The View From Rattlesnake Ridge,
Ruminations from an Unabashed Optimist, an Environmental Patriot and a Radical Centrist
The Heart of – and Hope for – America Lies Next Door
Well I left my happy home to see what I could find out.
I left my folk and friends with the aim to clear my mind out.
I hit the rowdy road and many a kind I met there. Many a story told me of the way to get there.
So on and on I go and seconds take the time out there’s so much left to know and I’m on the road to find out.
By WAYNE D. KING, InDepthNH.org
With tears in my eyes I made a final walk-through of my now-empty happy home. About to become the happy home of Jill and Oli and their two beautiful children.
It had been almost a year since losing the love of my life, Alice, and here I was about to experience a second wave of grief. . . Leaving home 2.0. It turned out to be both a source of immense sadness and a powerful and positive lesson in life because the process of saying goodbye to Rumney gave me a new appreciation for what it had given me all these years.
Most of us will have to experience this at least one time, if not more, in our lives. I remember leaving home 1.0, but because of college and some travels with my friend Christopher afterward, the transition did not really seem so difficult then.
I remember that NH’s Tom Rush provided the music of that moment with his “Child’s Song.”
Goodbye to you too Pa.
Little sister you’ll have to wait a while to come along.
Goodbye to this house and all its memories . . .
Got to make one last trip to my bedroom. Guess I’ll have to leave some stuff behind.
Funny how the same old crooked pictures, just don’t seem the same to me tonight.
~ Tom Rush
It was spring of 1980 when I put down one month’s rent and one month security on a little brown shingled cottage on Main Street in Rumney owned by Joe and Nancy Kolb. Joe and Nancy lived across the street in a rambling beautiful home that served as both their residence and a space for Joe’s woodworking business and Nancy’s Quilt shop. In the three years I lived there Joe was always only a phone call away if there was a problem. He was the model of a reliable landlord and a good neighbor.
Just to the south lived Donald “Pick” Jaquith who was widely acknowledged to have the most beautiful flower gardens in the area. I would often look out my windows toward his gardens and see various neighbors, including Betty Jo and Bill Taffe, or Ann Kent walking the garden with Pick. Pick died a few years after that and he would have been thrilled to see that Betty Jo and Bill picked up the torch after him. Today people stop to look at their beautiful gardens as often as they did with Pick’s. Pick Jaquith showered the community with love and flowers for most of his life and now that role falls to Bill and Betty Jo.
Betty Jo was a Republican State Representative when I first moved to town and for quite a few years after that. She established herself as the leading House authority on Education and she was part of an extraordinary contingent of smart, powerful and moderate Republican women who made all of us proud to be anywhere in their orbits: Donna Sytek, Phoebe Chardon, Liz Hager, Sally Townsend and Caroline Gross to name a few. When I ran as a Democrat for the Senate a few years later, Betty Jo had to be careful about her involvement – but Bill was at my house several times a week building lawn signs and providing moral support. I always knew who’s corner both of them were in and I have always been grateful.
Just down the road from Betty Jo and Bill, Cindy Perry and Norrie Parr have lived since before Alice and I built our house up on the Stinson Lake Road. Cindy was a teacher in the Russell School for all the years that Zach was a student there. She was his favorite teacher and he never misses a chance to visit her when he returns to town, even for a few days. An extraordinary teacher breathes life into a child’s imagination that lasts a lifetime. Cindy was that kind of teacher.
Norrie was the consulting forester at Grafton County Cooperative Extension and he was always willing to pay us a visit when we needed advice about logging or just managing our small wood lot. Norrie had forgotten more about trees than I ever knew – even though I had been a dendrology ace at UNH during my college years. Cindy, and her neighbors Diana Paquette, Maggie Everts, Barbara McElroy, Melody Funk, and others, along with Alice, were among an extraordinary group of women who formed “GotLunch! Rumney” to provide lunches to children in town who might not have adequate food during the summer months, when the school lunch program was not a source of sustenance. There were plenty of us of the male persuasion who supported the effort, but the brains and the heart of the organization were these amazing women all of whom enriched Alice’s life and mine immeasurably.
As I drove away from my life in this extraordinary town for the first time I thought back on many of those who had come before but were no longer with us. Faith Moulton, from whom I bought my first home, a 17-room monstrous farmhouse with only ¾ of a bath in the entire building and not a lick of insulation anywhere. Faith helped me finance the purchase by taking a second mortgage and I gave her a place to live for a year while she made the transition in her own life. At any one time the building had been the town’s funeral home, Post Office and Town Clerks office under the direction of Faith’s late husband Lyn.
There was Doris Tunnell and her daughter-in-law Betty. Doris was a rock ribbed Republican who introduced me at my first Senate campaign announcement. She wore those big glasses so fashionable in the sixties that looked like they had wings. Her smile held a thousand secrets and a sense of humor second to none in Rumney.
I’ve told you in this column about Ann and Joe Kent who started the Quincy Bog Natural Area. Joe and Ann were the James Carville/Mary Matalin of Rumney. He a Colonel from Vietnam and a true conservative, just as interested in getting the most from a dollar as he was in conserving the natural resources of Rumney including the Bog. Ann had a heart as big and generous as the Mountains. Her heart beats still in her daughters Jennifer and Martha. She was the liberal wing of the Kent household. But like the birds they both spent hours watching together, they flew highest and strongest when both wings were strong and working together as one.
