Welcome to Sun Spots Land, a 50-year-long lively conversation with the community that is not only still relevant, but thriving.
From Day 1, the Sun Journal’s daily column — Sun Spots —has been a place where readers could ask a question, share a recipe, help a fellow reader in need and learn more about our communities. For many, it became the first place to go to save time, and where you could turn when everything else you tried had failed.
Now 50 years later, the forerunner to what is best about today’s social media — but always curated, upbeat and on point — is still connecting neighbors, answering questions and filling needs. Join me today, Ms. Sun Spots, as we tour Sun Spots Land.
The story begins like this: In 1972, Sun Journal Managing Editor A. Kent Foster had an idea and decided to throw it against the wall to see if it would stick. The “advice column” named “Sun Spots” was born.
The earliest Sun Spots column found in the archives was published on Thursday, Dec. 7, 1972. It included a question from “Upset in Lewiston” who wondered what she did wrong when she dyed her husband’s white shirts to “look more like today’s colors” and they came out streaked. (Mrs. Sun Spots suggested the shirts were made with a blended fabric, with the cotton and manmade fibers absorbing the dye differently.)
From then on, the column was published a couple times a week before it hit the big time and was offered six days a week.
Five decades and several Mrs. (now Ms.) Sun Spots later, here I am, five years into communing with readers (who I refer to as Sun Spotters) every Monday through Friday, including holidays. So of course, I want to encourage you to celebrate Sun Spots’ 50th birthday! Woohoo!
After all, I couldn’t do this without you. We created Sun Spots Land together. You ask the questions, and you also help me find the answers. We share our collective knowledge on everything from how to make a remedy for brown tail caterpillar rash to where to find a raisin pie like Mom used to make.
And it’s you who generously offer up free stuff like pianos and books, let us know what’s happening where you volunteer, and sound the alarm when you’ve lost something or found something. Like this:
Dear Sun Spots: I lost my sterling silver ring at the Auburn Goodwill Store. It’s a size 5 and has a large cut-glass stone. I have left my name and number at the store and have also called the local pawn shops and jewelry purchasers. I pray my ring is returned to me. . . . —Jennifer, Norway
And, days later, this:
Dear Sun Spots: You’ve done it again. My letter to Sun Spots was seen by a wonderful lady. She called and had found a ring outside one of the stores I had been in. Sure enough, it was mine. She even brought it to my home last Thursday. I cannot thank Sun Spots and this lovely lady enough. Keep up the good work you do!” — Jennifer, Norway
That wasn’t the first time Sun Spots helped in finding a precious possession and it won’t be the last.
Sometimes, finding things for readers takes a different form. We’ll never forget the gentleman in his 80s who appealed to Sun Spots for a sturdy egg beater so his wife could keep making popovers. Sun Spotters were all over that one, with suggestions on where to buy new beaters and offers of used ones.
And then there’s finding solutions to problems, such as when readers shared their collective advice to a mom whose 8-year-old son had really stinky feet.
That’s how things work in Sun Spots Land. We share in so many ways, and by doing so, we make our own sunshine even on the dreariest, meanest of Maine days.
Believe it. You, dear readers, are what make Sun Spots so special. Whether you intend to or not, when you write to Sun Spots, you step into a proactive community of people who can and will help you.
Need a ride to the airport, a dunk tank for a fund-raiser, a marching band, volunteers to place flags at the veterans’ cemetery, a recommendation for a massage therapist or a chimney sweep, a zipper replacement, a lamp repair? You know what to do.
Readers have even suggested ideas that resulted in Sun Spots spin-offs, including a cookbook filled with Sun Spots recipes, a book of household hints, and most recently a companion column on money-saving tips.
BEING MRS. SUN SPOTS
Being Ms. Sun Spots means I get to be a detective and enjoy the thrill of the chase, a career I will choose in my next life. I must pay attention to the little things. I also embrace being empathetic, curious, having a sense of humor, and, oh yes, I even need to be fearless.
Being Ms. Sun Spots also involves magical thinking.
To be clear, I’m not “imaginary,” as one young reader thinks I am.
I’m not a “fairy godmother” as “Loyal Reader” once wrote.
I do not have “a research department” (ha-ha).
Nope, I’m not “the Sun Spots administrator.”
And I’m not an internet robot poised to entangle you in my web.
