New Hampshire

Bob Peaslee phoned the other night, ostensibly to thank us for photos of his sons shoveling snow off our roof but actually to urge us not to vote for his nephew Earle Peaslee for selectman. He said Earle was too busy running his fleet of regional school buses and other bits of business to concentrate on town affairs and we ought to vote instead for a young fellow from North Sandwich, Richard Morgan.

It was the first time in the six years Bob Peaslee has been building our house in the woods here that he sought to discuss anything but lumber and nails. And it was the only hint we had of a real election campaign for an empty seat on the three-member board of selectmen who run the town between annual town meetings.

We had met the candidates at an open house where the volunteer fire department showed off two new pumpers, but the men were almost diffident. Neither asked for our votes. And when we asked Earle what his campaign platform was, he said he would make no promises. "I'd just have to break them."

As it turned out, Earle, a veteran selectman until his defeat three years ago, lost again last week when nearly 500 of the 750 voters in this village of less than 1,000 people turned out for the first community gatherings since winter took hold three months ago. The election was a neighborly affair. Charlotte Welch presided at a coffee and cookie stand to raise money for the Girl Scouts and the newly remodeled town hall meeting room was filled with folding chairs for folks to stop and chat. A light snow fell outside, adding to the 82 inches already on the ground.

Richard Morgan, the winner, is a young, articulate man who works for an electronics firm in the next town. Some said he was the younger generation's candidate, but Bob Peaslee is no kid. Others said it was just an anti-Earle vote. He had served before; it was someone else's turn.

Next night was town meeting, which in a small town must be the purest form of democracy. Every registered voter is entitled to speak his piece and vote on the budget and other policy proposals submitted by the selectmen for the coming year. More than 200 showed up. The meeting is conducted by a moderator elected by the townspeople. The selectmen stand by to defend their proposals. In a nation assailed by rising costs, the cautious Yankees of Sandwich had proudly produced a budget smaller than last year's.

There were 49 articles, or separate propositions, on the town warrant this year, ranging from $250 for road signs to a proposal that the United States and the Soviet Union negotiate a freeze on production of nuclear weapons. The antinuclear item was expected to kick up a fuss, but it was approved without opposition after an amendment was added providing for inspection by both sides.

The liveliest debate came on a proposal to create a commission to police an ordinance creating a historic district in the center of town, a picture postcard collection of early 19th century white clapboard houses and churches. This clearly pitted young newcomers against old natives.

Sharon Heath, an attractive young woman who serves on the library board, said people had moved to Sandwich from places like New Jersey and Massachusetts to get away from government regulation and should be permitted to paint their houses in purple polka dots if they want. Another young woman said "having the color of your shutters determined by a handful of people is communism."

But Denley Emerson, the town's leading realtor and landowner, observed that the residents of Sandwich comply with all sorts of other regulations. "It's illegal to go down the street without your britches," he said. The resolution passed.

Every proposition was finally approved, though the selectmen were rolled once when they sought to defeat a proposal to extend free health insurance to the families of town employes. And at various points a lingering feud between the selectmen and fire department broke out with barbed exchanges over who is responsible for the fact that a new fire engine is so difficult to operate it can't be placed in service until the firemen are specially trained.

Town meeting time generally signals the nearing end of winter, a time when maple sap buckets are being put out. But snow banks in plowed driveways here still block the view from many first-floor windows and a person can't move cross country without snowshoes or skis. From fall through winter, people here are obsessed with two topics--wood and snow.

Since heating oil prices shot up, there has been a big movement from oil back to wood to heat houses, not just for fireplaces or a wood stove but for furnaces to heat the whole house. For $300, you can buy a "loggers' load"--six cords of 20-foot logs dumped off a logging truck. That should heat the average house for the winter, while those on oil heat paid nearly that much during January when the temperature hung at 20 below.

One neighbor, a precise man, has 14 cords of wood, cut in his own wood lot, split and stacked in various holding areas around and in his house. Every stick was 18 inches long. Last fall he bought a new stove that will take only 16-inch lengths. Now he has a lot of two-inch knobs.

The biggest item in the town budget (schools are financed separately on a regional basis) is for maintenance and plowing of town roads. This is the most efficient and admirable service provided in a state that has neither sales nor income tax and relatively little public service of any kind. Once the snow starts to fall, the plows are out on every major highway and little dirt road in the state and they keep going night and day until every road and driveway is cleared.

When it came time at town meeting to decide whether to plow driveways next winter at this year's rate there was no hesitation or debate. "The ayes have it," declared moderator John Taylor, one of the few men in the elementary school auditorium wearing a necktie. The best buy in town is that green "plow" sticker tacked on tree or post at the end of a driveway, announcing that the owner has paid $30 to have his 90-foot driveway plowed after every three-inch snow during the entire winter.