The Winchendon Courier
Serving the community since 1878 ~ A By Light Unseen Media publication
Week of September 12 to September 19, 2019


Laboring Under Assumptions

It was Labor Day last week. The day we are supposed to pay homage to the working stiff. The ones who do the dirty work, the ones who do the jobs most people don't want; or the jobs once thought of as the "trades."

At one time in the annals of history, it was the working stiff who made the difference in the day to day working of the country. If the cows didn't get milked, there weren't dairy products available; if the metal workers and ironmongers didn't work, there wasn't steel or copper or aluminum available for manufacturing. It was just that simple.

It got gradually and gradually more complicated of course.

At one time, being a tradesman like a plumber or electrician was extremely honorable, a mason was sought after and the best (and for many years the ONLY) way to learn those jobs was to become an apprentice to someone. Then you worked like old Harry to learn, on the job, doing the job, with direct supervision, and you learned in stages until you were trusted to know the job. Then, and only then, were you honored to be known as a "Master" at your job.

It took years.

It took many people teaching you.

And it wasn't very easy at all.

We've lost sight of that. And just how valuable those trades are. How important those more "menial" jobs are.

How fast would the people get to their "more important" jobs if the vehicle mechanics disappeared?

How bad would our lives be if the sewer systems and their mechanical caretakers broke down?

Our water systems?

The electrical system, the entire grids of the US?

The system that gets heating oil, propane or natural gas from here to there, repairs the vehicles and the lines, runs the regulating systems?

We'd all be in a whole lot of trouble...

It is very easy to think our only options for our children are college educations and the resulting possible careers; but we would pose the very real idea that the nation was not built by nor is it actually or acutely run by those with college degrees. Not really. Those may be the most vocal and the most visible; they may be the ones we see on media and in print; but those we don't see, behind the scenes, running the equipment, fixing the equipment, doing the chores, cleaning the systems, making it all work...they outnumber the visible by the thousands.

So we need to rethink our entire system of value when it comes to work. We need to understand which jobs it is that are of most value in the entire scheme of things, and which are window dressing and noise.

When it comes down to that, we are back to the wonderful adage about teachers having plenty, and the army having bake sales to buy new bombs...

Times they are a'changing

We announced in a Facebook page last week (and promptly had computer problems that prevented posting on our website for three or four days) that changes are coming once again for the Courier.

We can't say too much yet, but we think we have a new editor in the wings. We, that is I (it is very hard to give up the imperial we) am retiring at some soon point, as I sell my property and make a move. If it goes the way I plan, it will be too far from Winchendon to make me the right person to continue the Courier on my own. So, since we really need a news source, we are working very hard to make sure it continues.

More information will, of course, be forthcoming.

On a similar note, we had an interesting day today, as first thing the rumor mill spread is that the Gardner News was gone. Kaput. No more.

We, being responsible about journalism, tried to confirm this, tried to find someone who knew what was, and was not, the truth to this rumor.

We knew this:

The phone was not answered when someone attempted to call first thing this morning after they did not receive a newspaper.

The web page had not been updated in a timely fashion.

Delivery people had been let go last week.

Those three things we knew.

We had also heard, and confirmed, that the News building had been sold and the staff would be moving; but when that was happening was not made public.

So we were skeptical that, instead of a move, the place was shuttered. Not that it might not happen, but we weren't sure.

And good thing we waited because, indeed; it is a privatization of the circulation department, and it will be a time for the kinks to be worked out before delivery will be smooth; and yes, there was a move in the works to offices near the Greater Gardner Chamber of Commerce; which interrupted phone service etc.

Glad to know the News is still there.


Recalling the stories...

Once upon a time I wrote a story about an owl rescue. Really. I did. This had to be, I don't know, 13-14-15 years ago, somewhere around then. I was out in the woods that spring morning at the invitation of then Winchendon ACO and long time good friend Anne Eddy, who thought this would be a nice little human interest piece.

Fair enough.

The problem? I was, if I hazily recall, high as a kite (no, I hadn't driven) on allergy medicine. I rarely used the stuff, but that week everything I'm allergic to was blooming all at once as winter ended. I don't remember if I'd taken a lot of Claratin or whatever, but I was pretty much out of it according to Anne, and she was right. It was sunny and hot, the kind of day which invited lazy drowsiness anyway. I vaguely remember leaning against a tree while Anne and her team (I think there was a team) were coaxing an injured owl off its perch. There are still vignettes in my memory, fuzzy to be sure, but I can still see the owl perched on her shoulder.

At least I think I can.

Somehow, I pieced together a fairly coherent story a day or two later, after my head had cleared, and to this day I only partly recall being in the woods for what was very likely the first and last time in my life. Hey, Anne, this really did happen, right?

I mention this because as I gradually descend towards retirement sooner rather than later, I've been thinking about some of the offbeat stories I've written in nearly two decades. I'm not talking about this column. I mean the places I've gone and events I've covered. That's the great thing about this business - the people and the places. You never know what's out there.

