Beyond Old Windows: A Teacher's Thoughts Between Centuries

Beyond Old Windows: the original page

a simple origin, a decade or more ago, and  ... more soon coming ...

                                          This seasonal column appeared in our town's weekly newspaper during the last decade of the twentieth century ... one column was a sober reminder to all of us that what treasures we have we must value, with our time and attention, for they will not always be with us. The other columns were of a lighter tone, typically celebrating with gentle words the small town approach to holidays, seasons, and little  victories. A table of contents is offered here, growing as the page itself will. Then three later columns take place in Georgetown, but were not submitted to the newspaper for publication, sent instead to neighbors and friends as gentle commentary, appreciations, and mellow  memories ... Here is a table of contents; enjoy each one in its time...

  • A Thanksgiving Thought on North Street, November, 1996
  • The Old Year Passes, December, 1996

  • Beyond Old Windows: In Honor of our Elders February, 1997

  • The Growing Season: A Small Town's Sports Culture,  April, 1997
  • The Colors Unfurl: A Patriotic Tribute, June, 1997

  • Theo's ... a small town spot where neighbors and friends gather, 2000 - 2010

 

A Thanksgiving Thought on North Street, 1996

The first frozen flakes of snow swirl past the panes of the old wndows, catching the citrus color of the new street lights, just dusting the dark sidewalk out front. Georgetown Square is barely visible through the glass, yet alive with flashes of headlights, red and green traffic signals, amber blinkers, and a halogen haze. Dark skies force the lights earlier each day, approaching holidays hasten the pace. The calendar is now between Veteran's Day and Thanksgiving, and the season of family and friends is here. A time to slow a bit, to gather and warm each other with good stories and good food, remembrances and plans.

As I look toward the square, I wonder who before me watched out of these old windows. This house was built in the Era of Good Feelings, following the War of 1812. Georgetown was still part of Old Rowley then, but change was in the air. Agriculture and ice fishing were prevalent, but mills and shoe factories were gaining. Indoor occupations would soon outnumber outdoor jobs, and more people would be looking out at the town, through glass windows steamy with the heat of hard working men and women. Horse and carriage traffic would yield to trolleys and steamers, and finally to cars and trucks, but the schoolchildren would continue to cross our square, their colorful jackets, hats and mittens echoing the centuries before, and the centuries to come. Hurrying home to their families, to their futures, they carried their books then much as they do now, hugging them close or swinging them in bags on their backs.

Our town, our houses, have provided people a safe home, safe from wars, from famines, from urban chaos and from rural isolation. Ours is a town that has been good to its families, and a town that has received much care in return.; Our fire department is full of families who work together, husbands and wives, mothers and sons, brothers, grandfathers, sons and grandsons, all taking turns to answer the town's call for help, juggling their work and family responsibilities with their neighbors' needs, spending thousands of hours each year pitching in, helping out, raising money to buy equipment, spending time training to use the new gear, saving homes and saving lives because they can, asking little to nothing in return. Highway workers, electric line workers, police and public safety workers respond immediately to calls for help, anticipating and preventing dangerous situations, quickly repairing and restoring services and the town's confidence. Educators work long hours at home and in the school buildings, crafting lessons and finding materials that meet the needs of all of our children, sharing and caring, year after year, generation to generation. Committee workers, secretaries, registrars and office workers, all keep our history straight, our water pipes filled, our library open, our ballots true and our resources protected.

Hundreds of volunteers, scores of dedicated workers. thousands of people who love this town, who would live nowhere else, who cherish the beauty of our streets, the kindness of our neighbors, the laughter of our children and the wisdom of our elders, all benefit from each other. We have so much to be thankful for in Georgetown, and not the least, for each other. Look beyond your windows: it is a beautiful sight.

~Terry Palardy, published in the Georgetown Record, November, 1996

 

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The Old Year Passes  1996-1997

Twinkle twinkle little brights

Hanukkah and Christmas lights

Kwanzaa candles warm the nights

Georgetown windows, wintry sights

Twinkle Twinkle little brights!

