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Me pushing my identical twin brother Glenn in a stroller when we lived in Duck Hill, Mississippi. Who knew that babies can have receding hairlines?

I grew up in Mississippi and never questioned that my home state was the best place in the world until 1959. That’s about when John Kennedy started running for president, and there were those great images of him on television with his beautiful family, and him jogging along on the beach at Hyannis. We didn’t know what jogging was but that whole Camelot thing was so exciting. My dad was one of the few Mississippi white folks who voted for him. It was then that I began plotting my escape to Massachusetts, and like the Rev. Martin Luther King, I had a dream.

That same year our family moved to Tupelo, known for being the first town to get electricity from TVA, and for two great tragedies: being destroyed by a tornado in 1936, and inflicting Elvis forever on an unsuspecting nation. I was mostly harmless and this is where we lived for the next ten years.

It’s too bad about my old hometown–they built a super gigantic megolithic mother of all WalMarts five miles north of town, and now downtown Tupelo is merely a ghost of its former self. My twin brother Glenn still lives near Tupelo and he works at WalMart.

In 1970 I was a junior at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, following in my father’s footsteps, serving as a student pastor in a tiny Methodist church in a rural Delta crossroads named Ebenezer.

Gordon Harris 1967
This is my high school senior album picture, about as good as my hair ever got.

On May 15, 1970 forty Jackson police marched on Jackson State College and opened fire on black students. Two died and several were injured. The good ol’ white folks in Ebenezer saw me on television the next day in a protest, arm in arm with black students, and I was advised to leave town by the one person who showed up for the next Sunday service. Not to mention that I had started to grow my hair too long for a good Methodist.

Out of crisis comes opportunity, and I found a summer job at a YMCA camp in Becket Massachusetts. In September I returned to Jackson, graduated from Millsaps College and married a free-spirited hippie girl named Judy. Judy and I had neither a plan nor a clue, so we headed north to the Berkshires and rented an apartment in Great Barrington, Massachusetts mostly because that’s where the fan belt broke on my old Rambler and we were running low on cash. We practiced Living on the Earth from a book we read by Alicia Bay Laurel, and I grew my hair long. My dad told me it looked silly and he was right, but it was not until he was dead that I started listening to him. I became a political activist again with the Nuclear Freeze Movement, and that’s how people who remember me in the Berkshires remember me.

I also took up carpentry, something I knew nothing about. It has served me well for 40 years.

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In the early 80’s some of us still hadn’t gotten the memo that the 60’s were over.

Judy and I eventually divorced, and I spent the last ten Berkshire years in Williamstown, a gorgeous if somewhat pretentious hamlet which I thought I would never leave. (This is where marriage #2 happened, but it was a mistake and let’s not talk about it.) Several years ago at a town meeting they adopted “Williamstown the Village Beautiful” as the official town slogan, but after a few years the good people of Williamstown realized how silly it sounded and took the signs down.

As for Judy, she has been happily married to a nice woman in Pittsfield for the same number of years that she and I were married, so Massachusetts worked out well for her too. She’ll probably be happy for a long time, since her grandmother Betsy Cooper, AKA “Memom” lived to be the oldest person in the world. We have a wonderful, beautiful and amazingly talented daughter named Eartha Harris and I bet I’m at the top of the list of her 4200 4999 Facebook Friends.

By 2000, having finally given up on retaining any substantial quantity of hair and having survived an awful mid-life crisis, I decided, on a whim, to ride my bicycle across the country. While on the road, I developed a website called Bike New England. People started saying stuff like, “Oh, you’re that guy that rides a bike.”

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2001- I like to imagine that I still look like this.

The next year I met my wife Deb on a bicycle tour in Canada. Out of the blue, she decided to ride a bicycle a long, long way. She didn’t own a bicycle, so she purchased one, went for a 20-mile ride and decided she was ready to tour. I felt we had a lot in common. She thought I was a weirdo. She’s beautiful, and she’s a brilliant scientist too.  I have no idea what any of it means. Deb lived in Danvers, and for the next three years I drove there every weekend from Williamstown to see her. So, you never know.

Which finally gets us back to the title of this little trip down memory lane, “How I Came to Ipswich” (we’re done with the bit about hair).

One day Deb brought me to Ipswich for breakfast, back when Stone Soup was still at Five Corners. Unfortunately Stone Soup’s not anywhere anymore. Ipswich felt almost as remote as the Berkshires and I wasn’t sure where I was, but I looked down Market Street and fell in love with the historic old village, founded in 1634. I was already in love with Deb. We found a house here in town and got married, in that order. She still thinks I’m a weirdo and I’m pretty sure she’s right.

I started leading bicycle tours of the North Shore, and to help promote the tours I created this website with photos of all the nice old houses in Ipswich. One day the town Planning Department asked me if I would like to join the Historical Commission, which turned out to be another turning point.

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I still wear America’s favorite hairpiece. Do you think the glasses make me look older?

I built their website and one day, when my guard was down, they elected me chairman. Now I’m the Town Historian. The deeper I got into the history of this town and the old houses, the more I became fascinated by the stories of the people who lived in them.

Since you are reading these words, our life stories have intersected and sort of briefly squished together in this moment. The rest as they say is history, which I hope you will never tire of reading. I never get tired of telling, and if I think of anything more, I’ll let you know.

Gordon Harris,
Town Historian
Ipswich, Massachusetts

13 thoughts on “How I came to Ipswich, or what happened to my hair?

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog Gordon and hearing what you e been doing the past 50 years. I remember our days in the THS band with Mr Scott! Didn’t you play trumpet?? Although my memory is not quite as good as it used to be! Wishing you and your new wife well! I hope to attend the reunion; good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise! 😊

    1. Hi Judy, thanks, and your memory is fine! I started with trumpet, but in High School I played the baritone, then the tuba, and also the bass violin in the orchestra. I think you were in front with the flutes? Mr. Scott was temperamental!

  2. I hope you have written a few books about your adventures in life. Your writing is delightful! I landed here in looking for last weekend’s microburst. I lived in Rowley during the latter part of the last century, and miss terribly the history of the North Shore, of which I am a native.

  3. Thanks for allowing many of folks like me to enjoy reading (and seeing) some of the history of Ipswich. I have lived in NM for most of my life; but, when a youngster (during WWII) my father was a lobsterman out of Newburyport. My family was from West Newbury, and for over 300 years, Essex county. My family always insisted that “Ipswich clams” were the best available in New England. Has the clam production from the Ipswich area ceased?

    1. Hi Peter, the clams are still doing well, and the Newburyport clam beds are open as well. When you’re back in Ipswich, stop in at the Choate Bridge Pub, which is my favorite place to get fried clams and Ipswich Ale.

  4. Gordon, I read your interesting story via Facebook that your sister Camille posted. I too am from MA (Cambridge) originally and am Dennis LaMountain’s sister-in-law by way of him being married to my oldest sister Dianne for 33 years before she passed away almost 11 years ago. I am glad Dennis found Camille or they found each other to love and marry since that is what my sister wanted while she was dying.
    You and my husband Matt would get along well since you are both into biking and history.Maybe someday I will get to meet Camille and in turn maybe you also.
    Thanks for sharing your story.

  5. Gordon, I really enjoyed your story ! Your attention to detail, your sense of humor and passion for the great State of Massachusetts is awesome and heartwarming. I was born and raised in The Berkshires and the older I get, the more I miss home. Many thanks for a wonderful trip back to memory lane.

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