And then what happened? On the scene reporting with Norm


Published: 3/29/2020 1:19:39 PM

Well, sir, in times like these, if you want the news, you gotta go to Norm Nye.

In his 92nd year, way back in September, Norm decided it was time to put the wood stove in — he doesn’t like to keep it in year-round as it takes up so much space. Since I still think old age happens to people more advanced than I am, I asked him later how in tarnation he thought he might do that by himself at 92, and he said, “Well, after I got it up on the tractor, it wasn’t too bad.”

It’s not as though Norm doesn’t have a whole town full of people related to him to help him with stuff like moving wood stoves around; he just doesn’t see their import as necessary to something he can do himself.

So he got the stove in, and feeling an autumn-like hint in the air, went downstairs to his basement to load up on kindling. He filled his arms, walked back up the steps and at the very top, just as he was ready to step on home-kitchen turf, something happened. He tripped, or got dizzy, or Lord knows what happened in that last step, but when he finished his trip, he was lying on the landing half-way down to the basement. Kindling every place but in the stove, where it was supposed to be.

I asked him later, “How in the world did you get back up the stairs?”

He said, “Well, I just knew I had to, so I did.”

He called his daughter, Sue, who drove him to the emergency room, where they took all kinds of X-rays and scans and found nothing beyond the impact of that kind of plunge on a body that was crafted back before the crash of 1929.

And so he has lived, for the last six months. The pain never got any better, so they took him in to try out some more technology and found that in fact, he does have some broken bits down there, but not being certain of the outcome if they were to wheel him in and cut him open at this stage in his life, they think he’s safer left whole.

So Norm stays home, reads the paper, watches the news and is a repository of information going on around town, as, when you feel the need to call someone, who you gonna call? Norm! To see how he’s doing.

According to Norm, the gas station and Ashfield Hardware are open for walk-in and Country Pie Pizza is here for takeout. And gas is down to the lowest it’s been for years. It would be worth trying to go out just to fill up at that price. Life at home is better when it snows, like today, as you can’t go out anyway, and you don’t feel like you’re missing anything. By the way, he tells me, the snow may be quitting right now, but we’ll get some more later on. They call this a storm, but it’s not like what we used to get in the old days. He’ll show me some pictures of the snow in 1946 sometime.

The warm weather of late makes it harder. Norm was famous for (besides being a national treasure anchored here in Ashfield and the go-to plumber in town for 50 years) walking to the post office every day, regardless of the weather. Storms that had the rest of us hunkered at home like a national virus just meant he couldn’t start out quite as early. But every day, he walked, wondering why others near his age didn’t do the same. It would be good for ’em to do so, he said, but then shrugged. To each his own.

Gretchen Gerstner, owner of Baked in Shelburne Falls and a police officer in Ashfield, is making food and delivering it, Norm says — best corn chowder he’s ever tasted and even worth staying home for, if this is what it takes to get it. But other than that, he says, it’s quiet. No one’s out, no one’s going out. Schools are closed clear down to Amherst, he reports. Norm has foreign reporters calling in as well.

He tells me about the status of our own, personal virus-hit resident in Ashfield, and thinks there may be a second one, but he isn’t sure. He’ll let me know as he finds out more.

And so there’s your up-to-date news report from our anchor, Norm Nye. And, just so I didn’t start a run on Gretchen’s phone if she was just delivering to Norm out of friendship, I followed up with her and she said that indeed, she delivers her daily soups, breads and specials to Buckland-Shelburne all day long, and in the evening when she comes home to Ashfield, she stops around with deliveries here as well.

And that’s how a community gets through 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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