December closes another year, and amid the flurry of holiday celebrations, winter weather preparations,  children out on school vacations, budgeting deliberations, our New Year's hopes and plans and dreams can still seem long away. The new page is just ahead of us, within reach, and whatever we write upon it will stay with our children for generations to come. Georgetown's history is written, in large part, by the people who live here, our actions, our choices, our troubles, our strengths. We all have a part to play, a year to record. The choice of pens is our last obstacle.

Will we write, fine-pointed in light colors, with tentative strokes, a pale new history for our children - a quiet recording of carefully diluted holidays, avoiding the mention of the diverse cultures we say we include? The Christmas play at Perley School each year is a delightfully inclusive bright spot in Georgetown's calendar, one where children of many faiths can celebrate their joys together, in harmony but not in homogenized blandness. Let's keep this wonderful, warm tradition, and not, as has happened elsewhere, thin it to a chilly winter concert of songs as fleeting in substance and memory as the snowflakes they're allowed to feature. Its hard to celebrate differences if they've been hidden.

Will we write with bold color, in strong flourishes, a celebratory tale of Georgetown's strengths, our differences aired and resolved, our worries expressed and addressed? Georgetown benefits from the diverse strengths of many, not from a lock-step middle ground mentality. Town meetings here can be lively, with a moderator who allows discussions but not brawls, boards made up of volunteers who leave their political affiliations to the state and federal elections, and pitch in to work together, to argue together, to listen together, to write history together. Mistakes are made, but they are often rectified. Perley's misplaced hydrant was carefully relocated; there is trust yet for the walkway. There is always more to be done, always more to celebrate in the doing. 

Will we sometimes print in crayon, sometimes scrawl in pencil and sometimes brush in paint our feelings and hopes and dreams, artistically, wishfully, bravely expressing, sharing our human side, our diversities, risking criticism to daringly seek the praise all humans need, and learn in the process to give as all humans need to give ...to live the next year of Georgetown's history as well as it can be lived, and to sit back next December, at year's end, and be happy with and inspired by what is written

 Anything is possible on a new, fresh page. While the candles still light our wintry windows, let's begin ... 

~Terry Palardy, published in the Georgetown Record, December, 1996

 

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Beyond Old Windows             In Honor of our Elders

You may not see them. They sit behind their old windows, watching their quiet neighborhoods, listening long to the clock's tick tock, hoping their telephone might ring, their doorbell might chime, might announce a welcome visitor. Remembering favorite stories, forgotten names, planning a wonderful retelling, lacking only a listener, an audience, a little company.

Our town has a growing population of "experienced" citizens:  people who can share their hard-earned wisdom, can share a sense of calm and confidence with today's hurried and harried generations. They have watched so much of history, and have lived fully every bit of it, gaining skills and knowledge through each changing decade, learning love, acceptance, and courage through all their trials and triumphs. Their calm and their confidence has grown with them, gaining strength with each passing decade. Their perspectives have broadened more than can be imagined.

We have among us survivors of two world wars, the fearful cold war, several international conflicts, the great depression, the repeating recessions, the rationing of the forties through the booming fifties and the erratic sixties. They are the great-grandparents who were children in the twenties and thirties, then raised their own large families, guiding their children and grandchildren, those generations who ate white bread and bought penny candy and grew round and visited the dentist occasionally; their great-grandchildren today eat wheat bread, chew sugar free gum, have coaches and  trainers, stay thinner but now visit the dentist and orthodontist. Not much can surprise them ... they have truly seen it all.

They have watched the Main Streets widen, harden, and fill with traffic, debated and agreed to install traffic lights, allowing their children to cross safely when the red and yellow lights were lit ... watched Logan Airport and Cape Canaveral develop, watched computers begin large and expensive and then grow smaller, cheaper and more powerful, watched trains move underground and back out again, watched the cities fill in times of plenty and then empty when times were hard. They learned to read and do sums or they left school young, in a world where a non-reader could still have a career and support a family. They wrote letters in beautiful penmanship, sharing thoughtful, well planned messages, and waiting patiently for carefully  crafted responses. They often worked all their lives for one company , but now in their telephone diaries, they watch their families' work addresses change before the decade does.

