Barbara LaChance’s description of life in southern Maine in the 1950s (Maine Observer, July 24) is idyllic. I agree that it is the way life should be.

I too grew up in southern Maine in the ’50s, but I didn’t have that idyllic life because my family was poor. My father was hardworking, industrious and a skilled machinist, but without a high school education. He was unemployed off and on while I was growing up in Kennebunk.

By the time I graduated from high school, we had lived in 12 different rental apartments in Kennebunk. They were all walking distance to town. They had to be because we didn’t have a car. (I still remember the day it was repossessed when I was 4.) Without a car, my parents couldn’t take us to lakes or ponds. I got to the beach once each summer with the summer program for children provided by the town. I finally got to enjoy Kennebunk’s beaches when I was 13 and began living and working summers at a beach hotel.

Fall brought a financial crisis when my parents had to find enough money to buy winter coats and boots for my sister and me. (There were no charitable programs to help with these needs back then.) I remember the day our electricity was turned off and my sister and I paid the bill with our meager savings. We didn’t get a TV until long after everyone else had one.

What I did have was the opportunity for a wonderful public education. I attended Kennebunk’s public schools and had some great teachers. My teachers told me if I worked hard and got good grades, I would get scholarships for college. I worked hard and graduated first in my class. The scholarships awarded me at graduation and the student aid loans I received, along with my savings from my summer jobs, didn’t cover my first-year costs at the University of Maine in Orono. I left for college with the dream of becoming a lawyer but not knowing how I would make it through financially.

I made it through college (graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1966) mostly on government-guaranteed student loans and work in the cafeteria for 20 hours a week at 90 cents an hour. By my junior year I was married, and my widowed mother was living with us in Orono.

What really helped that year was an on-campus research job at the $2.30 minimum wage funded by President Johnson’s War on Poverty Program. I entered law school years later after Congress passed Title IX of the Civil Rights Act in 1972, opening up student aid for women at professional schools. I received my J.D. in 1978 from the University of Maine School of Law and finally began practicing law in 1985.

I am ever grateful for the roles that Kennebunk, the state of Maine and the federal government played in helping me achieve a life that is the way life should be.


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