A New Hampshirite who was asked to describe the city of Boston did so in one word: “Unnecessary.” Conversely, a resident of Auburn, fresh from a trip to the Big Apple, declared: “New York City is just the same as Auburn, New Hampshire — ‘cept more people.” If you’ve lived in New Hampshire all your life (so far), a trip to the big city is apt to modify your perspective. Your perception of size — big, small, or middling — depends on where you come from, where you’ve been, even where you think you’re headed.
I’ve lived in Northwood for 45 years (so far) and the natives are just gettin’ used to me. A neighbor, who’s lived here a minute, refers to Northwood as “our small, rural town.” First, whadayamean “our”? Second, Northwood has four gas stations, two banks, a traffic light, a Family Dollar and a Hannaford. Small? Rural? Maybe — if you’re from Worcester.
A California woman moved to Alexandria. Her first full day in town happened to be a perfect September day — bright, crisp and breezy. The kind we long for in the muggies of August and of which we say, reverently: “Don’t get any bettah than this.” Taking advantage of the fine weather, she walked along the main drag, called in at the library, and got chatting with the librarian: “Are you from here?” the Californian asked.
“Oh no!” the librarian said. “I’m from Bristol! I married an Alexandria man.”
From a distance, Bristol and Alexandria (heck, the whole of New Hampshire) might seem kind of the same. They’re not. Bristol has twice the population of Alexandria. Compared to Alexandria, it’s a metropolis.
My grandparents lived in Danbury just south of Alexandria. As a child, I often stayed with them. In fact, I spent my first weeks of life at the homestead. My parents had an apartment in the city — Concord. I was their first child; no doubt my mother looked to her mother for help. With me! So home to the country we went. I don’t remember much about it.
I do remember a few years later when cousins from Arizona came East. In a car. My grandparents never owned a car; they stuck close to home. When I stayed with them, so did I.
“Anything special you folks want to do while we’re here?” the cousins asked. Grampa said he’d heard there was pizza in Bristol. He’d never eaten pizza, but it sounded tasty. A drive to Bristol for pizza might make a good outing.
The cousins stuck around for a week or so, visiting other relatives in the wilds of Caanan and Wilmot. But the trip to Bristol? For pizza Never happened.
I thought, they came all the way from Arizona. Couldn’t they could drive just a little farther? To Bristol. For pizza! This was the first — if not the greatest — disappointment of my life.
Danbury is both small and rural. So’s Wilmot, next door. According to legend, a newcomer heard that her neighbor, a native, was ailing. Up the road she went. He met her at the door.
“I heard you weren’t feeling well,” she said, “so I brought you this casserole.” He thanked her.
A week later, she walked back up the hill and asked if she could have her empty dish back. He fetched it.
Evidently unfamiliar with the admonition Don’t ask a Yankee a question unless you’re prepared for an honest answer, she went ahead and asked: “How’d you like the casserole?”
He replied in kind: “It wa’n’t up to Wilmot standards.”
When it comes to standards, size doesn’t matter. Or maybe it does.
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