Posts Tagged ‘Massachusetts’

0E358330-754B-44B3-A583-BBA2095D962AI grew up in Massachusetts, two miles or so from the New Hampshire border. Now, I live in New Hampshire, three miles from the border on its other side. I grew up in a smallish town, and now live in a decidedly smaller one. In both places I’ve encountered the pride and suspicion of the native. Fifth and sixth generation natives with long memories and tendencies to refer to houses as “the Gauthier place” or “the Cote place” long, long after any Gauthiers or Cotes have lived there. We’ve lived in our New Hampshire town for about five years now, and we might as well have just pulled in with Massachusetts plates about yesterday. This place can be fiercely tribal and suspicious of outsiders (as prospective Senate candidate and suspected carpetbagger Scott Brown may soon find out).

Every Sunday, my mother down in Massachusetts makes an elaborate supper for our large, local family. Given enough daylight and time, either I or my husband runs over there for the meal. Last time I did the run, I took a route that crosses the Powwow River four times. This river runs through my hometown of Amesbury, but gets its start up here in New Hampshire. The basin it empties backs up to a ridge a mile and a half north of us where Route 107 runs west to east through town. A drop of rain striking the north side of that ridge runs down to the Exeter River and on to the brackish Great Bay. A drop striking the south side will find its way to the Powwow, across the border to Amesbury, over the spillways on the lakes, then through downtown where it careens over a falls, past the remnant of the old water wheel and sweeps into a dark hole under the old mills. It flows through tire studded mudflats, under the highway, and finally on under the haunted Bailey Bridge where, they say, a carriage drawn by ghost horses passes some nights. There, the Powwow is obliterated in the courses of the tidal Merrimack, sweeping out to sea.

B000E42C-1513-4079-A760-8349663453D2As I ran the route the other day, it struck me as funny to think of being seen as an outsider in my little New Hampshire town. The arbitrary nature of the lines we draw, making this side mine and this side yours. This boundary a town, this a state. You, a native, me a foreigner. Our lines of convenience and commerce, and yet, the river finds the route of least resistance, going with gravity until it finds the ocean. I grew up along this river, and it is indifferent to the border it crosses, twice in a lazy oxbow up by the north end of Lake Gardner. I went away to college and lived along the tributaries of the Connecticut River. I went to vet school and lived along the Blackstone River’s feeder streams. And then we came back home, leaving my home state, but reentering my childhood watershed.

I suppose I will always, in the eyes of the natives of this New Hampshire town, be “from away.” But viewing such human comings and goings from down at the waterline, it looks decidedly like I never really left.

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I promise, after this, I’ll write a few short, pithy, light-hearted posts. But this one, I must do now, for the obvious reasons.

I believe in civility, and I believe in civic engagement, so usually I try to encourage public participation in our democracy no matter which side of the aisle your guy may be on. But I confess, as we get close to election day, I am feeling a pit of anxiety opening in my stomach. My family is political on every level, from town referenda to Presidential primaries, and I always feel the stakes are high. But this time, I really mean it.

On the Mall on Inauguration Day, 2009.

We went to an Obama rally in Concord, NH today, and stood in line for 3 hours to stand in the press of a crowd 300 yards distant from the occasionally visible President. 14,000 other people and our kids were with us. They were also with us on a freezing day in Washington D.C. four years ago when we stood with millions of other people to watch this same President sworn in. Simon, our second son, was still in utero, and Malcolm, running a fever, was mostly confined to his snowsuit and blanket draped stroller. The crowd in Concord today was different from that inauguration day not just because it was a bunch of reserved, mostly middle-aged New Englanders who prefer dignified (though firm) clapping to indecorous hooting and shrieking. It’s different because this President’s been up to his elbows in work for four years now, and with our firm clapping and firm set jaws, we’d like to see him through.

Uncannily similar, four years later in Concord.

I don’t generally get weepy or maudlin. I do not cry at weddings, and I do not watch chick flicks. But today, listening to the President talk about teachers, and about opportunity for every kid, I found myself with an unexpected catch in my throat. So much so that I had to give up indecorous hooting and merely clap. Because here’s why I’m a Democrat: I’m a smart and talented person. But that is not nearly enough to make it. I am now what some might derisively call “an East Coast elite.” But it was not always so. My family generally had what we needed growing up, but not all the stuff we wanted. My mom went to nursing school at Northern Essex Community College with 4 kids at home. I did a lot of babysitting. We shared some tiny bedrooms. I went to public school up through eighth grade, and was pushed and challenged by Mr. Rogers, and Mr. Miller, and Mr. Doran, who gave me extra time, and special assignments and good books and told me about the existence of prep school, and that I should go there. So I did. And so I kept company with the elites for four years. I won’t say some of my best friends are hedge fund managers, but many of my acquaintances are. I didn’t appreciate how hard my parents worked to be able to afford Exeter until, clutching a fistful of acceptance letters from some of the very best private colleges, I listened to my father tell me I couldn’t go. We couldn’t afford it.  And so I went to UMass instead. My wild, sprawling, chaotic and wonderful state school out in the Valley. We could afford it. We could afford it because Massachusetts invested in it on my behalf. We could afford it because what wasn’t subsidized by my state, I could loan out from my country.

And then, with my four years done, and my diploma in hand, I went to veterinary school at another East Coast Elite institution: Tufts. But for a Massachusetts kid, that too was subsidized by the state. So heavily, in fact, that when the state hit tough times, and the subsidy was wavering, I contemplated what I would do after I had to withdraw from school. But the state came through every time, and I got that degree too. All the things I’ve accomplished may be my own, but the chances given to me were the gifts of a faithful and optimistic government.

Now, I teach at North Shore Community College in Danvers, Massachusetts. My students are moms in night classes, Iraq war vets on the G.I. bill, immigrants on Pell grants, and 25 year olds who can stay in school now because Obamacare lets them stay on their parents’ insurance for another year. This is where I want to be. This is what I want to do with my degrees. I won’t ever get rich off it, and it probably won’t ever pay off my own student loans. But I am no victim, and neither are my students. We are the next in line of long generations who wedged a foot in the door of this country and waited for their children to pry it open a little wider. There’s more than a little light getting through the space we’ve made in that doorway now, and I bring my boys, my exhausted, cold, hungry, good boys, to these events even if they’ll never remember it. Because I need to show them what I believe. That we are none of us able to to open that door all the way in one try, in one generation. But we’re nearly there now, and I want them to look behind when they go striding through, and remember to grasp the hand of the stranger running to catch up. Born Americans, but bred Democrats.

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