SCENES FROM THE SECOND PARISH: August and Everything After

Jeff Raymond's new column for The Bramanville Tribune debuts with a treatise on small towns, Slush Puppies, and the importance of a local news outlet that is willing to cover them both.

SCENES FROM THE SECOND PARISH: August and Everything After
"August in the Country - The Sea-Shore," Winslow Homer. Originally published in Harper's Weekly on August 27, 1859. From the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum Open Access Collection.

My wife should really be banned from JT's Corner Store on Millbury Avenue.

She's a transplant to the area (although she's technically spent more of her life in Central Massachusetts now than her original home in Maine), and still trips up on the local businesses and institutions that us Millbury natives take for granted. I can't recall, at this point, how she came to JT's in particular, but I do recall why: Slush Puppies.

I loved Slush Puppies. It was my go-to at the Ice Cream Barn growing up, fueled many late night drives home in college, and was a treat well into adulthood. With an almost-ten-year-old in the house now, this is something that we needed to introduce to the next generation of Raymonds. All core memories should be accompanied by crushed ice mixed with syrup, after all.

My wife learned that JT's had a Slush Puppy machine a while back, and had the whole plan in place: go to JT's, make the Slush Puppy, be the snacktime superstar. What she didn't anticipate was the disaster that unfolded as she pulled the lever to distribute the "slush" portion of the puppy only to have it break off in her hand and the icy goodness empty itself onto the floor.

My son has a new core memory now, and instead of it being the taste of an icy snack, it's "the time Mom broke the Slush Puppy machine."

Her cursed existence at JT's continued last week. She stopped off at the farm stand on Route 20 to pick up some vegetables, and then planned to visit JT's with the child for a Slush Puppy. This time, she successfully kept the frozen treat in the proper containers, but could not find her wallet. My wife never loses anything, so this was noteworthy in and of itself - the fact that she successfully paid for her vegetables but couldn't procure the Puppy meant she lost the wallet somewhere in between, and it just didn't make sense.

She went back and forth between the farm stand and JT's in search of the missing wallet. She eventually came home very upset, and while I checked the town Facebook pages to see if anyone reported a lost wallet, she went out to retrace her steps. This second effort was a success: upon return to JT's, she found her wallet. It sat next to a stack of newspapers, which distracted her on the way to the cash register as it was the first post-culling edition of a certain newspaper that ostensibly serves Millbury and Sutton.

She was not impressed, and, to add insult to injury, she left her wallet behind next to a paper she couldn't imagine purchasing anymore.

I tell this story today because her adventures, both in losing her wallet and in washing the floor of JT's in slush, speak to the lesser-known importance of local media. She expressed to me that she experienced a bit of an emotional roller coaster on her way home, in that she thought her experiences would make a fun column for me, and that a) with that column no longer existing and b) with no one local to alert the paper to any stories, we're missing out. And she's right - at that point in time, it was just a story my son will tell his kids someday instead of it being a story that everyone who grew up going to JT's, or to the Ice Cream Barn, or even who lost a wallet in town, can relate to.

Millbury was once home to two newspapers; the Millbury Journal folded in 2004 and the other paper hasn't had a truly local editor in years. More than one person on Facebook noted that the latter publication hadn't been the same since the initial owners sold the paper, and while there is some truth to that, I think that takes away from a lot of people who tried their best to put out a weekly that was worth reading. Even without truly local reporters and editors, the people who served in those roles still made it a point to visit the community, to talk to people in town, to get that local flavor. It may be fully assimilated into a national daily's operations now, but it wasn't for a time.

Thus this new project. While Millbury still has a paper in name, there's little evidence that it's anything more than an afterthought to its corporate ownership. Chris Naff and I want to change that: we reject the idea that a town like Millbury, rich in history and full of stories, should be one of the faces of the modern trend of news deserts and the decimation of local reporting. We get that less "sexy" stories, like, for example, the Rice Road project, are unlikely to get coverage in the Telegram and Gazette, and yet those are some of the most critical pieces of information residents need.

So we hope this new endeavor can strike a balance, or at least find a large enough audience to offset the costs. It's a modern effort built on a digital platform and not limited by a paper medium. We have solid plans for the future, and we hope that you'll join us in this new adventure.

UPDATE: This was originally written and published prior to the news of the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle's sale to an information technology group out of New Jersey that has a media arm focused on small weeklies. While some of the more pointed details and critiques still stand, Gannett is no longer involved with the Chronicle once the sale is completed.

Jeff Raymond is a nearly 40-year resident of Millbury. "August and Everything After" is a Counting Crows reference even though it's the start of September and he prefers "A Long December" anyway. Email him at Follow him on Twitter at @jeffinmillbury.