What makes a town?

Patsy Kelly of Buttonwood Farm leads an alumni parade. Circa 1960s Notice silver embellished saddlery. Photo provided by the Chester Historical Society

What makes a town the place you want to live? There are as many answers to this question as there are people to ask it.

Many readers will know that, today, many organizations are struggling to recruit new members. This effects fraternal organizations, churches, historical societies, and alumni associations. Young people aren’t very interested.

After two years without an alumni parade, this past Saturday, June 11, Chester’s Alumni Parade returned. It was quite small, but what fun it was.

I thought I’d give you an idea from the perspective of a participant, me, what it was like. I always walk in the parade, representing the Class of ‘69, and the Chester Historical Society. I was dressed in my Civil War uniform with kepi. That uniform shrank some this past winter.

There were fire trucks, three tractors, Justin Turco on his unicycle, the school band, and classes of ’54, ’57, ’62, ’66, ’69, ’70 and ’71 and more.

As I walked up Depot Street from Smitty’s, people sitting on their porches smiled and waved. Dick Farnsworth came out into the street to shake my hand, commenting, “This is a great hometown event!”

When we came down by Chester Hardware the number of spectators increased. As we moved up Main Street the crowd grew.

I was surprised how well I was received. Some people gave me the clap, some a thumbs up, while some stood and saluted. It felt good to be appreciated. Thank you all.

On both sides of Main Street at the Park, people gathered. A number of those making me feel so welcome I did not recognize. Some may have recognized me from my photo with this column or maybe it was the sight of a Civil War soldier – something you don’t see every day.

Bob Sartini was surprised to see me. People were enjoying themselves and taking lots of pictures. I was so impressed that I went into a pirouette with outstretched arms and said loud enough to be heard “Look at all these people!” God I love this town.

George Webster came out into the street to tell me how much he enjoyed my story last week about drag racing. George is class of ’63.

It was 1967 or ‘68 when I took a summer job at Smith’s sawmill. This was a large sawmill off the road from South Londonderry to Bondville. I didn’t have a car yet so I bummed a ride where I could. George worked up that way, so I sometimes rode with him. George had a hi-performance, yellow Mustang with black racing stripes.

One day, on our way back to Chester, George opened it up on the flat near Marie Hill Farm. I was barely 16. I had never been so fast. We must have hit 100 mph. What a rush!

The Alumni Parade is organized by Jon Clark and the Alumni Association. Volunteers are too often the subject of criticism. If you want to be part of the town, don’t criticize, get involved. Criticism should have no place.

If you grew up in Chester, you know the shortcut to Cobliegh Field. This shortcut is the alley between Country Treasures and Six Loose Ladies.

As I returned from Cobleigh Field via the shortcut, I saw my classmate Tom Petraska. Tom was talking to a man I didn’t recognize. Tom asked if I knew him. I said, “No.” It was Gary Yake, Class of ’70. We had a beer and got to reminiscing.

Gary asked if I remembered the day Bud Nadeau and I were walking across the footbridge. I did not. Seems Gary took a shot at us with his BB gun, hitting me in the neck. Gary said Bud chased him down and gave him a good throttling.

Along came Dooley on the shortcut. The four of us got to talking about swimming at the quarry, diving or jumping off the rock face. Some of us painted our names or initials on the rock face, marking the height from which we jumped. Dooley dove, not jumped, from the top! It has been said there are a couple cars in the bottom of the quarry.

Quoting Dorothy Canfield Fisher, “We know very well that these humble anecdotes would seem to people of the big world no more than pinches of dust– or perhaps single blades of grass from a meadow.”

Buildings and pretty streets don’t make a town, its people do.


This week’s old saying refers to cars us kids drove: “It has a four on the floor and a fifth under the seat.”

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