Finding America in Freedom

This is Old Home Week in Freedom, New Hampshire, population 1500. The town was incorporated in 1832 after it seceded from next-door Effingham in a dispute over whose taxes would pay for a bridge between the two. Freedom is a place of peacefulness and beauty, a little village of well maintained, white-painted homes, many dating back to the early 1800’s, surrounded by rolling meadows and gardens of lavender, lilies, daisies, purple cone flowers and salvia.  The library, town center, post office, general stores and local church are also picture-postcard perfect. From a Friday lawn party to the art and memento displays at tables in the village center, the people were welcoming.

Old Home Week was the brainchild of New Hampshire Governor Frank West Collins at a time when the Granite State population was shrinking dramatically.  It was a clarion call to its sons and daughters to come home, to reconnect with family and friends and support the continued vibrancy of local libraries, schools and other institutions.  The practice spread across New Hampshire and eventually over much of the country.  The tradition continues today in several towns in New Hampshire.

The first Old Home Week in Freedom was in 1899. This year’s event included a road race, crafts fair and art exhibit, church service, and hay wagon rides, but surely one of the highlights every year is the Saturday morning parade through town. There are marching bands, bagpipe performers, Kiwanis groups, church and service organizations, boys and girls clubs, and family floats. The winner of that group was the float of the Cunningham family, rooted in Freedom for over a hundred years. (Twenty-nine immediate family members came from as far away as Texas for Old Home Week.)

More than a dozen Can-Am Spyders (three-wheeled motorcycles), mostly driven by seniors, roared through as did a group of motorized mini Log Rollers in Shriners Caps doing a precision performance of Allemande-Left weaving worthy of a national square dance competition. Local contractors had shined up their heavy equipment and paraded it through on floats. At the parade’s end came fire trucks and other public safety vehicles, their sirens deafening bystanders, who duly applauded their civic contribution. Hokey? Yes, but also, in its own way, touching.

For years, my daughter-in-law Sarah’s mom, talented artist Peg Scully, had painted designs for tee shirts depicting the beauties of Freedom, the essence of rural America. Saturday, Peg, whose wide-ranging contributions to civic life in the town are manifold, was honored as Grand Marshal of the parade. Her paintings capture the intimacy of Freedom’s people and the enduring beauty of a place that is a true refuge from urban life.

My husband and I also took our visit as a momentary escape from ugly politics, talking heads braying at each other, Washington gridlock, vengeful firings, stupidity, cupidity, narcissistic self-serving ignorant leadership. You get the idea. But here’s the thing. Freedom is America, all of it.

A little more than half of Freedom voted for Donald Trump. (Hillary Clinton edged out Trump statewide by 3/10ths of a percent.)  Along with the abundance of flag-waving marchers and proclaimers of libertarian patriotism in Saturday’s parade were floats by Carroll County Democrats and other activists carrying signs supporting gay rights, Black Lives Matter, Health Care as a Human Right,  calls to save Medicare and Medicaid.

At a lawn party the evening before, I had to restrain my husband from asking people if they still supported the President who had promised to “Make America Great Again.” I suspect that, just as support for Trump – at historic lows for anyone at this stage of the Presidency – is as fervent as ever in its support among Republicans, perhaps not wanting to concede they may have made a mistake. I don’t know what the tipping point will be in this nightmare, but I certainly didn’t want to tackle the topic while enjoying Freedom’s beauty and serenity.

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