Friday, March 23, 2001
The heart of Carlisle
This is the third in a series of articles featuring neighborhoods in Carlisle. In this article Darragh Murphy writes about her own personal experience of living in the center of town.
On the spur of the moment last year my husband and I decided to spend the day of our wedding anniversary house hunting in the suburbs. He had traded contract work for a full-time position in Acton and I was dissatisfied with both the public school system and private school tuitions in Boston. It was a beautiful Sunday in September, so we took the real estate section and followed our noses.
But where to start? Someplace close to Acton was the first priority. During his years contracting at companies in Westford, Burlington and Boxborough, Nik had often passed through Carlisle. He recalled it as a pretty town, so we headed this way.
"It's one of those town centers you have to drive through ten times before you realize you're passing through a town center," he said. "There's a sort of a rotary and a pretty town green and a general store, I think."
We had just passed the town green and were unsure whether we were actually in Carlisle so we pulled over in front of the bank to check the map and practically bumped into a "For Sale" sign.
Within two minutes I turned into the wife in a real estate agent's dream. "Oh look, honey. The library is next door. The girls will love that! And look, the only store for five miles in every direction is right across the street. I can run out of milk at any hour without worry. But wait, there's more! The path from the back yard leads directly to the elementary school. You can trade your three-hour daily commute for a twenty-minute round trip to work and home with no traffic, ever. The girls can walk to the best elementary school in the state and the tuition is . . . free!"
We sold our house in Dorchester in less than a day, and ten weeks later unloaded the boxes into our new home in the heart of the heart of Metro West. But where the heck had we landed? I felt like a Martian on Neptune. A steady stream of neighbors brought housewarming gifts and food during our first week. While I raked the driveway, people stopped to introduce themselves and offer advice about supermarkets, dump stickers and library cards. We were invited to cookouts and potluck dinners, and when our new baby was born, the fridge filled up with soups and dinners and cakes. Even the teenagers in town were friendly and polite. "Are we on vacation or do we get to stay?" I asked Nik after our first few weeks.
The kind of house or neighborhood you prefer is obviously a complicated matter of taste and circumstances. A retreat in the woods with access to trails and acres for kids to explore appeals to many. Others like a quiet cul-de-sac where kids ride their bikes in the street and people gather and meet at the foot of driveways and front lawns. But the center of town is different. Why would anyone want to live in the "busy" part of a famously rural small town? This is Carlisle, the "City in the Woods" you're supposed to be surrounded by trees on all sides, right?
The center residents feel differently. We worry about water quality and pedestrian safety and traffic and parking. Our concerns about walkways and commercial development are quite immediate and personal. If the pathways plan goes through, I'll have to move the picturesque boulders that the previous owners placed along the road. The new real estate office in town is my next door neighbor. Construction noise and truck traffic during the library renovation woke us up in the morning and the parking lot lights shine in the windows at night. A couple of times strangers have knocked on the door, thinking my house was the police station or the town hall.
But those are the things I love about living in the center of town. Whatever action there is, it's happening here. A quick peek out the window and I can read the sandwich board in the rotary to find out what the agenda is for the next CSA meeting. At eight o'clock at night I pop over the wall to return a book to the library or pick up a video. Every day at dismissal time I hear the shouts and laughter of the school kids. Old Home Day happens outside the front door. Early Sunday morning the street is almost dead quiet except for teams of brightly dressed bicyclers whizzing by and runners and dog walkers and families walking to church. Carlisle is a friendly town, and living in the center of it, you feel like you can meet everyone.
There's also a sense of security that comes from living in plain view of your neighbors. During the power outage two weeks ago a neighbor called, worried that since our furnace was shut down the baby might be cold. "Come on over," she said. "We have a wood stove, a generator, and air mattresses." I'm sure neighborly offers like that happen everywhere in town, but there's something about proximity that lends itself to a sense of shared responsibility here in the center. Once we went outside to shovel a foot of snow from the driveway and found that someone had already been there with his snow blower. I almost burned the house down in September when I absent-mindedly left something cooking in the microwave and went out shopping for a few hours. When the microwave caught fire, the librarians next door smelled the smoke, came over to investigate and called the fire department. Now, whenever we smell smoke or gas or something burning, Nik says, "Quick! Call the library!"
So, I'll take the telephone poles in the front yard and the commuter traffic and the walkways. In return, I can walk to the post office and the school, send the kids to the library on their own, and meet everyone who converges on Daisy's at least once a week. And last, but certainly not least, in the spring and summer we have hardly any mosquitoes at all.
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