Author: Laurie Pitcher
Date of Trip: December 2006
Life in a small town in New England is picturesque and charming. First you notice the natural beauty of the countryside, whether it’s the rocky coastline of New Hampshire or the towering pine trees further inland. Then you notice how friendly everyone is. People smile at one another and say hello as they pass. They stop for pedestrians in crosswalks.They take time to help out a lost tourist and they don’t have a cell phone glued to their ear or hung from their pants along with a beeper, walkie-talkie or other paraphenalia that are named after berries. I write this from Exeter, New Hampshire where last night at 6 o’clock there was a parade to welcome in the holiday season. Up here the stores didn’t open at midnight on Thanksgiving. As a matter of fact, they have regular normal hours and open at noon on Sundays after church. The parade route was along Main Street, where most parades go. It had the usual parade stuff: a Grand Marshal, fire trucks, Brownies, Boy Scouts, floats and the color guard. Selectmen marched and Miss New Hampshire waved from a convertible. The town’s streets began filling up an hour before the festivities began. Everyone is holding cups of steaming coffee or cocoa, wearing bright scarves and hats and greeting their friends on the sidewalk. An announcer from the bandstand did a corny commentary as parade participants marched by and a local television station filmed the jolly crowd. I watched the parade from my cozy room at a country inn overlooking the bandstand, taking in all the beautiful lights and watching all the people enjoying themselves. A fire blazed in the hearth behind me.The room was decorated to look like a lakeside cabin in the woods with huge beams and wide pine floors polished to an icy finish. The decor included old wooden skis leaning up against the brick chimney, a wicker fishing creel, a lobster trap, baskets, duck decoys,pine boughs and soft lighting. The room was on the third floor of the inn. I spent a lot of time going from window to window (there were windows on three sides of the room) looking out onto the center of town. I contemplated my Christmas list from the third floor and mapped out my shopping route as I looked out at the shops lining the north side of the street. I figured I could find something for everyone on my list just in this tiny town. And I was right. Where in Eastport could you find a marshmallow launcher or a hand-turned exact replica of Harry Potter’s magic wand? There is a chocolatier for those on my list with a sweet tooth and a store that sells a Homer Simpson chess game.
The Inn By the Bandstand is run by an innkeeper named Susan who is assisted by two golden retrievers named Emma and Zach, and a black cat who doesn’t help out much but naps frequently. At first I thought the cat was a stuffed animal, curled up on a dining room chair. “Is that cat real?” I asked out loud. Which was the signal for the cat to open up his huge green eyes and look right at me as if to say, “Want to make something of it?” You know cats. But it’s a friendly place. The coffee is good and strong and you just never want to leave. Even though you’re not a million miles away from home, you feel like you are, which is a sign that the innkeeper is doing his or her job. In the course of one day I watched our innkeeper on the floor fixing a lamp plug, restoring an old doll house, decorating each and every room of the inn for Christmas and doing all of this in between scrambling eggs and toasting homemade cinnamon bread for the house guests. The breakfast table on Sunday morning found us sitting with a mother and son from Madrid, a restaurant owner from Jackson Hole, Wyoming and two ladies on holiday. Conversation ranged from video games to mountain climbing to fishing to children to religion to the stuffed French toast we were served and the parade the night before. I love a room with a fireplace. I love a room with my own thermostat! I love someone else making the coffee in the morning and using towel so thick they must take hours to dry in the dryer. I also love the way of life in New England. I love the architecture of the homes and the fact that Christmas wreaths are hung everywhere there’s a nail.
There are five seasons in New England: Winter, Mud, Construction, Black Fly and Tourist. I could take them all. Well, maybe not Black Fly! But I could live in a Currier & Ives scene from New England. Over the river and through the woods and all of that. Snow for Christmas every year. As a float passed by the bandstand and the children sang “I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony…” I thought to myself…this is the life I want to live. And this is a place where it could happen. Enjoy the season. Sing in harmony.