pas·time – /ˈpasˌtīm/ – noun
- an activity that someone does regularly for enjoyment rather than work; a hobby. “his favorite pastimes were shooting and golf [and local history!]” (Source: Lexico – https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/pastime)
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We often live out our daily lives unaware that in doing so we are necessarily participating in the process of creating history. By repeating everyday tasks, we reinforce modes and patterns of existence that define who we are, both individually and as a society. And because we take these actions for granted, gaining a true understanding of the “how and why” of what we do on an everyday basis poses the greatest challenge for historians, precisely because we leave behind so few reflections on the mundane routines that structure most of our lives.
But every now and then, our lives are disrupted by a big event that brings to relief how we collectively experience and participate in the creation of history. We tend to think of wars in this way (although recent wars have not engendered the same kind of social call that World War I or World War II did). Extreme economic events, such as the onset of the Great Depression, also jolt us from our historically reflective slumber. And the library’s archive of historical photographs are filled with images of disasters such as blizzards, the aftermaths of tornadoes and hurricanes, and major fires (while we have a dearth of pictures depicting everyday life from various eras).
When it comes to pandemics, we have to look back to the “Spanish Flu” of 1918 as the last time that this form of historically reflective disruption took place in the United States at the scale we are experiencing now.* The long span in time between then and now may have lulled us into a false sense of security, but history tells us that plagues are a part of human experience and have been from our beginnings. While our medical technologies might be able to mitigate their effects or extend the time between their occurrence, we cannot avoid them altogether. Whether we like it or not, coping with pandemics are a part of what it means to be human. We may not gain great comfort from this observation, but as I am holed up in my house with my family I think about all the times that people have been forced to do the same throughout history, and I suddenly realize that my experience is not unique, that I am not alone. And I now have better insight into what those people experienced and can gain lessons from how they coped.
Please take some time during this quarantine period to tell us about the aspects of daily life in Westborough that historians find so challenging to discover (see the first Historical Pastime entry below). I will be asking you to contribute similar reflections over the upcoming weeks.
–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian
* By the way, I did a thorough search in the Westborough Chronicle for any mention of the Spanish flu and could not find any.
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- Tell Us About the Farms, Orchards, Dairies, and Greenhouses in Westborough – Now that we are in April and the weather is warming up, we can once again start thinking about taking advantage of one of the elements that makes Westborough so special: its rural setting.
Last week, the Westborough History Working Group asked you to contribute reflections on how the aftermath of WWII and the Korean War affected daily life as part of its Westborough in the 1950’s Project. This week we are asking you to tell us your memories about the farms, orchards, dairies, and greenhouses in Westborough, both in the 1950’s and today.
Was agriculture important to daily life in Westborough in the 1950’s? Did you ever get the chance to enjoy Westborough-produced food? Did your family have a garden?
For those of you who did not live in Westborough in the 1950’s, how do you take advantage of the farms and greenhouses in Westborough today? Now that spring is here, what produce do you look forward to eating most? Do you tend a garden or are thinking of starting one, given our quarantine situation?
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- Learn about Rev. Ebenezer Parkman, Westborough’s first minister. While Rev. Ebenezer Parkman served as Westborough’s minister from 1724 and 1782, he kept a detailed diary of his life and his interactions with other people. This extraordinary resource gives us a profound and unprecedented insight into colonial life in a rural New England town. The Ebenezer Parkman Project, a creation of the Westborough Public Library, offers access to Parkman’s complete diary and other writings, along with information about colonial Westborough and its inhabitants.
Did you also know that Ebenezer Parkman is buried in Memorial Cemetery across from Town Hall? (Walk down the middle sidewalk behind the fountain and it’s hard to miss.) Visiting his gravesite (and the other old gravestones that surround his) can offer a welcome diversion and excuse to get out and take a walk.
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- Brush up on your Civics while playing games. The iCivics website, the brainchild of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, uses online games to teach civics in an engaging way. The 21 games on the site are geared to kids and adults alike and cover various topics, such as Branches of Power (“Learn to control all three branches of the U.S. government!”), Do I Have a Right? (“Run a law firm and test your knowledge of constitutional rights”), and People’s Pie (“Learn to control the budget of the federal government”). Sounds like powerful stuff!
Government can at times seem like an independent entity that works against us, when in reality we, as U.S. citizens, own it and have the ability to make it work in our favor. The more we learn about how our government functions, the more influence we can have on how it operates. Acquiring this knowledge is one of our main duties as citizens, and what better way to learn to amplify our democratic voice than to play games?!