Some of our elders have lived in town all their lives, but many came as young adults, moving to start a new generation away from the city. In their day the city neighborhoods were as familiar, safe and friendly as our town streets are today. They knew how to protect that safe environment: they gathered on stoops and shared stories and wisdom in the evenings, they knew each others' children and families ... Here now, they want to know their town neighbors, to know their children, they want to help our gardens grow, and our children grow, and our families grow. They can predict which plants will thrive in our landscape, haing learned by doing, year after year, and which will fail and be replaced with others. They are our town's most precious, valuable resources, often untapped, unrecognized, forgotten. They want to share their time with us.They still have much more than time to share.

This winter brought little required exercise for most of us - not much snow to shovel, little ice to sand, fewer fallen branches to cut and gather for the woodpile Still,  families have been busy, rushing around, doing as much as possible for the children of our town. And soon, the gardens will be planned, then planted, then kept. But as our days again grow longer, we have a bit more to do: we have visits to make, phones to call, notes to write. They are here. They enrich our neighborhoods, our community, our lives. We cannot waste any time ... we have so much to gain from our elders, and so very much to lose.

~ Terry Palardy, published in the Georgetown Record,  February 20, 1997

 

Afterword, 2010: Thirteen years have passed since I offered this piece to honor our parents and their friends ... all of our elders have passed with the years, the immigrant generation who arrived as the twentieth century opened, and the first American-born generation who were their children and our parents ... another entire generation of our family has found their well-deserved rest, leaving behind their stories, their blessings, and their lasting love and guidance. All of their old windows have been replaced by new windows, sheltering new families in their place, and the generation of their children have now become the new grandparents and great-grandparents, and have seen the sensible red and yellow lights replaced with humanoid walk signals through which distracted drivers on cell phones dangerously turn right on red ... one by one they settle in, at their own windows, keeping the watch, with some of today's worry, but enjoying some peace, and anticipating the youngest generations' visits ... looking beyond, rather than through, those old windows.

 

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The Growing Season     A Small Town's Sports Culture

Let the games begin! Soccer, baseball, track & field, softball, tennis: the outdoor season is upon us - but the mud! Perhaps the mud is Nature's way of offering a quiet anticipation. The West Street Soccer fields are carefully preserved by the G.A.A. leadership. Our water supply is nearby, so the grass there grows only naturally, not chemically. While the children are anxious to start their season, little feet with spiked athletic shoes would do a number on soaked, free-floating new shoots of grass. And so the coaches teach one more skill - patience - and they model respect for the fragility of our environment as well.

As the grass takes hold, and the nurturing water seeps safely among the roots, the children and their coaches will enter the scene. Stretching exercises, practice drills, and real games will take place on the greening fields. New grass will bend under the running feet, but it will rebound with an improved vitality; new shoes will cause blisters on little feet early in the season, but they too will heal, leaving the skin stronger as the shoe softens with wear. The cleats themselves, once a danger to new shoots, will aerate the maturing grass. And as the warming sun climbs higher in the sky with each passing week, the grass blades will thicken, and darken, protecting and storing the essential nutrients found in the drying ground. And the players' muscles will strengthen, ligaments will reach, coordination will sharpen and improve, and their winter skin will darken safely and gradually in a protective summer tan.

The grass does not learn in a new season: it simply grows, strengthens, supports the environment, and then goes dormant, to wait for the next year. But the younger players are learning new, specific skills: cooperation, self-respect, respect for others, and health-building exercises. As they move through their playing years they develop life-long healthy habits, an awareness of the physical challenges life can pose, some strategic planning skills, and a deep, supportive friendship with their teammates that can last lifetimes. The roots of the grass may reach beyond its original borders, and more grass may result. The young athletes' happiness and success may attract more children to the sport, and will certainly provide future adults who will extend these skills to the next generation, as coaches themselves in time to come.

Today's coaches teach so many things to the children of Georgetown, and the parents and the community reap many more rewards than simply sport trophies or league standings as a result of their efforts. The coaches teach teamwork, teach acceptance of different athletic abilities on mixed teams, teach recognition of a need for variety in skills, a need for teammates. They teach children how to deal with frustrating losses, and how to gracefully celebrate success. They teach community spirit, involvement, and a work ethic that won't quit. The best measure of the coaches success is the number of children who want to come back, season after season, to play, to grow.

