On September 17th, I returned to my hometown, Monroe, Massachusetts, for their bicentennial celebration.
The day began with a presentation from State Representative Paul Mark of a framed copy of the restoration of the original town charter. In his remarks, he noted that, unlike most Massachusetts charters, Monroe’s does not have any mention of an English king. The town was incorporated from parts of other towns and named for President James Monroe, who was president of the United States at the time.
When I was growing up there in the 1960s-70s, the town had about 200 residents. In the 2020 census, there were 118 residents, making it the smallest town by population on the mainland of Massachusetts.
The festivities centered around the Town Community Center, which was the school back in my day. (Also, in the days of my father and his siblings, when it was built by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s.) The building still houses the town offices and library. What had been the classroom for grades 1-4 when I attended is now a community meeting room where many of the indoor activities were housed. The rest of the building is now used as offices by the power company that is the successor to New England Power, for which my father worked for over forty years.
I was able to make some contributions to the memory board and books. I sent some poems and was surprised to find one of them on display with a vintage newspaper photo of me when I graduated from high school.
Many of us were feeling nostalgic about the post office. There were two postal employees there to hand-cancel envelopes with a bicentennial commemorative postmark, even though the Monroe Bridge post office closed years ago to be replaced by this:
Not nearly as distinctive looking as this mail slot which was salvaged from the old post office and is now in the Monroe Historical Society’s collection.
For an explanation of why it was the Monroe Bridge post office and why I often refer to my hometown as Monroe Bridge, you can read my poem “Monroe Bridge Mail” published by Wilderness House Literary Review here. (It’s the final poem in a set of five.)
I spent quite a lot of time in the Historical Society, looking at the artifacts and photos. It was nice to see that the murals that had been painted by a WPA artist for our classroom had been moved there:
There was memorabilia from the Town’s sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) which I remembered as a very exciting time when I was in grammar school.
It was fun to get to reminisce with people who had been in town when my family lived there. Some are still residents or folks who have stayed local, while a few, like me, had travelled from further afield. I especially appreciated the time that Lucy spent with me, pointing out family connections among the memorabilia on display or in the Historical Society. I was touched by all the kind words about my parents and the expressions of sympathy on their passing. The celebration was just a few days after the first anniversary of my father’s death; he and my mother were among the founding members of the Monroe Historical Society.
There was Bicentennial swag available! One of my purchases was the Bicentennial History Book. I was honored that my poem “Playground” was chosen to be on the back cover. It reads:
Our WPA-built school housed
two classrooms, eight grades,
two teachers, twenty-some students,
old textbooks, reams of assignments
designed to keep us quiet at our desks.
Morning and afternoon recess
and the remainder of lunch hour,
we jumped off swings,
attempted running up the two-story slide,
sent the spinning merry-go-round swaying
to crash with a satisfying clang
into the metal pole from which it hung.
Dodge ball, monkey-in-the-middle,
a dozen variations of tag,
where the tap of a classmate’s hand
thawed you from your frozen state
or freed you from jungle-gym-jail.
Jump rope chants
“Not last night, but the night before,
a lemon and a pickle
came a-knockin’ at my door.”
Upper-grade boys against girls
in Wiffle ball or kick ball.
Despite our skirts, the girls,
already becoming young women,
Of course, as promised, there was cake!
It was a great celebration for a little town! Even though I’ve lived out-of-state for forty years now, a part of me is still at home there.
And even if you have never visited, there are now new signs to welcome you. This is the one you will see if you cross the state line from Whitingham, Vermont into Monroe.