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The Centennial Celebration.
Sarah Orne Jewett
What one could say about any general subject just now, in THE SCHOLAR, would seem to be of less interest than the subject which concerns us all so much. I mean the Centennial celebration of the founding of our Berwick Academy. We have taken a general interest in it for some months, but I, for one, begin to wonder about the detail, and what can be done by every one of us to make the day a delightful success.
First, I think that we ought to put the village into as good order as we can. Those who remember it as one of the greenest and pleasantest spots in New England will hold us accountable for our care of it, and we have no desire to be called untidy town-keepers any more than careless house-keepers. We must look after the roadsides and by-ways over which we have any control, and even put early flowers into our gardens, which will come into bloom the first of July. It is worth taking a little extra trouble about. To every house among the older houses guests are sure to come, expected and unexpected; there will be a great and happy meeting of old schoolmates, and those who come from out of town will be sure to have some close personal association with one or more houses in town. We can hardly realize now the half forgotten faces that will recall themselves then to our remembrance. I cannot bear the thought that any of these old-time friends should go away and say that the village doesn't look half so pleasant as it used to look. There is something for every one of us to do in order to make the day a success in the best sense. I often think that there is no occasion in life where two people meet, when one is not host and the other guest. Either the place of meeting, or the degree of experience, or fitness in some way puts one person into the position of giving and the other of receiving. On our great Academy day all the town's people will be hosts and hostesses and all who come will be their guests. I say these things to remind some of us of our pleasant duties and cares of hospitality, because I think it is so easy to slip into a way of thinking that an interesting thing is going to happen and that all one has to do is to look on at the pageant. But I do not feel as if there were much need of worrying about a possible lack of attention to our visitors and the old Academy friends. If there is one thing for which our dear town ought to be famous it is hospitality of this sort. The best definition I ever heard of politeness is to do the kindest thing in the kindest way; and I have so often been told by out of town people of the delightful feasts and friendliness which they have found in South Berwick when they came to conferences and public meetings of one sort and another, that I do not fear in the least that those who come now will not carry away a pleasant remembrance of the day, if only we are fortunate about the weather!
I know that many persons will wish as I do, that there had been less change in some respects. The association of people with inanimate things is very subtle and has a deep influence over their lives. Exactly why we care about sitting in the same chair at our work and looking out of the same windows, while we sew or study, or why we cling to the same pew in church, may puzzle some persons very much; but when we go to a town that we knew once, we always hurry to see the old familiar places, before the finest new buildings or gardens have any power to attract us. I was thinking the other day that there isn't a church in town where any of the old scholars who will come back can find the place where he used to sit and dream about his future. It would be a great pleasure now if we had not changed some of our older buildings just for the sake of change. I would give anything if I could go and find the same seat where I used to sit in the Academy, and I should be glad if I could feel more at home in some other places that I have known and loved ever since my childhood. The very reason that so many people go to Europe is this very association of things and places with people. We can see in England and France the houses where people lived and the churches where they worshipped centuries ago, but in this new country of ours we are very careless about keeping such associations bright and taking reverent care of the places that our ancestors left to us to take care of. We like change for the sake of change; sometimes we persist in making change because other thoughtless people have made them, but in all this we must not forget that we have a duty to those who will come after us. When we have our new Library building, I do not wish that it may be unwisely expensive or ostentatious, but I hope it will be built, as the old buildings in town were, in fine and simple fashion, and at any rate made strong and permanent. I hope that it may be built so that however long it may stand, those who have it in their keeping may always be proud of it, may grow more and more attached to it and familiar with its exterior and interior from generation to generation, and never be distressed by the change that may befall a wooden building.
As I write to the old and new pupils of the Academy I am tempted to grow enthusiastic over the sentiment we have for one another and for the school. After all, the wisest spirit of things is more than their material shapes, and we are secure in our affection and interest. If there were no buildings at all on the hill, and even if we could not all remember the same superb wide outlook from the hill itself, if these things were blotted out of mind should not we still keep our affectionate feeling for one another, our ineffaceable pleasures of personal remembrance?
Many of us associate the beginning of life long friendships and companionships with these school days, the good and brave work of many lives may have sprung from our boyish and girlish dreams. Many a gray haired man and woman will come to the Centennial with an unspeakable store of memories. It will be a sober day for all of us as we measure what we have really done by what we meant to do when we went to school. The few months or years of our pupilage were always in the hopeful springtime of our youth, and this makes most of us very tender-hearted about Berwick Academy. I hope that all the town boys and girls of my schooldays will help me to trim the hall with oak leaves this summer, just as we used to trim it years ago. And however sad our thoughts may be of our mistakes and failures, we shall each bring what has been good in our lives and be very thankful of what we have been able to do unselfishly and helpfully--we shall be glad to say of a few things in our history, that they came from the dreams of our early life, of the lessons that we have learned, perhaps a year ago, perhaps sixty years ago in Berwick Academy.
The committees are already at work and many plans are already made, but I am sure that each of us, [.] host and guest alike, are making our own private plans and looking forward with great pleasure to what we ourselves are going to do. Those who live out of the town must remember the names of old friends whom they mean to ask for, and who are sure to be pleased by their kind remembrance. I need not make suggestion; however I am sure that the spirit of the day is touching our hearts and making us only too glad to do whatever we can "with both hands, heartily."
The old town of Berwick might have had the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of its first settlement in 1877, years before the eldest race of New England towns could have celebrated theirs, but we missed that opportunity. This will be the first general celebration of our region, and I am sure the three Berwicks will forget their boundaries and be one again, to make an unforgettable [unforgetable] day of our Academy's Centennial.
"The Centennial Celebration" appeared in The Berwick Scholar 4:7 of March 1891. Jewett, a graduate of the Berwick Academy in South Berwick, ME, expresses some of her hopes for the coming celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the academy. See "The Old Town of Berwick" for her account of the founding and some of the history of the Berwick Academy. At the time of the founding, the community was centered in what is now South Berwick, ME. As Jewett wrote, the community had become three towns: South Berwick, North Berwick, and Berwick, all in southern Maine.
This text is available courtesy of Colby College Special Collections, Waterville, ME.
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the kindest thing in the kindest way: This is a common saying, the origin of which has not been located. Jewett uses it also in "An Every-Day Girl."
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new Library building: Fogg Memorial Building, with stained glass and interior design by Jewett's friend, Sarah Wyman Whitman, was completed in 1894.
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with both hands, heartily: Possibly an allusion to Colossians 3:22.
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Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College.
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