A Love Letter to My Dying HometownSeptember 18th, 2008
by Meghan Elizabeth Hunt
NEW HAMPSHIRE -
I’m sorry we didn’t get along…
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I grew up 300 miles north of Boston, in a small town on the banks of the Connecticut and Amonoosuc Rivers in northern New Hampshire. To paint a picture that will explain just how far north this tiny town is, consider the farthest point north you know of in New England and then add about seventy-five miles to it.
Unless you know where Groveton is (no cheating, Jennifer Duffield White), in which case just sit back and enjoy the explanation of how isolated a place can be when it doesn’t even technically exist for the purposes of the Census.
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I’m sorry I didn’t appreciate you for what you were…
Groveton, up until December 31, 2007, was a mill town. Centered amongst the small houses and tiny main street was a paper mill owned by Wausau-Mosinee of Wisconsin. I harbor a fair amount of ill-will towards these people who live 1200 miles away from the paper mill they owned, but I’ll get to that later. The point is that the paper mill died a predicted death on December 31st and ever since then the town that raised me has been decaying.
My father knew it was coming, but he couldn’t jump ship. In an area of the US that’s controlled by the paper and logging industries - an area of New England that is so isolated there is only one route to any point north - the job options are limited. The economy is bad, the wages are worse, and the travel is cost-prohibitive, as the closest factory positions, which provide the best pay, are located in either Canada (an hour north) or Littleton (30 minutes south).
His life was tied up in that mill and when it closed its doors, he managed to stay on for a little while and earn a little more money before the entire thing closed down for good at the end of April. For the first time in 35 or so years, my father found himself unemployed.
I don’t know who was more worried - him or me.
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I’m sorry I couldn’t stay behind…
I hate big corporations. Northern New Hampshire thrives on small business - the mom and pop operations that have existed for as long as the generations that came before them. Perhaps it is because of this that big corporations like Wal-Mart and Target and the Wausau-Mosinee Paper Company rub me the wrong way. They arrive just as the local economy couldn’t stand to get any worse and they present a turn-around opportunity that can’t be ignored and in the middle of their speeches about adding to the economy and keeping your families afloat, they slip in the fine print about running out the small business owners and creating copies of themselves all over the map so your community becomes dependent on their paychecks.
Wausau bought the Groveton mill (formerly the James River Corporation) in the nineties in order to create an East coast distribution for their product. We’re a gateway to Canada, one of the easiest routes north, and for years the roads were clogged with pulp trucks and big rigs packed tightly with reams of paper. And then, suddenly, they stopped paying attention to their northeastern gateway mill. The need for paper decreased as online accessibility increased. Profits dropped over $1.5 million dollars in a year and instead of investing a little more time, our big benefactor - the one who promised to keep our town afloat and to keep our families clothed and fed - pulled out.
No job assistance, no apologies, no incentives or compensation for the sudden loss of an entire community’s economy.
It was as though they never existed.
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I’m sorry I packed my car full of everything I own and drove away without looking back…
My dad was one of the lucky ones who was able to find work after the mill died. He works crazy hours and is tired most of the time, but he’s working and he’s four years away from retirement, so it could be worse. Much, much worse.
It’s weird, though, because as the town that raised him (and in which he raised my brother and me) dies off around him, he seems to be thriving in this newfound life. He’s probably the only person who left that mill happy.
Funny how life works sometimes.
* * *
I’m so very sorry.