It Was America
*Today, I offer a hearty “hello” to all my friends, old and new, at Freedom Prepper. Look for these columns on a weekly basis. Some concern “prepping,” directly or indirectly, and some do not. Some are better than others. All are, in my humble opinion, interesting enough to warrant reading. -PL
This column is a colloquial follow-up to some of my more recent concentration on the rapidly shifting demographics of the United States and the changes thereby wrought. The idea came to me from “Through the Years,” a wonderful article by Madeline Hughes of the Andover (MA) Townsman.
Andover was, and is, to my eyes, the quintessential New England town, a place like Mayberry had it been imagined by Norman Rockwell had he been a Pilgrim. And its story and trajectory somewhat follow that of THE STREET as written by H.P. Lovecraft, though with the transitional part of that fictional tale being delayed a good century and without the sci-fi ending. Europeans had passed through the general area for some time before one of them thought to settle down and build a cabin. More followed and the town, informally settled in 1642, was chartered in 1646. It was The Street, a bastion of noble, pragmatic, hard Anglo-Saxon Protestants from England. For a quarter of a millennium, it retained its original character and culture.
The English were, of course, joined by newcomers from Wales, Ireland, Scotland, France, and Germany. As the centuries progressed, there came faces from Italy, Poland, Greece, and Russia. Catholics arrived, though in Andover they tended to complement, rather than contend with, the existing Protestants better than in many places. Overall, the character remained the same, with a stern and noticeable emphasis on the second word in New England. By 1946, when Ms. Hughes’s story picks up, the census still recorded a settlement that was roughly 99-100% White European; my guess would be that the largest components of the population would have been descended from the English, Irish, and French residents of old. They were traditional, definitional Americans. The few true outside minorities did whatever they had to in order to blend in, either because they wanted to or because they feared what would happen if they didn’t. Here and there, then, and especially now, a select few of the revolutionary types Lovecraft lamented worked, with mixed success, to modify the homogeneous nature of the town and area.
Andover is now 375 years old. Eighty-six-year-old George Walsh recalled the times around the Tricentenary of 1946. Walsh spoke of another day in, really, another country. Back then – and this may come as a surprise to many younger readers – children played outside. Without supervision. And they had fun. And it was safe. And right. The local fire department used to sound a whistle to tell the kids to return home for dinner. The same fire department, says Walsh, sometimes recruited stronger boys to assist with fighting brush fires. Something suggests that it might be illegal today, the assistance or even the whistle. A lot of things are illegal today in Massachusetts.
His one revelation that really caught my attention was the coal truck. On hot summer days, the local coal company would shuttle children, presumably in the back of a dump truck, to Pomps Pond on the south side of town. One might presume the frivolities there were unsupervised. Who organized the activities? Who remembered the sunblock? Who fretted about horrible things that would never happen? Who, as the question goes, “thought about the children?” They did. They took care of themselves. It worked out well.
Today, the spot is still very popular in the heat of summer. However, hazarding a guess, your author might suggest that perhaps only ten percent of the 1946-levels of youngsters are present any given day. And today’s kids are assuredly under the close watch of helicopter moms, sitters, or nannies. It’s still fun, but it’s different. Back then, there were no troubles of the modern sort. Andover today has a remarkably low crime rate, far below the average of Greater Boston. But, today, the moms and nannies must be cognizant, in the backs of their minds, of nightfall and a certain element which was previously unheard of and intolerable in Essex County.
Walsh noted that, back then, it was “easier living.” He talked about the strong sense of community. He ended the interview with a sense of pride in the continuing spirit of Andover. It is still alive, and well, but it too is slowly changing.
Back at Pomp’s Pond, in 1946, there had to have been a very few problems – of the childish sort. One would be correct in suspecting that some of the little kids were occasionally bullied. One would also be correct to suspect that almost all of them grew up stronger because of it. Those rougher boys who got in the fistfight? They may have done minor damage to each other. However, they walked away as friends and turned into the policemen, firefighters, and soldiers of the future, strong men of the kind the survival of a society depends on. And, those two older children? The young teens, the boy, and the girl. The ones who ducked away for a little extra fun. What about them? (All of the activities I’ve just listed are the stuff of nightmares for helicopter moms, nannies, and busybodies). Well, the overly romantic youth grew up and got married. They stayed married. They had four, or five, or six children – passengers for future truck rides down to Pomps.
Today, more so than elsewhere in the US, Heritage Americans in Andover still tend to have children at the replacement level. Three or four children are not unusual. But larger families, like coal truck hitchhiking, are mostly relics of the past. Globalism and the post-modern economy have taken a toll on the population in terms of quantities and dynamics. Families, together or in parts, move away from town more frequently than they used to. They break up, taking a little part of society with them. Modernity also brought in additional outsiders from 1946 until today.
The Census says the town is still approximately 75% White – down from 91% at the beginning of this century. Blacks today, as for most of Andover’s history, remain a tiny single-digit minority. The same goes for Hispanics, who are much less likely to dwell in Andover than in nearby Lowell or Lawrence. The big growth has been in the Asian population, now about 15% of the total. A glance at the school system provides a clearer picture of the near-term future. At Andover High, Whites are around 70%, with Asians around 20%. Note: Phillips Academy is even more diversified, owing to an increased level of politicization above and beyond the ordinary Massachusetts proportion.
One thing does not necessarily follow another, but they do tend to trend in the same general direction. The politics of Andover (or anywhere else) follows the culture, which is, in turn, a product of the identity of the people. In a way, Andover is a poor example of America’s demographic alteration because, in Andover, it has been much slower and less pronounced than elsewhere. It’s also of a different character. If things continue as they are, then, in a few decades, the town may host the feel and manner of New England coupled with New China. In this case, it’s a matter of a change rather than a decline. A shift from Western to Eastern Civilization is, at least, still concerned with civilization. Many areas of the country have suffered a more profound and negative transformation.
There again, Andover is an excellent example of what has been lost, to the extent that anything has been lost. It’s more a case of something having been given away rather than having been taken. Well, now, was it given? Or, was it taken? If taken, it probably won’t be given back. If given, may it be taken back?
Yet, something is gone, seemingly forever. Whether it fell from political, economic, cultural, or identitarian changes is debatable but the absence is not. The happy free-range play of children was replaced with screens and organization. The busybodies won their quest to control. Growing up with determination and self-reliance is replaced by not growing up. Large generational families are replaced with transfers, promotions, divorces, and “family planning.” The older ways are slowly forgotten. The older sanctities become frowned upon. The people are no longer exactly one.
Andover still hangs on, for now, in defiance of the fallen age. Today, it is surprisingly still a mostly American town in a decidedly and increasingly unAmerican country. But, back then, it simply was America.