Neighbors Become More Important
New Hampshire winters tend to be long, a fact we all acknowledge and live with just the same. One day, probably 40 years ago, a man who is no longer alive came up with an idea to make the winters pass more quickly. It struck him one day that all he did during the winter was wave at his neighbors at the post office. He thought it would be good to have a party every Friday evening, an informal affair that would have a revolving location. The host would supply the drinks and the guests would bring snacks. That way, every week there would be a place and a time to gather and catch up on the news. He called the group “The Wave,” because it would be a bigger way to experience that “wave” across the parking lot. His tradition stands to this day: ready-made Friday-night parties that require only one person to keep track of who’s hosting the gathering on which Friday, and getting the word out. The rest is just fun.
In the next town, rumor of these parties reached a woman who decided that her town also ought to have such regular opportunities for conviviality. And so she started what she dubbed “The Breakers,” a play on “The Wave.”
This woman has also passed away, but her innovation carries on. I live on the border of the two towns, so I’m sometimes invited to both shindigs. And, just as the generations have cycled through the town rosters, so have the guests at these winter parties. I especially like being invited to homes I’ve never been in before. New England homes are inherently unique. There are no tract houses in either of these towns, so the individuality of each home is outstanding.
This past winter, we partied at a house that has three large living rooms and decor that rivals Winterthur’s–in fact, the owner is a benefactor of Winterthur. Another home is a converted mill house, one of the small homes given to workers back when the mill was operating. This little house hasn’t changed its size or shape but has been polished like a piece of furniture, with ceilings that reveal old timbers and a front-room window that frames the mill pond. One house, once the town’s post office, and another, the town’s store, have both since been made into gracious homes. Another is an old farmhouse that’s been handed down through the generations, complete with Grandma’s iron stove and her furniture–couches and chairs frayed and comfy. The most fun: a house built in the shape of a car, complete with headlights and fins.
See what I mean? The rich heritage of our towns emerges in these winter gatherings. Sometimes to reach the front door we may have to walk around signs advertising political candidates we may not endorse, and inside, we skillfully maneuver around such subjects. Instead, we open our houses to one another and reveal our leanings, left or right, and our furnishings, retro or antique. There’s a lot to that, if you stop to think about it.
Friday nights, we plow through snowstorms, and in mud season, we squish and wriggle our way to arrive at the solid doorstep. Inside, asparagus canapés and pigs-in-blankets await. What brings us together more than anything is a desire to ride out the winter together. Before we know it, it’s spring, for which we rejoice a bit less, knowing the parties are over.