Opinion: New Hampshirites are more than “craggy individualists”

Published: 5/15/2022 8:02:01 AM
Modified: 5/15/2022 8:00:13 AM

Jonathan Threlfall of Bow is a pastor at Trinity Baptist Church.

Anyone who saw me when I drove into New Hampshire for the first time would have thought I was crazy, staring open-mouthed as I drove by mile after mile of curbs made of granite.

Until that point, the only curbs I had ever seen were made from poured concrete, not laboriously cut out of rock and heaved — who knows how! — into place.

That jaw-dropping experience was the first of many moments in which it began to dawn on me why this state was called the Granite State, not only because of the stubborn resolve of the boulders as they pushed up through the yards and lined the roadways, but also because of the stubborn resolve of the people who live here.

As an avid reader and life-long learner, I took an admittedly nerdy approach to learn about the character of the Granite Staters. Picking up a used copy of the Yale University Press’ Encyclopedia of New England, I thumbed through it until I found a description of the citizens. I wanted to know, is the “granite” of New Hampshirites like the somber tombstones, standing silent and distant from each other? Or is it more like the interlocking stones that constitute our breathtaking gold-capped state building? Or some other stereotype?

I was relieved to read the author’s frank admission that “one trait New Hampshire seems to lack is a cultural stereotype.” “Everyone knows,” he writes, “what Vermont farmers, Maine lobstermen and lumberjacks, and Boston Brahmins are supposed to look and act like. . . . The best that national pundits can come up with [for New Hampshirites] is “craggy individualists.” (Jere Daniell, “New Hampshire,” Encyclopedia of New England.)

Craggy individualists? This phrase struck me at first as a bit bothersome. The “craggy” part seemed to reinforce New England’s aloof and impersonal stereotype, evoking scenes of forlorn tombstones or stubborn rocks pushing up their way into my yard.

But as I thought more about it, I realized that this is not what it meant. Scenes popped into my mind of neighbors inviting us to Halloween parties, book reading clubs, and afternoons at the lake, bringing sand to get us unstuck from our own driveway; of my own church family rallying around others in times of sickness and grief. What all these had in common was a healthy individualism that brought people together, helping, supporting and encouraging.

Shifting my thought on the phrase “craggy individualist” also shifted the way I look at yard rocks and tombstones. The rocks that “grow” in my yard push themselves through not as lone champions to the top, but as a part of a collective heave, reminding me that deep beneath my feet is a bedrock out of which such “craggy individualism” emerges. Even tombstones, despite their somber aspect, bear witness to the way in which one life touches so many others. I had to conclude, after some musing, that if there is a “cragginess” in New Hampshirites it is because beneath the surface there is a deep commitment to corporate responsibility, an individualism that fortifies solidarity.

Craggy individualists? Maybe, but so much more.

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