Who are these people, these coaches who give so much to Georgetown's children? Most of the coaches are parents of the players. Each coach puts aside other evening and weekend activities to spend the time and the care in developing their own, and their neighbors', healthy, happy children. Most teams have two or more coaches, a strong, positive measure of the commitment Georgetown parents are willing to make, to give their children the best childhood possible.  In our town, the grass and the children grow successfully, healthy, under the guidance of the parents, the coaches, and the community. Wholesome. Natural. Homegrown. Happy season, Georgetown!

Terry Palardy, published in the Georgetown Record, 4/20/97

This weekly newspaper ran all of our soccer team game reports as well.

 

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The Colors Unfurl:      A Patriotic Tribute

Georgetown Square is dressed in the colors of our country, with flags paired on telephone poles once protected for climbing workers, who instead now rise above the streets in brightly painted bucket trucks.

Patriots' Day heralds the beginning of the season - at least, here in Massachusetts, Maine, and Wisconsin, where we remember that early spring battle that started it all. The Memorial Day Parade formally ushers in Georgetown's season of red, white and blue. The flags in the parade see their colors reflected in the flowers placed at monuments of our soldiers, our firefighters, and our relatives and friends. Torrential rains on Sunday, the 25th of May, 1997 prevented the scheduled parade, but not the ceremonies, and the flags and flowers remain. The sun shone brightly on Friday, May 30, 1997 ... the true holiday.

Our colors are again honored on June 14, Flag Day, by smaller ceremonies held in public school classrooms, and by larger ceremonies held in cities like Boston, where the colors of many embassies join together to surround Old Glory in her splendor.

And, for the Fourth of July, the flags again are recognized for their beauty, their strength, and their meaning. Red for courage, White for purity, and Blue for loyalty and justice, as the kindergarten song tells. Georgetown is fortunate to have so many citizens able and willing to demonstrate these American principles. Think about your neighbors, people you know, helpers, workers, young and old.

Most of what we've learned of our history, of our flag, we've learned in classrooms, standing each morning to pledge allegiance to the ideals of this country. To see the Pledge of Allegiance in American Sign Language is an experience rich with visual knowledge. For instance, the word "pledge" is made by touching the lips with two fingers, and then carrying the fingers down to the other hand which is curled in a cup-shape, and covering the "cup" with the two fingers. It's the same sign as promise: to pledge is to say something, and to keep your word.; "Allegiance" has little meaning to an elementary child, but the symbol for allegiance is the same as the word support, and the word help, and children know how to do that; school children are models of helping and supporting each other. The sign for "America" is made by holding your two hands with extended, interlocked fingers, and marking out the four corners of a log cabin, symbolically, the four corners of our original 48 contiguous states, illustrating our expansion long before we brought Alaska and Hawaii into the fold.

The signs for words "nation" and "liberty" both remind us of the powerful eagle: nation is signed by forming the manual alphabet letter "n" (a loose fist with the first two fingers resting over the thumb) and having that "n" circle downward in a spiral to land on the other, closed fist, as symbolizing the landing of an eagle on his high perch, finding his secure place on this planet. And the symbol for liberty is to form the manual alphabet letter "L" with each hand (thumb out to the side, index finger raised, others loosely closed), cross your arms against your chest, then upwardly open your arms, keeping the L position with your fingers, signifying the release of the eagle, and the freedom of our people. 

Yet, in this season of color, the school windows now are gray, showing nothing of their usual cheerful light, their aging flags carefully stored away from the hot light of summer, their spaces empty of bright, happy children, of collections of colorful artwork, of wall maps, of life. Their yards, once hosts to daily play and evening ball games, are (in the year 1997) filled with construction trailers and debris. Cast off classroom furniture that once held treasures, secret notes, pencils and crayons with color-names lost to memory now await adoption by Georgetown's frugal or sentimental families. The promise that these signs of construction offer is of new, brighter spaces and furniture to come, spaces and furniture that will accommodate children of many different styles, each with their own special talents to share, memories to build, and dreams to reach. 

