Friday, December 13, 2013
A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE THE other day caused me to make a last-minute change in the subject planned for this week's column. (I can always go back to the politically serious stuff.)
I was working politics, as usual, and stopped by Augusta's Residence at Gray Birch nursing home facility to talk with the activities director.
I have always believed that many incidents in life are pre-ordained, such as Paul LePage's (unlikely to be repeated) election as governor in 2010. Maybe this unexpected personal experience was pre-ordained, too.
As I entered the senior care facility, my attention was drawn to the "sun" room. I need to lighten up, life is short.
I recognized my neighbor, Ingeborg Lapointe, sitting there. She has been a resident at Gray Birch for a while now. We had never agreed about politics, but I think she liked me; I know I did not dislike her.
Ingeborg was a firebrand in Augusta politics in the 1980s and '90s, for many years leading what we used to affectionately call "the ankle biters."
She almost got elected to the City Council, losing by just a few votes in my Ward 1 year. There probably would have been hell to pay if she had won.
The years have taken their toll; this crusty ol' gal, now 84, never dodged a good fight.
She has had a couple of strokes and wasn't sure, at first, who I was. I reminded her, and asked how she was doing. I said she was looking good, and by golly, I thought she was. We talked for quite awhile.
As I started to engage her in a discussion of politics, Ingeborg became energized, "I'm still a Republican, you know, Don."
I said, "I'm not surprised. You have always been conservative enough to make the tea party look liberal."
I told her a political candidate was going to be there next week for a campaign appearance before the residents vote absentee.
Now, she really reacted. "Oh, that's wonderful. I hope that I will remember to be there."
I said, "I'll make sure you are."
We reminisced about the times when she would beckon me in from my walk for a "spot of scotch" and she would regale me with stories about her childhood growing up in Hitler's Germany.
I said, "You and I never agreed on much of anything politically, did we?"
Our encounters included extremes. Ingeborg could be outrageous with her unbridled rhetoric, but was always a colorful character with a sense of humor.
There was the time, at the late Stan Smith's Exxon station on Bangor Street, when she lit into several of us and exclaimed that she was going to move back to her native Deutschland. I offered to buy her ticket.
Another time, however, she enlisted my aid in a fight to prevent what many considered a potential environmental threat to Augusta's east side -- the location of a septic waste facility at the former Lipman Poultry plant. (Ingeborg was perhaps best known for her opposition to the Lipman chicken rendering business).
She knew how to organize the neighborhood; I knew how to raise the money from O'Connor Motors and Kirschner's to hire the best environmental attorney in the state.
I still remember the morning I called her with the news that we had won. We had finally found an issue about which we could agree.
After a lengthy conversation that day at Gray Birch, I kissed her on the forehead and said, "God bless you," as I departed.
I think Ingeborg was genuinely happy to see me.
I believe there was a reason for this unexpected encounter with an old political adversary who was one of my most severe public critics.
It made me mindful that my experiences of the last couple of years have included many new friends who used to be in what might be considered the political adversaries' camp. I have been amazed at how much I like these people, personally, while we still disagree about a lot of issues.
It all brings me to the point of this column.
Time sometimes heals many wounds, and nothing, including politics, should ever cause you to lose respect for any fellow human being, no matter how much you and they may disagree.
Ingeborg's political battles are over, now she fights the final one.
When the neighbors ask me, "Do you know where Ingeborg is. How is she?" I can say, "She's over at Gray Birch, and she's still a Republican."
Don Roberts is a former city councilor and vice chairman of the Charter Commission in Augusta. He is a trustee of the Greater Augusta Utility District, and a representative to the Legislative Policy Committee of Maine Municipal Association.