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My father's new hampshire


February 2020

My father grew up in northern New Hampshire during the Great Depression. His father was a World War I veteran, the son of a man who left Scotland as a teenager, alone, in search of a better life in America. My grandfather and his family settled near Berlin, N.H.—during World War I, in a burst of patriotic fervor, the pronunciation was changed to BUR-lin to disassociate it from the German capital. I have only vague memories of my grandfather, but I fondly recall that he was something of an artist, painting the walls of his house with scenes of France, where he met his wife-to-be while a soldier in that country. His day job was working at a paper mill in town. Founded in the 1850s, the mill employed my grandfather for decades, until he retired. It has since closed, and the state’s northernmost city, plagued by alcohol and opioid addiction, is now its poorest. The largest employer in the region? Two prisons. 

It was in that city that my father was born on Feb. 12, Abraham Lincoln's birthday. In my mind, as a child, I couldn't help but associate the two of them in many ways. No, my father didn't have a beard, but he was tall and thoughtful and smart and witty. I remember asking him what made the 16th president a great man. I was young enough that I had to have him define the word he used to describe Lincoln: "humble." My father has been dead for three decades—he would have been 89 tomorrow, the day after his native state's presidential primary—and I often think of how he would have despaired at seeing what has become of this country, and who presides over it. He never talked about which candidates he voted for in elections (Yankee reticence can run deep), but I knew where his sympathies lay. And I feel certain of this: my father would have liked the presidential candidate today who promises to do the most to right our ship of state—with dignity, open-mindedness and, yes, humility.

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