"The Old Townies" -
Remembering our "North Stars"
By Chip Hamlen
I’ll bet a lot of us have decades-old memories of late autumn nights in Sandwich; the kind of night when you took a walk down Jarves Street, hoping to get to Albert’s for a pack of smokes before he closed up shop for the evening. It was just you and the nippy wind, your sweaters and your jacket, fifty cents in your pocket, piles of leaves that you kicked your way through, and nothing else.
You waited for the (one) traffic light in town to turn green before you crossed 6A, even though there was nothing coming in either direction.
Having scored the smokes, you might take a walk afterward, maybe to the Grist Mill. Perhaps you’d spend a dime in the phone booth across the street and call a friend if it wasn’t too late. There wouldn’t be a lot of cars traveling down Water Street at that hour, except perhaps a high schooler in a little junker cruising by, slowly now, having coasted down from Dump Hill to find out how far he could go before having to step on the gas again.
It was mysterious, and intriguing, and it was all yours, but it was lonely – adventure eloping with melancholy.
It’s almost always autumn when I think about those days, now long past.
Certainly there are plentiful memories of summer, and of winter nights skating on Shawme Pond, and of classroom antics at the Wing School when grades 1-12 were all still in one building, and weekend nights driving around doing anything you thought you could get away with, or doing nothing at all.
But the memories of autumn, when everything seemed so empty and huge after the crush of summer, are always sthe most poignant. Leaves raced and tumbled by on winds that, day by day, grew colder and raw, and the widening leafless space between the branches rising overhead showed nothing but more starts and more sky - planets, even - all arcing over a small town that suddenly felt enormous.
Deserted roads and vacant spaces; chillier, longer nights, and the feeling that something rare is gone and cannot be replaced - that was the deep end of autumn. It wasn't just a season. It was something internal that shifted and changed. Almost, at times, a numbness.
"Autumn” is how it feels when an “Old Townie” passes.
Sandwich was a small town, once. It wasn’t Mayberry, but there was a time when – yes – “everyone knew everyone else.” The town has grown considerably since my generation was growing up – towns do. Familiar faces can seem few and far between, now.
Howard "Fizzy" Crowell
In a town as small as Sandwich once was, the older folks become legendary. In the past few years, we have lost some of the true legends of Old Sandwich – “Fizzy” and Judy Crowell, Clyde and Barbara Gill, Julia Hendy, Frances Maguire, “Muzzie” Richter, and “Dottie” Gibbs, to name but a few. Recently, we lost Caddy Currier, whose lifespan of 96 years was spent in Sandwich, and whose recall of the town as it was in the early to mid-20th century was astonishing.
These, and so many others of their generation, were people who devoted countless hours of their lives to the community, and to what they considered their Sandwich Family. Coming of age in the Depression, and then going off to fight a war, they grew up at a time when it almost had to be that way; their neighbors needed them, and they needed their neighbors. They became both the architects and the strong, steady center of the town as it began its expansion around them.
Stalwarts. “North Stars.” Legends.
There’s a different kind of sadness that happens when a Legend goes.
It’s not that we mourn an “Old Townie” more than others who have gone. What we grieve, as well, is what they represented, individually and collectively; their long histories and
roots in the town; the stories that only those of their generation could still tell and share with us, thereby keeping that history alive; their continual involvement in the community; and the sheer number of lives they touched, improved, and influenced by their presence, sometimes in ways that never occurred to us until long after the fact.
With each loss, there is a change and a transition – a step further away from the small town that was. With this, though, comes an acknowledgement of legacies that still are and will continue to be, and of someone we are all the better for having known.
Then the Legend is gone, like the summer that gave way to the stark fall and the empty streets; to the blowing leaves, and the overarching midnight skies.
Another star appears through the empty branches.
In our literal calendar, we are now at a point where summer is coming.
In the calendar of collective memory, though, it feels, when we lose a Legend, that we are still very deep into autumn.
Margaret "Muzzie" Richter
Catherine "Caddie" Currier