Thursday, August 18, 2011

Two Tales of a Town

I am a small town girl.  In the 60's and 70's, I grew up in a bedroom community 12 miles north of Boston.  Over the course of my adult life,we moved to a couple of more affordable towns early in my marriage and then moved to my favorite "hometown" about 12 years ago.  I moved here because this town represented all that "hometown" means.  There was a strong and evolving school system, a family friendly library, small businesses like the apple orchard on Old Ayer Road, that drew us in  from miles away, from our previous towns...and there are the people who smile, ask you if you are new to town...recommend a dentist, introduce you to the police chief and the school principals...even if you aren't a "townie", you were welcomed to become time!

Late in 2009, I was blessed (and cursed) to move to Paris, France.  My husband and I thought we'd be there for three years, but due to happy circumstances, we were recalled back to the US.  My time in Paris was très intéressant.   I was a small town girl living in one of the most exciting cities in the world...well shut my mouth, butter my buns and call 'em biscuits...I did okay.  I had a good six months of homesickness, but in that time, I found a voice...a written one....but a strong one...and I found an untapped strength and confidence that I never knew existed.  I also found my opinion...but I think this is more a fact of age than locality.  With all this newness, I started to push Paris' and my own boundaries.  Not having the benefit of small town connectedness, I struck out to form new relationships and connections.  I had more than a nodding acquaintance with the waiters in the Cafe Sorbonne, located beneath our apartment.  Each morning, when I would pass by on my morning walk with Reilly, my faithful canine companion, the young, bald waiter, Alex,  would come out and give Reilly a robust scratch about her ears...and sometimes a piece of croissant...and he'd wish us a "bon journee".  And when all three of us would pop into the cafe for an afternoon pick-me-up, our mustachioed waiter friend would shake our hands firmly and with friendly conviction. Reilly would get her own special water bowl and a treat while Bill and I enjoyed an espresso or a glass of Rose'.  We experienced many such connections throughout the city...along the quais of the river Seine, in the Jardins du Luxembourg and all along the Blvds St. Michel and St Germain.  From my dear friends at the Salon de Audebert to the wine merchant and my florist on rue des ecoles...I had made some French connections...and happily some wonderful friends (miss you Juan, Nadine, Gabrielle, Roland, Tim, Chou, Janine, Peter, Phillipe, Patty, Roger and Christine!)

When we got word that our time in Paris was to be cut short, I was both happy and sad.  I knew I was going to miss the "potential" of Paris. I would miss the culture and the access to so much that is "haute" and chic and ooh, la, la.  But I was going my my comfort my little town and that fact made me supremely happy.

I returned to Groton, one year to the day of finding our apartment in Paris.  This coincidence still strikes me as funny...why, I dunno, but it does. We came back just before the holidays. I returned to Groton a new and improved woman...with an empty nest and a husband whose job was keeping him busy and on the road...but I was home.  Although I was often alone, I wouldn't be lonely and with the holidays and other homecomings, I was too busy to notice how life in a small town had changed in a year.

Within a few days of being home and folks realizing we were home, I was getting calls from people to see if I would pick up where I left off in my non-profit and volunteer "jobs"...or if would I join this cause or was flattering and nice to be needed, but what Paris taught me was that after 25 years of volunteering in an alphabet soup of organizations, it was time to focus on me for a while.  I met friends for coffee or lunch for the sake of seeing each other, not to have a meeting with the goal of setting up more meetings.

I have maintained some of the cultural and behavioral habits I adopted in Paris.  I like to shop for groceries more frequently, with a particular menu in mind, rather than stock up for a the days when time was short and Mom's Taxi service was at full throttle.  I have had time to explore places in the area, from gift shops to museums....something I never would have done on my own before Paris. My favorite custom  I employ is the Parisian/French habit of always saying hello upon entering a business/establishment and making eye contact, then saying thank you and good bye upon leaving said is the most civilized thing I do and it makes me very happy to do so...I encourage all Americans to do home and abroad!

But something changed in the year abroad...I know I did...but my hometown changed too.  It seems harder to find the friendly face in the grocery store or walking along any number of paths in town. I have noticed too, that this place that once welcomed newcomers, new ideas and new energy seems to be closed down to that which is "new".  This town used to be a place where people came together to build a future...and, to quote the school district motto..."together a promise to excel" seems to be a place where NIMBY (not in my back yard) is a rising sentiment.  We have come to a place in time where perceptions are not lining up with realities.  People say they want a vibrant and busy downtown, but then complain that traffic and parking will make life miserable.  People claim they want family friendly venues and activities...but families with children and dogs shouldn't be allowed to play or have access to parks and trails because some people don't like dealing with such things while jogging, riding bikes and wearing spandex.  We've had people complain because they moved into a newer residential development built down the road from a successful working farm and they want the farmers/town/board of health to do something about the smell...really?  You moved to an agricultural community...with farms that have been here for hundreds of years. 