Once upon a time in April, 2013, I wrote a story about Tim and Kathy Blouin as they recounted their mesmerizing story as they stood in their hotel room and watched the horror of the Marathon bombing unfold beneath them. Tim had finished the race not all that long before, and their recollections were graphic, chilling and harrowing. And unforgettable.

A few months after that in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington I compiled a bunch of reflections from a wide range of folks across various professional fields who talked about the ways they felt they were trying to make a difference in their respective communities. I thought it was important for cynics to read that, and later that year I provided a forum for people of a certain age to recount where they were on November 22, 1963.

Once upon a time I wrote a story about a young woman's inspiring struggle with mental health. Brittany LaPointe's candor and courage seemed to be something of a catalyst for others to come forward. I know it moved a couple people to become active in the Out of the Darkness movement. That's quite the impact!

Once upon a time I sat down with Chief Dave Walsh and a number of his officers as they told the stories of what drew them to police work. I hope that series enabled readers to see these cops as more than just the uniform because they're a lot more than just that.

On primary election day in New Hampshire in 2012, I encountered a supporter of presidential candidate Ron-father-of-Rand- Paul at the VFW Hall in Jaffrey. Because Congressman Paul was talking a lot about liberty, this guy, dressed as Uncle Sam was clanging, you guessed it, a Liberty Bell. The local cops were less than amused and kept telling him he had to move off the road. He countered with a soliloquy regarding his rights. I honestly don't remember how the incident ended. I just remember the guy saying to me, "I'm Uncle Sam and they're just local yokels." Okay. I dutifully wrote that down.

Some of you might remember the ice storm of December, 2008. I sure do. We spent a couple nights in the Murdock gym. Back in the day I was also covering sports and joked that while I'd always wanted a cot in the "office," I didn't mean being joined by 100 others. But I got a cool story out of it listening to others tell me their stories of that weekend. You can learn a lot simply by listening.

And maybe that's the real lesson. Maybe we should all do a better job of listening? See you next time.

Back on the trail

Summer vacations are almost over and the presidential candidates are returning this week to next-door New Hampshire including the front-runner in the polls, and Keene, 20-25 minutes up Route 12, will be among former Vice-President Joe Biden's stops.

I'll be there too. I've been covering New Hampshire presidential primaries since the summer of 2003 when Howard Dean loomed the favorite in that cycle. He wouldn't be the last pol from Vermont to have fans in New Hampshire. His primary competition in the long run would be a Senator from Massachusetts. Vermont v Massachusetts. Yes, we've been here before even though it didn't look that way at first. The Dean backers used to hang around the park that summer, energetically waving their signs at all the folks who'd crowd Main Street shops. They tended to get a pretty good response in the early stages of that campaign and were soon joined by supporters of the eccentric Congressman Dennis Kucinich and the two groups jostled almost daily for the prime spaces especially around lunchtime. I watched it unfold from the shade of those trees and from inside some of the wide variety of eateries along the main drag. Naturally. Even though it was summer, Keene was, and remains, a college town so the prevailing ideology was definitely left-ish. If I recall, it was pretty good-natured too.

There wasn't much presence yet for John Kerry who'd eventually win the primary the following winter after Dean's meltdown in Iowa. In August, 2003, Howard Dean appeared to be the solid chalk. That's what all the polls said. Dean was probably already planning for the general against W. How could he not be the nominee? Hubris? Maybe. But here's the thing. New Hampshire Democrats have never liked being taken for granted. Ask LBJ. Or Fritz Mondale. Another five months are going to pass before any actual votes will be cast. Biden's the front-runner according to the polls but we'll see how this unfolds.

I've been to more than a dozen town halls this year and I keep hearing the same refrain. An overwhelming majority of the people I've talked to aside from the Sanders cultists have as their single goal the defeat of Donald Trump whether it's with their first choice or their sixth. They're not ferociously negative on Biden but they're not necessarily sold yet either.

Bottom line? It's volatile. At first glance, New Hampshire looks like a race between Biden, Bernie, and Elizabeth Warren. Hell, at the moment, the whole race polls that way. But I'm thinking it's not that simple. Two old white guys among the top three? Is that really what's going on? I have no idea. What I do know is that in my travels I've seen pockets of support for Pete Buttigieg, for Cory Booker, for Kamala Harris. A couple people in Jaffrey told me they really like Michael Bennett. I even saw a Tulsi Gabbard sign somewhere along Route 119. I haven't seen much Beto-mania.

In any event, they're all coming back. New Hampshire still matters. After all, it was in New Hampshire where Bill Clinton proclaimed himself "The Comeback Kid". And it was in New Hampshire just a few years ago where Bernie Sanders made it clear he was a serious candidate. Anyway, maybe the polls are right. But maybe they're not. So I'm off to the trail with a front-row seat, a great place for a politics junkie to spend the fall. Are you jealous? See you next time.

Jerry Carton writes regularly for The Winchendon Courier. He has a background in both journalism and in politics; including a stint teaching journalism and one advising state level government politicos.