Reflecting on the character of New Hampshire

When I arrived in the Granite State 35 years ago, I expected to be spending a lot of my time in the mountains to the north, but that never really materialized. I’ll blame my quest for love, usually found down in Boston, in the opposite direction, back before I met the woman I adore.

Contradancing soon claimed a lot of my social attention, with regular events across the state, across the border in Maine, and especially in Concord and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Add to that all of my time hunkered down in my literary endeavors or Quaker activities, even before I started singing in an incredible choir weekly in Watertown, just outside Boston, or swimming laps daily once I’d retired from the newsroom.

Whatever the character ultimately is, I found sufficient nurture and inspiration to do some good work. Gee, that’s starting to sound like Garrison Keillor.

Each of the six states, by the way, has its own character despite the overall New England identity. In general, those New Englanders are friendlier than their reputation for aloofness contends. It’s just that they’re more reserved – respectful of your privacy – but open up with a sparkle, for the most part, given a hint.

So here’s what I learned while residing in Manchester and then Dover.

  1. New Hampshire isn’t as archconservative as I had expected. Not that it doesn’t have a lot of blockheads, but the place was definitely shifting, especially along the border with Massachusetts.
  2. A large portion of New Hampshire residents have roots in Quebec, and others in Ireland, providing a significant Roman Catholic presence. Both reflect the textile-mills workforce in the 1800s. But other ethnic minorities have thrived, too.
  3. At heart, the population is largely blue-collar in outlook, generally practical, but these days, half of them come from other states, especially Massachusetts.
  4. Some of us used to joke that the stereotypical New Hampshire male had a Harley and his wife or girlfriend had big hair. That wasn’t far off the mark. Add a snowmobile, more than downhill skis or hockey skates.
  5. Agriculture isn’t a major economic factor. There aren’t many large commercial farms these days. And what farming exists is typically diversified.
  6. There are relatively few large employers. The commute to Greater Boston and back each day is huge – that’s where the paying jobs are.
  7. That also means few deep pockets for the arts and charitable action.
  8. It’s the most perfect test market for presidential candidates we have. Forget trying to find the ideal demographics, this delivers.
  9. Avid Red Sox and Patriots fans abound, with Celtics and Bruins supporters close behind. Keeping up with the teams’ developments is socially important. College sports, on the other hand, hardly matter.
  10. It might not have a sales or income tax, but you still have to pay for public services somehow. And so your property tax or apartment rental rate will be a whopper.

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