Historic Salem (1)

In another life, my father may have been a high-school history teacher, in line with his passion for the stories of the past and current events. But in his own life he was a wool sorter and wool grader (a step up), a tradesman in the front end of the textile industry. He had learned the trade in the honored apprentice method, instructed by an older French Canadian-American man who worked in the same mill. The master was Big Marcel, and my father, the student, was Little Marcel. For most of his working life my father used his knowledge and skill to make decisions about the quality of wool from sheep fleeces that came by train and truck to factories in Lowell and North Chelmsford. For several years in the 1960s he spent part of the year in California, doing this specialized work for Cal Wool, a sheep ranchers’ co-op in the San Joaquin or Central Valley. His lifelong interest in history, however, helped shape his life outside the workplace, whether reading books from the public library or spending time with the family. During the good-weather months it was a regular thing to take a ride with the family to Concord or Salem, Mass., to see the historic sites. Those two places were favorites of his.  My parents, two brothers, and I, as I recall, never went to those places for a special event. We just went. Because it was understood that there would be something worth seeing and experiencing. This is New England, after all, where the American story starts—at least the USA part of it (No offense meant to Native Americans or the early arrivals from Spain and France.). Whether it was the North Bridge in Concord or the House of the Seven Gables in Salem, there were landmarks in those places. We didn’t go for the witch history, a story-line now nearly out of control in Salem. There’s a waterfront in Salem, but that wasn’t the big draw, although we would visit the Custom House on the wharf, as I recall. In Concord, we never went to Walden Pond. It was the American Revolution that drew my father there. Today, both places have evolved as historical and cultural attractions. I think people still have a reflex response about Concord and Salem being places worth going to for no special reason but simply for how they are perceived. When I was a kid, we were casual visitors, impulse visitors, call it what you will. We didn’t have a ticket or appointment or some place to be when we went there. It’s worth asking if we think Lowell fits in this category—and if not, why not? In a follow up post, I will write about a recent visit to Salem.