(Posted to the Thetford and Norwich listservs on 8/12/2011.)
Today, August 12, 2011, is Thetford’s 250th birthday. Norwich’s was a few weeks ago. I posted the first of my reflections on the histories of our towns nearly a year ago. I’ve posted one each week for the whole of our towns’ semiquincentennial year. (I loved that word a year ago, and I still love it now!)
Today, in the midst of the birthday bash, I’ll consider what these historical reflections have meant to me. I have said many times that my writings are a description of what I found between my two ears: they are the direct result of my experiences here in the Upper Valley for nearly four decades. Just last Monday somebody said, “Thanks for all the research you do!” I responded, “Research!? I don’t do no stinkin’ research.”
Here’s today’s fun fact: I lied. Although I don’t DO research at the time I am writing, I definitely have DONE a lot of research in the past. And then I stored it between my ears. And I have now written about it before my brain could turn to mush.
And, for me, the funnest fun fact of all has been that my research over the last four decades has primarily involved listening to people, or watching people, or learning from people. In every one of my vignettes you will find embedded stories about history that I have learned from real people. You have, of course, noticed that I have rarely mentioned names, except for a few persons who are no longer alive. But there were no made-up people “telling” me stuff, nor was there stuff that I made up. Real people have told me that they have read my reflections and recalled our real conversations from five, or ten, or twenty-five years ago.
I have, of course, kept my beady eyes (and flapping ears) open over the years. I have tried to take what people have told me and then looked around our communities to see how their stories fit in. A land surveyor told me about the Vermont/New Hampshire boundary markers, and I went and found some. Then I read the Supreme Court case that established the boundary. The Orange County Forester told me about the red-pine seeding program in the 1930s, and I observed the pines in several places in Norwich and Thetford.
The point is, I guess, that I have come to appreciate how much I have relied on people to learn about the histories of our towns. And these have been just regular people living regular lives. And the regular lives of regular people involve hurricanes and floods, interstate highways, roads, railroads, mines, telephones, ice houses and ice rinks, fences, and cemeteries, and all of the normal stuff of regular lives.
I have also heard many comments about my postings from regular people, in our two regular towns, over the past year. So often I have heard how something I wrote stirred some special memory for them, or answered some question they had wondered about. I have been, I must say, touched by the sincerity of the comments I have received.
History is like literature: there can be many points of view. Take Ecclesiastes 3:1 in the Bible. It starts out “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” Google “every thing there is a season,” and you’ll turn up at least a dozen different translations of this well-known passage. Different people, regular people, interpret the same words in many different ways.
But I like King James’s translation, the one I quote above: “To every thing there is a season.” And now, as our towns’ bicenquinquagenary year closes, the season for my little notes draws to a close as well.
It has been a pleasant task indeed, each Wednesday, to write these reflections. Thank you, all of you, so much for reading them.
Happy Birthday, Norwich! Happy Birthday, Thetford!
Dan Grossman – firstname.lastname@example.org.