By Tom Cushing
Yankee MusingsUploaded: Oct 12, 2015
No, not the New York Yankees, albeit long winters of their discontent are always to be celebrated – THIS blog reflects variously on our recent trip to New England because: #leaves. It was an unusual getaway for Sue and me – sans dogs. Not sure who missed who more, but there was a pretty joyful weekend homecoming.
We disembarked at Logan and headed for the town of Hingham, just south of Boston. Sue's research had revealed that we share ancestors acquainted from the mid-1600s. It seems that Messrs. Hobart and Cushing were both thrown out of Hingham, England for "ecclesiastical troubles," to wit: they broke into the church and lowered the pulpit from an exalted, elevated perch to the level of the congregants. Sue's Hobart became the pastor and Cushing a deacon of Old Ship Church – it's currently a UU place of worship. And, another Hobart descendant is its current minister. AND, our Airbnb hostess is a member of that church. The adjacent graveyard was lousy with both families – is the world Really this small?
Most of the Boston population inhabits its roadways, starting at about 2 PM, and extending almost to Vermont.
We stayed with my daughter's upcoming in-laws for a few days in Charlotte (shar-LOTT), VT, just south of Bernie-town, err, Burlington. Vermonters appear to live in a distinct seasonal rhythm, closer to the land and to each other, as real community members. They share. One guy has a tractor, another has a chain saw, and someone else a splitter. In California, we have rent-a-centers; I prefer their approach. Honey had just been extracted from the hive, and canning from the garden's continuing bounty had begun.
On a glorious, crisp fall day, we labored for hours in winter prep – cutting wood. Very little needed to be said, as team-working seemed to come naturally to our little trio of a crew. I may no longer be the guy who gets to run the saw, but I could keep him busy. Had I been at home, it might have been work. This just felt good – all the better for knowing that some of those cut BTUs would warm my kid.
For the record, the leaf maps predicted we'd be there at the height of the season, but a warm September delayed the color at lower elevations. So, was that a random calendar variation, or an Act of God, or do I credit the Koch brothers? Well, I'm no scientist … nor do I need to be – thanks a bunch, fellas.
There was a blinking radio tower behind the property – that always puts me in a mind of the following gorgeous passage written from another part of the country: weblink. " … (on the radio) She would speak to the drunk and sober, the godly and the godless, all the while high above where she sat, the station's red beacon would pulse like a heart, as if giving bearings to all those in the dark, adrift and alone." The tower really did help us find their house.
You may argue for lobster, or flavorful ice cream from contented cows, but having eaten our way through New England by car, I believe the regional dish is: pizza. It's everywhere (delicious, too).
There is a 'look' to the people we encountered casually in our travel, very different from around here. They tended to be about forty pounds bulkier, and an alarming percentage seemed to have trouble getting around – too much regional cuisine? They also appeared raw and weathered, perhaps by too many rough winters -- or too many Sam Adams'. For many New Englanders, 60 is the old 60.
That said, they were uniformly approachable and helpful -- less pre-occupied and insulated from other people; we take that as more evidence of a deeper sense of community than we get to enjoy here.
The traditional architecture was beautifully utilitarian. There were few flourishes or turrets, and no ego thresholds. These were salt boxes and Cape Cods – simple in design, with form following function. They would be interspersed occasionally with a '50s rancher or a '60s split level – somehow those late editions showed their age much worse than structures 200 years their senior. These homes were not only built to a purpose – they were also built to last. And they were surrounded by large areas of actual green grass.
In our experience, the majority of Maine exists in liquid form.
Having traversed dozens of small towns, two further impressions endure: graveyards and churches were everywhere. Places of worship were prominent and well-maintained, with soaring steeples. They must have been, and may still be, the centers of both piety and community.
The graveyards were numerous, and also artful and well-kept. They often appeared to be family plots, which seemed to date back to the inception and suggest a kind of continuity and permanence-of-place that is rare in these, our own, transitory parts. My Maine-based cousin tells me that you take the plot with the land when you buy it, and new owners are forbidden to plow it under (although they needn't maintain it, most seem to do so).
Finally, we visited Salem and stunningly beautiful Marblehead, where Sue has a friend from the other end of the country and of our lives. It may surprise no one that I also claim Margaret Scott, one of the twenty slain Salem witches, as my distant kin. What a sobering reminder of our enduring capacity to persecute people who are different, or a nuisance (as the widow Margaret was), or who happened to own some prime, forfeitable real estate.
We paid ancestral respects, but I was particularly struck by the story of Giles Corey, an octogenarian and one of several men included in the witch hunt. When he became aware of the plots ag'in him, he conveyed his (prime) lands to his sons, and then stood mute in court, when asked how he pled. The trial could not proceed without a plea, so they took him to a field and tried to 'press' it out of him. For two-and-a-half days they piled-on ever heavier rocks as torture, hoping to extract a response.
Finally, he caught the eye of a magistrate, who leaned-in to hear his whisper. He rasped, "More weight," and passed beyond the jurisdiction soon thereafter. Now, THAT man was a bad-ass who defiantly beat the colonial inquisition at its own game, and good for him. I hope Sue can find a way to link his blood to ours.