Leicester: a gentler pace of life

Travel a bit northwest of Auburn to a place where we don’t worry about flying girls and frenetic boys.  If you’re late for work, tell the boss you stopped to let a turtle cross by you on Peter Salem Road.  What’s with all that rushing around, anyway?  Roll down your window and enjoy life for a few minutes or a few hours, or however long it takes that turtle to cross the road.


Albert Southwick thinks turning ninety isn’t a big deal.

While that may be true, ninety years of AWESOME is totally worth celebrating.

Thank you, Mr. Southwick, for your always-interesting columns, for continuing to inform the public about our history, for being an inspiration to young people, and for knowing the difference between “jerry-built” and “jury-rigged.”

(Also, in honor of your birthday, today’s BBC One Planet programme devoted the better part of a show to aging.)

Albert Southwick at the Leicester Historical Society Annual Meeting

On Tuesday night, my husband took me to the Leicester Historical Society’s annual meeting, where Al Southwick was the featured speaker.

Before I get to the main event, there were a few things of note about the evening:

  • My husband and I were easily the youngest people there, barring a couple of teenagers who looked as if they’d been dragged there.
  • We sat next to an extremely entertaining couple who’d moved to Leicester from Chicago thirty years ago.  Lately, I’ve found that every time I meet people slightly older than my parents, they try to sell me their house.  In this case, their house was extremely tempting (farmhouse, five acres,  located in a town my husband is a touch obsessed with) but, as always, my response is the same: “There’s no way I could afford it…sorry!”  The wife also gave me valuable tips; for instance, you should always order non-cocktail alcoholic drinks at restaurants, because they tend to go heavy on the tonic in a G&T.  So, she had Jack on the rocks.  (Granted, it’s a tip of limited use since I’ve never had hard liquor, but I’ll store that away somewhere; goodness knows I may need it.)  I also gave her some tips on how to request Playaways from the Worcester Public Library, since she and her husband are as passionate about the library and reading as we are.
  • The salad dressings on the table had some kind of complicated code.  I mean, obviously “I” was for “Italian” and “R” was for “Ranch”, but what exactly were the numbers for?  Bizarre…

My husband took numerous papparazzi-esque shots of Southwick, because I refused to let him use the flash because then we’d look like the groupies we are.  I especially like the picture of Southwick in between our water cups, in the top left corner of the collage:

Southwick spoke for a bit about certain aspects of the history of Leicester, especially the comparative religious tolerance of the town; see below for an example of a Quaker forebear’s exemption from the taxes paid to support the state church: 

Many present were quite impressed with Southwick’s ability to read (at one point he looked something up) without glasses.  (I would have been equally impressed, but I haven’t had that ability since I was about six, so I’m impressed with anyone who can see without corrective lenses.)  There was a Q&A session in which he had a bit of trouble hearing a question, but he was, on the whole, pretty awesome.

(His sisters were there, and he said that he and his sisters had been residents of Leicester for over 280 years, which drew a lot of laughs.)

The best part of the evening was as my husband and I were leaving.  Husband wanted me to say hi to Southwick; I was all “How exactly do I explain that I write a blog in which I discuss my obsession with him without coming off as a stalker?”; then he said, “you’re a citizen journalist”; I pled shyness; I didn’t meet him.  (But I really didn’t want to say anything, because I am incredibly shy.)

Anyway, we’re leaving right behind his sisters, whom we have previously identified as the cutest old ladies this side of my 90-year-old grandmother, and all of a sudden, Ann Cutting stopped, looked at the whiteboard on which the restaurant’s specials are written, and erased the extra “m” from “ommelette.”

“I used to be a schoolteacher,” she said as an explanation.

You Knew I Had to Say Something About This

I slacked off on my usual end-of-the-week blog roundup on Friday, but I’ve been meaning to write about how much this column meant to me.  One of my grandfathers served in an Allied (not American) navy during the second world war; the other grandfather tried to enlist in the American armed forces more than once, but had such poor eyesight that he was not able to serve.

Albert Southwick’s column on the boredom of war, and the flukes that saved his life, reminded me of the stories my grandfather (who served) used to tell.  He had a friend who relieved him so that he could have a short smoking break; during that break, his friend was killed.  The boredom of war was also related to me by a former coworker who served in World War II.  So the column was a nice reminder of two gentlemen I knew and admired.

So, this.

Specifically, this:

…overly nostalgic looks by Southwick of a city that really never existed. A city that wasn’t racist, classist – or even dirty.

Let’s look at some of what Albert Southwick has written in the past two months:

This is, of course, contrary to someone’s idea that Southwick is discussing an ideal society that never existed.  (In fairness, though, one might argue that his column on Jeffery Amherst could have been more sympathetic to the Indians who contracted smallpox via infected blankets, and that Southwick’s dismissal on the “war is hell” grounds is not convincing.  But, on the whole, Southwick is more sympathetic to non-Wasp males than the Canal District Chick would have her readership believe.)

Southwick has written and continues to write about the unvarnished history of our city in an interesting way.  His columns are usually as relevant to the issues facing the city as anything the two local columnists write.  And he can spell.

My love for Albert Southwick is a bit excessive, but it may not be as irrational as once I thought.  Southwick is a continual reminder that there is at least one person in the greater Worcester area who is literate, intelligent, well-read, and well-spoken.  Should there be younger writers on the Opinion page?  Without a doubt.  But let’s take advantage of hearing from a local gem as long as we have the opportunity.

What I Learned from Blogs This Week

Administrative Stuff
I’ll be putting up a few items on the Virtual Assignment Desk for next week.  If you register at the WorcesterActivist site, you can update this as well. 

