back to Scarborough.”

They fondly remember the town’s 300th anniversary in 1958. The celebration spanned a 10-day period. All the men in town were required to grow beards — they were known as “The Brotherhood of the Brush.” Still a high school student, Jim eagerly grew his first beard, which came in a rich auburn, like his mother’s hair. To his dismay, the basketball coach made him shave it off in order to keep playing on the team. “Diane won’t let me grow one this year,” he says with a wink. Diane’s grandfather, on the other hand, won third place for his authentic, old-time look. The Browns have been working as volunteers with the 350th Parade Committee, which is how I’ve come to know them. 

Bloomin’ Lovely

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

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JUNE 18, 2008

Last night was the annual Peony Bloom and Ice Cream Social at Gilsland Farm Audubon Center in Falmouth. Maine Audubon celebrates the blooming of the peony gardens there with members of the Peony Circle of Friends, people who have supported the organization for more than 20 years. Walking among the rows of fragrant blossoms, I spotted a woman whose hat was decorated with the most spectacular-looking irises I have ever seen.

I learned that those flowers are a special, rare variety grown by Muriel Brown at her home in Yarmouth. Audubon membership director Linda Shary says Muriel, who will turn 90 this September, is their longest-standing member, with more than 50 years to her credit. Muriel grew up in Bath and served as an Army nurse in World War II, stationed in the South Pacific. She continued to work as a nurse when she returned to the states. She and her husband, Charlie, a musician, raised six children. Muriel’s father-in-law, an expert at identifying birdsong, sparked her interest in birds. She began going to nature programs when Maine Audubon was located on Elm St. in downtown Portland. She says, “They were a great excuse to get some time out of the house!” Audubon was her conduit for connecting her children with nature.  Her most adventuresome field trip occurred on a boat trip in which the vessel sprung a leak. The bird-watchers on board had to keep bailing until the boat was able to limp into dock.