Gilford, New Hampshire IS the Center of the Universe

April 26, 2010

“My, wasn’t life awful—and wonderful.”

Thornton Wilder, Our Town

A friend (and loyal blog reader) recently asked, “Are you only going to write about Gilford? Are you only going to write about New Hampshire?” in a tone I couldn’t quite decipher but thought was not too complementary. I was a bit thrown. My first reaction was YES! And then WHY NOT? And then I considered a future where I did only write about Gilford and the Lakes Region and I thought OH NO! I’m going to become one of those weird regional writers who you hear at the end of the NPR newscasts or whose columns you read in the local paper that you pick up for free at the gas station, a paper that’s mostly full of letters to the editor and appalling typographical errors and photographs of Boy Scouts holding up Soapbox Derby trophies.

I’m going to become the kind of writer who expounds endlessly about the unpredictability of the local weather, or about wily raccoons getting into garbage cans, or about squirrels getting into attics and leaving stores of nuts in grandma’s trunk, the kind of writer who every other year or so will do the piece on the “steering wheel wave” that drivers employ in her small town whenever they pass each other on the dirt roads to nowhere because “in these parts no one’s a stranger, even the strangers, though it’s true we’re all pretty strange.” Har, har, har.

I try to avoid the black hole of navel-gazing, but maybe I’ve gotten sucked into the black hole of Gilford-gazing, the black hole of believing New Hampshire IS the center of the universe. For this, I blame Thornton Wilder and Our Town, a play set in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, a place specific and small but meant to be universal with characters specific and small but meant to represent everyone everywhere. And what’s the message? Well you can Google Our Town if you want footnotes and history and Pulitzer-prize winning assessments or you can just choose to believe me when I tell you that in Our Town, the characters live and die without noticing their own lives and how they live them despite the fact that there are so few distractions in their small town—no Eiffel Tower or Empire State Building, no nightly club scene or seven-story Gap store, no neon marquees promising endless stores of distraction and entertainment, no bums on the sidewalk misery or fast food wrappers and crushed beer cans caught in the underbrush of the city park.

So maybe I am just trying to notice Gilford, trying to notice a life lived, even though it’s a life gone by, even though Gilford is surely not the same place anymore and anything I write about it is more fiction than fact, however much I might want to believe otherwise. And I thank my friend for asking that question of me, if only because it forced me to look again at this world I’m creating online, a world I hope lives beyond the borders of one small town in New Hampshire.

Later this week? A meditation on the steering wheel wave . . .


5 Responses to “Gilford, New Hampshire IS the Center of the Universe”

  1. lizahl said

    Crap. I have a poem about the steering wheel wave (only it’s set in Nebraska) AND a poem about squirrels in the attic! Crap!

  2. Dorothy said

    Did you meet my mother? You write about her.

    Whenever she or we couldn’t find anything, she would harp, “It’s probably in the Black Hole of Calcutta!”. The black hole was a partially-finished attic with dust-covered heaps of relics and cob-webbed sideburns, a place where even the football players chose not to go.

    I refer to my black hole of a navel when we become bored and don’t know what to do. “Well, I’m not going to sit around picking the lint out of my navel!” I bleat.

    Before I was to return to Long Island, my mother said why didn’t I look in the bookcase upstairs in the hallway for some good books to take home. The bookcase was near the source of scurried little beats I had heard in the ceiling over my bed for two nights.

    “Mom, I think you must have squirrels in the attic,” I warned.

    She shook her thick white hair out of its nest and stated, “No, I don’t!” just as I pulled out “The World According to Garp” and piles of acorns were let loose to cascade down each and every step.

    I do enjoy your writing style, stories, and sites – Gilford, Weirs, Laconia, Gilmanton, Lakes Region – and I plan to read more.

    • Are you Ruth’s mother? No I’ve never met her but I’d love to! I would really like to put together an anthology of NH Lakes Region writers for kids to read in middle school and high school and your mother is one of the first writers I’d like to include. She, and Grace Metalious and Earnest Thompson and so many others. Anyhow, thanks so much for writing me–I really work hard to promote NH writers so I’m glad to know someone is reading.

      • Dorothy Duffy said

        No, Kate, I am not Ruth’s mother. I did refer you to my friend, Ruth Doan MacDougall, since you referred to her. I’m sure she’d love to meet you. She lives in Center Sandwich and has just updated her father’s (Dan Doan) hiking guides.

        I do write a silly little column bi-weekly for the Citizen and also for the Sun until it stopped the Monday paper. A fun thing.

        My classmate’s brother just published his first book, Ora’s Boy by James Novak (a.k.a Sonny Virgin brother of Lorraine Virgin Benoit). I have it but still haven’t read it.

        Locally we have Denise Ortakales who writes delightful children’s books and Jack Polidoro writing of Ted Williams on ice and other tales. Also Suzy Campbell

        I try to follow local authors and like you hope to see them promoted. There’s Tomie dePaola, Barbara Delinsky and Jodi Picoult and of course, Dan Brown.

        Your Gilford kicked us, the Opechee Garden Club, out of their 200th Birthday parade . . . said our float was too big! We think we would have won too with our Victorian garden tea party.

        Best wishes for success and satisfaction with your writing. You’re very amusing and witty. Dorothy

  3. Thanks Dorothy! I hadn’t heard of the James Novak book. I’ll check it out!

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