It sounds admirable, doesn’t it? It’s a call no true hardscrabble New England Yankee could possibly deny. It personifies fundamental freedom and hard work and pride. It codifies responsibility for one’s actions and accepting the consequences. It soars off the tongue and flies high in our consciousness. It’s the motto of the Granite State, New Hampshire, the State where I live and work.
That’s me right there. I should be living that dream all the way home.
I moved to this small town of Washington, NH 13 years ago, following Lionel to the town he’d chosen to call his own home after moving away from New York City both as a physical locality and as a world view. Previously I had lived one town over (Hillsborough) and before that, in Bradford. I’d grown up in Henniker (“The Only Henniker on Earth!”) and gone to high school in Manchester. I’d gone to Bryn Mawr in Pennsylvania for college but came bouncing right back as soon as I was done.
Besides the fact that I was actually born in Boston, I grew up here. I’m native to this landscape and presumably its people.
I’ve never thought to question this until recently. All my life I’ve loved the hills, the forested roads, the snarky unpredictable weather, the landscape which grows granite rocks instead of fertility. I like that our largest city would be considered a small suburb anywhere else. I love the fact that you can drive across the state in less than a few hours. I love the White Mountains and the parks and the cold crisp fall air of September, the snowed in coziness of January, the mud season sludge of April, the humid dog days of August. But the people, the body politic, the culture that embodies our motto?
Let’s be gentle and say it doesn’t appear we have much in common.
I was in a general discussion of the people ‘round these parts with another resident in town with whom I do have much in common, when she mentioned in passing that she “wasn’t native, but..”
“Yes,” I said, “But I am!” In this particular context I was lamenting the lack of will in the community to come together in any sort of collaborative way to further our local economy, preferring instead to hoard their secrets and their small customer base and not share anything—be it cost or profit. I find this particular mind set limiting and potentially damaging to the goal of economic sustainablity—a goal I readily admit is not actually on these people’s radar, since the only thing on their radar is themselves—in true Live Free or Die fashion. But it’s a goal I hold for them for both selfish and altruistic reasons. What’s good for me would ultimately also be good for everybody, is the way that I see it. But that would require a communal mindest dangerously sliding toward a socialist model, and we won’t have any of that here. We’ll fall on our own swords, individually, thank you very much. And we made them swords, too.
She ventured to say that I was younger, but I don’t trust this explanation. There’s an assumption in town that I am not in fact a native New Hampshirite, or possibly its just an inherent old town pride which dismisses anything beyond the town line as “not from around he-ah”, which at one point during a heated Town Hall discussion caused another resident to turn and point directly at my face and yell “We let you come here!” when faced with the suggestion that we might want to plan our future housing developments in a more pro-active fashion. It was later revealed that he himself had moved to town from Massachusetts to escape the persecution of an onerous Zoning Board, but presumably had gone native faster than I did even though I’ve lived here my whole life with no zoning at all.
It’s only taken me 39 years to come to this crisis of identity, mind you, but I now wonder how I could have lived my entire life in Small Town New England and not fully absorbed the culture here?
Lionel, a native New Yorker who’s citiness still arises at odd times (“do you think it’s okay to leave the tractor there? Someone might steal it.”) suggested it was my education that had disrupted any native political acumen I may have developed otherwise. Or perhaps my parent’s immigrant status as native Massachusettians and Marylanders gave me a bilingual cultural identity. Or perhaps it was because I’d married a New Yorker. Or maybe, I just didn’t fit in.
Yeah. Story of my life.
Whatever the reason I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that I don’t get it. Instead of fraternizing with my next door neighbors at the Annual Fire Department Chicken BBQ, we schmooze with retirees from Connecticut and New York and New Jersey, who have come up to New Hampshire to escape their own kind. So the last irony is that I am trying to create a viable local economy by selling my wares to people from out of state, and sourcing the products that we don’t actually make from outside the town lines because the people of Washington NH are too busy making and selling their own jams and pies from their own homes from blueberries from god knows where that they bought from Shaw’s because they wouldn’t be caught dead picking them from an actual orchard in town run by commie-not-from-around-heah liberals to figure out that it might actually work in their favor to do business with us. In return, my good old-fashioned “Live Free or Die this, you muthas!” Yankee pride requires that I go tit-for-tat and I end up going out of my way not to do business with them either. So much for altruism and cultural refinement after all.