April 19, 2018

An Appreciation of Home

Rehoboth Ramblings

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Now that the holidays are over and we’ve all fattened up for the winter, it’s time for hibernation. Sadly, that is not possible for humans as we face the annual winter wonderland. We wonder how bad the winter will be. With the first few flurries, we wonder if last year’s snowplow guy is still available and then wonder who else to call when he isn’t. (Not that I blame anyone for growing tired of plowing as a sideline business.) With each snowfall, we wonder how bad the roads and the traffic will be and likewise the parking at our destination. We wonder why we put up with this every winter.

Right after we returned from sunny and too-hot Southern California last month the terrible wildfires there began, so we were greatly relieved to be out of there. I swore I wouldn’t complain about the winter here, but I lied. But still, I’ll put up with the cold and the snow vs. drought and fires, or floods and mudslides when it does rain, all with the threat of earthquake lurking underneath. Then there is the traffic. As so many people have moved to warm climates, the congestion in places like Los Angeles and South Florida has become horrendous.

Speaking of California, while we were riding the tram up to the Getty Center from its parking lot, I overheard two well-dressed women discussing their visits to Aspen. “Do you find being in Aspen too isolating?” one asked the other. Now there’s something you don’t often hear people say at our Dunkin’ Donuts.

As we celebrate the 375th anniversary of the founding of Rehoboth this year, we can be thankful that we live somewhere that is mostly pleasant the better part of the year, yet not an overcrowded tourist magnet, like the Cape or Newport in the summer. There are advantages to being fairly close but not too close to the shore.

Rehoboth has grown quite a bit in recent years and so has traffic on the main roads. But you can still wind your way around the back streets of Rehoboth in a stress-free sort of way. It’s a treat after driving in highway traffic jams in cities on either coast.
When I first moved to Rehoboth almost 40 years ago, I learned two things that surprised me. One was that woodsy Rehoboth has a lot more trees in modern times than in the mid-19th century, when so much of the land had been cleared for farms. After that, a number of farms were abandoned as people moved west, seeking new and better farmland. This is why you sometimes see old stone walls in the middle of the woods in New England.

The other thing I hadn’t known until then was that in its early days Rehoboth covered a huge amount of territory in both Massachusetts and what is now Rhode Island, including all of Seekonk and East Providence, and parts of what are now many neighboring towns from Attleboro to Swansea and Somerset. Seekonk did not become a separate town until 1812.
This great distance is especially remarkable when you realize that people only got around by foot or by horse in those days. Pilgrim settlers in Massachusetts were certainly a hardy, resilient group of people. As we endure the bitter cold of winter, think of how difficult winter must have been for them as they built new communities in the wilderness.

Rehoboth was one of the earliest Massachusetts towns to incorporate. Its earliest settlement was in present-day Rumford around the Ring of the Green, now the area in East Providence around Newman Congregational Church. The Rhode Island colony did not receive its charter until 1663.

Newman Congregational Church is named after Rev. Samuel Newman, who was one Rehoboth’s earliest settlers, coming here from Weymouth. He was also known for writing a concordance to the Bible, which is on display at Rehoboth’s Carpenter Museum. So early Rehoboth history overlaps with Rhode Island history. There are many interesting facts about our town’s history to explore as we mark 375 years in 2018.

Why should we care about our history? Here is what renowned historian David McCullough has to say: “History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are … A nation that forgets its past can function no better than an individual with amnesia.”

And speaking of perilous times, after a year that was difficult in so many ways, let’s take Rhode Island’s simple and straightforward motto as our New Year’s resolution: “Hope.”

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