JUNE 2007. It goes without saying that first impressions can be fleeting, and eventually very disappointing. So it was with Taunton, Massachusetts. My glances to left and right, occasionally looking forward in the traffic so as not to rear-end the car ahead, convinced me that there was more to this town than first met the eye, and that I should try and stop to explore when next passing through. How wrong could I be, and how could this town deceive me?
Taunton. The county seat of Bristol County. A town since 1639, settled not surprisingly by colonists from Taunton, England. (Hence nearby Bridgewater). Its wealth came from numerous silversmiths who made the town their home, and from ship building on the Taunton River. The famous Taunton ships were bought by customers all over North America and Europe, and the trade thrived until 1823, when someone thoughtlessly built a dam downstream at King’s Bridge and so unwittingly (or not?) put a stop to it all. Unbelievable, but true!
Driving south on Route 44 with plenty of time to spare the perfect parking space was right opposite the First Parish church on Church Green. The usual quarter meter machine. Twenty five cents bought me an hour’s parking. The grand church building with solid stone tower belonged more in the Anglican tradition but has actually been home to the Universalist Unitarian community since the mid 18th century. Their third home, and the seat of local government until later that century. So much for the revered separation of Church and State. But it wouldn’t have mattered then. Apparently in those days that only applied to Roman Catholics, Jews and members of the Church of England. If I had lived then I would have been in good, and repressed company.
Main Street was but a few steps away, and it was there, within the first twenty of those, that my impressions of this town began to dive. After the fifth nail salon. (Five! Why does any town need five nail salons?) Another closed store, a good variety of lawyers’ offices, there were only store-front churches to attract any casual interest. A small All Gospel Church marked one end of the street, while the “Church at the Crossroads” dominated mid-town. The etched inscription on the huge window glass announced, “All power in heaven and earth has been given to me.” It was ‘signed’ Christ the King. Peering through the firmly locked doors (well, it was a Thursday morning) the lobby appeared to hold a number of circles of plastic chairs – each group surrounding a small coffee table on which were leaflets and books. The whole place had the aura and image of a cheap funeral parlour, which was only enhanced by the vases and bowls of plastic flowers everywhere.
I was in search of a little ‘something’ for it had been a while since breakfast coffee and roll, but nothing was open. Two cafes displayed CLOSED signs in their windows and looked as if they hadn’t opened in a while. There was a rather grimy delicatessen on a street corner, but the sight of a man sitting on a bench smoking and eating a bagel suggested that I look elsewhere for my snack.
On the way back to the car, somewhat annoyed that I had only used up half of my extremely cheap parking fee, I made a mental note to find out if there was any connection between Taunton and tuxedos. The reason? There were three places to buy or rent dinner jackets within the same block. Surely if one was tempted to buy one here, there was nowhere on this street to wear it.
It was time to leave town. Head on south back to the Interstate, another State, and the ferry back to Long Island. My parting image and memory of Taunton is of a young woman sitting with her two toddlers on the sidewalk smoking a cigarette. She looked sad, tired and more than a little weathered. But at least her nails were perfect.
(First noted and written in 2007, but never published in full.)