The town playground has none of the dreariness of a summer's empty schoolyard; it boasts colorful havens from the sun, carefully built and kept bright by willing volunteers who light up the structures with boldly painted roofs. The beach is full of the color of families enjoying each others' company; swimsuits, brightly colored swim noodles, brighter red punch in plastic cups, lifeguards, swim lessons, volleyballs, tennis matches, the refreshment building, the baseball games, and soon, the Sunday Night concerts. Enough color to please the eye, to warm the heart, to cheer the day.

My neighbors' house echoes the colors of the season. Like many Georgetown homes, it offers a strong pair of red brick chimneys standing tall above the white clapboards, against the deepening blue of the evening sky. The Star Spangled Banner waves proudly at the front door, greeting all who walk by, reminding each of us of our heritage of strength, our responsibilities to the present, and our promise for the future.

Happy Fourth of July, Georgetown!

by Terry Palardy, published in the Georgetown Record .June 30, 1997

 

Afterword:In 2009, Murch Park near the center of town was refurbished with a set of American Military flags and veteran's monuments that surround the national flag ... and the elementary schools in 2010 are again considering reconstruction, as the town continues to grow. Responsible taxpayers can support efforts that will improve the safety of our children's schools, once again 

 

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Theo's ... a small town spot where neighbors and friends gather

Stools that spin and horseshoe-shaped counters - every kids' dream for a breakfast out with Mum and Dad, or Nana and Grampy, or that very special Aunt. But there are also tables with sturdy chairs that safely seat elders and youngsters not yet ready to spin and eat.

Local newspapers lie at the end of the counters, and sections are passed around among patrons ... some read and talk, some read and eat, and others manage to read, talk, and eat at the same time. 

The owner is Mike, a son who began this business at the turn of the century, and named it in honor of his dad, Ted, who had always wanted to open such but died before his time. Mike's wife, mother, mother-in-law, sister, sister-in-law are all present now and then behind the counters, or with their children at tables.And, being a family-oriented town, Mike's twin brother is a Police Officer in town, who occasionally stops by for muffins with his own little ones.

The coffee is served and refilled generously, and the 7-day menu allows breakfast all day and lunches that can be custom designed with a smile ... and a few evenings a week, they remain open for dinners as well. Muffins are made on site, as are all the pancakes, omelets, and garnishing that you can imagine. There is usually a home-made cake or pie waiting invitingly on the table, and that is often the source of such commentary as "Do I dare? Want to share? Looks great! Is there any more?" 

The wait staff is made up of these family members, and supported by  town students and young firefighters, all proudly wearing the shirt that honors the oldest privately-owned and organized Fire Association in the United States. "Erie 4" as it's locally referred to, takes its name from the antique handtub that is on display in the climate-controlled showcase beside the fire station in the north end of town. Mike's dad, Ted, had been a member of Erie 4, and his sons followed him into the fire company, with Mike eventually becoming Chief of the Georgetown Fire Department, which includes both Erie 4 in the north end of town, and Central Fire Company in the downtown district. Mike was voted chief by the officers of both companies, in the old manner of running a department. The leadership switched back and forth for a few terms, and then the town decided to increase funding and hire a "Strong Chief" and a model of per diem firefighters, and Mike passed the responsibility of leadership to our new chief, and was able then to spend more hours in the restaurant.

Theo's is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, and on that day Mike will charge the original 2000 prices for his customers' nostalgic benefit.

Sometimes Rick goes early, and brings the muffins home to me. Other times, especially during school vacations, we walk downtown together, hand in hand, as much for stability as affection, though the affection is real and stabilizing in itself. We pass neighbors out cleaning winter debris from spring flower beds, or shoveling snow from sidewalks as all good town citizens try to do, or raking millions of leaves that fall from the abundant maples and flowering apples every fall, each pile giving only reminders of the scent of burning leaves, as today's laws prohibit burning in the fall ...and we take our fire code seriously here in town ... shoveling hydrants near our home, and watching out for each other when Nature's stormy strength interrupts our power lines.

It's a small town, growing, but still comforting in its size and its demeanor. Theo's helps to maintain that here.  Give it a visit - you'll find more than good food there - good friends, good conversations, and the news of the day.

Some writers go to a cafe to write, or so I'm told ... I could never figure out how to do that ... I'd miss so much of what's going on!

 

Terry Palardy, April, 2010

 

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