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The Social Structure of a New England Town

The Social Structure of a New England Town
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Welcome to the August 2007 edition of Jud’s New England Journal, the rather curious monthly musings of Judson Hale, Editor-in-Chief of Yankee Magazine, published for over 70 years in Dublin, N.H.

The Social Structure of a New England Town

Over the years, it really hasn’t changed all that much …

The social structure of every New England town can be basically divided into two categories: the “haves,” known as summer people, and the “have-nots,” known as townspeople. Of course, the entire world can be divided in the same way (excluding the terms “summer people” and “townspeople”).

So I should refine “summer people” to include, in order of respect, starting with the least respected: 1) tourists, 2) regular summer people, 3) year-round summer people, and 4) the very wealthy, socially elite. Townspeople can be subdivided into: 1) the working professionals who are longtime residents but originally from somewhere else, and 2) the natives. Natives can be divided into wealthy natives and regular natives, but I don’t think the term “native” would apply to a native if said native was very wealthy.

Young people are members of all these groups, with the possible exception of those we used to call “wire-rimmers” (so named for the wire-rimmed eyeglasses many wore) or “hippies,” a term seldom used today. However they’re known today, they’re very seriously “into” saving the environment, organic gardening, weaving, contra-dancing, and raising goats or maybe llamas.

Not included in the social structure of a New England town are the dirt poor. They live in shacks or roofed-over cellars at the ends of town roads, have car bodies and old refrigerators strewn about their yards, and are ignored by everybody. It’s unfair, but they’re not in the structure at all. Therefore, I’d have to say that the lowest rung on the social ladder is the “tourist.”

The late Walter Muir Whitehill, head of the Boston Athenaeum for so many years, used to quote the prophet Jeremiah in discussing tourists — like “When ye entered, ye defiled my land, and made mine heritage an abomination.” If someone reminded him that lots of tourists are wonderful, fine, generous, law-abiding family people, he’d say he wasn’t referring to all tourists, just those, as he’d put it, “tripping gawkers … who rush through the state dressed as if for the beach, scattering beer cans behind them.”

“What do you do after all the summer people go home?” I once overheard a tourist ask the weary proprietor of the Dublin General Store.

“Oh, just fumigate,” he replied. “Fumigate and keep on living.”

Can someone actually change his or her status? Well, with the passing of many years, when a year-round summer person has worn out several sets of snow tires and long underwear, paid property taxes many times, toughed out a few winters without either Florida or Arizona, raised a succession of vegetable gardens, and become a legal resident, “you qualify for the highest attainable accolade,” says Jim Brunnelle in his book Over to Home and From Away. “You are now ‘from away.’ Strive for nothing beyond this.”

Well, come to think of it, after living here in Dublin, New Hampshire, year-round for 49 of my 74 years, I guess I can be numbered among those “from away.”

It’s something to be proud of … isn’t it?

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The Social Structure of a New England Town

Updated Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

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