I live in a small town in the center of the Blackstone Valley, a place that is also part of the National Park system and is considered a “National Historic Corridor.” Which means our quaint little town and beautiful river has historical importance.
This is where America began to build working mills, using the Blackstone River to power them. Eventually a river and canal system was built and eventually a railroad to bring American goods to the markets of the world. The mills and factories caused lot of pollution, but that’s what industrialization does.
Our little town hasn’t quite entered the new millennium. For that matter, it never accepted the previous century, either. It crawled unwillingly along until the mid 1950s, and then dug its heels in and said “Hell no, we won’t go.”
There we have stayed. World War I artillery pieces sits next to our Civil War memorial and just a few feet from the World War II bronze and stone grouping. Vietnam never met it, nor any war since. The Common isn’t very large and it’s filling up with all memorials. They make an interesting juxtaposition with churches surrounding the common on all sides.
Guns and churches. At various times of the year, there are miscellaneous events on the common, also known as “the green.” The grass doesn’t care. It just sits there being lawn-like.
We have book sales, rummage sales, cake sales and fair-like occasions that usually coincide with some national holiday or other. We have a Christmas Parade and our local version of first night, but we hold it so early in December that it always feels a bit odd and out-of-place.
Other events include porkettas and pancake breakfasts, all to raise money for something and probably, they do. We used to have great local fireworks on the high school’s athletic field, but one year, we ran out of money and that was the end of fireworks. Other towns have them and I can see bits of them over the tops of our trees plus private events staged by neighbors who’ve gone up to New Hampshire to buy fireworks that are legal in that state, but not in Massachusetts.
Most of the private events are more noise than show and scare the dogs out of their fur coats. Other towns complain that Main Street has been destroyed by big chains like Walmart. We do not complain. We don’t have a Walmart or any other chain. If you want to buy anything other than hardware and lumber (Koopman’s sells that), groceries, or fast food, you’ll need to go elsewhere. If you want a decent meal, you will have to go to another town. If you want to see a movie, go bowling, see a play, hear a concert … well, you know,
Boston’s not so far and Worcester is just up the road a piece. You can get to Providence in about 45 minutes. Depending on traffic. Whatever you want, you probably won’t find it in our town. We have a beautiful albeit underfunded public library.
It’s in an old, elegant building that has somehow managed to remain alive despite having its budget cut and cut again until it can barely keep the doors open enough to maintain membership in the public library system. And progress is encroaching, despite all resistance.
After 20 years of arguing about it — after allocating millions of dollars to upgrade the old high school and having funds vanish with nary a trace — our little town was told by the Commonwealth that we must build a proper High School or lose accreditation (which would make it tricky for our graduates to get into college). So we are building a high school.
Our taxes have gone way up. The town has been so mismanaged for so long no one can remember it being any other way.
There is a mythos surrounding small towns. It stars James Stewart or someone like him, and a cast of caring local citizens (cue up “The Andy Griffith theme). In these Television Town, people may disagree, but everyone has the best interests of the town at heart. The families that run our town are a different.
Using nepotism, threats, bullying, and a willingness to make life unbearable for anyone who gets in their way, they have successfully maintained a stranglehold on the town.They aren’t especially concerned with the best interests of the town except insofar as it advances their own business and financial interests. They take what they want from the public till, refuse to answer to anyone for it, give out contracts based on the best kickbacks and live a good life.
Town meetings end in fistfights and verbal brawls that create enough bad feeling to last into the next decade. I opposed the new High School, not because we don’t need a new one. We did and do need a new high school. The problem is the same incompetent, dishonest bozos who have been stealing the town blind for the past 50 years or more will run the project. Anything to which they set their hand is tainted.
They asked Garry to run for town council when we’d only been here a year or two. He was still an easily recognized figure from all his years on television, so despite his not being white, his color was less important than his celebrity. He could be useful. Garry declined the honor, explaining that it would destroy our lives. We’d have mobs in the driveway throwing rocks at our windows.
I didn’t understand until a few years later when I covered debates preceding town council elections for a local paper. Good grief! The level of personal vindictiveness and venom was a wonder to behold! Where were the good guys? Each candidate was worse than the other, ranging from merely venal, through clueless, to possibly psychotic.
It was closer to Shirley Jackson‘s “The Lottery” than Andy Griffith. And yet, I do love the valley. Although I try not to think about why they do what they do and how they do it. The less I know, the happier I am. All the towns around here are pretty bad. This town may take top prize for worst-mannered and blatantly dishonest government, but the other towns are close behind, just have slightly better manners.
There are so many genuinely wonderful people here: caring, intelligent, well-meaning people who would gladly help improve our town and this valley. Pity that most of them, like Garry, are unwilling to face down the powers that be.
And life goes on. White picket fences and green lawns. Big shade trees, lots of room for children to play and safe streets. Only two traffic lights in town, one of which is probably redundant. It’s a pretty place to live. Just don’t get too involved. Things aren’t always what they seem. Think Chevy Chase in “Funny Farm.” Yeah, that works.
- Born On The Blackstone: America’s Other Revolution (teepee12.wordpress.com)
- The Watershed (teepee12.wordpress.com)
- Outreach important to Blackstone Valley Tech (milforddailynews.com)