January 19, 2006

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Nashua Publisher's Note: Message in a bottle
by Jeff Rapsis

You know how Nashua sometimes seems like a place where the wrong kind of out-of-control development has diluted the sense of community beyond repair? Read on.

Last month I was in Absolutely New Hampshire, the Main Street store specializing in Granite State merchandise. They have a glass cabinet filled with Nashua memorabilia, which made my Christmas shopping easier.

I picked up an enameled metal NASHUA BAKERY sign for the kitchen of my brother’s home in Falls Church, Va., and a sturdy 7-oz. bottle from the long-gone Nashua Bottling Works.

I liked the bottle for its thick glass, red sunrise logo, and tangible link to the days when soda pop actually tasted good (made with cane sugar, not high fructose corn syrup) and came in reasonable serving sizes.

Store owners Barb and Stu Jacobs then surprised me with a gift of their own — a 1941 Nashua High School graduation program. On the inside cover, Lillian Rapsis was listed as class secretary. That’s my aunt Lil, my father’s younger sister, still hale and hearty and now living in North Carolina.

I thanked them and then went across the street to Cameraland to get a new lens for my trusty (and slightly rusty) 35mm camera. The store is run by Brian Lawrence, and I showed the program to his dad, Al, who started the business and still works there every day.

As luck would have it, Al was in the Class of 1941. I pointed out my aunt’s name and he lit up. “She was a cutie,” he said, soft enough so his wife wouldn’t hear.

So I then showed the program to my mother (Class of 1947), who just happened to be mailing a Christmas package to Aunt Lillian. She included the program and a letter about where it came from.

And I’m sure that this little booklet helped brighten the day of someone far away by making her feel connected to something larger than herself — her hometown, which has certainly changed since 1941 but is still part of her life in so many ways.

It’s a basic human need to feel connected to a place. I think we’d all live a little longer and be a little happier if we left a long-term connection to a place, hometown or otherwise.

Nashua still functions in this way for many people, even if they don’t call it home. In a fast-changing world, this can provide a powerful and much-needed sense of belonging, even from afar. My brother hasn’t lived in Nashua since 1979, but that sign in his kitchen reminds him a little of where he came from and who he is.

And the bottle? I liked it so much I kept it for myself. Iím proud of my hometown ó where itís been, where itís going, and what it means to so many people. Plus, if money runs short, I might be able to get the five-cent deposit back.

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