Ruth Bass: Holiday weekend trip makes for big add-on to the memory bank

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RICHMOND — Quite properly, Memorial Day weekend was laced with memories and, happily, created new ones. The goal was the oldest grandchild's college graduation in Lewiston, Maine — a destination often involving stop-and-go traffic on supposedly fast roads. A slower, more pleasant route inspired various ideas.

First stop was a family plot in Greenfield's beautifully landscaped cemetery where the hostas were thriving. And the stone needed a little scrubbing. On to Erving, remembered only for a speeding ticket long ago. This time, it was a savory lunch at a counter in the midst of an antique shop.

The goal that Thursday was Exeter, N.H., home of our first babysitter, still in touch after 50-something years. We pick up without really knowing where we left off, and dinner was a delight — for the food and the conversation. Our memory stash ranges from diapers to dill pickles, and I always hope her decision not to have children had nothing to do with coping with mine. But I never ask.

Then, old friends from my own college days were in Maine, and, with GPS help, I found the choppy asphalt road that led to a narrow dirt road that led to an even narrower driveway at the Belgrade Lakes. Year-round in a log cabin only steps from the lakeshore, my Bates classmate lives with a mountain of firewood outside the house and a tiny porch where you hear the pines sigh and the lake waters lap. As we did at the coffee shop in college, he and I spent three hours jumping through topics — neither of us as conservative as we were before we met the real world.

On to another college classmate, where we nearly damaged our aging arm muscles opening a foldaway cot and where we reminisced, bemoaned the times, talked about classmates recently deceased and caught up until our voices were tired. It's amazing how gaps in time disappear when you are one-on-one with a 50-year friend.

Leaving the attack cot for the resident handyman to fold, I went on my way to the Bates graduation, and grandson Sam and I joined a large group for the legacy photo, taken on the steps of a venerable campus building where the bell tolls for momentous occasions. He would graduate the next day, one more significant event added to the family history of May 27: Birthday of a grand-niece, an aunt and a friend, plus my wedding anniversary. Candles, tears, laughter, love — a potpourri of life.

Graduation was elegant, traditional, informing and, in the aftermath of lobster rolls served in the quad, quite delicious. And with my wanderings, I avoided all the car-packing trials. The weekend ended for most with a southern-style cookout with the grandson and his housemates, but I'd stay another night and acquire a new memory. I would have a beer and more than an hour of delightful talk with a man named McGraw at a place with the unlikely name of Pedro O'Hara's. Actually, as is usual with Mike McGraw apparently, he did most of the talking. Many stories.

Soccer coach at Lewiston High, McGraw is the central character in "One Goal," a book that chronicles his team's march to Lewiston's first state soccer championship ever and the way Lewiston faces the influx of Somali refugees who changed their community in a matter of months. Full disclosure requires identifying the author as daughter Amy Bass, who has woven sports, culture, history and immigration into a riveting book. Never mind my opinion: Bob Costas said, "Amy Bass epitomizes why sports matter."

McGraw waves away suggestions that he played a major role in helping Lewiston navigate the shaky bridge from shock to acceptance, not without some stumbles and by no means perfectly. But the facts give him more credit than he'll admit. On the field, he's been shouting "Together!" for years, and he knew he had to do something defining when he saw black players in a cluster for practice and white players in a separate group.

He called names and told each where to sit until black and white were mixed. Then he announced, in a gravelly voice that he says comes out of all those years of sideline yelling, they were to be together. On the field, in school corridors, at the movies, high-fiving each other. No question that his outlook helped not only the players but his native city.

Thus, when the 2015 regular season ended, with Lewiston outscoring opponents at an embarrassing level, some 4,500 people showed up in Portland for the championship game. Mike McGraw has to know in his heart that he won more than one battle that day. Photos show stands filled with people in baseball caps and hijabs, black faces and white faces, side by side, screaming for their team. A team that won with just one goal.

From the outset, faced with bigoted name-calling from both opposing players and their parents, McGraw knew his team must not react, could not risk yellow cards for tripping, punching or whatever. Just score, he told them. And they listened. He says he's learned a lot since the Somali kids came out for soccer, including the day he asked how they would say, "Together." Now, before every game, the team grasps hands and shouts "Pamoja Ndugu!" It's Swahili for "together brothers."

Ruth Bass is a former Sunday editor of The Eagle. Her website is www.ruthbass.com.

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