What are the on-the-loose Lawsons doing in a small town in Massachusetts that neither of us had ever heard of? We’re making it our home for most of May. You’d think we’d have been familiar with Chelmsford; it’s been around a long time. Incorporated by a handful of people in 1655, Chelmsford now boasts a population of 34,000+. We’re here because it offered a B&B as close to Nashua, New Hampshire as we could afford. Nashua was our destination because that’s where Adam and Lauren and Nathanael Tomlinson live. We came to New England to see them.
Adam was my PA (Professor’s Assistant) at Emmanuel Christian Seminary before he deserted me to become one of the pastors of Crossway Christian Church in Nashua. When I told him we were coming to see how he turned out, he got even by arranging with his senior pastor, Ron Kastens, for me to preach for the church and consult with the staff. Work, always work, even for people on the loose.
Lauren is important to us also, and not just as Adam’s long-suffering wife. One of the joys of living a long time is becoming acquainted with the descendants of old friends. Lauren is such a discovery. She’s the granddaughter of Ron and Garnett Eversole. Decades ago I preached a week-long meeting for Ron, then the pastor of the Christian church in Andover, Ohio. I’ve never forgotten the Eversoles or the always gray skies of Andover in the spring.
Imagine my delight when, many years later at a seniors retreat at White Mills camp in Kentucky, I met a delightful little lady who asked whether I knew her great-grandson-in-law at Emmanuel. She was speaking of Adam; he had married her great-granddaughter Lauren, granddaughter of the same Ron and Garnett. You see, you have to behave wherever you go. There’s almost always someone there who knows someone who knows you–and will tell[.
Even more important than Adam and Lauren is Nathanael, a happy, energetic, obviously sharp almost-three-year-old who, at least when we were around, showed none of the typical two-year-old symptoms. He spent the day with us at Robert Frost’s farm in Derry, N. H., and the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, without obvious complaint. I was ready to quit before he was. [I wrote this paragraph before we were together for a second outing. That day we learned he is a normal two-year-old after all. Still pretty lovable, however!]
What a good day that was for this old English teacher. Robert Frost—to state the obvious—is one of America’s favorite poets. His Derry farm was his major inspiration. He lived there for only eleven years and wrote about it the rest of his life. In this rural setting he and Elinor and their three children prospered—more personally than financially, I should add, since he was a better poet than farmer.
The residence was/is unadorned, a plain New England farmhouse with almost spartan furnishings. Everything about it took me down memory lane: the cast iron wood-burning cook stove just like my grandmother’s; the ten-party-line phone hanging on the wall complete with crank to wind it up and a fixed mouthpiece to speak into; the laundry tub and wringer; the two-seater outhouse, unheated and separate from the living area but still under the main roof–rather than at the end of a path, a practical accommodation to New England’s harsh winters. The Singer sewing machine was almost identical to my grandmother’s; I used to play on its treadle when I was little, probably much to her annoyance.
I walked through the house undoubtedly boring the rest of our group with my unending commentary on how things were back in my day. The Tomlinsons already knew I was old; they just didn’t realize how old! A large measure of my enjoyment of the farm came from recalling (to myself—no sense further boring everybody) the lines of many Frost poems, not a few of which have made their way into my speeches:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down…”
“Good fences make good neighbors.”
The Currier Museum of Art fooled me. I had suspected it was named for the Currier of the famous lithographers Currier and Ives, but it wasn’t. Nathaniel Currier and James Ives were two businessmen who printed over 7500 lithographs from 1857 to 1907. Those prints are highly valued today. I was eager to see them. But this museum isn’t about them.
Instead, it’s one of the finest small art museums we’ve visited, featuring paintings from Europe and America, photographs, sculptures, decorative and other arts. It was a pleasant surprise to view the Currier’s samples of works by Picasso, Matisse, Monet, O’Keeffe, Wyeth and even Grandma Moses.
As usual, I was more taken with these giants than with some of the contemporary art, but even in this section I found myself not grumbling about the meaninglessness of the modern as I so often do when trying to figure out these “artistic” pieces.
On the whole, Nathanael and I had a good day. I think the adults in our group did, also.
I haven’t told you the whole story. There’s another reason we included New England in this Next Phase adventure. During our marriage we have lived in four of the five major sections of the lower 48: Northwest, Southeast, Midwest, Southwest. But not the Northeast. So here we are, parked for a while in the fifth, trying to soak up a little of its distinctive culture. We’re glad to be here. The weather’s been cool and wet (although in a couple of days the forecast is for a high of 91!). The houses look amazingly like what Cape Cod houses are supposed to look like. The accent quickly tells us who the natives are. The cost of living is just what we were afraid it would be. We won’t stay long. But the extra dollars are worth it.
Our home is the basement apartment of a large single-family dwelling. Suzette, our landlady, is attending to our every need. We both have always loved a fireplace, which the apartment doesn’t have. But what it does have is a faux fireplace, an electric heater with simulated logs and flames. Just looking at it makes us feel warmer, especially on gray, drippy days—days which feel so much like Western Oregon.
This is just our first post from Massachusetts. We’ll be back.
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