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Reasons to Come to New Hampshire

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There are so many reasons to come to New Hampshire in the fall. The subtle rose pink of the hydrangea bush that presides over my grandmother’s flower bed, which is mostly golden rod at present with a few late purple phlox here and there. The smell of browning yellow leaves piled up beneath the towering maples as I rustle through them on the way to the barn. The faintly orange-blushed and scarlet-tipped trees at the bottom of the field, promising to take my breath away in a week or two.

Beedie’s maples. Beedie’s barn. Beedie’s flowerbeds and fields. Funny how I still think of this whole place as belonging to my grandmother, gone lo these thirty years. (Writing in this old house brings out words like lo and lest.)

black and white quiet hills

There are ghosts here, most certainly. Beedie had a friendship of sorts with the one who haunts the attic — our whole family called him Andy, one of the early residents of the house who is now buried in the town graveyard.

Andy’s father Temple Baker bought the farm in 1862 for fifteen hundred dollars and had lived here less than a decade when a cow kicked him in the leg and he died. Andy and his siblings (except Fred, who died as a child) grew up in the house and carried on farming until the mid-twenties. Beedie always swore she heard Andy at night when she was alone, and she spoke to him openly.

I only heard him once, playing one long mournful note on the ancient pipe organ in the attic late at night. I just about peed my pants. That was nearly fifty years ago, and I’m still not entirely at ease in the attic.

I sense family spirits here almost constantly. But I don’t think of them as ghosts in the building, rather as sprits living inside me who become more real when I’m up here, if that makes any sense. My brother’s passing is too recent for me to allow him in — he’s still painfully real to me most of the time — but Beedie, Mom, Aunt Val, Cousin Averil, the uncles — they all belong to this house out of time. I am not alone.

Granite State Voters

Another reason to come to New Hampshire in the fall, especially every four years, is the presidential election. I like volunteering, even though the beleaguered citizens of the Granite State can get pretty grumpy as election day nears, after their phones have been rung and their doors have been knocked and their TVs have been inundated with political ads for weeks and weeks and weeks. 

Tomorrow I am making massive amounts of macaroni salad and marinated zucchini to drop off at the Democratic headquarters in town, where busloads of volunteers will be arriving from Massachusetts for the first of four weekends of door-knocking. I love the energy of election season.

Life Goes On

But I won’t get serious about volunteering for a while. I need downtime, writing time, reading time. This is the best reason for coming to New Hampshire. Tonight I’m joining my neighbors for outdoor pizza night at an organic farm up the road, and tomorrow I’ll be going to a free cello concert at a lovely stone church in town. Sunday I’ll attend the Quaker meeting in Putney Vermont. It’s the first Sunday of the month, so there will be a potluck. And I’ll stop to buy apples and a pumpkin at the farmer’s market on the way home.

Life is simpler here, even during the swirling insanity of the 2016 election.

Day 3 of my attempt at a month of daily blogging

A Slice of Americana: Parades, Onions, Quilts, and Bibles

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We heard the musket fire first, and then around the corner came a troop of somber Yankee soldiers marching up Main Street to the sound of cheering crowds, patriotic band music, and American flags flapping in the wind.

The Yankees are Coming!

The Yankees are Coming!

The tiny town of Gilsum, New Hampshire (pop. 777) hasn’t changed much over the years, and you could almost believe these Yankees were for real. Until a guy in a tri-cornered hat wandered by, and then Uncle Sam showed up on stilts and further confused the centuries. When the Monadnock High School band marched by, we were firmly back in 2013, celebrating my adopted town’s 250th birthday with a parade.

Wobbling Sam
Wobbling Sam

One of Gilsum’s claims to fame is that President Calvin Coolidge once stopped at the local inn when his entourage was lost in these hills. The burning question has always been, “Is it legend, or did the proprietors really serve the president a plain onion sandwich?” Turns out a descendant of the innkeeper was here for the festivities; he confirmed that yes, that’s what they gave Coolidge. That’s what was in the garden. Then, to put the matter thoroughly to rest, Coolidge himself showed up at the old inn and expressed his gratitude for the sustenance.

Calvin Coolidge holding forth

Calvin Coolidge holding forth

I spent a good part of the afternoon at the Historical Society, sifting through old pictures and news reports. I’m told that there is only one Gilsum in the world; its name is a mix of the last names of the two guys who founded it: Sumner and Gilbert.

Gilsum has always been a place of import, as you can see from these newclips:

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My house was properly honored throughout the day — at 231 years old, it’s the oldest house in town. Quiet Hills is featured on a commemorative calendar, on greeting cards, and on the “town quilt” made by the local quilting club, which I most unfairly did not win in the raffle.

Not My Quilt

Not My Quilt

The most exciting moment came when I happened upon an old Bible that had belonged to “the widow Mary Baker” who died in the front room of my house in the 1800s. She is one of several ghosts that keep me company here.

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I make the 500-mile trek to visit my Gilsum ghosts six or seven times each year. Next time  I’m stuck in New York traffic or driving through a downpour in deer country at dusk wondering why I keep this rickety old house, with its mice and mildew and cracked, drafty windows, I’ll rememberwith all the pomposity and punditry that comes with living in the D.C. area, it’s nice to be in the real America once in a while.

gilsum 250th 009

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Happy Birthday, Gilsum!

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