Grand Fenwick, Massachusetts is a collection of stories about life in New England, and my goal is to publish one per month until I finally run out of material – which is, nevertheless, highly unlikely. While inspired by real-life experiences in New England, the stories you are about to read are based solely on the author’s imagination. Names, locations, and events are fictitious and do not represent any living person or real event in the past or present.
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Grand Fenwick and The Meaning of Life
Life is just one damn thing after another. – Elbert Hubbard
“Listen to this,” my wife told me from behind the newspaper while I was munching on a spoonful of Cheerios. “Ruth Walters wrote another opinion in the Observer.”
“Oh God! What now?”
Ruth, one of Drew Gingrich’s older sisters, had the habit of profiling herself as the spokesperson for any cause designed to improve life, especially hers and her family’s, in Grand Fenwick.
My wife giggled. “Let me quote: ‘We need to conserve the beauty of downtown Grand Fenwick.’ ”
“What square foot of downtown is she referring to?”
She lay down the paper to look at me.
“Sometimes you’re just outright nasty,” she winked.
“Sorry. I just can’t help it. You said yourself that downtown scares you at times.”
“Yeah, but only at night. It’s not that bad during daylight.”
“Anyways,” she continued, turning back to the paper. “Ruth is concerned, provided the town sells the old paper mill property, the new owner may destroy downtown’s unique beauty and charm by building a modern high-rise.”
I couldn’t help but to laugh out loud. The property in question accommodated the remains of an administrative building originally owned by a paper mill that had left Grand Fenwick during the 1960’s. In an ill-advised move the town had purchased the land with the intention to build a new town hall, but that is another story and shall be told another time.
“Sorry,” I apologized to my wife who looked at me disapprovingly. She doesn’t like to be interrupted.
She cited again from the article. “Ruth is concerned about the first impression visitors might get when they come into town.”
“Well,” I commented, “right now all they see is a rotting building that looks like it was bombed during World War II. How’s that for a first impression?”
“And,” my wife chuckled, “she is worried about increased traffic on Elm Street, should the new owner build an apartment building with a new supermarket on the first floor. After all, a supermarket will draw more people from outside into town, and, according to her words, ‘We cannot afford more traffic in town.’ ”
“Yeah,” I responded. “The other day she said she wants to revive downtown by attracting more visitors, and now she cites the ever-popular traffic pattern problem. As always, she contradicts herself.”
I shook my head. As a matter of fact, nobody knew at the time what plans a potential new owner might have, but Ruth had put it in her mind it would be an apartment building plus supermarket, because, honestly, it would make sense. Needless to say, but the owners of the local community store were not thrilled by the prospect of competition, and that may be where Ruth’s true motives stemmed from.
In fact, the people of Grand Fenwick are highly allergic to any changes in their lifestyle, especially when they include modern-times improvements that the rest of the United States of America already enjoys. Yet again, I was cruelly reminded of how life works in Grand Fenwick.
Remember the scene in the very first Star Wars movie where C3-PO asks Luke Skywalker where exactly he was? The answer was something like, “If there is bright center in the universe, you are the farthest away from it.” That statement, in a nutshell, describes life in Grand Fenwick, however, without the prospects of ever making it into a movie.
Grand Fenwick had some potential for greatness during the first half of the last century, but with several large employers leaving town, the hope for a better life vanished quickly. As a matter of fact, Grand Fenwick is too far away from the next Interstate to have its own exit including the obligatory “Attractions” sign, and, honestly, if there were such a sign, it would be empty. Living in Grand Fenwick requires a strong stomach.
The majority of the roughly 12,000 Grand Fenwick residents is composed of lower-education blue-collar workers, mostly employed by the New Hampshire Nuclear Power Plant a few miles to the North, farmers, and retirees. There is a minority of well-educated professionals like yours truly, who enjoy living in the country, but endure the long, daily commute to Worcester to make a living. The population is complemented by a small group of local business owners living in their 19th century villas on the hills of Elm Street about a mile away from the center of town.
Current statistics have shown that about seventy-eight percent of the younger people born in Grand Fenwick leave town for good before the age of twenty-one, a simple fact that explains the declining population in recent years.
But to be honest, not all is bad in Grand Fenwick. We do have commodities such as CVS, a community-owned supermarket, McDonald’s, Burger King, a number of gas stations, a movie theatre, and even our own radio station. And there is the unavoidable, but very much appreciated Dunkin’ Donuts. As a matter of fact, we have three of them.
The running joke is about the number of Dunkin’ Donuts between the centers of Grand Fenwick and Worcester. Without being able to verify the answer, I have been told it is somewhere between twenty-four and thirty-two, depending if you use the short section of Interstate 290 or not.
Life without a Dunkin’ Donuts in the immediate neighborhood is simply impossible in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and, luckily, I do enjoy their coffee.
Of course, we have a couple of adult stores – apparently there is a need in our little town – and a family restaurant. Add to this an undetermined number of questionable establishments calling themselves a “neighborhood bar.” In fact, they are nothing else but dumps where a young head turner in his mid-fifties – like yours truly – can count on being hit on by a seventy-five year old broad in a tight leather suit whose brain had endured more than sixty years of sex (nothing wrong with that, provided she was legal age at the time), drugs, and rock ‘n roll (nothing wrong with that either).
The main attraction in town, though, seems to be the local liqueur store, especially during a hot summer’s Saturday night. The number of cars parked in front of the store is at times mind staggering. I do get an occasional bottle of wine or a Sam Adams six-pack there, but I admit, considering the rusty quality of cars in the front, I never dared to enter the premises on a Saturday night. To their credit, the service is very personal, provided they know you. Visitors from outside the state, New Yorkers above all, need to show IDs – Period – No exception.
“So, what else in new in town?” I asked my wife.
“Just the usual,” she answered calmly. “The New Hampshire Nuclear Power Plant has another radioactive leak and the reactors were shut down until further notice.”
Her head turned to the next page. “The Grand Fenwick Diner is under new management.”
“And,” she added with mocked enthusiasm, “J.C. Penney is having a sale!”
“Whoo-hoo,” I responded wryly. “That’s news!”