July 13, 2006

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Nashua Publisher's Note: When chemicals made us strong
By Jeff Rapsis

I live a couple of towns away from Nashua now, but my upbringing in the Gate City continues to shape my outlook on issues large and small.

Take the case of baseball fields up the road from where I live in Bedford, which were recently closed because they’re built over an old dump and some harmful chemicals were found on the grounds.

Big deal! So a few chemicals might be in the dust kicked up whenever someone slides home. What’s the problem?

Growing up in Nashua, we lived near a beat-up old railroad line that ran along an embankment, one side of which was the neighborhood dump many years before.

By the time I arrived on the scene, the dump had been long closed, but the area was still used as a dumping ground for major appliances. People would haul non-functioning gas ranges and clothes dryers and the like out onto the tracks and heave them down the embankment.

To a child, the landscape below was a wonderland straight out of Lewis Carroll. Dirt paths led through brown unkempt tufts of grass interspersed with piles of cinders and coal and old railroad ties, punctuated here and there by a vintage refrigerator or washing machine. Rusty barbed wire was just part of the fun!

Never mind the refrigerants and pulverized paint dust that toughened me physically. Experiences among the discarded white goods planted the seeds for my future intellectual growth. Years later, in a college art appreciation class, the one painter with whom I immediately identified was Salvador Dali.

And just when things might get boring, along would come an actual train. If we were lucky, one of the tank cars of caustic soda might have a slow leak, which made the air smell like chlorine for the rest of the day. Nothing whetted our appetites more for a healthy dinner of Mrs. Paul’s Fishsticks or some other reconstituted treat!

If there was no train, we could head down through the swampy bottomland, hopping from refrigerator to washing machine (I kid you not) down towards the Nashua River, a source of endless recreational possibilities.

At the time, the Nashua River was rated the third-most polluted body of water in the entire nation, behind only the Houston Ship Canal (home to half the nation’s oil refining capacity) and I believe the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, which actually once caught fire.

All this pollution didn’t do me any harm, no sir! On the way home, we’d play hide and seek among the storage tanks of a local oil delivery company, climbing up on the catwalks and sliding down the greasy support poles.

And finally after sundown, on humid summer nights the bracing odors from the nearby Mohawk Tannery would come creeping through the warm stagnant air and permeate every room in the house.

The smell of rotten eggs can still bring me back to those simpler days—days when trash buried under a baseball field was nothing to be feared, but contributed greatly to what I am today.

So rather than less chemicals, I say we need more! Toughen us up! While we’re at it, let’s all start smoking cigarettes again. I suggest a minimum of two packs a day for every man, woman, and child. Obese people can get three packs..


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