If every town has a story, then it stands to reason it must have a history.
It is easy to dismiss the day-to-day happenings of a small town as inconsequential, but string those events together, and a picture develops of a place that people call home. Like all images, literal and figurative, that picture will be used by those in the future to imagine the past.
That image of Suffield — a town that despite its quiet personality has a number of interesting, if not quirky, character traits — has been well documented in Suffield Stories from Another Half-Century, 1970-2020.
The hardcover book, available for purchase locally, reflects the herculean effort by Suffield’s 350th Anniversary Committee, led by Observer Editor-in-Chief Beth Chafetz, to solicit, collect, edit and publish the Suffield stories from roughly 100 writers.
Although a history is perceived to be linear – beginning, middle and end, and is often told in chronological fashion, reality is far more multifaceted. And, while histories are typically told by a narrator, who with the benefit of time, research and self-appointed authority, takes on an all-knowing tone, even the most celebrated historians would acknowledge the most reliable stories are told by the ones who actually experienced them.
In that spirit, Suffield Stories collects the memories of the many different perspectives of our neighbors in a compendium of stories and paints a portrait of a town that, despite the rapidly changing times, retained its character.
Suffield Stories is divided into several sections – town growth, agriculture, and education, just to name a few, but places no emphasis on one section over another, thus enabling readers to not only begin at whatever section interests them most but to read it at their leisure, whether all at once or in multiple sittings.
And the book is filled with some absolute gems. I have always been curious about the strange mansion by the Boston Neck Dam, and finally read its story in “Bringing Back Brookside.” Sara Zak’s “Polonia,” which recounts the history of Suffield Polish residents, I found to be comprehensive and beautiful in its scope. Astrid’s Hanzalek’s memories of taking on Jesse Helms at the 1980 Republican convention was priceless and, especially in today’s political climate, inspiring. And, as I am admittedly a suburban rube, I was fascinated by the histories and memories of the work required to grow Suffield tobacco.
I’m leaving out some really great contributions written by people who love this town. Memories, informative and touching, fill the pages, and you begin to realize that even the most-ordinary feature of Suffield has a life all its own.
I am sure there will be readers who will remark upon some omissions in Suffield Stories, and to be sure, there are some real memorable stories I recall just from my time that were not included in the book’s pages. The writers and editors acknowledge in the book’s Forward that it was not intended to be “all-encompassing” but literally memorable, and in that regard they have succeeded. Nonetheless, all histories possess perspective, and if critics feel theirs is not being adequately chronicled, nothing is preventing them from writing their own book.
The amount of time, energy and patience required to bring Suffield Stories to life must have been considerable, and for that alone the people of this town owe a great deal of gratitude to those who made it possible.
I picture Suffield Stories put on the coffee tables of thoughtful hosts this holiday season and being voraciously consumed by the introverts and readers of the families, who will withdraw and tuck themselves into a well-lit corner of the living room, ignoring guests and family members until inspiration prompts them to vociferously communicate something they’ve just read.
I could be wrong, but in preparation, be ready to cut these folks some slack – it’s a good read.
Books can be purchased at the Town Clerk’s office during regular business hours.