I’m simply Ms. Sun Spots, taking my turn with the infamous Rolodex as I reflect the energy emanating from my readers. I serve as a connector to everyone who partakes of the column, which reaches beyond L-A, western Maine and even New England. Letters have come in from London, Ireland, Germany, New Brunswick, Virginia, California, Arizona, the Carolinas, Florida, and more.
You, my dears, have put Sun Spots Land on the map.
To deal with reader questions, I often rely on my ever-expanding help line that includes city managers and clerks, the Department of Environmental Protection, store and restaurant owners, teachers, librarians, nonprofit organizations, professors, tax preparers, sheriffs, SeniorsPlus and, of course, my readers.
It often goes like this:
“Good day — this is Sun Spots from the Sun Journal! I need your help.”
Very often, no other explanation is needed. The voice on the other end of the line brightens. I ask my questions, get my answers, then sometimes chat it up a while. It’s downright delightful.
Sometimes a reader question opens a big, juicy can of worms that’s too big to hold in a Sun Spots column. So off it goes to a Sun Journal staff writer or freelancer, as was the case back in July 2018 when this letter arrived in the Sun Spots inbox:
Dear Sun Spots: My aunt, Dolena McIntyre, was a regular singer/entertainer on the radio station WCOU during the 1940s. . . . I think her stage name was Roselle Coury. Does anyone remember her or have any more information? Also, please let me know if there are any recordings.” — Jimmy, no town
I found that Dolena and Roselle weren’t the same person, but this inquiry led to an award-winning feature story in which Ms. Sun Spots’ brief answer was expanded upon by a freelance writer for the Sun Journal.
“Remembering Roselle Coury” was published on Oct. 28, 2018, just three days after what would have been “Maine’s first lady broadcaster’s” 100th birthday. After the story was published, Sun Spots letters poured in from family members and others who knew Roselle, including local radio celebrity Connie Cote.
Another question that led me down quite a rabbit trail was when loyal reader Heidi inquired as to where her antique handmade dolls could be donated. I found the Historic Hazel & Owen Currier Doll Museum in Fryeburg. Because the museum already housed Hazel’s TEN THOUSAND dolls, it couldn’t take in any more, but I found another home for Heidi’s collection through a museum volunteer’s contacts.
MY FAVORITE LETTERS
Very often, your letters strike a chord with me. I’ve laughed a lot, been frustrated at times, and even shed a tear or two. And sometimes your letters have evoked a special memory of mine that I can’t help but share.
I admit I have my favorites.
For many years, Heidi sent Sun Spots beautifully handwritten letters that always brought joy to my day:
“Dear Sun Spots: When I came home today, someone had surprised me with a pretty blue vase with flowers in it left at my door.
When I was a child and visited my grandmother I picked wildflowers on my way and brought them to her. She was always so pleased and put them in a vase on her kitchen table. My thought is, why just provide flowers on birthdays, holidays, and at the grave? Whoever you are, many thanks for the lovely gift.” — Heidi, Wilton
I never laid eyes on Heidi but felt that I knew her. When she passed away recently, her neighbor wrote to tell me, referring to me as “that nice lady at the paper.”
I’ll admit it’s hard not to get attached to the “regulars” who write to Sun Spots again and again. There’s MaryAnn who hauls garbage bags full of soda can tabs to Portland to benefit the Ronald McDonald House. There’s David, who sends great recipes, and Louise, who checks in just to see how I’m doing.
What would I do without Jerry, who helps answer questions for veterans?
I also want to acknowledge the late Cat Man Norm who, along with his partner, Rose, founded Tommy’s Feral Feline Friends in Greene. His requests to Sun Spots for supplies for his kitties were so touching, and each time he followed up with a heartfelt thank-you note.
And how about those Good Samaritans — the ones who shovel walkways for our senior citizens, rush in to aid someone in an auto accident or someone who has slipped on the ice?
I also love getting letters about those “food angels” out there who anonymously pay for strangers’ restaurant meals, fast food, coffee, or groceries.
You see, when I was tapped to be Ms. Sun Spots, I didn’t know I would experience so much more from you than learning how to use Jerusalem artichokes in a recipe or how to translate a letter written in Esperanza.
Your enthusiasm for this place we all call home, your willingness to stop what you’re doing to help someone else, your loyalty, generosity, and goodwill — all inspire me and provide me a sense of comfort and belonging.
I’ll say it again: We wouldn’t have Sun Spots without you, the readers. What a joy it is to ride along with you on this informative, fascinating journey. Let’s go for 50 more years.
Happy birthday to us! Keep those letters coming . . .
And as we say in Sun Spots Land, shine on!