Left in Andover: Local newspapers, social trust

By Susan Leader
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Mrs. Frieda Bergman is spending some time at the Herbert Leader home” in Andover. The deep winter time frame for my maternal grandmother’s visit was possible because she had taken a job teaching in a nearby one room school.

“Seven little friends,” continued correspondent Estelle Bentley’s March 1952 column in a local paper, “gathered at the home of Rosa Leader Sunday afternoon to celebrate her fifth birthday … They played games and records and had a birthday cake.” This must have been the year my parents sent my sister to Bible School at the church in Peaseville so she could make friends before starting first grade.

Estelle Bentley wrote about Andover doings for the Springfield Reporter.

I was barely a year old at the time, too young to enjoy the games. But I wager the music was Mom’s new Burl Ives recording of  The Blue-Tail Fly, now of questionable repute as coming out of the racist minstrel show tradition.

I dare not speculate about the cake. Hopefully Grandma supplied one made with white flour and frosted with real sugar, ingredients my mother couldn’t bring herself to use.

That same week’s notable events in Andover also included the birth of my future friend Candy Korpi at Springfield Hospital. The two of us would learn to read together, playing school in her tiny upstairs bedroom on Finn Hill while our parents visited in the kitchen below. “Mrs. Korpi came home on March 4,” having spent a week at Springfield Hospital after giving birth, just like my mother did with me.

Parsing Vermont’s relative immunity to Covid-19, Bill McKibben writes in a recent New Yorker Magazine: “Vermonters entered the pandemic with remarkably high levels of social trust. Only thirty-eight percent of Americans say they mostly or completely trust their neighbors, but a 2018 Vermont survey said that seventy-eight percent of residents think that ‘people in my neighborhood trust each other to be good neighbors’; sixty-nine percent of Vermonters said they knew most of their neighbors, compared with twenty-six percent of Americans in general.”

The mundane comings and goings reported as news by our neighbor Estelle in 1952 are the warp and weft of community. Ruthie Douglas’ Chester Chatter carries on the tradition today. She records visits, anniversaries and deaths, sometimes indecipherable to the newcomer, but deeply meaningful to people who have known each other over a lifetime.

Susan, right, with big sister Rosa at Popplewood Farm in 1952.

In the United States, over the last 15 years at least 2,000 local print papers have folded, constituting a national emergency of sorts for our democracy. We are exceptionally lucky that new digital media The Chester Telegraph calls our area home, while other, more densely populated regions have become news deserts.

McKibben soliloquizes, “…social trust has been squandered … as we’ve divided into blue and red teams, concentrated on individual advancement, and had our worst instincts yanked at by social media. In this case, Vermont is lucky to be living a little bit in the past.”

I started to clean out my closet the other day, but gave up in despair after tackling the first few boxes, stuffed to the gills with The Message for the Week.

One of the many Message for the Weeks in Susan’s closet.

For decades, I read the whole paper religiously every week and stashed away umpteen copies of any edition that made the slightest mention of either of my children  or my husband playing the fiddle.

Many of the beloved, and now historically significant, issues are over 30 pages long. Even the thinnest ones provide an impressive accounting of local arts and cultural events, voluntarism, business success, sport and student accomplishment, not to mention acres of advertisements from small local businesses.

Although The Message never reported news, it helped forge the sort of mutual trust and regional identity among our towns that McKibben identifies as essential to outwitting the pandemic.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeLeft in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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  1. Heidi Johnson says:

    How well I remember all the same little social notes in the Spfld Reporter. When recuperating from my hip surgery and sorting through paper items I found many of them I’d clipped out and put in scrapbooks when I was younger. Everyone in town knew about visitors, trips, births, parties, any “special” event. You knew your neighbors through such news. As I grew older I chafed at the lack of privacy in a small town, but now that I am grown I realize how such things bind people together and so we all celebrated or mourned each other’s life events, even a little girl’s birthday party.
    Heidi Johnson Portland, Me (formerly of Springfield)