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We and the World
By L. FRANK TOOKER
T is a curious thing how little the social life of our small seaport was modified in the years following the Civil War by the broadening experiences of its far-wandering mariners. Everywhere about the town one might see polished conch-shells marking the borders of paths and flower-beds or adorning the porches of houses whose store-rooms held kegs of preserved tamarinds and barrels of brown sugar, demijohns of "shrub" and boxes of guava jelly, that had been brought from overseas. Sea-fans and corals and quaint shells cluttered their mantelpieces, while across their walls vessels that have long since gone to the Port of Lost Ships, in startling oil portraits, with all sails set and their burgees blown flat by the wind to display clearly their names, sailed on forever through perpetually auspicious twilights. The stranger who would naturally expect to find a corresponding admixture of foreign influences and ideas in the town would be wholly misled: it was, on the contrary, surprisingly selfcentered. The trophies from far shores were mere gauds and baubles picked up in moments of idleness, and in our conservative community remained as incongruous and exotic as a scarlet feather in the hat of a parish priest.
The mariners would not have wished it to be otherwise, for to men whose normal lives had all the static quality of a stormy petrel, home was the haven of old, long-desired things, where the slightest change was disquieting. I knew of one who for years, on each return, never failed to lament that they had cut down a great oak that had once stood squarely in the middle of a sidewalk within sight of his windows. "It was n't in the way," he would complain. "You could always sheer off a bit, and round up in the path again." The town had originally been called Drowned Meadow, an eminently appropriate name, for salt-marshes and
tidal creeks took up more than half the floor of the narrow valley that lay wedged in between the steep wooded hills and the harbor. Main Street ran along the eastern edge of this tidal estuary, and at first was probably no more than a winding cart-track. Even in its best days it was never much wider, and in its long half-mile from the foot of Cumsewogue Hill till it ended abruptly at the harbor it was never straight for ten consecutive yards. In my boyhood certain stodgy-minded people, who liked to be thought progressive, were forever advocating wholly impractical schemes for straightening the road, and thereby shortening it, a plan that I hotly resented, though with none of the cynicism of one opponent who declared that he saw no advantage in shortening the distance between two points when there was nothing to be gained by reaching either. I loved its winding leisureliness, which I thought picturesque, though I probably had not then heard the word. It was a vague, indefinite sense of charm that appealed to my mind-the abrupt turn at one point where the road seemed blocked by a great weeping-willow, the curve that disclosed a mere bit of the harbor flashing under the radiant sky, or the point where the steep wooded hill rose straight above the red roofs huddled comfortably against its foot.
The Suwassett Indians had once held the whole region, and in my boyhood it was an unobservant person indeed who could not pick up a flint arrowhead in a more or less casual search. Some persistent seekers found hundreds.
The post-office, the two hotels, and two of the three churches were on Main Street. Most of the stores were there also, not segregated, but sprinkled more or less regularly along its entire length, so that for general purposes people usually traded at those nearest their homes. Locally, we spoke of one another as "upstreeters" and "downstreeters,'