The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 25, 2007


Memorial Day — remember the farmers

Sometimes it's hard to remember that Carlisle was once a farm community whose residents often struggled to make a living. Today, multi-million-dollar homes sit on former pastures and farmlands, and often contentious developments spring up all over town. Town boards do their best to meet Chapter 40B affordable housing requirements, while Carlisle farmers 150 years ago would have viewed "affordable" housing as a draughty old farmhouse without indoor plumbing or electricity.

While Carlisle has transformed itself from a tiny rural community of 748 to an affluent suburb of over 5,000, reminders of the town's past are all around us, if we care to notice. Stone walls, horses, cows, goats, chickens and bucolic views of the Sorli and Clark farms are a direct link to the town's agricultural heritage.

This week's page 1 article on school lunches reminds us that in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Carlisle children did not always have nutritious lunches at school; some had no lunch at all. Ironically, the increasing problem of childhood obesity in the 21st century would have been unthinkable to the town's farmers who more likely worried about their underweight children.

The community potluck supper described on page 11 is a direct descendant of Carlisle's agricultural past. We are fortunate that so many Carlisleans are committed environmentalists who believe the future of the planet is to live "green" and who provide us with models for doing so.

An appreciation and understanding of local history starts in the schools. In the Carlisle Public School, third graders learn to "Discover Carlisle," and the fifth-grade social studies curriculum includes a look at town government. But are parents keeping up? Do you know that Carlisle once had a Poor Farm until 1925? That kind and generous housewives during the Depression offered meals to hungry tramps traveling through town? That dairy farms once dotted the local landscape? That many poor children in town went to school barefoot?

Newcomers to town will see the town's beauty (especially during this verdant spring) and will have selected it for a number of other reasons. We welcome you and encourage you to get acquainted with the town's history. Carlisle sprang from agricultural roots; they are deeply embedded and available to everyone.

Connecting with Carlisle's past isn't arduous. The Gleason Public Library has books on local history and oral histories of farm families. The Carlisle Historical Society ( offers open houses at its headquarters on Concord Street — the next one is on June 30, Old Home Day — and programs that celebrate our past.

Carlisle dates back to 1754, and its earliest settlers came here in 1650. As you walk the town's trails this Memorial Day weekend, hear the echoes of those who came before. They shaped this town, and we reap the benefits. Remember them.

Outside the box

About a dozen years ago, when my girls were at the peak of their Sesame Street-viewing years, our television broke and we didn't fix it. I don't think it was a conscious decision at first, more a sign of procrastination in calling a repairman. But as days turned into weeks and I witnessed the metamorphosis of the malleable experimental subjects I used to call my children, I could tell there'd be no turning back. Thus began our initiation into the suspect minority of non-TV households.

How we broke free from the mangy manacles of the Muppets reads to me like a case study from the Al-Anon newsletter. Households with small children survive the early years on the comforts of routine. Our change in routine, like any addiction, came with its own peculiar form of withdrawal. We had developed a daily afternoon regimen of watching our three shows: Arthur, Wishbone and Bill Nye the Science Guy (okay, this half hour was mainly for me — I have a soft spot for comic scientists). We'd walk back from the bus stop, have our snack, then the girls would drift to the TV room and sit down expectantly.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'd bet PBS isn't funded any better now than it was 12 years ago. To stretch their dollars then, a limited number of episodes would be produced, and these would be recycled over and over like reruns on steroids. Thus, it should have been no surprise that my kids had memorized quite a bit of material, chapter and verse. When it became clear the TV was dead, no problem. They dipped into the reservoir of memory and pulled out a fully intact favorite episode. It started like this: "Do you remember the Arthur when Muffy had her birthday party?" Not only did they remember the show, they began reciting word-for-word the dialogue, We had stumbled upon TV with no TV.

Now here's the really intriguing part of this experiment. After a week or so of verbatim dialogue, the edges of memory started to fray. First, the dialogue began to stray. Then the stories started to mutate. It wasn't long before the stories were completely original. These little messengers we send to the future were finally, and literally, thinking outside the box.

In truth, we're not totally deprived. Grandma has a TV. Vacation hotels have TV. Through Rube Goldberg connections, we have hooked up for the Olympics and presidential debates, but we heard the famous curse-reversing World Series on the AM radio! It made me feel young again.

We've absorbed our share of criticism. Television is the great cultural homogenizer. How will we navigate in a world where everyone else has seen the Seinfeld where Kramer drops the Junior Mint, knows who Tony Soprano is, has voted for an American Idol? TV was certainly part of my formative years, but how diminished would I be today if I couldn't identify the reference to "plop, plop, fizz, fizz"?

Over the years we've listened with a burgeoning smugness to studies that show how television is the cause of everything bad — loss of community, increased violence, global warming, 40Bs...We're really not trying to prove anything. Living without a TV is something like being a vegan. Some people may view it as a sacrifice while others may think it's just a healthier choice.


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2007 The Carlisle Mosquito