June 19, 2011

Tempered by grief, filled with hope

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

FREEPORT — Charles Baker has endured a kind of emotional loss that no teenager should ever have to endure. Just a few weeks before Christmas last year, his mother died from cancer.

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Charles Baker of Freeport

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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It started in her colon and spread to her liver. By the time doctors detected it three years ago, it was too late. She survived longer than some people on her medical team thought possible, but the end came just as winter settled in.

In January, Baker sat at his computer and put into writing what was on his mind. He wrote an essay titled "It Was a Long Walk." He uses the family's wood stove as a metaphor to tell his story.

In heart-rending detail, he gives readers a clear and vivid sense of his mother's suffering and his family's despair. He also offers hope, and ends his essay with the assurance that his home in Freeport will be warm despite the void.

"I stepped out our front door and onto the porch, putting one foot in front of the other. It was a good day, the snow was falling, I was stacking wood, and the house would soon be warm," he writes.

Baker, a 17-year-old junior at Freeport High School, is among three Maine high school students honored for their writing skills in the annual "A Journey Into Writing" contest.

"I was really surprised that I won," Baker said. "I was like, 'Oh, wow. I don't write that well. Maybe I should spend more time with it,' " he said. "Now I am interested to find out more about myself as a writer in the future. It's given me some confidence that I did not have before."

In fact, Baker writes very well. His essay is effective because his voice is strong and his feelings clear. His observations reveal a maturity beyond his years. The death of a loved one will do that.

Baker said he struggled to write this piece. He knew what he wanted to say, and knew how he felt. But he wasn't certain the best way to express his feeling. After he realized he could use the wood stove to help propel the imagery of his story, he knew he was onto something.

"When I started writing, it just came out," he said.

Baker is a good student, with a keen interest in math. He's a bit of a Renaissance man. He's an athlete who loves to surf and ski, and also enjoys painting.

This year was challenging for him, and understandably so. "I did pretty well, all things considered," Baker said. "I like school, but I am glad this year is finished. It was a tough year."

As part of his reward, Baker received a check for $2,500, which he has deposited in the bank and plans to save. College is very much a part of his future. He and his dad have visited a few campuses already, and he is beginning to think seriously about where he wants to go and what he wants to study.

His future is bright.

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