Friday, June 17, 2005
Any way you slice it
What could be more emblematic of small-town tradition than Carlisle's annual Old Home Day pie-baking contest? Amateur bakers rely on family recipes or experiment with new flavors, always seeking the perfect combination of crust and filling to impress the judges. Perhaps the best part of this contest has been afterward, when the slices are quickly sold to a hungry and appreciative public. Be that as it may, state and local regulators are not deterred by decades of custom, or intimidated by the ultimate American icon, the apple pie. The Carlisle Board of Health is now prohibiting the sale of the pie slices. At first it sounded like a strange message to give the bakers — "Your pie is excellent and won a ribbon, but it is not good enough for humans to eat." However, Board of Health Agent Linda Fantasia explained that it should be fine to give the slices away to the public rather than sell them, and I hope the Old Home Day organizers can make this change.
Why is the Board of Health restricting traditional, and traditionally safe, activities? One reason is their need to enforce the state food code, a document primarily intended for restaurants. In general, residential kitchens are not supposed to be used for commercial purposes. Fantasia admitted there are "gray areas where there isn't clear guidance," and the Board uses the advice of Concord's Food Inspector as it considers how best to regulate each type of event involving the public and food.
Small-scale activities like children's lemonade stands or church coffee hours are not currently monitored, but in the last couple of years larger, town-wide events like the annual sixth-grade Spaghetti Supper have become closely regulated. Fantasia thought that parents could still make desserts, like cupcakes, at home. All salad and tomato sauce preparation must now be done on-site in the school kitchen. Happily, the Spaghetti Supper organizers and the kitchen staff at the Carlisle School rallied and were able to make the necessary changes. The sixth grade continues to serve the best spaghetti dinner in town.
Small towns are often "a square peg in a round hole" when it comes to state regulations. (State-mandated 40B developments in a town without a public water supply is another example.) The public benefits from protection against health hazards. However, it takes time to understand how each local event is run — to learn what is working fine and what needs improvement. I hope that the Carlisle Board of Health will interpret the ever-more-numerous regulations with wisdom and common sense.
The spirit at Town Meeting
When Doug Harris addressed Town Meeting on June 8, the spirit of pre-colonial Indians came with him. Harris stood tall and dignified, used no notes and eloquently evoked his ancient people's relationship to the ceremonial site on Benfield Parcel A. Carlisle residents are the stewards of the Benfield Land, he said, and urged us to partner with Native Americans to preserve the sacred site. Harris, senior deputy tribal historical preservation officer of the Narragansett Indian Tribe, had met with the Board of Selectmen and the Benfield Task Force several times to advance the Native American claims that part of the land is a sacred ceremonial complex and must not be destroyed. A state archaeologist disagreed, calling the site not historically significant.
Ultimately, Town Meeting members approved Plan B, which puts housing and a ballfield on the controversial site. As Town Meeting adjourned, thunder, lightning and heavy rains assaulted residents dashing for their cars — perhaps an impromptu protest from the Indian spirit world.
Although Doug Harris and his tribal associates could not prevent 21st-century encroachment on land their ancestors held sacred, they have triumphed nonetheless by reminding residents that Indians walked, fished, hunted, worshipped and died on Carlisle land centuries before the town was incorporated. Because we are blessed with woods, meadows, hills, springs and streams — all vital to the Native Americans — evidence of their earthly and spiritual life surrounds us, not only on the Benfield Land but in other parts of town. Some rock formations are thought to be astronomical indicators. Great Brook Farm State Park is home to Turtle Rock and a large bowl-shaped rock perhaps used by Indians to grind corn. Harris referred to a rock formation on the ceremonial site in the shape of a woman that supports his claim that women-centered ceremonies took place there.
When I interviewed Harris and Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, tribal historical preservation officer of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), for the June 3 Mosquito, I told them that a third-grade class in the Carlisle School had written a letter to the editor (May 27). The children were studying Native American history and had questions about the Benfield Land. Harris and Andrews-Maltais were delighted that their history was being taught here, and planned to write to the children.
I grew up in Iroquois country in upstate New York and we too studied Indian history in school. We visited the local cemetery (a former Indian burial ground) where the celebrated Indian leader, Chief Logan, is buried. On his tomb is the inscription "Who is there to mourn for Logan?" There, as here, the Native Americans had been annihilated or driven off the land.
While mourning for his ancestors, Doug Harris gives them a voice. They ask to be remembered and respected. As plans for Benfield move forward, let us find a way to acknowledge and celebrate the Indian presence there. Then future Carlisleans will know that this too is part of their town's history.
© 2005 The