Ann and Joe were as different in their ideologies as two people could be yet both were deeply committed to our community. After Joe died, Ann had an honored seat at our Thanksgiving and Christmas table every year along with our neighbors Kevin and Debbie Maes and their family. Kevin and Debbie Maes have been friends and neighbors since Alice and I moved in. I was away in Africa on business one year when a microburst felled huge White Pines across our driveway, knocking out the power and stranding Alice and Zach. Kevin was there the next morning – chainsaw in hand – to make sure Alice and Zach were not stranded any longer.
Kevin later ran for State Rep and won and has served with distinction for going on six years now. He’s recently been joined by Francesca Gothie Diggs and I can honestly say that the town has not had better representation since Betty Jo Taffe made her mark. Francesca is already making a mark with a strong and empathic community focus to her service.
Not everyone who has had an impact on my life here in Rumney has been a friend or a fan. It took me a lot of years to get Bob Berti to mark the other side of his ballot but he was a giant among those who dedicated a big portion of their lives to the welfare of our little community and I respected the hell out of him and never gave up. Now I am proud to call him my friend and he once even admitted that he had put a check next to my name on more than one occasion.
Then there are Steve and Joanne Decosta – in my earlier years there was rarely a town meeting that didn’t find us on opposite sides of nearly every issue. Even on some very contentious state issues. Yet last year when my dog, Boof, escaped Steve and Joanne rescued him and called me to say he was safe and sound in their home. When I picked Boof up at their home we talked with one another like old friends and I came away humbled by the lesson.
Arthur Morrill was another person who showed up in support of my opponent in every Senate election and he always had a tough question for me – usually about run-away spending. I gave as good as I got in those exchanges – usually suggesting that we should privatize the state agency that Arthur worked for – with tongue firmly planted in cheek. But when Arthur would show up to assess our home for tax purposes every few years he was always fair and honest. I learned an important lesson about honest dialog and free expression from Arthur and I will never forget it.
By now you are well acquainted with Micky Lewis – who kept our long driveway plowed and sanded every winter. Only a few months ago he told me how mad he was at me back in 2005 because I had revealed the location of our local swimming hole in “Heart of New Hampshire Magazine” because for a while it was overrun with “unwanted “ visitors. But his ire was unimportant when we ran out of wood during a brutal cold snap a few years ago and Micky dug into his reserve supply to make sure we stayed warm. Zach and the local young folks call him “coach” because he is always willing to give them the benefit of his wisdom and experience. Over the years he has done the same for Alice and me and we loved him for it.
I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg that is my beloved community. There’s Keith and Andrea, Lee and Alan, Paul and Joan, Terry and Miriam, Brad and Laurie, Gary and Nancy, Edie, Wally, Brian, Collette and Tony, Mindy, Karen, Ross, and TJ, Carol and John, Nate, Brian, Adrina, Hank and Debbie, Mike and Dolly and I have not even gotten beyond Main Street. . .
Like the long and winding road on which I now find myself embarking, these vignettes I have shared with you have led me along a circuitous route to the lessons of community. They are the acorns that have grown to become the oak of my experience. The lessons I have learned from these people, and others, in my small town – both those still living and those no longer with us – fill my heart with gratitude. The lessons of community here in the shadow of Rattlesnake Ridge reveal a path to a future defined by hope, tolerance and a shared common humanity. The hope for our world and our democracy can be found here – and in every community – in the ever widening circles of our common values and our common humanity.
In his extraordinary book, “The Coddling of the American Mind” co-author Jonathan Haidt quotes civil rights leaders Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and Rev Dr. Pauli Murray in describing this “Common Humanity Politics,” a broadly encompassing and inclusionary vision that seeks to bring us together in common cause. He specifically quotes King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the words of Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray:
“When my brothers try to draw a circle that excludes me, I will draw a larger circle that includes them. When they speak for the privileges of a puny group, I shall shout for the rights of all mankind.”
For 35 years the people of Rumney have drawn those wider circles that declare we are in this together.
These lessons do not kill the sadness of the changes that must come but they amplify the joy that helps us continue on this journey we call life.
To all of the people of Rumney – thank you. You will be missed. I’m so happy and blessed to have traveled this road with you.
About Wayne D. King: Wayne King is an author, artist, activist and recovering politician. A three term State Senator, 1994 Democratic nominee for Governor, former publisher of Heart of New Hampshire Magazine and CEO of MOP Environmental Solutions Inc., and now host of two new Podcasts – The Radical Centrist (www.theradicalcentrist.us) and NH Secrets, Legends and Lore (www.nhsecrets.blogspot.com). His art is exhibited nationally in galleries and he has published three books of his images and a novel “Sacred Trust” a vicarious, high voltage adventure to stop a private powerline all available on Amazon.com. He now lives in Thornton, New Hampshire at the base of Welch Mountain where he proudly flies both the American and Iroquois Flags. His website is: http://bit.ly/WayneDKing . You can help spread the word by following and supporting him at www.Patreon.com/TheRadicalCentrist .
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