Lines in the Newburyport Post Office any day in December look like the lines entering a Renaissance faire on a mid-October weekend.
Difference is that, on the holiday that has five names, we rennies and our patrons wore all the color and decoration. In this season of three religious feasts, most everyone is bundled up in dark, thick coats with colorfully wrapped and decorated packages in hand.
Across the Merrimack River on another errand, I swing by the Salisbury Post Office, figuring it can’t be too busy.
Bingo! Just one counter, but I’m third in line, and the two before me are quick. In addition to two small packages needing to be weighed, I need stamps. Forgive me, but I’ve never cared for Christmas stamps or any seasonal postage. If it’s any consolation, I love carols–even the dreaded “Drummer Boy”–and often played many of them with pizazz for many a Christmas past, but on envelopes? No stars, halos, snowmen, or decorated trees for me. Years ago, I made an exception for Gabriel with his alto-sax, but he has yet to make an encore as a thumbnail pic with a serrated edge.
Always asking for stamps with musicians, I mailed everything with Pete Seeger and his banjo on the top righthand corner of the envelope this summer and fall. Though I doubted there would be any left for sale, I asked the Salisbury clerk, who lit up at the question:
Sure we do! Lots!
Wow! Hard to believe. They were issued so long ago, I thought they had to be gone.
You’re on the other side of the bridge. Can’t sell’m this side.
I buy three panes. She puts at least three back in her drawer.
Salisbury is the northeast corner of Massachusetts, sandwiched between the Merrimack and the state border with New Hampshire while the Atlantic pounds its east side. In a blatant crime against cartography, surveyors sent up from Boston in colonial times decided to ignore the common sense of letting the river, like the ocean, be a natural boundary and claimed a three-mile buffer from the north bank for the Mass Bay Colony.
We can only wonder if this map set the precedent for another Massachusetts invention soon to follow: gerrymandering
As a much smaller town, Salisbury may lack Newburyport’s culture and commerce, but it does have Annarosa’s Bakery with its rosemary & sea-salt dinner rolls I can’t get enough of. If you go looking, it’s on Rt. 110 just across from a memorable billboard for a CBC store: “You have in-laws. We have pot.” Now that’s the holiday spirit! After a short drive, I was still laughing when I arrived at the post office where I would learn of a postage stamp that our neighbors to the north want none of.
Good chance that most Americans born after the Eisenhower years do not know who Pete Seeger was, or know only the name. We children of that decade knew him as a folk-singer. Our parents may have known him as a conscientious objector blacklisted in the McCarthy Era. In the Sixties he was a leading voice in civil rights, anti-war, and environmental movements. At the end of the Sixties, he was one of the foremost reasons that the Smothers Brothers show, a forerunner of all the creative commentary we now see on cable TV, was banned from network television. This was back when all television was network. Censored was his song, “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” clearly aimed at a Democratic president.
Seeger was tireless. He harmonized with voices for humanitarian causes right up to the day he died in 2014 at the age of 94. Though his banjo was inscribed with a combative message–“This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces It to Surrender”–his own statements and song lyrics were always in the spirit of peace and unity, usually addressed to “brothers” and “sisters.” Never cast in anger, his songs conveyed spiritual and cultural messages as much as political. His best known, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” an adaptation of the Book of Ecclesiastes, serves as an example:
To everything – turn, turn, turn
There is a season – turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose under heaven
A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones
A time to gather stones together
That the people of Salisbury have any of this in mind when they purchase stamps is doubtful. Far more likely they prefer pics of race cars that had a recent issue, or American flags that are always issued. And now there’s one with Johnny Cash walking the (rail) line with his guitar far more likely to sell on either side of any American bridge.
No doubt I would have taken a pane home had Seeger not been there.
Still, there is room for doubt.
Three hundred years after its first crime against cartography, Massachusetts is the bluest of blue states while New Hampshire has been trending purple in recent years. Relative to New England, New Hampshire screams red in a sea of blue, and if you zoom in to our little corner, the change in color is not at the state line but at the Merrimack River. Only the fireworks stores observe the border.
Whether or not the clerk had any of that in mind with her “other side of the bridge” crack is anyone’s guess. But I think she was in on the joke. A wry smile on her face suggested that she would have felt my pain had she no pane to offer.