And Then What Happened?: Dwelling in the past


Published: 7/27/2020 4:08:39 PM

Norm wants to know what happened to all the hitching posts in town. They were just right here — every yard had one, and now they’re gone. Just a couple left. Where’d they go, and when? And over at the Episcopalian Church, they had a big flat stone, about 8 feet square, 16 inches or so tall, so that when you pulled your horse and buggy up, the lady could step out on the stone and get out of the buggy gracefully. What ever happened to that? Where would they have put it?

I don’t know the answers, but I’m always interested in the questions. I asked Norm about going to school at the Ashfield Plain Schoolhouse, back when he was in the first through sixth grades, up until 1937, when the schoolhouse closed and everybody was then ushered over to Sanderson Academy, where the big kids already went to school.

I asked how it worked, eight grades of children in a one-room schoolhouse. He said you heard the same lessons all the years you were there — from the first grade through the eighth, you heard the first-grade lessons and you heard the eighth-grade lessons, all the lessons of every grade, every year so that by the time you reached the eighth grade, they stuck. That’s how you learned.

They’re working on Route 112 right now, the road that leads us from Ashfield to Shelburne Falls, repaving it so that it’s nice and smooth and free of holes and fixes. As I drive down it, stopping for the guys working, admiring the job their doing, it fills me with missing the old road — the one with holes and patches. The one that the old people, now long gone put down, back in the day when, I’ll bet the road they replaced wasn’t nearly as smooth.

It makes me think about how the people in Ashfield saw me right about this time 15 years ago, when they watched me sit on the porch of their then-closed Elmer’s Store, eyeing it, envisioning how much fun it would be to own and open a place like that. I was thinking about local community. They were thinking about a reckless outsider, wrecking it all, as so many plundering idealists had done before.

I understood their fears then, intellectually, but intellectual doesn’t patch all the holes in the long-distance heart that misses the old people, the people who made the place what it was and tied it to its history before, back in the day. We didn’t know they were the good days — those days had their problems that covered that up, but here? Now? All those people gone, with their love, their characters, their humor, their grievances, their family connections, they were the ones who made this place our place.

And their horses! And their hitching posts!

I lure Norm out of his house on these nice evenings to sit on his porch and tell me stories of the days when he was a boy, and that’s when he notices the hitching posts and the buggy stepping-stone are gone.

“So much traffic!” he complains, there, across from his house where Baptist Corner Road, South Street and Main Street all meet up.

I live just a few houses up South Street from that same corner and revel in the no-traffic quiet all day and all night. We come from different traffic backgrounds, Norm and I, and his traffic used to pull wagons and buggies. I ask him when cars finally outnumbered horse-drawn vehicles here in this farm-driven town and he remembers it being sometime back in the 1930s. Not long after the time when enough houses were getting hooked up to enough electricity that careless cows weren’t kicking over kerosene lamps and burning down the barns anymore.

I didn’t get it then. Fifteen years ago I wasn’t old enough to have lived through the passing of the generation just ahead of mine, and I had not yet lived in a town crafted by its individuals. But 15 years in, having rebuilt a local landmark that I quietly know helped usher a new line of outsiders to town, I get it. The old ones would have gone to heaven regardless of my arrival to town, and the new ones bring the energy that a town needs to maintain its buoyancy, but I see what the remainders see and I miss what was here a brisk 15 years ago.

And those hitching posts! I never even knew them, but looking out toward the hectic traffic on the quiet corner, I feel Norm’s past and I never tire in the retelling of it.

Nan Parati lives and works in Ashfield, where she found home and community following Hurricane Katrina. She can be reached at


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