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Judson D. Hale Sr. Interview

"It is all part of our lives. I mean our past is part of our present which makes our present part of our future. ... So, the past is part of our culture, it is part of our personalities. It makes us feel good."

Born in Boston and raised on a dairy farm in Maine, Judson Hale is an editor, author, and expert on all things New England. Hale has given fifty-four years to Yankee Publishing, Inc., where he became the editor-in-chief of both Yankee Magazine and The Old Farmer's Almanac. He is also the author of Inside New England and his autobiography, The Education of a Yankee. In this interview on August 12, 2010, with Ken Turino of Historic New England, Hale discussed preservation as an important part of the human experience.

Q: Yankee Magazine, Yankee Publishing has always been very supportive of preservation For you, someone who has spent a good part of your life here in New Hampshire, why is preservation important? What does it mean to you?

JH: It is all part of our lives. I mean our past is part of our present which makes our present part of our future. Right now we are living in the good old days, the days we will feel nostalgic for fifty years from now. Our children will look back and say “oh I remember when there was the this and phones and computers." They will have all that “those were the good old days!” So, the past is part of our culture, it is part of our personalities. It makes us feel good. We would not want to be thinking that we just live here, nothing before and nothing after. That would be very unsettling for us human beings. We like the continuity and to feel that we are a part of that continuity. It gives more meaning to our individual lives. Preservation is terribly important. There is all kinds of preservation. I think today there is, you preserve buildings, you preserve landscapes, look at the White Mountains National Forest, I mean it is magnificent. That is preservation. It is wonderful. Somebody was saying that preserving information, can you overdo it? Maybe. With the computers today being able to preserve billions and trillions of words maybe that is too much. How do you deal with that? I am not sure, but we preserve our culture, we preserve elements of it, we preserve our humor, we preserve our way of looking at things. It is comforting and it is important and it is what we do.

Q: Do you have any ideas about how we might get more young people involved in preservation?

JH: Let them get old. When I was starting fifty years ago, fifty-two years ago, people were always saying “well, look, your readers are a bit on the older side. You are not reaching the young. How do you expect to reach the young?” By surviving. Now all of the people they were talking about are old and they are our readers, even if they are not really old, but you know. When people get to be thirty-five, forty, get to have a family they begin to feel that where they are is important. Their sense of place becomes a part of their lives. Pearl Buck always said that “to survive a people must treasure the image of themselves," and so people as they get a little older begin to treasure that image of themselves and want to live up to it. So, fifty years from now all of those young people that you are saying we can't reach, we will reach them because they will have become our kind of readers.

Q: Over the years Yankee Magazine, Yankee Publishing have published a lot of stories about preservation and, specifically, what to preserve. You had a story you were telling us earlier about the saw mill?

JH: Oh yes. That was a wonderful. I have always done the house re-sale. I have never put my name on it but I am the Yankee Moseyer. Yankee likes to mosey around and see what you can turn up when you go home, honey. We take no stake in the sale and we would decline it if offered. That little blurb has been running since 1940-something and I have done the house re-sales for most of them since 1958, not all of them but most of them and I don’t put my name on it. My favorite was up in Lancaster, New Hampshire, and it was a saw mill with a house that went with it. It was the oldest for-profit saw mill still running in the state of New Hampshire, maybe in all of New England, maybe in the country. I showed it because the house was a solid farm house. It showed the mountains, Cabot Mountain, it had a swimming pond in front. It had a mill pond. It was gorgeous. It was always my favorite. I ran it and never knew what happened until four years later. A young couple with two little children in Philadelphia decided to buy it and I heard about that four years later. They gave up their careers in the city, gave up their home in the city, gave up their whole life and moved to Northern New Hampshire, Lancaster, not too far from Gorham. It is up there! They started running the mill. Then I heard four years later that they were running it and they were a family called the Southworths, Tom and Nancy Southworth, and they were making seven thousand dollars a year, not very much but I still envied them! Skip way ahead now to like three months ago, two months ago, I heard from that young couple from Philadelphia, now they are an old couple. Their two little boys have given them grandchildren. They have gotten old enough where they feel they should move on and retire. Wow! I went up there and there they were. One of the first things they said to me was, “Your article in Yankee about this old mill in Lancaster totally changed our lives." Then I discovered that it changed the lives of a lot of their extended family because his brother thought “what a good thing to do to move up there” and he moved up and he said now “the woods around here are full of Southworths.” That is the name of the family. It was just great. They are not selling the mill now because Tom sold it to his son and his nephew and they are going to run the mill now. Incidentally it only runs two hours a day because the water comes down, it is all water-powered, the water comes down from Cabot Mountain, runs the mill for a couple of hours, and runs dry. Then they wait for twenty-four hours for the water to come down and fill the pond again and then they run it for another couple of hours the next day. I walked in there and it was so neat to see the beams and so forth that were there when Abraham Lincoln was alive. I mean this is a very old mill. Today they have put a lot of money into the house. It is gorgeous. So, that is what's for sale. It is quite nice acreage, views of the mountains, and only an hour or less to many many wonderful ski areas. That was a wonderful ending to that particular…well maybe it is not an ending! I said a story with two endings so far. That will be the House for Sale in our January/February [2011] issue.

Q: Can you think of some other preservation stories that either Yankee has run or you have been involved with or seen in New Hampshire?

JH: Do you count preserving the humor of our culture as part of preservation?

Q: I guess so. Give us an example.

JH: Well my wife and I, about two years ago, were on our way up to do a House for Sale up near North Conway. My wife had a little upset stomach and she said, “Could you stop at the next store?” I think we did around Tamworth. We stopped at a store so that I could get her some Tums. I walked in and as I walked in the door an old gentleman was sitting in a rocking chair right next to the door, but I walked past him up to the counter and I said, “Do you have Tums?” “Oh yeah.” I said, “Well, I’ll have the lemon-flavored Tums." He said, “We don’t have lemon-flavored.” I said, “Okay, I’ll take the strawberry flavored.” “We don’t have strawberry-flavored Tums.”  I said, “Oh, really. Well then I guess I better take just the plain Tums.” So I took it, I paid him, I walked back, and as I walked past the old gentleman he looked at me and said “Looks like you are going to have to rough it.” Now that is old time New England except it just happened! [laughs] I loved it! That is preserving our kind of New England humor that people think of. I loved it.

Judson D. Hale Sr. Interview