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Last winter, on the coldest night of the year, I was scheduled to tell stories at the historic and vernacular South Danbury Christian Church. (Vernacular means not fancy but functional — I looked it up.) “Will people come out in the cold?” I asked Bonnie Nichols, the organizer. “They will,” she said. A -40 cold snap “wouldn’t much bother hardy New Englanders.” 

Sure enough, the pews filled. But when I stepped up to the lectern, the electricity died. No lights. No heat. As the temperature dropped, listeners huddled in coats, hats and mittens for stories and laughter by candlelight. We stuck it out for a good hour, though the hall cleared out darned quick afterwards. As the saying goes: “It’s not the most fun you’ll ever have, but you’ll probably survive it.”

That’s yankee optimism.

In other news, our state Legislature has declared May 3 Old Man of the Mountain Day, 20 years after he fell off the side of Cannon Mountain. Which reminds me of another example of how something real bad can be turned into something not so bad. May 4, 2003, Ethel in Franconia called her sister Gert on the phone. “Something real bad happened,” she said.

“What?” Gert said.

“The Old Man fell down.”

“Well, pick him up and call 911.”

But the Old Man couldn’t be picked up.

He was gone.

About a week later, I was telling stories in New Boston, when the subject of the loss of the Great Stone Face arose. Somebody said, “Now that the Old Man’s gone, we need a new state symbol. Why not make it our very own Frog Rock.” (Frog Rock is a glacial erratic that looks like a frog.)

Someone else piggybacked on the idea: “If Frog Rock becomes the new state symbol,” they said, “maybe we’ll get a new state motto — Live Free or Croak.”

That’s yankee optimism.

Some years back at the annual meeting of the New Hampshire Model T Club, several members got chatting about Mark Winkley, a nonagenarian who famously drove his Model T all over the state, putting on hundreds of miles each summer.

His son complained. “Dad, that car’s go-ing to be all worn out by the time I inherit it.”

“That won’t be a problem,” Mark said, “since I’m goin’ to be buried in that car.”

“Why’s that?”

Mark said: “Because I never saw a hole a Model T couldn’t get out of.”

That’s yankee optimism.

On the sad side, Mark didn’t get the chance to be buried in his beloved Model T, because it burned in a barn fire.

But…his friends rallied. One donated an engine. Another a chassis. Another donated wheels and tires. They built a “new” Model T from spare parts, a vehicle Mark enjoyed right up until the end of his long life.

When he died, a procession of Model Ts escorted his coffin to the graveyard.

The coffin itself was carried in a Model TT (the short-bed truck version). Mourners said he would have gotten a big kick out of how his feet hung out the back.

Finally, the ultimate in yankee optimism occurred in Freedom, where, at town meeting, the subject of excessive fireworks on the lake was hotly debated. Some favored a ban. Some said fireworks should be allowed only on special occasions. In the end, voters adopted the following ordinance:

Fireworks will be permitted for three days, one day prior to July 4 and one day after; New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day; and for 24 hours following the final out when the Red Sox win the World Series.

Categories: Humor