If you don’t have a blog but want to report on something, let me know and I’ll post it here.  Also, please feel free to send in nominations for “What I Learned from Blogs This Week.”  I tend to collect news-ish items during the week, but please let me know if I’ve missed anything of note.

Contests & Other Publicity
Hearts for the Arts tonight

Center for Nonviolent Solutions annual meeting on Saturday morning at the WPL (via 508)

Worcester Tree Initiative on Sunday from 4:00-5:30 at QCC, regarding It’s All about the Trees!

 Arterial Street Sweeping next week.  (I was going to make a joke that included stents, but I’ll refrain.)

Worcester Arts & Culture Connection

News from Kate Toomey

Think Local, Thank Local campaign

Low-cost rabies clinic – April 10

Edgar Allan Poe/Big Read festivities.

Shameless Begging
As some of you know, the Regional Environmental Council is holding the 21st annual Earth Day Cleanups on May 1st, and for the third year in a row, I’ll be site coordinator for the Swan Avenue/God’s Acre site. 

A regular reader and future volunteer has taken extensive pictures of the area, which will either make you really want to help or (much more likely) scream in horror.  (The “free beer” washer has been number one on my list of things to get rid of since I started the cleanups, so if you’re interested in having that as a conversation starter in your home, or if you need some used PVC pipe or a couple of used wood pallets, let me know and I’ll bring them to you!) 

If you like reading this blog and you have a few spare hours on the morning of Saturday, May 1, please consider helping us. 

For interested volunteers, my husband has offered to discuss tree species (in addition to the previous offerings of Millerite theology, which is extremely important in relation to God’s Acre, and the Irish language).  Those who are interested in discussing which nighttime soap showed the most compelling insight into the eighties — my votes are either Dynasty or Knots Landing — can come work on my side of things.

You can email me if you’d like more information on the cleanup.

What I Learned This Week
Best mall idea of the week.

Jeff discussed two different online jerks (in a period of less than 24 hours), why that building on Mill Street won’t get a tenant anytime soon, more toxic players, anonymous pontificating, an excellent post about Taxi vs. Livery, CSX, and the reason five minutes were added to this morning’s commute.

Bill on another digital billboard rejectionwishful thinking, 47 Mason, and affordable housing.

Lance: Scott Brown’s legacy, wicked bad day, and dubious amendments.  Also, bringing new meaning to “ready for you”, which is so awesome I cannot express it in words.  (I think by now everyone knows how much I adore Lance’s blog.  Seriously, it’s all I can do to keep this weekly roundup from turning into a lovefest of No Drumlins posts.)

Tracy on the auditor’s report, the FY11 budget, NCLB, the power of no, and turnarounds.

Dee on Dress for Success, Macey Sign article (with a mention of Virginia Ryan), salutes to the WPD, happiness, and Saigon at Canal Nightclub.

Awesome post about volunteering at AAS.

Washburn & Moen fire in pictures and video.

Ada Lovelace, Seuss-isms, pills, saving the Google students, community service, the things I see in my nightmares, Coney Island, BBQ, and the potentiality of brick ovens.

Quote of the week: “There’s a big difference between being a resident and being a citizen of a community.”

The Week in Southwick
The Leicester Historical Society is going to be having their annual meeting/banquet on May 18th (it’s incorrect on the website), featuring the totally incredible Albert Southwick.  (My husband called me the other day and all he needed to say was, “Steak or haddock?”  Seriously, with Albert Southwick in the same room, I would be able to live without food for a week.)

Also — appropos of a comment to his column this week — you can find a reference to the Northborough mastodon here and a fuller account of it here.  (I was actually confused by the commenter’s reference to a Northborough mastodon, because I’d only ever heard about the Shrewsbury mastodon.)

Actual Conversations From My House

Husband: “Albert Southwick doesn’t get many comments on his columns.”
Me: “Sure he does.  He sometimes gets one or two.”
Husband: “I’m sure most of the telegram.commenters don’t even know how to respond to him.”
Me: “He raises the tenor of that website about five hundred percent every time a column appears.”


Me: “Did you know that Unum might pay almost a million bucks a year less in taxes for fifteen years if this deal goes through?”
Husband: …
Me: “And they promise 50 more jobs!  Fifty jobs is the magic number in this city!”
Husband: …
Me: “Did you know that Unum needs to sign a lease in order for them to get the $25 million from the state for the Front Street project?  And that they estimated it would take two years to complete?” [see p. 12 of this presentation for more on that]
Husband: “I said years ago that all they need to fund that project is to rent a wrecking ball and charge Worcester residents fifty bucks to hit the mall with the wrecking ball.”
Me: “Just fifty bucks?”


Also, since Thanksgiving at Centerfold’s remains one of my more popular posts, I wanted to share the epilogue to that story:

So, we checked out the Buick wagon (my husband only buys Buick Century wagons from model year 1989-1996) and it was lovely.  He went during the day to ask how much they were going to sell it for (because my husband doesn’t pay more than $1200 for a car) and the owner of the lot said that it was his mother-in-law’s and wasn’t really for sale but he’d try to convince her to sell it.

He was never able to convince her to sell it, and my husband still talks about that car.  And I’ve tried to watch far fewer Lifetime movies than I used to.


(I share these with you to show that most of the good ideas and funny anecdotes on this blog are actually stolen from the man I married.)


Updated, 2:02pm — Not three seconds after I posted, my husband sent me an email telling me to use “fewer” instead of “less.”  He’s told me before that if he’d realized I didn’t know the difference between “less” and “fewer”, that would have been as large an impediment to our marriage as his mortal hatred of Daryl Hall.

Also, he said that station wagon “was the one that got away.”  He even put a frowny face in the email.  Seriously, folks.