The tiny North Country town of Shelburne has proven a bellwether for New Hampshire politics for several years running. In many recent elections, the local vote has matched the state’s better than any other town.
NHPR’s Sean Hurley has visited Shelburne periodically over the past two years to gauge the residents’ thoughts on politics and the new President.
This time, Sean hoped to hear what the locals were thinking about President Trump’s first year in office. The only problem? No one really wanted to talk about it.
It’s 6 am in Shelburne and -15 degrees outside and this, Ken Simonoko reminds me as I step into the Transfer Station office, is Dump’N Donuts.
“You don't have to wait for town meeting to get together and talk about issues. It's done right here Saturday morning!” he says and laughs.
In a floppy eared Elmer Fudd hat, 85 year old John Gralenski comes in singing, “It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood!”
Right behind him, Steve Tassey. Not singing, but still musically - making use of an old showtune lyric. “It's a cold one Julie Jordan!” he says.
“Great day at the beach. Not crowded at all. No black flies,” says John Gralenski.
Not a single black fly - except maybe me, as it turns out.
I wait as Steve Tassey ungloves his hands, adjusts his hearing aids and laughs as his glasses fog over. “Now I can hear, but I can’t see...” he says. I ask him what he makes of the President’s first year in office. “Oh Jesus!” he says. “Well. Ah….”
Though he voted for Trump, Tassey hasn’t been thinking much about the President lately. His wife, who has Alzheimer’s, lives a nursing home and he’s been working on a book about their life together.
“And we’ve lived a kind of interesting life,” Tassey says, “so it’s remembering for two. Two lives, one memory is the type of thing.”
John Gralenski thinks the President had a pretty bad year. More troubling however – he feels the news media had an even worse year.
Lately, instead of watching the morning news, he’s been watching wildlife in his back yard.
“So then I'm sitting here having my coffee looking out the back window,” he says, “and there's a chickadee on the bird feeder. Now how thick is a chickadees toe? How long should it take for that thing to freeze right through totally solid?! I don't know how the hell they do that.”
Sean Reardon’s answer to my question - “How do you think the President did his first year?” - could stand in for almost every response I get. “I voted for him and I definitely think government needed to be changed a little bit,” Reardon says. “I do think the media is a little ridiculous with the, you know, seven hours of negativity a day versus fifteen minutes of positive.”
No matter who I ask, Democrat or Republican or Independent, bringing up Trump brings up what seems the greater threat, or greater betrayal – that the news is no longer reliable – that the truth is no longer out there.
“Americans used to turn to the media to get what was going on,” Reardon says. “The truth, the weather - and you just can't believe anything anymore. No one knows what to believe.”
While this is supposed to be a story about Donald Trump’s first year in office, no one wants to talk about him - or it. So I decide to sit and listen. Let the topic come up naturally, if at all.
After having coffee and checking in with her neighbors, Sally Manikian says she’s going out for a fifty mile dogsled.
“Two things about the cold,” she says. “One, it keeps the snow machines away so the dogs and I are 100 percent safe on the trail which is nice and the trails are just like - they're mint. They're perfection right now.”
After an apparently grumpy old man comes and goes, John Gralenski and Steve Tassey tell me a bit more about him.
“There's a road called Grumpy Old Men Road and there's two houses up there,” Gralenski says.
“That's why the plural there. Grumpy old men, cause there's two of em there,” Tassey clarifies.
“They're both old and they're both grumpy,” Gralenski says laughing. “Boy they have trouble. People keep stealing the sign!”
As Gralenksi leaves, he says he’s going to get to the bottom of the mystery of the unfreezable chickadee toes. “I said that to my brother and he says, ‘Why don't you Google it?’ I did! They didn't tell me nothing."
Steve Tassey follows him out – he’s going home to work a bit on the book about his wife.
By now, Sally Manikian and her dogs will be riding through the perfectly mint trails of the frozen forest – and, like most everyone else in town, not thinking at all about the President and his first year in office.