We have seen local businesses struggle as well.  Our town is a bit confused about business.  On one hand, the citizens and leadership want to maintain the quintessential small town feel of days of yore, by limiting the types of businesses welcomed here...with the exception of Dunkin' Donuts and CVS, you won't find any chain stores, fast food joints or big box stores...and on the other hand, when local businesses do set up here, it is too inconvenient for locals to visit them (parking issues, the stores are specialty shops, etc), especially when a trip up to Nashua provides everything you need in a half mile radius of the mall.

Recently, Groton tragically lost an historic landmark and central business to fire.  It was this incident which showed me that perhaps this is not the Groton I moved to twelve years ago.  With the exception of a few people, there was little outpouring of support for the owner and the residents of the Inn who were displaced by the conflagration.  The night of the fire, Karen Tuomi, a truly awesome lady and in my opinion a town hero, organized shelter for the residents of the Inn's apartments and folks set up sustenance for the stalwart fire fighters.  Within hours of the fire's being extinguished, a local organization called an emergency meeting about preserving the historic inn, but to this day, I have yet to hear of an emergency meeting to address the needs of the families involved or the wounds to our town as a whole; we lost a local treasure, filled with memories and filled with potential.  Granted there were plenty of Facebook comments...but where was our neighborly response...a real, physical, human response...the community supper...the prayer service...the collection of goods to replace stuff lost in the fire?   We didn't gather as a community to talk about how we could help...make a difference...and "deal"  as a town.  Within a week, a couple of people with gumption organized funds for the families with local banks...but as a whole, Groton just gawked at the ruins and then...much to my dismay...speculated about the cause of the fire. Once that can of worms opened, unwanted and unnecessary opinions about the fire and the future of the Inn were shared.  Through the veil of e-mail on our local list serve...writing critical words is easier than sharing them face to face...some vociferous people expressed their desires for the site...often accompanied by cruel and crude criticism about a family that had been in business in town for over thirty years.  Admittedly, there were people on our local Google list serve who were dreaming about a better Groton...about honoring an historic site and the legacy of all the Inn's owners...but there were many more who out and out disparaged folks who are facing the hardest time of their lives only to make themselves seem bigger by knocking people when they are down. 

I was disappointed in my hometown when I read those posts and the articles in the papers.  I was shocked that some of my neighbors would go there, down a very disturbing and distrustful path...and the surprisingly few retorts to all this negativity...I plead guilty to not responding, until now and in this somewhat sheltered forum...because the invective of those few, sharp tongued is so opinion and observations in that forum would have no meaning and frankly I don't want to be the next target of their venom.

I think there is still time to right the course that we took as a town during this incident...and then there is the amazingly hope filled and happy story of Riley. 

Last week, a family posted  on the list serve, an urgent request for help in locating their lost Sheltie dog, Riley.  Immediately, a small group of the kindhearted in Groton offered suggestions, assistance and prayers.  People organized searches for the skittish pup and posters and fliers popped up all over town.  Shortly, news of Riley sightings were reported and search parties were narrowing down the rescue and recovery areas.  As I drove around the back streets of town, I kept my windows rolled down and I would whistle or call out "RIIII-LEEEE"...always with a hope and prayer in my heart that I might see the wayward tail wagger. 

Today, good news was posted on the Groton List and Riley was found...through cooperative efforts of neighbors and strangers...and there was nary a nasty word about leash laws and dog parks and woulda, coulda, shoulda-s...just a very happy ending. This is the stuff that makes me proud to be a part of my hometown...and in my heart and in my humble know the one that age and Parisian life emboldened, this is the way we should focus our energies...building up, bringing together...being there for our neighbors, in good times and in bad...this is and should be the stuff of our  town's stories....our history.

Merci....bon journee!

1 comment:

  1. I take such pleasure in reading your blog posts, regardless of the topic, because you just write so bloody well! Engaging, smart, and, Lord have mercy, you know how to use punctuation. And for these things, I can forgive you for continuously whooping me in Scrabble. Cheers!