By Rosalie Tirella
Could it be possible, at 61, to fall in love with … a town common? To feel about the space the way you do about a new romance? Excited to see your love each and every day … alive with anticipation! And can you fall in love with your town common even though it’s not, strictly speaking, a real town common?… Not at all a grassy space with manicured flower gardens, benches, a pond with ducks and swans … maybe even a gazebo where brass bands play on summer nights. Possibly the site of political protests now and then. In other words: Picturesque. Even elegant. Sometimes radical.
No, here in Spencer, you’ve got no real town common. It’s wild and rural, but it’s also rough bluecollar, as the town’s roots are French sheetrock workers … factories. Every where you see the pretty girls who look the same: fair skinned with long dark hair, often pulled back into a no-nonsense pony tail. Their faces look the same, too: pretty and delicate and French. You see the new diversity, too, but the townie girls, distantly related from generations past, all look like princesses from my old childhood fairy tale books. You see a few ancient factories standing … you see the famous SADD name chiseled into an abandoned factory and wonder if it’s at all related to the Mr. Sadd, a town selectman, you “covered” as a cub reporter when working for the Spencer New Leader almost four decades ago. He was a town leader written up in The New Leader often. I think his son also served on the Spencer Board of Selectmen.
So there is no picturesque town common here in Spencer, a green space in the center of town to traipse around in like there is in West Brookfield or even Millbury. It’s a bit too working class for that. So we’ve had to create opportunity, especially after my wrist surgery, unable to drive my car. A town common is really just a place where the common folk meet and greet each other! So we’ve got the Spencer Price Chopper Plaza on Main Street, across the street from the Spencer Town Hall and a few yards away from the town library. And you’ve got the opportunity to meet EVERYBODY. The PRICE CHOPPER plaza – a huge parking lot with all the basics – seemed like a stretch at first but it’s a genuine town common, a central hub. Past the dumpster, along the concrete, across the parking lot itself Jett and Lilac and I walk every day. The Plaza is the shopping mecca for everyone in town, and everyone, even the poorest of the poor, or folks in motorized wheelchairs, seem to be in good spirits. You’ve got everything you need to live a pretty good life in Spencer at the Price Chopper Plaza: the supermarket, a CVS, a package store, a Rob Roy hair salon and a laundromat. Across Main Street you’ve got Whitco’s and a few other shops. When you think about it, outside of nature and Whitco’s, everything else can be considered superfluous.
But my Price Chopper Plaza on Main Street – my “town common” – sets my heart aflutter every day! It’s Jett and Lilac’s happy place. The site of our daily jaunts, the place we walk around and around in, waving to this person, chatting with that lady, smiling at this old guy, graciously accepting compliments about Jett from the woman in a wheelchair or talking with the kid who just took our photos or the young guy who works at Rob Roy and says my haircut – given by his coworker, a Bay Path High graduate and very creative gal – is “fun.” Or the CVS staffer who says to me, “We love seeing you!” Or the woman in the motorized wheelchair who used to have wolf hybrids at her house as pets but is now too old to keep dogs. “YOU’RE SO LUCKY TO HAVE THEM!” she says of my Jett and Lilac, as her scrawny hand gives Lilac’s bum a good scratching. No wonder Lilac is ecstatic to take our morning strolls – our jaunt consists of nothing but kind words about her and Jett and lots of rub downs. She even seems to have her favorites – rushes up to familiar faces for some lovin’. I have real conversations with the people here about dogs loved and lost, chickens who come when you call their names, golden retriever pups heading for the family boat. The old people tug at my heart. The Spencer kids are open and high spirited. You soak up the sun – or the rain drops – as you walk the plaza sidewalk and connect with half of Spencer. Folks buying their groceries, doing their laundry, picking up their prescriptions, but never too busy to stop and … see you. Everything seems so personal, slowed down … relaxed.
Which is why I decided to now label myself “semi-retired.” So I can stick around Spencer – the Price Chopper Plaza and the town Library and my apartment – which I love. Why subject myself to hassles at my age? Why not just bake a veggie lasagna and another apple tart and read a short story? I am rounding that final bend. Why make it a demolition derby? Why race at all? l could drive into Worcester five days a week to run CECELIA, but I’ll be coming in three days a week and working out of my home the other two. I can still write my columns, shepherd my story-seeking scribes and sell ads. I’ll be 62 in October. I want to see more nature … and write different stories.